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Tensions aside, China sends rescue team, money and supplies to Japan

By Jo Ling Kent, CNN
A man walks along a road lined with debris at Onagawa town in Miyagi prefecture on March 14.
A man walks along a road lined with debris at Onagawa town in Miyagi prefecture on March 14.
  • A seasoned Chinese rescue team helps in Japan
  • China also is dealing with a recent earthquake
  • Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao expresses "deep condolences" to the Japanese people
  • Assistance comes despite tensions between the Asian neighbors
  • China

(CNN) -- A Chinese rescue team was in Japan Monday to help with search and rescue efforts in the aftermath of Friday's earthquake, state media reported.

The 15-member team was working Monday at an elementary school in Oofunato, a Japanese city severely damaged by the 8.9-magnitude earthquake.

As the team began its work, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao expressed "deep condolences" to the Japanese people.

"China is also a country prone to earthquake disasters and we fully empathize with how they feel now," Wen said. "We will provide more as Japan needs it and we want to continue to help as necessary."

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The gesture comes just six months after the two countries sparred in a territorial dispute over the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea.

Rescue team leader Yin Guangfui told China's Xinhua news agency that they have brought along tons of supplies and equipment to aid in the search. The team is expected to work in the area for up to 10 days.

Several of the team members took part in rescue missions following the Indonesian tsunami, earthquakes in Haiti, Pakistan and Wenchuan in southwest China's Sichuan Province.

"Chinese seismic workers know exactly what Japanese people feel right now," Chen Jianmin, director of the China Earthquake Administration, told Xinhua in a message to Mitsuhiko Hatori, Director of the Japan Meteorological Agency on Friday. "We are willing to offer assistance to Japan anytime."

China has been hit with two devastating quakes in the past three years. An 8.0-magnitude quake shook southwest China's Wenchuan on May 12, 2008, leaving approximately 80,000 people dead or missing. In April 2010, a 7.1-magnitude quake in Qinghai province left more than 2,200 people dead.

China also is conducting domestic quake rescue efforts in southwestern Yunnan province, following a 5.8-magnitude quake Thursday. The China quake has killed at least 25 people and injured 250 others.

Across China, responses to the quake ranged from traditional philanthropy to aggressive social media efforts to track down family and friends.

On Saturday, the Red Cross Society of China pledged to donate 1 million yuan (US $152,000) in emergency aid to its Japanese counterpart.

Weibo, China's largest Twitter-like micro-blogging service, launched a special platform over the weekend to help users search for family and friends in Japan. Users have been posting messages, hoping to connect with them via the social network.

Members of the Chinese embassy and consulates in Japan have also posted and re-tweeted messages in an effort to track down loved ones.

The response in China has been overwhelmingly sympathetic. However a small minority of those on social networking sites were "congratulating" Japan on the earthquake, arguing the quake happened because of Japan's invasion of China during World War II.

There remains a great deal of tension between China and Japan, left over from Japan's invasion and occupation of part of China from 1931 to 1945. The wartime atrocities still fuel widespread distrust of Japan by many Chinese.

Most recently tensions flared when Japan held a Chinese trawler captain after his fishing boat collided with Japanese coast guard ships near the Diaoyu Islands in September. Beijing canceled diplomatic meetings in protest until he was released.

As of Sunday, there are no known Chinese casualties in the Japan earthquake, according to a statement from Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu.