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China seeks earthquake aid from Japan

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  • NEW: Japanese military expected to send emergency relief aircraft to China
  • NEW: Official death toll from the original quake rose to 68,516 on Thursday
  • Relations between the former enemies have thawed in the past two years
  • Authorities evacuate 158,000 people downstream from unstable quake lake
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(CNN) -- China is turning to its former enemy Japan for help as it seeks to boost its relief operations after the deadly earthquake that has devastated the southwestern Sichuan province.

China has begun talks with Tokyo about what would be the first significant military dispatch involving the two countries since World War II, The Associated Press reported Thursday.

"Given the magnitude of this disaster, if some countries or militaries are ready to provide us with material in urgent need, we will express our welcome," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang, AP reported.

The Kyodo news agency said Japan plans to dispatch Self-Defense Forces aircraft to transport tents and other relief supplies to main airports, but the troops will not be allowed to go into the affected areas.

The Beijing regime has welcomed aid from the international community as it seeks to help the 158,000 people evacuated from nearly 170 areas.

The official death toll from the quake climbed to 68,516 on Thursday; another 365,399 people were injured and 19,350 missing. About 5 million are thought to be homeless, the government says.

However, its relations with Japan have been cold since the invasion by its neighbor in the 1930s, which caused a residual resentment among the Chinese population, especially as chemical weapons were abandoned there by Japanese troops, AP said.

China has criticized Japan for atoning for its war-time activities, but relations have thawed in the past two years, and leaders from each nation have since made symbolic visits to meet their peers.

One of China's main concerns after the May 12 earthquake is to deal with the effects of its aftershocks, with landslides having created dangerous "quake lakes." Video Watch footage of the landslides »

Thousands of people evacuated after the initial 7.9-magnitude quake face the prospect of having to be moved on again due to fears of massive flooding if the the lakes burst, CNN's Kyung Lah reported Thursday. Video Watch a report on evacuation plans due to flooding risk »

"They have had to move not once but twice, and this could just be the tip of the iceberg, the government says. Up to 1.3 million people could be affected by the quake lakes," Lah said.

Efforts to drain the quake-created lake in Beichuan county were hampered by pouring rain Thursday, AP reported. Video Watch report from tent city in Mianyang »

However, workers continued to dig a long spillway to relieve the water pressure building as the Jianjiang River fills in behind the massive pile of rock and soil.

"The government says if they are able to alleviate the pressure, then they will be able to save these towns from flooding over," Lah said.

"These residents are waiting without electricity, and they are exhausted. They say they are hoping for some good news." Video Watch how rain has caused further problems. »

The lake is holding 130 million cubic meters (170 million cubic yards) of water -- equal to about 50,000 Olympic-size swimming pools, according to Liu Ning, chief engineer of the Ministry of Water Resources.

Creating a spillway to relieve the pressure is expected to take 10 days, state media reported, allowing enough time if the lake continues to rise at its average of about 2 meters (6 feet) per day.


Meanwhile, soldiers doing relief work in the already-devastated town of Beichuan were injured when a stockpile of chemicals being used to disinfect the rubble ignited in a storage building, AP reported.

A fire crew official said 61 soldiers were taken to a hospital in the town, which had been evacuated due to the quake, the agency said.

Copyright 2008 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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