The mainland leadership's swift response to the Yushu earthquake should be applauded. The police based there rallied troops for rescue operations and rushed to the scene within 10 minutes of the quake on Wednesday morning. The fact that the Yushu police in the remote and poor province of Qinghai operated a satellite truck to beam live images of the aftermath minutes after the quake said something about its preparedness. President Hu Jintao cut short a trip to South America and rushed to the quake zone yesterday to meet survivors, while Premier Wen Jiabao postponed a trip that had been scheduled to three Asian countries and flew to the scene the day after the quake. More than 10,000 soldiers and police rushed to the quake zone and pulled thousands of survivors from collapsed buildings. By sheer luck the mountainous region of Yushu has a small airstrip that opened in August, so military jets were able to fly in professional rescuers, tents and medical supplies, and fly out seriously injured victims and their family members. The swift reactions were a sharp contrast to the initially slow response after the Sichuan quake, which killed more than 87,000 people in May 2008. Indeed, all major government departments and surrounding provinces have been mobilised in the Yushu rescue efforts. Initial reports suggested the propaganda department had issued a ban on local media outlets outside the province to send reporters to the quake area. But, as happened in Sichuan, reporters ignored the ban. Reporters from the overseas media, including ones from this newspaper, have roamed the quake zone without any official hindrance. China Central Television's main news channel has carried live reports every day and major news portals carry constant updates. Li Changchun, the top propaganda tsar, told top media executives on Saturday that news reports about rescue and relief efforts should be timely, accurate, compressive and objective. This is where the mainland media can and should do better. The CCTV news channel on Saturday night used an interesting angle of highlighting colour to describe the scale of the rescue efforts in the land of bleak ruins, showing pictures and images of rescuers in their orange gear, the PLA and police in green camouflage, doctors and nurses in white, and row upon row of blue tents. As Li urged the media to play up the smart leadership of the Communist Party and outstanding work of the armed forces, the police, firefighters and medical personnel to save lives, the state media seldom mentioned another important group of people that has played an instrumental role in saving lives and comforting victims - the thousands of Buddhist monks who live in Yushu and those who came from outside the province to help out. Dressed in maroon and yellow robes, they appeared everywhere in the CCTV images and newspaper pictures, working along rescuers and helping to pull out survivors and bodies. Both Hu and Wen were seen shaking hands with monks during their inspection trips in the quake zone. But they were seldom the main characters in the news reports, which were dominated by Tibetan victims thanking the rescuers. In fact, the monks are playing an irreplaceable and integral role in the rescue efforts, and an even more important role in helping survivors to deal with the loss of relatives and in the coming stage of reconstruction. More than 90 per cent of Yushu is populated by Tibetans, and most of them are deeply religious. By yesterday afternoon the authorities had raised the death toll to 1,706, with 256 people listed as missing. As this newspaper reported yesterday, the death toll could reach 10,000 eventually, according to the Living Buddha of the Jiegu monastery who is in charge of cremations. Indeed, many people may not have registered the death of their loved ones with the government but carried their bodies directly to the monasteries. While many Han Chinese rescuers have to overcome high-altitude sickness and language barriers in their efforts, the monks have none of these problems. As they speak the language and command the respect of the Tibetans, they can do a much better and more efficient job in terms of helping the victims and distributing supplies. There is no doubt that the Tibetan victims have expressed their heartfelt thanks to the party and government for the prompt rescue. But in the future they are more likely to seek spiritual guidance and comfort from the monks in coping with the death of loved ones. For the mainland leadership trying to forge unity among the Han Chinese and ethnic minorities, this tragedy should present an excellent opportunity for the state media to write more about Tibetans and Han Chinese working side by side to save people. More importantly, the Dalai Lama appealed to Beijing on Saturday to allow him to visit the province where he was born to comfort the victims. It is likely to fall on deaf ears in Beijing. This is a pity. Just like the massive earthquake in Sichuan two years ago, the outpouring of national grief for the mostly Tibetan victims of the Yushu quake will further fire up patriotism and national unity. In this highly charged patriotic atmosphere, the authorities should not fear the influence of the Dalai Lama, who is accused of seeking independence for Tibet. He has said repeatedly that he is merely seeking autonomy. Instead, the authorities should see this as a rare opportunity to invite him, the monk who is most revered by Tibetans everywhere, to visit Yushu and comfort victims, putting aside religious and political differences. Such a trip would go a long way to removing the long-standing mistrust between the Han Chinese and Tibetans and greatly improve the image of the mainland in the international community.