(Recasts with request to Japan for aid)
BEIJING, May 13 (Reuters) - China has asked Japan for aid after an earthquake killed nearly 12,000 people and Tokyo is set to provide an initial $4.8 million in cash and goods, the Japanese foreign minister said on Tuesday.
The death toll from the quake could rise by tens of thousands with the official Xinhua news agency reporting that about 18,645 people were buried under debris in the city of Mianyang, neighbouring Wenchuan county, the epicentre of the earthquake.
China’s request appears to be the first to a foreign government after the disaster, after Beijing said earlier in the day it welcomed the offers of international assistance that have poured in, but did not specify whether it would accept them.
"There was a request from China," Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura told reporters in Tokyo after announcing Tokyo’s aid, which is to be disbursed through the Chinese government and international organisations, he said.
He added that Japan was ready to offer further assistance if required, Kyodo news agency said. Government ministries have been preparing to deliver food, water and blankets as well as send medical teams, the agency said.
Japan itself suffered a devastating earthquake in Kobe in 1995 that killed more than 6,400 and caused an estimated $100 billion in damage.
The United States, Britain, the European Union, South Korea and Taiwan have also offered assistance since the disaster, which came three months ahead of the Beijing Olympics.
The International Olympic Committee on Tuesday said it had decided to donate $1.0 million and the United Nations also offered support.
Condolences poured in from around the world.
"I extend my condolences to those injured and to the families of the victims of today’s earthquake in China’s Sichuan province," U.S. President George W. Bush said in a statement.
"I am particularly saddened by the number of students and children affected by this tragedy. The thoughts and prayers of the American people are with the Chinese people, especially those directly affected. The United States stands ready to help in any way possible."
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak sent a condolence telegram to Chinese President Hu Jintao and called on his cabinet to find ways to help, the Yonhap news agency said.
Taiwan’s soon-to-be ruling Nationalist Party sent a cable to its one-time nemesis, the Communists, who won the Chinese civil war in 1949 and drove the defeated Nationalists into exile.
Taiwan officials and a local relief group also offered to send search-and-rescue teams to China on Tuesday, drawing on experience with a similar disaster in 1999, but China has not accepted the aid.
"We express our welcome and gratitude. Relevant departments of China and relief departments welcome the aid of international society and are also willing to maintain communication with relevant countries and organisations," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told a news conference.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, whose isolated country’s nuclear arms programme is the subject of multinational talks hosted by China, sent his condolences.
"I hope that your people will eradicate the aftermath of the disaster as early as possible under the leadership of the Communist Party of China," he said, according to the official KCNA news agency.
Qin said despite the Sichuan tremor, China was ready to send more aid to cyclone-torn Myanmar if needed. China has already offered about $5 million to Myanmar, where some 1.5 million survivors are facing hunger and disease after Cyclone Nargis battered the Irrawaddy delta area 11 days ago.
(Additional reporting by Isabel Reynolds in Tokyo and Jon Herskovitz in Seoul) (Reporting by Guo Shipeng; Editing by Nick Macfie and Valerie Lee)