YING XIU, China, May 24, 2008 -- When the secretary-general of the United Nations landed today in the heart of China's quake zone, he walked through the rubble reeking of death -- all toward the goal of supporting a nation in crisis.
We were in Ying Xiu, which was at the very center of the earthquake. Chinese officials say 4,000 people died in the little township alone, 40 percent of their overall population.
I asked Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon if he had ever seen anything like this, and he responded, "No, no. I have never seen this sort of total destruction by earthquake, natural disaster."
According to his aides, Ban Ki-moon's mission was also about something else today, a shot across the bow of the military government in neighboring Myanmar, whose slow response to the recent cyclone has been highly denounced.
While he was in Myanmar on Thursday and Friday, the secretary-general seemed to be getting an alternate version of reality from the ruling generals. Some of his aides believe the ruling generals may have faked a visit to a refugee camp. But today in China, the Secretary-General seemed to be getting an unsanitized view.
Ban Ki-moon held hands today with China's Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, then stood up on a pile of rubble and praised the speedy rescue and rebuilding. He said, "You have been demonstrating your leadership, extraordinary."
Were his comments implied criticisms of the lack of response in Myanmar? His aides say yes, but Ban Ki-moon, always the diplomat, was more cautious.
I asked the secretary-general if he was struck at all by the difference between the Chinese reaction to its disaster and the Myanmar junta's reaction to the cyclone.
His response was, "There is some difference, of course. China has great capacity. They are great people. At the same time, Myanmar is one of the developing countries, one of the poor countries."
The secretary-general appears to be doing a delicate dance. Friday, he got Myanmar's Senior Gen. Than Shwe to agree to allow in all foreign aid workers. He does not want to blow that deal, but he also knows sending a message from China is a good way to pressure the Myanmar general to keep his promise.
ABC News' Jenna Mucha contributed to this report.