Debate on Chinese philanthropy abroad

The Project Hope Africa affair seems to have reignited the debate on Chinese philanthropy abroad. Economic Observer Online, a Peking-based bilingual publication whose English website describes it as independent (the Chinese does not), has published an article arguing that China should not be deterred by those who overseas aid as long as there are so many poor in China. According to the article, China (the country) should develop philanthropy abroad essentially for purposes of public diplomacy; according to the author, an EMBA (student? graduate?) of Peking University’s School of State/National Development (国家发展学院), “this will also help establish a preference for Chinese goods in the future.

On Minjian International, the mailing list on China’s development activities abroad, the topic aroused different reactions. One poster, Xiao Xu, wrote that “charity knows no borders” and that it perfectly possible that a poorer country aids a richer country. The problem was, rather, what actually was charity.

Why Chinese people so far are not donating to charities abroad is an interesting question. But Chinese volunteers abroad are certainly appearing. This summer, I ran into two Chinese students from Canton who, via a global programme ran by AIESEC, the international economics student association, were volunteering at a kindergarten in Budapest. Young Chinese hanging out in countries like Laos or Nepal, teaching language or setting up small social enterprises, are sure to become more numerous. The question how the relationship between the state’s desire to develop an overseas philanthropic/volunteer presence, the interests of businesses like Lu’s but also like China’s multinational state enterprises, and individual young people’s attractions will interact.

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