African charity project takes heat from media
A war of words has broken out between the mainland media and a business association that has teamed up with the China Youth Development Foundation to build 1,000 primary schools in Africa.
The World Eminence Chinese Business Association, a for-profit organisation registered in Hong Kong that claims to have more than 50,000 members among the global Chinese business community, has been at the centre of a storm since last week.
Critics question why the association has so much money at its disposal, why it is spending so much money in Africa instead of China, and why it let the 24-year-old daughter of its chairman take charge of the charity programme.
As more mainland media and internet users began to investigate the background of the company, they raised further questions, saying it had exaggerated its links with the United Nations, promised its members many opportunities to meet state leaders, and asked its employees to use aggressive approaches such as repeated telephone calls to recruit members, who had to pay membership fees of up to tens of thousands of yuan a year.
Established in 2005, the association has tens of thousands of members from business circles at home and abroad. On its website, it says it has held more than 100 trade and charity events in more than 20 countries, facilitating 300 billion yuan (HK$365.4 billion) in business deals.
The Beijing News, quoting former association employees, reported on Thursday that it earned at least 2 billion yuan a year from its membership fees. And The Southern Metropolis News reported on Sunday that the association exaggerated its partnership with the UN by omitting the word 'former' when referring to retired UN officials in its press releases.
In a statement yesterday, association chairman Lu Junqin denied reports that it had made up UN links in its publicity material and said it was looking into the identities of the UN officers questioned by the media.
The African school project was announced in March, when the association said it would collect 1.5 billion yuan from the Chinese business community for the purpose. Lu Xingyu was appointed as the project's executive chairwoman.
She could not be reached for comment, but in an interview with China News Services published on Sunday, she said she was hated because of her 'rich second-generation' identity.
High-ranking politicians have sat on the association's board of directors, including Tiemuer Dawamaiti, former vice-chairman of the National People's Congress, and Sun Fuling , former chairman of Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. It previously posted a star-studded list of advisers and vice-chairmen on its website, but the list has since been removed.
Professor Jia Xijin, who studies non-governmental groups at Tsinghua University, said the public was giving the association a hard time because major charities such as the Red Cross Society of China had been entangled in various scandals recently. She said the public debate, while not always fair and accurate, would add to the healthy development of mainland charity. 'The public was not allowed to discuss issues relating to public service, public interest or public power in the past. Now that they have pushed open a few windows, of course they shout.'
The donations, in yuan, that the association says it has collected through its many overseas business and charity events since 2005