Wen Jiabao

Outrage over gift of school buses

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 November, 2011, 12:00am


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Premier Wen Jiabao has pledged to set aside funding to revamp student transport amid an outcry over China's ill-timed school bus donation to Macedonia following the death of 19 children in a crash.

The promise came as mainland internet users vented their anger over the donation and appalling domestic school bus safety record.

Wen made the remarks yesterday at the Fifth National Working Conference on Women and Children held in Beijing.

'The State Council has instructed relevant departments to waste no time in coming up with school bus safety regulations; improving school bus quality on the basis of its design, production, refitting and equipping; and setting up a more appropriate bus management system,' he said.

Without giving details about how much would be raised and spent, Wen stressed that the money needed to improve school bus safety standards would be financed by the central and regional governments, as well as through other means.

His speech came as authorities were chided over the high-profile handover of 23 school buses by Cui Zhiwei, China's ambassador to Macedonia, to the Macedonian vice-premier, Teuta Arifi, on Friday.

This occurred less than two weeks after 19 kindergarten pupils were killed and 43 others were seriously hurt when their nine-seat school bus collided head-on with a coal truck in Zhengning county, northwestern Gansu province, on November 16.

News about the donation of the China-made buses, which first appeared on the Foreign Ministry's official website, has been a hotly discussed topic among mainland internet users. Nearly 1 million comments were posted yesterday on the Weibo microblogging service, most of which expressed anger against authorities for being too nice to foreigners while ignoring the needs of their fellow citizens.

Repeated calls to the Chinese embassy in Macedonia rang unanswered yesterday.

Apart from the ill-timed donation of school buses, the fatal accident sparked public outrage on the safety of poorly equipped and overcrowded school buses across the mainland.

Quoting figures saying that the per capita gross domestic product in Macedonia is higher than that in China, a few mainland web users complained that authorities kept offering aid to countries whose residents enjoy a higher standard of living than Chinese residents.

Professor Joseph Cheng Yu-shek, a political scientist at City University of Hong Kong, said: 'Some mainland people may think that the Foreign Ministry may sometimes not be sensitive enough in taking public opinion into consideration when they spend money, others may also get the feeling that the authorities have used resources unwisely abroad.

'I believe China will continue to do this to improve its relations with other countries, to open up markets, to cultivate friendships and so on,' he said.

Meanwhile, around a dozen primary students were injured and sent to hospital when their school bus overturned in Dandong city in northeastern Liaoning province early on Saturday, the Dandong Morning Post reported.

The bus, which was carrying more than 20 schoolchildren, was not overloaded when the accident took place, the report said. It said most of the victims were discharged from hospital after treatment.