China’s companies emerge as global donors amid COVID-19 pandemic

As China faces criticism over its secrecy and delay in responding to the virus, such international humanitarian donations could help repair the country's image

Alibaba founder Jack Ma, US-China tariff war, e-commerce company
The Ant Group faced scrutiny in Chinese state media after jack Ma (in pic) criticized Chinese financial regulators for stifling innovation and not paying sufficient attention to development and opportunities for the young.

As the novel coronavirus continues to spread, the world’s richest communist dug into his deep pockets. Jack Ma, the founder of e-commerce giant Alibaba Group and a member of the ruling Communist Party, helped pay for 1,000 ventilators delivered to New York in April.

Ma’s foundation is also giving ventilators, masks, and other supplies in Africa, Latin America, and Asia.

The pandemic marks the debut of China’s business elite as a global humanitarian donor alongside their American, European, and Japanese counterparts. Alibaba, headed by Ma, and other Chinese companies owned by several business tycoons, are donating medical supplies, food, and cash worth hundreds of millions of dollars in dozens of countries.

Video service TikTok has promised USD 250 million to pay health workers and help others affected by the outbreak. Tencent, the operator of the popular WeChat messaging service, pledged USD 100 million and said it has also sent masks and protective gear to 15 countries including the United States of America.

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Other companies including computer maker Lenovo and electric automaker BYD Auto have provided masks and other supplies. Haier Smart Home, a global appliance maker, says its factory in Pakistan is distributing food to neighbours.

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This is expected to give donors a chance to repair China’s image and gain credit with President Xi Jinping’s government, which faces criticism over its secrecy and delay in responding to the virus that emerged in central China in December.

No single country can handle this crisis independently, Ma said during an online seminar organised by his foundation for African doctors to speak with Chinese experts who fought the outbreak.

“This wave of Chinese donations is notable for giving internationally, which is usually quite limited in scope,” said Edward Cunningham, who researches Chinese philanthropy at the Ash Centre of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, in an email.

Philanthropy in China has grown since its economy has been flourishing. However, it has been focused more on home or on foreign universities with family connections to donors, said Cunningham.

American companies including Walmart Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. have given medical supplies and money to Africa, India, and Latin America. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey promised USD 1 billion and has announced donations in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and the United States of America. Cisco Systems Inc. made donations to the World Health Organization and the United Nations.

Ma’s foundation is helping the African Centres for Disease Control and Prevention expand virus testing to 1 million people across the continent, according to John Nkengasong, director of the agency.

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