China’s commerce minister took the unusual step of thanking foreign companies on national television today for donating earthquake aid, dismissing accusations spread on Chinese websites that they were doing too little.
“We have seen the greatest amount of donations from the international community ever in history,” Chen Deming said at a news conference. He rejected as “totally unfounded” complaints posted on Chinese websites that foreign companies were “international misers”.
As of today, foreign companies had given 1.7 billion yuan (€156m) in cash and 200 million yuan (€18m) in supplies, including food, tents and bottled water, Chen said.
“I would like to take this opportunity to thank relevant international agencies, multi-national companies and foreign-invested enterprises for the support they have given,” Chen said.
Companies including Nokia, McDonald’s, Wal-Mart and Samsung. Began pledging money and supplies less than 24 hours after the May 12 quake hit Sichuan province.
Despite that, nationalistic Chinese web surfers who react angrily to any perceived slight to their country accused foreign companies of failing to provide enough help.
Some postings called for boycotts of individual companies or blanket rejecting of US or South Korean brands.
“Wake up, everyone. Support Chinese companies instead,” said a posting on MySpace’s Chinese service, “Money should stay in Chinese hands!”
Chen, the commerce minister, said his ministry might be to blame for the criticism.
“Maybe we haven’t done sufficient publicity for these entities to thank them for their contributions,” he said.
Companies say they have felt no effect from boycott calls.
“We feel very proud of what we’ve done. We’ve done a lot,” said Thomas Jonsson, a spokesman for Nokia, which gave food, tents and mobile phones for rescuers. On Wednesday, it added a 35 million yuan (€3.1m) pledge for reconstruction.
McDonald’s said it has served more than 40,000 meals to quake survivors and rescue workers and pledged 10 million yuan (€919,330) on Wednesday to build new schools in quake areas.
“We’ve been involved in helping and responding since day one,” said McDonald’s spokeswoman Lisa Howard.
Comments posted on online bulletin boards also criticised Coca-Cola, KFC restaurants, Toyota and French retailer Carrefour.
Last week, McDonald’s initially pledged one million yuan (€91,508) after the quake. Samsung said it was giving 30 million yuan (€2.6m) in cash, plus 5,000 emergency aid kits and 15,000 blankets. Coca-Cola gave 10,000 cases of bottled water and promised another five million yuan (€453,407) in cash and supplies. Carrefour pledged two million yuan (€94,459) and sent truckloads of food, water and tents to the disaster area.
Chinese nationalists often have conflicted feelings toward foreign companies, which have helped to fuel the country’s economic boom but are seen as rivals to local companies.
Carrefour stores in several Chinese cities were the target of small protests on May 1 as critics vented anger at protesters’ efforts in Paris to disrupt the Olympic torch relay.
“We are reacting very quickly in support,” said Wal-Mart spokesman Jonathan Dong.
Last week, Nokia gave 5,000 mobile phones to quake rescuers and sent employees into the disaster area to maintain them, Jonsson said.