How To Save The Chinese Red Cross From Itself

Essay: China’s state-run Red Cross has recently been a regular source of controversy. Now, some accuse it of forcing Chinese students to join - and pay. But assuming it fulfills its mission, the Chinese Red Cross is an organization well worth preserving.

Members of the Guangxi Red Cross
Members of the Guangxi Red Cross
Wei Yingjie

BEIJING - In one of those increasingly common incidents in our Internet-driven culture, a self-promoting young woman known as "Guo Meimei" created a scandal earlier this year by drawing attention to the very commercial nature of the Red Cross Society of China. Donations, not surprisingly, have plummeted.

And now the scandal has taken off again. Earlier this week, China's National Red Cross Youth Unit held a meeting in Tianjin to discuss how to promote the Red Cross in schools across the country. Prior to this, the press had been reporting that numerous students in primary and secondary schools have been forced by their schools to join the organization and pay for their membership.

So what do we make of all of this?

On one hand, that in promoting its activities to youngsters, the Red Cross is carrying on a long international tradition and therefore shouldn't be questioned. As early as 1880, during the British-Dutch Boer War, there were already Canadian students who volunteered to work for the Red Cross. During World War I, masses of young people helped treat wounded soldiers and war victims. In 1922, a resolution of the International Red Cross advised its member countries' affiliates to promote the membership of students of all levels.

From this stance, Chinese youngsters entering the body makes up a very important part of China's Red Cross Society, and conforms to the spirit of the organization.

Crisis of confidence

And yet, though China's Red Cross must certainly develop its activities among young people, such recruitment comes as the organization faces a true crisis of confidence. Take the membership fee as an example: as long as it's really the youngsters taking the initiative to join the society and making contributions voluntarily, there shouldn't be any problem. But too often, the fees are mandatory, and many of China's local schools require their students to join the organization.

Moreover, there is no transparency in where the contribution actually winds up. It is only legitimate that the public wants to make sure that the money is not misused or misappropriated.

To put it plainly, under the current cloud of doubt about China's Red Cross, promotion of a so-called "charitable campus' is going to be misread and criticized. The fact that the routine work of the charitable body arouses so much controversy is evidence of a deeper problem.

So the key of the "Guo Meimei" incident lies in how to reestablish people's trust in the Red Cross. There are only two possible ways out.

First is to decouple the organization from the state authorities, and let it return to its original NGO charity status, to operate in accordance with the regulations of philanthropic foundations.

The second is to quickly set up a sound mechanism for tracking contributions so that the public can check on the destination of donations. Ultimately, if the Red Cross of China wants to emerge from the current cloud and function normally again, if the China Red Cross Youth Unit is not to be turned into a scapegoat, there is only one solution: the organization must regain the trust of the Chinese public.

Read the original article in Chinese

photo - Red Cross

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Paying tribute to the victims of the attack in Kongsberg

Terje Bendiksby/NTB Scanpix/ZUMA
Carl-Johan Karlsson

The bow-and-arrow murder of five people in the small Norwegian city of Kongsberg this week was particularly chilling for the primitive choice of weapon. And police are now saying the attack Wednesday night is likely to be labeled an act of terrorism.

Still, even though the suspect is a Danish-born convert to Islam, police are still determining the motive. Espen Andersen Bråthen, a 37-year-old Danish national, is previously known to the police, both for reports of radicalization, as well as erratic behavior unrelated to religion.

Indeed, it remains unclear whether religious beliefs were behind the killings. In an interview with Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, police attorney Ann Iren Svane Mathiassens said Bråthen has already confessed to the crimes, giving a detailed account of the events during a three-hour interrogation on Thursday, but motives are yet to be determined.

Investigated as terrorism 

Regardless, the murders are likely to be labeled an act of terror – mainly as the victims appear to have been randomly chosen, and were killed both in public places and inside their homes.

Mathiassens also said Bråthen will undergo a comprehensive forensic psychiatric examination, which is also a central aspect of the ongoing investigation, according to a police press conference on Friday afternoon. Bråthen will be held in custody for at least four weeks, two of which will be in isolation, and will according to a police spokesperson be moved to a psychiatric unit as soon as possible.

Witnesses have since described him as unstable and a loner.

Police received reports last year concerning potential radicalization. In 2017, Bråthen published two videos on Youtube, one in English and one in Norwegian, announcing that he's now a Muslim and describing himself as a "messenger." The year prior, he made several visits to the city's only mosque, where he said he'd received a message from above that he wished to share with the world.

Previous criminal history 

In 2012, he was convicted of aggravated theft and drug offenses, and in May last year, a restraining order was issued after Bråthen entered his parents house with a revolver, threatening to kill his father.

The mosque's chairman Oussama Tlili remembers Bråthen's first visit well, as it's rare to meet Scandinavian converts. Still, he didn't believe there was any danger and saw no reason to notify the police. Tlili's impression was rather that the man was unwell mentally, and needed help.

According to a former neighbor, Bråthen often acted erratically. During the two years she lived in the house next to him — only 50 meters from the grocery store where the attacks began — the man several times barked at her like a dog, threw trash in the streets to then pick it up, and spouted racist comments to her friend. Several other witnesses have since described him as unstable and a loner.

The man used a bow and arrow to carry the attack

Haykon Mosvold Larsen/NTB Scanpix/ZUMA

Police criticized

Norway, with one of the world's lowest crime rates, is still shaken from the attack — and also questioning what allowed the killer to hunt down and kill even after police were on the scene.

The first reports came around 6 p.m. on Wednesday that a man armed with bow and arrow was shooting inside a grocery store. Only minutes after, the police spotted the suspect; he fired several times against the patrol and then disappeared while reinforcements arrived.

The attack has also fueled a long-existing debate over whether Norwegian police should carry firearms

In the more than 30 minutes that followed before the arrest, four women and one man were killed by arrows and two other weapons — though police have yet to disclose the other arms, daily Aftenposten reports. The sleepy city's 27,000 inhabitants are left wondering how the man managed to evade a full 22 police patrols, and why reports of his radicalization weren't taken more seriously.

With five people killed and three more injured, Wednesday's killing spree is the worst attack in Norway since far-right extremist Anders Breivik massacred 77 people on the island of Utøya a decade ago.

Unarmed cops

As questions mount over the police response to the attack, with reports suggesting all five people died after law enforcement made first contact with the suspect, local police have said it's willing to submit the information needed to the Bureau of Investigation to start a probe into their conduct. Police confirmed they had fired warning shots in connection to the arrest which, under Norwegian law, often already provides a basis for an assessment.

Wednesday's bloodbath has also fueled a long-existing debate over whether Norwegian police should carry firearms — the small country being one of only 19 globally where law enforcement officers are typically unarmed, though may have access to guns and rifles in certain circumstances.

Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism expert and professor at the Swedish Defence University, noted that police in similar neighboring countries like Sweden and Denmark carry firearms. "I struggle to understand why Norwegian police are not armed all the time," Ranstorp told Norwegian daily VG. "The lesson from Utøya is that the police must react quickly and directly respond to a perpetrator during a life-threatening incident."

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