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Geopolitics

China: Foreign Aid, A School Bus Tragedy And Beijing's Political Tin Ear

Analysis: China's decidion to donate 23 school buses to Macedonia seemed like a small, generous gesture. But it has sparked a firestorm of criticism from ordinary Chinese, still angry about a badly overcrowded school bus that crashed in rural Chi

A Chinese school bus (jaaron)
A Chinese school bus (jaaron)

BEIJING - It is common diplomatic practice: a national government gives aid to a country or cause outside its borders. But when the Chinese government decided to donate 23 school buses to Macedonia, all hell broke loose in China, filling the Chinese blogosphere with waves of indignation.

By now, someone should have seen this coming. The issue of foreign aid has begun to anger ordinary Chinese, who are increasingly vocal about the government not taking care of those at home first. But this particular case happens to come just three weeks after an accident where 19 kindergarten children and two of their teachers died in a hopelessly overloaded school bus in one of China's poorest provinces.

China's Foreign Affairs Ministry quickly responded to the controversy by pointing out that China had received similar foreign aid before its boom in recent years. Since China is now much more developed, it is only natural that it fulfills its international duty. The ministry also noted that Macedonia helped with the rescue work after the massive 2008 earthquake in China.

Still, it's hard to deny Chinese foreign officials' utter lack of political sensitivity. Not only are people's memories of the Gansu school bus accident still fresh, but so too is the subsequent debate about the shortcomings of both public transport and education in China.

"Diplomacy is the continuation of internal affairs," as one commentator of this newspaper noted.

It is not because Chinese people aren't satisfied with their own lives that they become emotional about the authority's lack of humanity. Rather, as the commentator argues, it's because there is no transparency in how China's bureaucrats spend taxpayers' money. For instance, under the supervision of an elected parliament, the budget, including foreign aid, goes through a vigorous public review. This is not the case in China.

Reacting to the widespread travel and transportation expenses abuse by Chinese officials', the Chinese government demanded earlier this year that all ministries publish their spending openly. One ministry refused: the Ministry of the Foreign Affairs, citing the nature of their expenses as "state secrets."

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Geopolitics

The Trumpian Virus Undermining Democracy Is Now Spreading Through South America

Taking inspiration from events in the United States over the past four years, rejection of election results and established state institutions is on the rise in Latin America.

Two supporters of far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro dressed in Brazilian flags during a demonstration in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

Bolsonaro supporters dressed in national colours with flags in a demonstration in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, on November 4, 2022.

Ivan Abreu / ZUMA
Carlos Ruckauf*

-Analysis-

BUENOS AIRES — South Africa's Nelson Mandela used to say it was "so easy to break down and destroy. The heroes are those who make peace and build."

Intolerance toward those who think differently, even inside the same political space, is corroding the bases of representative democracy, which is the only system we know that allows us to live and grow in freedom, in spite of its flaws.

Recent events in South America and elsewhere are precisely alerting us to that danger. The most explosive example was in Brazil, where a crowd of thousands managed to storm key institutional premises like the presidential palace, parliament and the Supreme Court.

In Peru, the country's Marxist (now former) president, Pedro Castillo, sought to use the armed and security forces to shut down parliament and halt the Supreme Court and state prosecutors from investigating corruption allegations against him.

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