China’s companies emerge as global donors in virus pandemic

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

Ma’s foundation also is giving ventilators, masks and other supplies in Af- rica, Latin America and Asia. The pandemic marks the de- but of China’s business elite as global humanitarian donors alongside their American, European and Japanese counterparts.

Ma, Alibaba and other Chinese companies and tycoons are donating hundreds of millions of dollars of medical supplies, food and cash in dozens of countries. Video service TikTok has promised $250 million to pay health workers and help others hurt by the outbreak. Tencent, operator of the popular WeChat messaging service, pledged $100 million and says it has sent masks and protective gear to 15 countries including the United States.

Other companies including computer maker Lenovo and electric automaker BYD Auto have given masks and other supplies. Haier Smart Home, a global appliance maker, says its factory in Pakistan is dis- tributing food to neighbors. That gives donors a chance to repair China’s image and gain credit with President Xi Jin- ping’s government, which faces criticism its secrecy and delay in responding to the virus that emerged in central China in December made the outbreak worse.

“No single country can handle this crisis independently,” Ma said during an on- line seminar organized 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 Center of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, in an email.

Philanthropy in China has grown as its economy flourished but has been focused at 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 in Africa, India and Latin America. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey promised $1 billion and has announced donations in Africa, the Middle East, Asia and the United States.

Cisco Systems Inc. donated to the World Health Organization and the United Nations. Ma’s foundation is helping the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expand virus testing to 1 million people across the continent, according to John Nken- gasong, director of the agency. Africa, where experts fear health systems with limited resources will face a spike in infections, is a longtime diplomatic priority for Beijing.

Chinese companies see the continent as a source of re- sources and its 1.3 billion people as an important market. “We are extremely pleased and proud of the partnership with the Jack Ma Foundation,” said Nkengasong during the April 28 online seminar. He said some 1,600 medical workers from across Africa participated.

Giving can be politically fraught at a time when Beijing is mired in conflicts with the United States, Europe and its Asian neighbors over trade, technology, spying allegations and territorial claims. The European Union’s foreign minister, Josep Borrell, wrote in March there was a “struggle for influence” under way through the “politics of generosity.”