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Fri, May 23, 2008 - Page 10 News List

Foreign firms panned in China

WEB CRITICISMThe companies have been defending themselves against accusations spread on the Internet that they are not doing enough to assist earthquake survivors

AP , BEIJING

Foreign companies are defending themselves against accusations spread on Chinese Web sites that they were doing too little to help earthquake survivors.

Online comments are calling for boycotts of McDonald’s, Wal-Mart, Nokia and others — in one case calling them “International Super-Misers” — but companies say they have felt no impact.

“We feel very proud of what we’ve done. We’ve done a lot,” said Thomas Jonsson, a spokesman for Nokia Oyj, which has donated food, tents and mobile phones for rescuers. On Wednesday, it pledged 35 million yuan (US$5 million) for reconstruction.

McDonald’s Corp said it has served more than 40,000 meals to quake survivors and rescue workers and pledged 10 million yuan 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.

Foreign companies began pledging money and supplies less than 24 hours after the May 12 quake hit Sichuan Province. By Tuesday, they had given 1.2 billion yuan in cash, plus supplies worth 108 million yuan, the government said.

Despite that, nationalistic Chinese Web surfers who react angrily to any perceived slight to their country have accused foreign companies of failing to provide enough help.

A posting on popular search engine Baidu.com’s blog service listed corporate donations and said they were smaller than those after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

Comments on online bulletin boards criticized McDonald’s, Coca-Cola Cos, Yum Brands Inc’s KFC restaurants, Toyota Motor Corp, Nokia, South Korea’s Samsung Electronics Corp and French retailer Carrefour SA.

“Wake up, everyone. Support Chinese companies instead,” said a posting on myspace.com’s Chinese service, myspace.cn.

“Money should stay in Chinese hands,” it said.

Last week, McDonald’s initially pledged 1 million yuan after the quake. Samsung said it was giving 30 million yuan in cash, plus 5,000 emergency aid kits and 15,000 blankets. Coca-Cola gave 10,000 cases of bottled water and promised another 5 million yuan in cash and supplies. Carrefour pledged 200,000 euros (US$150,000) and sent truckloads of food, water and tents to the disaster area.

Chinese nationalists often have conflicting 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.

Among other companies, Wal-Mart Stores Inc said it has given food, 3,000 tents and other aid worth 3 million yuan and used its distribution network to move supplies to survivors.

“We are reacting very quickly in support,” Wal-Mart spokesman Jonathan Dong said.

Dong noted that after China’s devastating winter snowstorms, Wal-Mart also donated US$1 million to the Chinese Red Cross for food and other aid in disaster areas.

Last week, Nokia sent 5,000 mobile phones for use by rescuers and sent employees into the quake area to maintain them, Jonsson said.

“For us initially, the most important thing was to get our relief effort going and once we had it going we could communicate about it, but some people were quick to think we weren’t doing anything,” he said. “We’ve seen these criticisms going away and our efforts being better understood as the days go along.”

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