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Chinese Red Cross: Reviled at Home, Touted Abroad

Chinese Red Cross volunteers demonstrate bandage procedures during a first-aid show in Hangzhou, east China’s Jiangsu province. May 8, 2005. (China Newsphoto/Reuters)

The Chinese have sent medical professionals and supplies to Italy to assist the country’s effort to combat the coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan. Many American observers have touted the Chinese effort, with The Atlantic’s Anne Applebaum implying that the assistance is evidence of China’s role as the global superpower. 

The Red Cross Society of China, which is in charge of the operation, is extremely unpopular in China. Not affiliated with the International Red Cross, the charity group has battled accusations of corruption for over a decade. In 2008, the Red Cross allegedly embezzled money donated by Hong Kong citizens to build schools in the aftermath of an earthquake. 

In 2011, internet-celebrity Guo Meimei, who claimed to run a Red Cross subsidiary, posted pictures of her lavish lifestyle on social media. The photos showed her driving luxury cars, dining at expensive restaurants, and wearing designer clothing. Though Guo was misrepresenting her ties to the Red Cross, “the Guo affair prompted the online community to probe deeper into the charity, uncovering rampant corruption and misuse of donations,” according to the South China Morning Post

The Chinese Red Cross has since admitted to misallocating over $1 million in donations, and employees of the charity have been documented taking luxury trips. Chinese citizens have responded by dramatically decreasing donations to the charity. This go around, the Chinese Red Cross had to issue an apology for mismanaging the provision of face masks and other protective gear in Wuhan. 

If the Chinese succeed in assisting Italy, they should be applauded. But let’s not hold any illusions about their magnanimity.

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