Back on August 18 we ran our first review of the then developing scandal surrounding China-Africa Project Hope — a Chinese charity initiative that says it plans to build hundreds of schools in Africa — and its founding charity organization, the World Eminent Chinese Business Association (WECBA). We followed up with a media interview by Lu Xingyu (卢星宇), 24, executive chairman and secretary-general of China-Africa Project Hope and the daughter of Chinese billionaire and WECBA chairman Lu Junqing (卢俊卿).
Certainly, this is a complicated story, and aside from our coverage at CMP, a brief story by China Daily back on August 19 and a good mini-summary at CSR Asia virtually nothing has appeared outside the Chinese-language press — that despite Lu Junqing’s star power in the Chinese business world. It bears noting that the WECBA is allegedly a private company formed in Hong Kong, is allegedly not registered (as required) with the Ministry of Civil Affairs, and that its partner in launching China-Africa Project Hope is apparently the China Youth Development Fund of the Chinese Communist Youth League (whose China Project Hope was enveloped in scandal years back).
For a quick rundown of some of the initial (and ongoing) doubts and questions surrounding the WECBA and its charity work, you can see our August 22 translation of an August 20 piece in Guangzhou’s Southern Metropolis Daily called, “Eight Big Lies of Lu Junqing and the World Chinese Eminent Business Association.”
The “Eight Big Lies” piece, in fact, is now front and center as the row between the WECBA and Southern Metropolis Daily intensifies this week, with the association alleging libel and threatening legal action and the newspaper digging in for a fight.
In response to a “Lawyer’s Letter” on August 30 spelling out the WECBA’s grievances, Southern Metropolis Daily circulated a letter yesterday in which it said it stood by its series of reports on China-Africa Project Hope and welcomed the resolution of this issue through legal means.
The WECBA quickly volleyed back with a letter dated today in which it accuses the paper of acting “utterly without sincerity.” The WECBA notes prematurely that it is pleased to see the the Southern Metropolis Daily has not issued another report on the association since August: “[T]his is a positive attitude that we welcome,” today’s letter says.
Lu Junqing must therefore be steaming from his ears at the report in Southern Metropolis Daily‘s “In-Depth Weekend” section today.
The “In-Depth Weekend” report, a hefty piece of investigative work, probes into another of Lu Junqing’s organizations.
We’ll work on this latest Southern Metropolis Daily investigative report when we can get to it. For now, we offer translations of yesterday’s letter from the newspaper on the stand-off, and of the WECBA response immediate following.
“Statement Concerning Our Series of Reports on the World Eminent Chinese Business Association“
On August 30, the World Eminent Chinese Business Association issued a “lawyer’s letter” (律师函) saying that this newspaper’s report “Eight Big Lies of Lu Junqing and the World Chinese Eminent Business Association,” published on page A32 on August 20, was an infringement, demanding that this newspaper clarify all of its inaccurate reports, canceling out their negative impact, and that it issue a public apology. Moreover, [the paper] must [said the “Letter”] issue a written response by September 4, and if a response was not issued in time, or these conditions were not agreed, then necessary legal steps would be taken; On September 5, the association issued a “Letter to Media Friends and Online Friends” (致媒体朋友与网友书), saying that “since the association made serious representations concerning Southern Metropolis Daily‘s gravely inaccurate and misguided report, [it has] already received positive feedback. Through reliable channels [it said], the two sides delivered positive information, expressing the will to resolve these disagreements and ensure tensions do not escalate . . .”
Concerning this matter, this newspaper makes the following statement:
(1) The series of reports on the World Eminent Chinese Business Association by this newspaper constitute basic work in the exercise of the media’s supervision by public opinion function, and [the paper] was not “misguided” by any person or any organization;
(2) This newspaper has never, through either verbal or written means, confirmed that this series of reports or any particular report therein is “untrue,” “partially untrue,” “seriously untrue” or any other statement of this kind;
(3) This newspaper does not consider itself to be in “disagreement” (矛盾) with the World Eminent Chinese Business Association. Any private interest or institution engaging in charity or other public welfare undertakings has an obligation to submit to monitoring and scrutiny by public opinion [or “media monitoring”]. This newspaper expresses its support for any genuine charity undertaking.
(4) This newspaper welcomes at any time the resolution of this dispute through legal channels.
This statement is hereby given.
Southern Metropolis Daily
September 6, 2011
The following is a translation of the WECBA’s response to the Southern Metropolis Daily letter posted above. This letter was posted on the WECBA website today.
Notice from the World Eminent Chinese Business Association
(Notice 12, 2011)
Letter of Negotiation Concerning the ‘Statement’ Issued by Southern Metropolis Daily
Southern Metropolis Daily Publishing House:
The “Statement” issued today by your honorable paper is utterly without sincerity, and our side expresses its firm refusal!
Supervision by public opinion (舆论监督) is a cleaning mechanism for social progress (社会进步的净化器), and the media sets the bottom line of social morals. Promoting truth-seeking and whipping back falseness, ugliness and evil is the media’s first duty. In the midst of the China-Africa Project Hope incident, the honorable newspaper’s reports about our association have been seriously in error. Not only has it failed to offer commendation for the enormous good done by the international charitable endeavor of China-Africa Project Hope, but it has without cause slandered the project’s operating unit, its founders and donors, losing sight of the most basic position to be held by a responsible media organization, crossing the basic moral line of media and causing immense damage to the international image of this association and its chairman, Mr. Lu Junqing (卢俊卿).
Even as we feel righteous indignation at this, we have decided through cool consideration to take a rational approach, trying fairer means before sterner ones, first opting to resolve this issue through discussion. First, we discovered there were “black hands” at work behind this matter, and we though you too might be victims (though it seems now we were too simple in thinking this). We did not wish to give these “black hands” an opportunity to profit form the quarrels of others. Second, we considered that the honorable paper’s initial intention was to uncover corruption in the charity sector, not to attack us out of enmity. Third, we hoped to achieve tolerance and understanding by facing the media and the public, rather than dealing ruthlessly [with this matter] from the outset. In this regard, our association has already shown the largest measure of goodwill, the largest measure of sincerity, the largest measure of conciliation and the largest measure of patience. We hope that you do not misread our goodwill.
As you on your end transmitted some information through an intermediary to the effect that you were preparing an internal reference document (内参), were preparing to go to Africa to investigate the Project, that you did not fear a lawsuit, that through a lawsuit you could raise your level of fame and continue to cut deep [in your reporting], etcetera, it is clear that the basic conditions for negotiation are not there. We have nothing to hide, and we know that the truth will ultimately prevail over lies. If you on your end insist on trusting things to chance, refuse to come to your senses, and continue along this path of errors, then you can only in the end drop a brick on your own feet.
In a large media organization, with many employees and complexity of task, it is difficult to avoid incorrect reporting for various reasons — this is something we can understand. But once a mistake has been made, bearing the necessary responsibility is an unquestionable moral duty, and it is also in the basic professional character of a responsible media. While we admire the honorable newspaper for its backbone, this “backbone” in no way implies that it can refuse to bear responsibility in cases of wrongdoing!
We have noted that from September 1 to September 6, the honorable paper has stopped its mean-spirited attacks on us, and this is a positive attitude that we welcome. Before, we have been forced to respond to error after error committed against us by your paper. Now, as you have desisted from your mean-spirited attacks, we for our part naturally see no further need to respond. Owing to the positive result of your side ceasing your mean-spirited attacks, we for our part preserve the face of your honorable paper before the public, giving the paper a suitable step offstage. This represents on our side the greatest expression of goodwill owing to the aforementioned reasons [ie, not further reports being published], but we hope this not be mistaken for a sign that we can be easily bullied!
The demands our side made in the “Lawyer’s Letter” [of August 30] were reasonable, not harsh, and we hope that you for your side deal with them seriously and offer a positive response. Our side is willing to wait with the utmost patience for the arousal of your conscience and your concrete action. If your side ignores our solemn and just stand and continues to add error upon error, our side will resolutely maintain the use of the law to protect our just rights and interests.
World Eminent Chinese Business Association
September 7, 2011