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China thanks foreign firms for aid for quake victims
BEIJING (AP) - China's commerce minister took the unusual step of thanking foreign companies for donating earthquake aid, on national television yesterday, dismissing accusations spread on Chinese Web sites that they were doing too little.
"We have seen the greatest amount of donations from the international community ever in history," Chen Deming said at a news conference. He rejected as "totally unfounded" complaints posted on Chinese Web sites that foreign companies were "international misers."
As of yesterday, foreign companies had given $245 million in cash and $29 million in supplies, including food, tents and bottled water, Mr. Chen said.
"I would like to take this opportunity to thank relevant international agencies, multinational companies and foreign-invested enterprises for the support they have given," Mr. Chen said.
Companies including Nokia Corp., McDonald's Corp., Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Samsung Electronics Corp. began pledging money and supplies less than 24 hours after the May 12 quake hit Sichuan province.
Still, nationalistic Chinese Web sites accused foreign companies of failing to provide enough help.
Some postings called for boycotts of individual companies or a broader rejection of American or South Korean brands.
"Wake up, everyone. Support Chinese companies instead," said a posting on MySpace.com's Chinese service, MySpace.cn. "Money should stay in Chinese hands!"
Mr. Chen, the commerce minister, said his ministry might be to blame for the criticism.
"Maybe we haven't done sufficient publicity for these entities to thank them for their contributions," he said.
Companies say they have felt no effect from boycott calls.
"We feel very proud of what we've done. We've done a lot," said Thomas Jonsson, a spokesman for Nokia, which gave food, tents and mobile phones for rescuers. On Wednesday, it added a $5 million pledge for reconstruction.
McDonald's said it has served more than 40,000 meals to quake survivors and rescue workers and pledged $1.5 million 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.
Comments posted on online bulletin boards also criticized Coca-Cola Cos., Yum Brands Inc.'s KFC restaurants, Toyota Motor Corp. and French retailer Carrefour SA.
Last week, McDonald's initially pledged $145,000 after the quake. Samsung said it was giving $4.3 million in cash, plus 5,000 emergency aid kits and 15,000 blankets. Coca-Cola gave 10,000 cases of bottled water and promised another $720,000 in cash and supplies. Carrefour pledged $150,000 and sent truckloads of food, water and tents to the disaster area.
Chinese nationalists often have conflicted feelings toward foreign companies, which have helped to fuel the country's economic boom but are seen as rivals to local companies.
By David A. Clarke Jr.
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