State media defends debt relief decision

A Chinese flag flies near apartment buildings in Beijing on Sept 11, 2015.
A Chinese flag flies near apartment buildings in Beijing on Sept 11, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

China's state media has defended the country's decision to relieve debts owed by the world's most impoverished nations, after being accused by the Chinese public of neglecting the plight of its own poor.

This follows recent pledges of billions in aid to developing countries, underscoring the domestic pressure Beijing faces while trying to play a bigger role on the global stage.

In an address to the United Nations last Saturday, Chinese President Xi Jinping committed US$2 billion (S$2.9 billion) to a development fund for poor countries and said China would aim to increase investment in least-developed countries to US$12 billion by 2030.

He also said China would write off debt due this year by small island nations, as well as the least-developed and most heavily debt- burdened countries. He did not name the countries or the amount.

WHAT ABOUT POOR CHINESE?

We're so good to other countries, when will we be good to ourselves?

ONE NETIZEN ASKED ON SOCIAL MEDIA WEBSITE WEIBO

The measures drew swift criticism at home where many questioned why the funds were not used internally, in a country where 200 million people still live below the poverty line. "We're so good to other countries, when will we be good to ourselves?" one netizen asked on social media website Weibo.

Another added: "China is just a big country, not a rich country."

The backlash led to responses from state media, including a lengthy rebuttal from Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece People's Daily on Sunday, which stated "five truths" about debt relief.

Among the "truths" it listed was that writing off debts from poor nations was something developed nations often do, citing examples by the United States, Russia and Japan.

The commentary said the government had set aside 46 billion yuan (S$10 billion) in funds for poverty alleviation in China this year, up 8 per cent from the year before.

Other articles said the Chinese should be more understanding and less calculative after experiencing poverty themselves for many years.

A Global Times commentary said China needs to "expose the lies" of Western countries that paint it as a "free rider". "Now that China's power has risen, if we can't give external aid, we simply cannot stand among the international community."

Analysts say that as China's stature grows, it will continue to grapple with this balancing act between domestic and global audiences.

Renmin University political expert Zhang Ming said the views of many Chinese are still coloured by the nation offering aid in solidarity with Third World countries when it was poor decades ago. "This makes the public still wary of such programmes, even though China is richer now. The government needs to provide more information on which nations it is relieving debt for and why. This transparency is lacking."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 30, 2015, with the headline 'State media defends debt relief decision'. Print Edition | Subscribe