New Delhi: As tensions between India and China continue to linger along the line of actual control in eastern Ladakh, a political slugfest has erupted between the Bharatiya Janata Party and Congress over the appropriateness of accepting funding from the Chinese.
While the BJP has alleged that donations were made to the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation (RGF) by the Chinese government in 2005-06, the Congress Party has hit back by claiming that the PM CARES Fund, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pet project for COVID-19 relief, accepted multiple donations from Chinese companies.
Donations accepted by the RGF are a matter of public record – which show that the foundation did indeed receive the money from Beijing, and even other governments for research studies – but there is less clarity about what companies have given money to the PM CARES Fund, which is yet to disclose a list of all donations received.
This is because the functioning of the PM CARES Fund has been largely opaque since it was set up, with its controlling authorities only recently disclosing a few operational details.
Nevertheless, do the Congress Party’s allegations have merit? Were the donations by Chinese firms made even as matters escalated between military forces of the two countries? The Wire breaks it down.
Has the PM CARES Fund accepted donations by Chinese companies?
An examination of public media reports and company statements shows that at least four Chinese companies said that they would or have donated to the PM CARES Fund.
As the table below shows, this includes TikTok (Rs 30 crore), which has drawn the ire of BJP supporters and even Union minister Ramdas Athawale, who recently demanded a ban on the social media and video-sharing app.
Chinese networking and telecom giant Huawei has also pledged money to the PM Cares fund and a few state relief funds. In the past, multiple different reports have highlighted Huawei’s links to the Chinese state in general and with the People’s Liberation Army in particular.
In addition to this, Chinese mobile phone company Xiaomi – which recently went out of its way to highlight the fact that it makes phones in India – said in a tweet that it had donated Rs 10 crore to the PM CARES Fund and various CM relief funds across the country.
One other Chinese mobile phone brand (OnePlus) also donated Rs 1 crore to Modi’s fund.
The Congress Party has alleged that another Chinese smartphone maker, Oppo, which shares the same parent company as OnePlus, had donated to the PM CARES Fund. However, media reports on March 29 indicated that the company had donated Rs 1 crore to the PM National Relief Fund (PMNRF) as part of its effort to fight the novel coronavirus pandemic. Since the PMNRF is not being used to coordinate specific COVID-19 relief efforts — and because the announcement was made one day after the PM Cares Fund was created (March 28), The Wire has written to the company asking for a clarification and whether media reports on the matter incorrectly identified the fund in question.
As the next table below shows, three well-known Indian companies, which have a not insignificant amount of Chinese funding, also made donations to the fund. Over the last few months, the Indian government has tightened FDI restrictions to keep a closer watch on Chinese investments in India – especially of the kind that have been accepted by Paytm or Ola.
Both these companies, however, may not end up being overly affected by the move for future fundraising, in part because of a few surviving provisions of an old India-China agreement.
When were these donations made? Should they have been accepted?
Most of the pledge announcements were made in April 2020, a few weeks before the first signs of military tension between China and India entered the public domain. On May 5, there was a clash between Indian and Chinese patrols on the northern bank of Ladakh’s Pangong Tso lake.
But even before that, there were growing feelings of resentment against China over its handling of the novel coronavirus pandemic, parts of which were echoed by the BJP’s online support base in India.
Accepting donations may also be an automatic process – which can sometimes lead to embarrassing results, as was the case with a company that donated to the BJP and was later probed for ‘terror links’ – but it is up to the Prime Minister’s Office to decide whether this money should be returned to the Chinese companies in question.
Lastly, this debate also raises an important question of transparency– if the PM CARES Fund, like the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, were to provide a list of all the donations it has accepted, it would be an important boost for accountability.
Note: This story was updated on June 30 to clarify Oppo’s donations to the COVID-19 relief efforts.