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One of China’s Richest Women Zhai Meiqin Hopes to Keep Driving Culture of Philanthropy

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HeungKong Group's website website
The story of Zhai Meiqin's selection as a winner of the 2017 Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy is told on the HeungKong Group website, VOA
  • Zhai Meiqin is one of China’s richest women and president of the privately owned Heoungkong Group Ltd
  • Zhai broke new ground in 2005 by establishing China’s first nonprofit charitable foundation
  • Zhai, 53, was one of nine philanthropists named Thursday as winners of the 2017 Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy

London, June 25, 2017: After starting work in a hotel kitchen, Zhai Meiqin began selling furniture and built a billion-dollar conglomerate, but she took great pride in being recognized this week for driving a new phenomenon in China: philanthropy.

Zhai, one of China’s richest women and president of the privately owned Heoungkong Group Ltd., said she never forgot her humble upbringing in Guangzhou in southern China, where her father was an architect and her mother worked in a store.

This made her determined to help others, and she started donating to charity shortly after setting up the business with her husband in 1990.

As their business grew, taking in real estate, financial investment and health care, Zhai broke new ground in 2005 by establishing China’s first nonprofit charitable foundation.

Since then, the HeungKong Charitable Foundation has helped an estimated 2 million people, by funding 1,500 libraries, providing loans for women to start businesses, and funding orphans, single mothers, handicapped children and the elderly.

“I realized there were a lot of poor people in China and this drove me to earn more money so I could help them,” said Zhai, 53, who was one of nine philanthropists named Thursday as winners of the 2017 Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy.

Zhai and her husband, Liu Zhiqiang, whose HeungKong Group with 20,000 staffers has made them worth about $1.4 billion, according to Forbes magazine, are known for being leaders of the culture of philanthropy in China.

Their foundation was listed as number 001 by the Ministry of Civil Affairs. Zhai said at the end of 2015 there were 3,300 registered nonprofit charitable foundations in China.

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Next generation

“By setting up the foundation, I wanted to encourage other people, other entrepreneurs, to also donate to charity,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a phone interview from Guangzhou translated by her daughter.

“Now I want to make sure that the next generation continues this culture of philanthropy in China,” she added, with two of her four children taking an active role in her foundation.

The other philanthropists to win the Carnegie Medal — which was established in 2001 and is awarded every two years — came from around the globe.

The list included India’s education-focused Azim Premji, Canadian-born social enterprise pioneer Jeff Skoll and American-Australian lawyer and former World Bank Group President James Wolfensohn.

The winners were chosen by a committee made up of seven people representing some of the 22 Carnegie institutions in the United States and Europe. (VOA)

Next Story

US Warships Pass Through Taiwan Strait, China Rebukes

Beijing views any ships passing through the strait as essentially breaching its sovereignty

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US Warships, Taiwan Strait
The ships' transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the US commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific. Pixabay

China said Thursday it had lodged a protest with Washington after two US warships sailed through the Taiwan Strait amid rising tensions between the two powers.

The US Navy said the USS Preble, a destroyer, and USNS Walter S. Diehl, a supply ship, conducted a routine transit “in accordance with international law” on Wednesday.

“The ships’ transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the US commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” the navy said. “The US Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows.”

US warships periodically conduct “freedom of navigation” exercises in the narrow waterway separating the Chinese mainland and Taiwan, triggering angry responses from Beijing every time.

US Warships, Taiwan Strait

China said Thursday it had lodged a protest with Washington after two US warships sailed. Pixabay

Beijing views any ships passing through the strait as essentially breaching its sovereignty, while the US and many other nations view the route as international waters open to all.

“We have lodged solemn representations with the US,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said at a regular press briefing.

The sail-by comes on top of tensions between the United States and China over trade and US efforts to thwart Chinese telecom giant Huawei over security concerns.

The transit also comes as the US, Japan, South Korea and Australia kicked off operation “Pacific Vanguard” near Guam, bringing together more than 3,000 sailors from the four countries.

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Drills will focus on “live fire exercises, defensive counter-air operations, anti-submarine warfare, and replenishment at sea,” the US 7th Fleet said.

In April, Beijing said its navy warned off a French warship that had entered the Taiwan Strait and lodged an official complaint with Paris.

China sees Taiwan as part of its territory to be reunified, despite the two sides being ruled separately since the end of a civil war on the mainland in 1949.

The US diplomatically recognizes China over Taiwan, but remains the island’s chief military ally and arms supplier.

US Warships, Taiwan Strait
China sees Taiwan as part of its territory to be reunified. VOA

For the Guam naval drills, Australia has contributed two frigates, Japan two destroyers and South Korea one destroyer. The USS Blue Ridge, the 7th Fleet’s flagship, will lead the operation from the US side.

Home to more than 160,000 people, Guam was at the center of nuclear tensions between Washington and Pyongyang in 2017, with North Korea threatening to hit the US territory with “enveloping fire.” (VOA)