Friday, April 29, 2011

Coca-Cola and the Chinese Police

In Kunming, Yunnan Province I noticed what I considered to be a somewhat curious sight:

What is seen in the photo is a police tent covered with Coca-Cola logos.  At first I thought this might be an isolated example, but I continued to see more of them in other parts of Kunming.  Here are just a handful of the many others I passed by:

I've seen them occupied with up to four police officers - normally just sitting there looking bored or chatting.  It isn't unusual to find them empty and no, they appear to never have Coke.

The messages on the tents roughly translate as:
"Kunming Police. Public Security to Control and Protect.  A Harmonious Community, A Safe Kunming."
I'm not the first to have noted these tents.  As reported here on GoKunming, a local Kunming English language web site, the tents are a donation from Coca-Cola.  Based on the date of the article it appears they've been around for about a year.

Part of what made the tents intriguing to me is that in many parts of China it can be common for some businesses to develop a "harmonious relationship" with the police and government officials.  The need to do this came up in the post I wrote about a Chinese lady's intriguing views on the sources of Google's problems in China (see here).

Despite the potential benefits of a positive relationship with the police, the article on GoKunming raises the issue that:
"Coca-Cola's rationale for partnering with Kunming's police is less clear...  Last year, a total of three detainees died under questionable circumstances in police custody in Kunming."
And that was over a year ago before the role Chinese police have played in the recent surge of rights lawyers, activists, etc. being detained (and now even a Chinese rock musician).  Regardless, Coca-Cola may believe that their sponsorship of the police is a net positive in the eyes of Kunming's residents or that the benefits of the relationship with the Kunming police is worth any negative reactions some may have.

The flip-side is also interesting.  Does the Kunming Police believe it is to its advantage to be seen as connected to Coca-Cola, a foreign corporation?

There are many fascinating issues to explore.

To be "balanced", I'll note that Coca-Cola's contributions in Yunnan Province aren't only focused on the police.  Coca-Cola China's 2008/2009 Sustainability Review (pdf here) says:
"Yunnan is one of the provinces most affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic and, as a result, has a rising number of orphans. In 2006, in order to alleviate the growing pressure of this new demographic, we partnered with the Chinese Foundation for Prevention of STDs and AIDS, the Yunnan Women and Children Development Center and the Yunnan Ruili Women’s Association to launch the first AIDS-Impacted Orphan Care Program in Ruili county.

The primary function of this Program is to provide support and care to AIDS-impacted orphans in the 75 villages throughout Ruili. The Program pays for the orphans’ physical check-ups and medical expenses, subsidizes living and education expenses, provides for regular counseling sessions, and delivers soy milk powder to supplement their daily nutritional needs. 

In 2008 and 2009, Coca-Cola China joined efforts with the Gary Player Foundation to organize annual fundraisers which have raised RMB 13.5 million collectively to reach 2,000 orphans in Yunnan, Sichuan, Xinjiang and Gansu."
I'll also note that it was very easy for me to find this mention of the AIDS program on Coca-Cola's English language web site.

However, I couldn't find any mention of their support of Kunming's police.

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