UPDATE: Following a popular backlash, the $13 million donation proposed by Chief Executive CY Leung to help relief efforts in earthquake-stricken Sichuan province failed to pass. The measure, debated in a two-hour meeting Wednesday afternoon, was effectively blocked after legislators used up the two hours that were allotted to bring the plan to a vote.
HONG KONG — In a striking sign of souring attitudes in Hong Kong toward mainland China, activists have called to reject plans to send $13 million in aid to earthquake-stricken Sichuan province due to concerns the money would be siphoned off by corrupt officials.
Chief Executive CY Leung announced the proposed donation on Monday, saying it accorded with "the love and care we have for our countrymen, and the mutual support we share."
A former British colony, Hong Kong retains a distinct legal, political and economic system from China, though sovereignty was returned to the mainland in 1997.
This set off a heated debate in Hong Kong, with many residents arguing that any funds sent over the border would simply end up lining the coffers of corrupt officials.
On Facebook, the Hong Kong City-State Autonomy Movement launched a letter-writing campaign calling on legislators to veto the motion, citing China's $3.3 trillion capital reserves, and the misuse of the HK$1.2 billion that Hong Kong sent to Sichuan after the 2008 earthquake, when money that was intended for relief ended up paying for infrastructure and government banquets.
"More money donated will only fall into more corrupt officials' hands," the letter said.
On the Golden Forum, a popular Hong Kong discussion site, users urged one another not to give "a single penny" to China. In an unofficial online poll conducted by the English-language South China Morning Post, 92 percent of readers voted "No" to the aid.
Even the Oriental Daily News, which typically leans in favor of Beijing, argued that public opposition to a donation was "not because the people of Hong Kong have become too cold or poor, but rather because mainland officials are too corrupt, and their track record on using donations is terrible, and no one can guarantee the money won't be abused again."
Hong Kong lawmakers will vote on whether to approve the $13 million donation to Sichuan later this week.
This opposition to charitable giving due to corruption fears is not isolated to Hong Kong. In China itself, many people have pointedly refused to give money to the state-controlled Red Cross Society of China.
In 2011, the Red Cross was enmeshed in scandal when a 20-year-old woman allegedly working for the organization posted pictures of herself with a Lamborghini, Maserati, and Hermes handbags that would have been impossible to afford on her salary. She was eventually tied to a senior official who organized fund-raisers for the Red Cross.
On Weibo, China's Twitter, users mocked the Red Cross' request for donations to aid the latest quake.
"Little Red, you’ve really lost the people’s hearts," one user wrote, as translated by the Wall Street Journal.
The skepticism, though sad, may be well founded. A 2009 study by Tsinghua University in Beijing found that 80 percent of the money given for relief after the 2008 Sichuan earthquake ended up in government coffers as "extra revenue."
CORRECTION: The amount of aid that Hong Kong sent to Sichuan after the 2008 earthquake was initially misreported. The correct amount is HK$1.2 billion ($150 million).