Quietly, and largely out of sight, China has emerged to become a major player in the foreign aid space, challenging institutions and norms long established by the West. Although China’s international development budgets remain a tightly guarded state secret, new data indicates Beijing is spending a lot more money on aid programs than almost anyone had imagined.
AidData, a research lab at William & Mary in Virginia, conducted an analysis of 4,300 Chinese-funded projects in 140 countries from 2000 to 2014. During that time, AidData believes the Chinese spent somewhere around $350 billion on development programs. Unlike the United States, which spent $394 billion during that same period, the Chinese do not spend aid money in traditional development programs (i.e. cash grants to institutions). Instead, the Chinese have focused their efforts on infrastructure development, export credits and loans.
The Chinese approach to international development challenges a half-century of Western dominance where aid to developing countries almost always came with conditions. Whereas U.S. and European countries require aid recipients to undertake political and economic reforms to qualify for assistance, the Chinese have a “no strings attached” policy. Furthermore, the Chinese don’t seem eager to deepen their engagement in the clubby aid world of the IMF, World Bank and other international NGOs, preferring instead to deal bilaterally with governments or to create their own development bodies like the Asian Infrastructure Development Bank.
“If the U.S. follows through on its rhetoric and scales back its global footprint, China may be well-positioned to step into the breach and cement its role as a preferred donor and lender to the developing world.” — Samantha Custer, director of AidData’s Policy Analysis Unit
On a more fundamental level, the Chinese are taking away a deeply-embedded narrative within the Western psyche that the U.S./European development model is superior in both economic and moral terms. Many of the perceptions in the West about aid have been framed as white people ‘saving poor brown people’ in Africa, the Americas and in Asia. Now that there is a legitimate alternative from a non-Western country that happens to be the world’s second largest economy, that morality narrative will no doubt face more scrutiny in the years ahead.
In this edition of the China in Africa Podcast, AidData Executive Director Brad Parks joins Eric & Cobus to discuss his team’s latest findings on Chinese foreign aid and how Beijing’s money is being spent in places like Africa.
- AidData: Tracking Chinese Development Finance
- Quartz: China’s “rogue aid” to Africa isn’t as much or as controversial as we thought by Lily Kuo
- CNBC.com: 5 charts that show how China is spending billions in foreign aid by Nyshka Chandran
Brad Parks is AidData’s Executive Director and Research Faculty at the College of William and Mary’s Institute for the Theory and Practice of International Relations. He leads a team of 30 program evaluators, policy analysts, and media and communication professionals who are responsible for equipping policymakers and practitioners with better evidence to improve how sustainable development investments are targeted, monitored, and evaluated.
Brad’s research is focused on aid allocation and impact, development policy and practice, and the design and implementation of policy and institutional reforms in low-income and lower-middle income countries. His work has been published in disciplinary and inter-disciplinary journals, including Science, World Development, the Journal of Development Studies, Global Environmental Politics, International Studies Quarterly, the Journal of Conflict Resolution, and China Economic Quarterly. His book publications include Greening Aid? Understanding the Environmental Impact of Development Assistance (Oxford University Press, 2008) and A Climate of Injustice: Global Inequality, North-South Politics, and Climate Policy (MIT Press, 2006). He is currently writing a book (with Axel Dreher, Andreas Fuchs, Austin Strange, and Mike Tierney) on China’s overseas development program.From 2005-2010, Brad was part of the initial team that set up the U.S. Government’s Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). He helped managed the agency’s annual country selection process, and as Acting Director of Threshold Programs oversaw the implementation of a $35 million anti-corruption and judicial reform project in Indonesia and a $21 million customs and tax reform project in the Philippines. Brad holds a Ph.D. in International Relations and an M.Sc. in Development Management from the London School of Economics and Political Science.