China commits billions in aid in Africa
China has committed $75 billion to aid and development projects in Africa over the past decade, according to research that reveals the scale of what some have called Beijing's escalating soft-power "charm offensive" to secure political and economic clout on the continent. The Chinese government releases very little information on its foreign aid activities, which remain state secrets. In one of the most ambitious attempts to date to chip away at this secrecy, U.S. researchers have launched the largest public database of Chinese development finance in Africa, detailing nearly 1,700 projects in 50 countries between 2000 and 2011.
Chinese “aid” is a lightning rod for criticism. Policy-makers, journalists, and public intellectuals claim that Beijing uses its largesse to cement alliances with political leaders, secure access to natural resources, and create exclusive commercial opportunities for Chinese firms—all at the expense of citizens living in developing countries. We argue that much of the controversy about Chinese “aid” stems from a failure to distinguish between China's Official Development Assistance (ODA) and more commercially oriented sources and types of state financing. Using a new database on China's official financing commitments to Africa from 2000 to 2013, we find that the allocation of Chinese ODA is driven primarily by foreign policy considerations, while economic interests better explain the distribution of less concessional flows. These results highlight the need for better measures of an increasingly diverse set of non-Western financial activities.