China's Development Finance to Africa: A Media-Based Approach to Data Collection

How big is China's aid to Africa? Does it complement or undermine the efforts of traditional donors? China releases little information and outside estimates of the size and nature of Chinese aid vary widely. In an effort to overcome this problem, AidData, based at William and Mary College in Virginia, has compiled a database of thousands of media reports on Chinese-backed projects in Africa from 2000-2011.

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Abstract

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.

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