China's Charm Offensive: Beyond Appearances

Since the beginning of the 21st century, China has been a rising star in the arena of public diplomacy. Its PD campaign, coordinated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, involves fourteen separate Departments, including the United Front Work Department, the Ministry of Commerce, the Ministry of Culture, and the General Administration of Press and Publication. The colossal campaign aims to brand China as a responsible, peace-loving, and culturally sophisticated nation. China has done this through generous aid to Africa, the global expansion of its media properties, and the rapid growth of Confucius Institutes.

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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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