Debunking the Myths of Chinese Investment in Africa
China's overseas investment has long worried Western observers. From the constant updates on the soon-to-be operational Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), to the rather more nebulous One Belt One Road initiative, China's trade and economic influence is spreading on multiple fronts. This has fed into broader anxieties in the West, who feel that important allies and opportunities are slipping into the orbit of a regime that does not play by Western rules. Chinese investment in Africa is perhaps one of the most pertinent examples of these fears.
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.