Does Chinese aid mainly go to African presidents' villages?

A new paper released by the folks at AidData argues that Chinese aid goes disproportionately to the birthplace regions of African leaders. Media comment is building up on this paper, and an article in The Guardian seems to be leading the way. I am actually somewhat sympathetic to the argument of the paper. My own anecdotal observations suggest that at least one of the 3 primary schools financed in many African countries by the Chinese (following a 2006 FOCAC pledge to build 100 primary schools across Africa) has often been located in an African president's hometown. However, the vast majority of Chinese official aid projects are financed in capital cities -- something the researchers neglected to discuss.

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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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