Many in the West fear Chinese 'aid' to Africa. They're wrong. Here's why.
Western pundits have a narrative about China's activities in Africa. It usually goes something like this: China now provides as much, if not more, aid to Africa as the United States. Much of this aid goes to corrupt and authoritarian regimes. Beijing's main goal is to buy the loyalty of Africa's governing elites and secure access to the continent's rich natural resources.
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.