Open China Data is a Disruptive Gateway Drug
On Monday, AidData released the largest Open Data cache of Chinese development finance in Africa. The Chinese Development Finance in Africa database contains nearly 1,700 official finance projects in 50 African countries, totaling over $70 billion in reported financial commitments. A stunning achievement considering that China does not regularly participate in existing information reporting systems, such as the OECD's Creditor Reporting System, the International Aid Transparency Initiative, and country-specific Aid Management Platforms.
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.