The Economist

The Economist — A despot's guide to foreign aid

On April 16, 2016, The Economist published two articles on China's efforts to use development assistance as a foreign policy tool. In "Diplomacy and aid in Africa," an interactive widget built by The Economist data team juxtaposes our dataset of Chinese official development assistance to 50+ African countries with how countries align their votes with China in the UN General Assembly. In "A despot's guide to foreign aid," The Economist cites findings from AidData Working Paper "Apples and Dragon Fruits: The Determinants of Aid and Other Forms of State Financing from China to Africa". The analysis in both articles shows that the more aid a country receives from China, the more likely its votes align with China.




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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Related Datasets

AidData's Chinese Official Finance to Africa Dataset, 2000-2013, Version 1.2

Related Publications

Apples and Dragon Fruits: The Determinants of Aid and Other Forms of State Financing From China to Africa