The Washington Post — Chinese aid is helping African economies, but not in the places that need it most
In "Chinese aid is helping African economies," but not in the places that need it most, the authors of a revised AidData Working Paper show in a guest post on The Washington Post's Monkey Cage blog that while Chinese aid improves development outcomes in Africa, it is also vulnerable to political capture. The paper, "Aid on Demand: African Leaders and the Geography of China's Foreign Assistance", provides evidence that Africa’s politically privileged may benefit disproportionately from Chinese development projects, with fewer benefits going to politically marginalized regions. The findings raise questions about the long-run consequences of persistent or widening inequality, which a number of researchers point out may heighten the risks of social unrest, violent conflict and political instability in Africa.
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.