China has learned from its own development experience. China has received over $500 billion in foreign aid over the course of its development. Now, reports have listed China’s foreign aid expenditure between 1950 and 2009 at $38.45 billion.
The international aid community often portrays China as exploiting African nations for its own benefit. China’s fast and extensive expansion in various natural resource mining projects in African nations are seen as exploitive.
In recent years China has worked to overcome this stereotype by promoting more development projects in areas where it has mining interests. As Les Roopanarine states in The Guardian, China must still take the development needs of its own people into consideration. More than 200 million Chinese citizens live on less than $1.25 a day. China must take the development and economic needs of its own people into consideration when developing economic ties with other countries.
China does not require conditionality so aid dollars flow unchecked to corrupt governments and organizations. Foreign aid does not depend on the recipient government’s stance on human rights or good governance. As a result Chinese aid flows to some of the most controversial governments in Africa. However, supporters point out that this lack of conditionality allows aid to flow more quickly and smoothly than Western governments’ bilateral aid.
China does not list its foreign aid recipients or the amount of bilateral funding going to specific countries. This is a different approach from most bilateral donors who clearly itemize their foreign aid expenditures. As a result of this difference some see the lack of transparency as disturbing.
China has traditionally eschewed working with other bilateral donors on aid projects. This unilateral stance makes other bilateral donors nervous. This is most obvious in the South Pacific region. Between 2006 and 2011 Chinese foreign aid to the region reached $850 million.
Australia is the largest bilateral aid donor for this region with 62% of total bilateral aid from Development Assistance Committee donors to the region. While Australia remains the biggest donor for the region, and will for many years to come, the surge in China aid is a new component to the aid landscape.
In April 2013 China entered into its first bilateral aid partnership with another donor. The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed between Australia and China establishes a partnership to fight malaria in Papa New Guinea. Engaging China in trilateral development efforts is the best way to integrate them in the broader aid landscape.
While other bilateral donors will inevitably view China aid work with some suspicion there may be aspects that can be learned from and certainly engagement will be key.