New database focuses on China's secretive aid to Africa

WASHINGTON Mon Apr 29, 2013 9:27pm EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Economic development researchers on Monday unveiled a database of China's aid to Africa in an effort to work around Beijing's secrecy about the numbers, as a debate rages over the intentions and impact of Chinese assistance.

The study and database by the Washington-based Center for Global Development and AidData, a research project, includes 1,673 Chinese development finance projects worth $75 billion in 50 African countries from the years 2000-2011.

The Chinese figures, using standard measures of Official Development Assistance (ODA) and Other Official Finance (OOF), are roughly on par with U.S. aid to Africa during the same period, the Center for Global Development said.

While official ODA from Western countries and some major developing countries is openly reported and easily tabulated, Chinese aid has been much more difficult to track, said creators of the database, china.aiddata.org .

"China treats its aid activities as a state secret and this is an attempt to uncover what's going on," said Andreas Fuchs, an economics professor at Heidelberg University in Germany and a visiting researcher at Princeton University.

"This topic arouses very strong reactions, positive and negative, and people are very polarized in their strong opinions," added Brad Parks, executive director of AidData and a researcher at the College of William and Mary.

Among the accusations leveled at China are that its aid to Africa is chiefly aimed at exploiting natural resources; it unconditionally supports undemocratic and corrupt regimes; and it undermines good governance, debt relief and environmental policies promoted by traditional Western donors.

DIVERSITY OF PROJECTS

China rejects these assertions, which have been put forward by some African and Western aid experts and officials. Scholarly research has challenged some of the criticisms, but Beijing's secrecy on the issue keeps suspicions festering.

When the research team approached China's Ministry of Commerce, which oversees main components of the country's aid program, the answer they got was, "Everyone who needs to know about our generosity already knows," Parks said.

The database, compiled from English- and Chinese-language media reports on African projects, includes an interactive map that breaks down information to country and project levels. It will continually incorporate contributions from those involved in African aid, Parks and Fuchs told Reuters in an interview.

The creators of the database offered no judgments on the contentious questions surrounding Chinese aid to Africa, saying their aim was to inform the debate with data that has been missing from existing aid statistics.

But Parks said one stereotype about China in Africa - that Beijing focuses on resource extraction and big infrastructure projects like roads, dams and stadiums - partly unravels in the face of the newly compiled data.

Along with those big projects, "they do a lot in the health sector, they do a lot in the education sector, they do a lot in government and civil society sector ... a lot of things not usually appreciated as activities supported by the Chinese government," he said.

"It's just striking the diversity of the work they do in the development arena," Parks said.

(Reporting by Paul Eckert; Editing by Eric Beech)

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Comments (1)
MikeBarnett wrote:
China’s primary goal in aid to Africa is to help its 4th biggest trade partner develop the wealth needed for more Chinese trade. Unlike the West, China knows that it trades more with rich countries than with poor nations, so it adds infrastructure projects that will help each nation increase its wealth. Schools, hospitals, and sports stadia create healthy educated workers, the basic requirement for a modern industrial state. Factories, machine shops, stores, and shopping centers provide jobs for workers with paychecks who become customers and taxpayers. Roads, railroads, airports, and ports provide transportation needed to move raw materials, finished products, workers, customers, and tourists for a thriving economy. In addition, all Africans can see from birth, education, work, shopping, travel, and all other activities the benefits that China has given them and their country. These projects serve as massive advertising campaigns that encourage Africans to buy more Chinese products as their levels of income improve.

China’s biggest trade partner, the EU, is in recession. China’s 2nd biggest trade partner, the US, struggles with recovery that may stall as more of the Sequester hits US spending. China has been making gains with ASEAN, its 3rd biggest trade partner, and with Africa, the 4th biggest, to make up for the losses in trade with the EU and US.

The main area where China wins is in respect. Li Baodong at the UN stated China’s consistent view that the world should “repect the choice of Africa and refrain from arbitrary intervention and imposing their ideas on others.” In 2011, the former owners of African slaves and Jim Crow enforcers helped the former colonial masters of Africa to drop bombs on Africans in a former African colony in order to engage in an illegal regime change in that former African colony. The African Union and China condemned the illegal exceeding of the UN resolution by the US and NATO in Libya, but the West ignored them. Fortunately, US trade with Africa declined in 2012 while China’s trade with Africa increased by double digits.

The author omits the self-inflicted economic crises of the US and EU while China advances at 4 times the pace of the West. Three economic disasters and numerous badly fought wars and interventions have made others unwilling to follow the West in the 21st Century. The cowardly and dishonorable unwillingness of the West to prosecute its corporate and political criminals cause honest people to loathe, detest, and despise the US and EU. All of the lies and propaganda in the world will not change global attitudes until western corporate and political criminals are in prison or executed.

Finally, the article’s main truths are contained in the last three paragraphs in which the actual data dispels myths about China’s aid to Africa. Unfortunately, there is not enough of it, and it has fewer words of explanation than the “accusations” and “festering suspicions.” I have supplied some explanations about the ways in which China’s interests coincide with those of its trade partners, but there are other interests that can only be developed by China’s trade partners themselves. At some point, trading partners must get off of their backsides and do some of the work for their own development. This is the final fact that is too often overlooked in discussions of aid.

Apr 30, 2013 5:46pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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