Saturday, 21 May 2011

China's Foreign Aid

In April 2011, the Information Office of the State Council issued a White Paper on China's foreign aid. The full text should be available at but the link was broken last time I tried to access it. It is easier to go to - click on English and then search for it. The document is still on the site.

The document makes interesting reading. We are all aware that foreign aid is an instrument of public diplomacy, and can represent genuine activity among an audience rather than just speaking and hoping for a reaction. From that perspective, this is an important White Paper that gives us a greater insight than ever before into China's foreign aid programme. Also, the PRC has not always been forthcoming in releasing information about its foreign aid, so this White Paper is very welcome (though phrases such as 'Since 2000 aid has increased, averaging 29.4% from 2004-2009' are unclear and don't tell us very much). 

It is also interesting for what is missing. Where is Taiwan here? The White Paper is very guarded, but a close reading of the Appendices reveals a clear political agenda: various promises to African countries include the rejoinder 'having diplomatic relations with China'. So much for unconditional loans and aid.  

I also like the rhetoric used in the document. This passage is an example of how public diplomacy and propaganda are still blurred in China: 'China started foreign aid by providing goods and materials. In the 1950s and 1960s, China was short of goods and materials at home. But to help Asian and African countries win national independence and develop their economies, it provided these countries with a large amount of goods and materials'. Note the language of self-sacrifice here.

Finally, the White Paper's boasts about environmental aid, but are these claims credible given China's own environmental problems, and China's behaviour in climate change discussions and conferences?

All in all, a very interesting document that is worth reading in detail.

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