Cooperative But Not Conforming

| November 27, 2012 | 0 Comments

By Xiaoxiao Jiang

Image credit: CDC.

China established its foreign aid programs soon after the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, when the country itself was short of funds. Today, China has come to the forefront as a development partner, especially in Africa.

China has historically been unique as an aid-giving country. China’s presence in Africa, for example, started in 1956—around the time Bretton Woods Institutions were established with a focus on Europe. When aid from “traditional donors” stagnated in the late 2000s because of the global economic crisis, China continued increasing investment in Africa, drawing the world’s attention with the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, established in 2000.

From 1970 to 2005, Africa was flush with aid from developed countries, and we saw the establishment of numerous partnerships on the donor side. If we look at aid for health programs, for instance, nearly every African country today has a donor coordination body, which brings donor countries together, organizes regular meetings to discuss best practice, maximizes resource utility, and minimizes duplicative aid efforts. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, the body is Le Groupe Inter-Bailleurs Santé (translated as the Inter-Donor Group for Health), initiated by the UNDP and USAID.

However, China is not represented in any of these bodies, and its cooperation with them is limited. Operationally, China does not currently have a bilateral agency representing its development programs, nor does it maintain the post of health counselor in any of its African embassies. Furthermore, there is not a central body coordinating its aid programs with which other organizations can communicate. In fact, aid programs have been incorporated into investment and business programs, and funds have become so mixed that the standard definitions of aid don’t quite apply. Such practices reflect China’s fundamental principle for development in Africa: trade as the driver of growth, and aid as the supplement. Finally, China’s reluctance to reveal its aid figures also serves to discourage potential cooperation and the sharing of information.

China should be cooperative, as cooperation and communication are necessary for furthering global knowledge of best practices for development. China should also increase transparency, opening up its decision-making processes and staying accountable to domestic taxpayers.

However, from the point of view of African governments, China’s outlying presence has also generated favorable outcomes, mainly in that it empowers them in bilateral and multilateral negotiations. More alternatives mean greater power of leverage and thus more favorable end results. This is also where China earns criticisms, in that it undercuts Western efforts to promote good governance in African countries through political strings attached to aid money. However, now that about half of African presidents are elected in democratic processes, the power of promoting health, peace, and development for its people should be given back to local governments; good governance in Africa should be pursued instead through establishing civil checks-and-balances systems as opposed to limiting the national policy space. Moreover, China’s unique aid philosophy, as described briefly above, should serve as a valuable addition to the global debate on what’s best for Africa.

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Category: Development, Online

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