William & Mary

AidData dispels notions about China's motivation in aid to Africa

Research published by AidData, a leader in the global movement to change the way that development assistance is targeted, measured and evaluated that is housed at William & Mary, found that Chinese aid to Africa does not favor authoritarian or corrupt regimes, despite the rhetoric of Western policymakers. However, African countries that align with China’s voting at the United Nations General Assembly tend to receive more development assistance from Beijing.

These two findings are included in a massive, updated dataset tracking more than $94 billion in Chinese funding to 50 African countries from 2000­ to 2013.

In "Apples and Dragon Fruits: The Determinants of Aid and Other Forms of State Financing from China to Africa," AidData researchers from William & Mary, Heidelberg and Harvard universities refute popular misconceptions and clarify common misunderstandings about what the Chinese are up to in Africa.

The main source of confusion, they find, is a failure to differentiate between aid in the strictest sense (“official development assistance,” or ODA) and more commercial forms of state financing. Beijing has made the problem worse, they find. By disclosing little reliable information about its overseas development activities, it has fueled speculation and made it difficult to confront false and exaggerated claims with evidence.

Among other findings, the authors report that:

● When African states consistently vote with China in the UN General Assembly, or align their voting with China’s voting over time, they tend to receive more ODA from Beijing.

● Contrary  to a  commonly  held  belief  by  Western  policymakers, China does not privilege authoritarian regimes ­­ or so­-called “rogue states” ­­ in its allocation of ODA.

● China does not seem to take commercial self-­interest or natural-resource acquisition considerations into account when it allocates ODA. In fact, Chinese ODA flows to Africa are strongly oriented towards poorer countries, suggesting that Beijing considers humanitarian needs when making allocation decisions.

● Despite the popular perception that “Chinese aid” is funnelled to corrupt and natural resource­-rich countries, Chinese ODA does not favor countries that are rich in natural resources and countries with higher levels of corruption. It is less concessional – and more commercially­-oriented – forms of Chinese state financing (e.g. so-­called “other official flows,” or OOF) that flow disproportionately to such countries.

● China’s aid-giving motivations actually bear a striking ­­ and surprising ­­ resemblance to those of Western donors.

Visit aiddata.org/aiddata-working-paper-series to download “Apples and Dragon Fruits.” AidData worked with Foreign Affairs to create this visualization, also released today: Aid and Other Financing to Africa from China.

The analysis in “Apples and Dragon Fruits” was made possible through a large and ongoing open-source data collection and triangulation initiative at AidData that to date has helped identify more than 2,300 Chinese development  projects in Africa (via china.aiddata.org). The updated (1.2) version of AidData’s Chinese Official Finance to Africa dataset – also released today – reflects and includes data drawn from more than 6,000 sources, including academic  case studies, NGO reports, individual Chinese ministry press releases, diplomatic cables, implementing agency websites and media reports. It also eliminates some data gaps, including health-aid information that was corrected based on feedback from Chinese government officials and university researchers.

The introduction of “Health of Record” scores that help external users distinguish between project records that are more reliable and project records that require further validation.