In just a few decades, China has gone from aid recipient to net aid donor and one of the most important foreign policy players in the world. It now rivals traditional Western donors and lenders in terms of spending and impact, as William & Mary's AidData reveals in a new global dataset profiled by the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Economist, CNN and more.
Five years in the making, AidData’s data collection effort has pulled back the curtain on Chinese aid, capturing more than USD $350 billion in foreign aid and other forms of state financing that China committed to five major regions of the world (Africa, the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Central and Eastern Europe) from 2000 to 2014.
While Beijing’s broad ambitions are well known, the details of China’s development activities are not. China has remained a non-transparent funder of overseas projects, creating an informational black hole for those trying to understand where and on what it is spending its money.
With more than 4,300 projects in 140 countries and territories, this new dataset is the most comprehensive source of information on China’s global development footprint ever assembled. By capturing and disaggregating funding from Chinese government institutions (including central, state or local government) on multiple levels, users can zoom in on different types of aid. AidData has made the full dataset publicly available via aiddata.org/china.
“Our work is based on a simple but important insight: if you want to know what the Chinese are really doing globally, you have to follow the money,” said Brad Parks, AidData’s executive director. “There are many myths about Chinese aid that rest upon flimsy sources of evidence. Our hope is that the release of this dataset will expose to careful empirical scrutiny many of the claims that have been made about China’s motivations and impacts.”
The release of this dataset is timely as China rolls out its “One Belt, One Road” initiative and as broad shifts in the global economic order are underway.
“This new window into China’s overseas development program is particularly important given the possibility of U.S. retrenchment in both the aid and diplomatic spheres,” said Samantha Custer, director of AidData’s Policy Analysis Unit. “If the U.S. follows through on its rhetoric and scales back its global footprint, China may be well-positioned to step into the breach and cement its role as a preferred donor and lender to the developing world.”
Although both countries have overseas project portfolios roughly similar in scale and scope ($394.6 billion in U.S. aid and $354.3 billion in Chinese aid over the same period), they move these resources through very different financial channels. 93 percent of U.S spending during this period was in the form of official development assistance — the strict definition of aid, also known as “ODA.” China, by contrast, provided less than a quarter (23 percent) of its financial support via ODA.
The new global dataset builds upon and extends an earlier dataset that AidData published in 2013 on Chinese official financing to Africa. Since then, AidData’s efforts to collect and analyze data on China’s global development footprint have been funded by Humanity United, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Academic Research Fund of Singapore’s Ministry of Education, the United Nations University World Institute for Development Economics Research (UNU-WIDER) and William & Mary.