China says foreign aid budget over six decades tops US$58 billion

China has given about 400 billion yuan (HK$450 billion) in development aid over the past six decades to 166 countries and international organisations, the State Council said on Friday.

The amount, disclosed in a white paper, is far less than the European Union and its members gave for just last year, but sheds light on China’s eagerness to boost its status on the global arena through aid.

The paper did not give a breakdown of how the aid was spent, but added that China would introduce six “One Hundred Programmes” targeting developing countries, focusing on poverty reduction, agricultural cooperation, trade aid, environmental protection and climate change, hospital clinics, and schools and vocational training centres.

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It also said China had trained more than 12 million people from developing countries and deployed more than 600,000 aid workers overseas. Of these, some 700 died during their mission. To date, China has also sent 2,600 peacekeepers on 10 United Nations missions.

But China’s aid has been criticised as a way for Beijing to extend its geopolitical influence abroad in exchange for resources and commodities, despite Beijing’s assurances there are no political strings attached.

China has poured aid into building schools and hospitals in Africa, but resentment against Chinese projects remains strong with local people complaining they have not benefited.

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A recent paper published in October by AidData, a research unit at the College of William Mary in the United States that tracks more than US$40 trillion in development aid, said a disproportionate share of Chinese development projects showed up in politically privileged areas – specifically the birth regions of African leaders and their spouses.

The average African leader’s birth region receives roughly three times as much (195 per cent more) financial support from China during the leader’s time in power.

By contrast, there is no evidence for this type of political targeting bias among World Bank-funded projects, according to the paper, which claimed to have collected data on 117 African leaders’ birthplaces and ethnic groups and geocoded 1,955 Chinese development finance projects across 3,553 locations in Africa from 2000 to 2012.

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Huang Meibo, a professor of politics at the department of international economics and business at Xiamen University, said China’s current aid to African countries was mostly being decided between the Chinese government and officials from the receiving governments.

This state of affairs had led to “possible disjointedness” between the actual needs of people and the places where the aid was being sent, Huang said.

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