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West right to abandon bias of China’s development assistance model

By Song Wei Source:Global Times Published: 2019/8/19 20:28:39

Illustration: Luo Xuan/GT



China has been providing foreign assistance to Africa for almost 70 years, and seven decades ago, the newly founded People's Republic of China did not hesitate in its selfless support of newly independent African countries in their desire to make their nations stronger. 

Now, as anti-globalization trends rise, the international development system led by the West is in a predicament. African countries' expectations of Chinese development aid are growing. 

Some Western opinions criticize China's official assistance to Africa from ideological and geopolitical perspectives, describing it as neocolonialism, debt diplomacy or from an intent to exploit Africa's natural resources. These distorted notions fundamentally reflect the West's utilitarian point of view when it comes to foreign aid. For them, foreign aid, even humanitarian aid, is a form of bribery to achieve the political ends of the donor countries.

Holding this idea, the utilitarian model of foreign assistance has certainly malfunctioned. However, they blame the recipient countries for the failure of foreign assistance. According to Western donors, due to poor public governance, the development assistance they provided failed to achieve the desired outcomes.  

Thus, Western donors generate policies based on their own experience and neoliberal rhetoric, adding political conditions to foreign assistance. They threaten to halt assistance if recipients fail to enact Western-backed reforms. Against this backdrop, many African countries were forced to rush into privatization and democratization reforms, which resulted in political unrest and economic recession. 

In contrast, China's development assistance is underpinned by quite different values, as the country has shared experiences from being colonized, has the same developing country's identity and shares the same mission as African nations to build a strong and independent nation.  

For a period of more than 100 years, China's sovereignty was compromised under foreign intervention. After the founding of the People's Republic of China, policymakers paid great respect to other countries' sovereignty. It is the basis on which China has developed foreign relations and dealt with other developing countries. China emphasizes that it will not intervene in other countries' internal affairs through any form or channel. The stance China takes has gained wide acceptance and recognition among African countries. Therefore, the China-backed railway connecting Tanzania and Zambia goes by the name of the Great Uhuru Railway, where Uhuru means freedom in Swahili. China attracts wide support from African countries at the UN.

As a developing country, China respects the path chosen by African countries themselves and makes sure African countries maintain integrated sovereignty while using China's development assistance. The desirable result and goal of the Chinese development assistance has been clear: The assistance should be used to promote national economic independence of African countries, instead of making those countries depend on foreign countries. 

Entering the 21st century, Africa was on the rise after the "third wave" of democratization. The continent now faces a new round of political transformation after the Arab Spring. How to promote good governance has become a shared topic of China and African countries. 

Despite the fact that sharing governance experience is no longer the key subject of development aid to Africa, supporting countries on the continent to explore development paths and draft development strategies that best suit them is still the premises of China's development assistance. 

The Chinese approach to foreign aid which is in accordance with recipient countries' situations and development demand has altered the power structure of the Western traditional aid system. By opening up more options for recipients, China has weakened Western donors' bargaining power, so recipients can pick the development model which fits them best. China's approach is welcomed by developing countries.

Chinese development assistance approach has an obvious comparative advantage to the Western model. The success of the Chinese approach has prompted the West to reflect and securitize their aid with political add-ons from a theoretical level to a practical level. The West's attitude toward China's assistance also started to turn from taunting to facing it, from reproaching to engagement or trying to exert influence. 

In recent years, countries such as the US, France and Australia have proposed trilateral development cooperation. Japan even attempted to promote city-level cooperation to bypass the complicated approval procedures of central governments. 

Facing the growing complications of international development assistance, China should not stay on the sidelines. It is necessary for the country to learn and borrow international experience to complement each other and jointly make contributions to African modernization. 

The author is an associate research fellow at the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation under the Ministry of Commerce. [email protected]

Posted in: EXPERT ASSESSMENT

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