China’s Aid to Africa: Monster or Messiah?

At Brookings, Yun Sun explores the heated debate around China’s presence in Africa which came into the spotlight after the rapid growth of Chinese investment in the continent since 2000:

With a few exceptions, there is a strong tendency among observers to assert moral judgments in the assessment of Chinese aid and development finance to Africa: China’s activities are either “evil” because they represent China’s selfish quest for natural resources and damage Africa’s fragile efforts to improve governance and build a sustainable future; or they are “virtuous” because they contribute to a foundation for long-term economic development, through infrastructure projects and revenue creation.

This polarization reveals the two sides of the same coin. On the positive side, China’s aid and development financing fills a void left by the West and promotes the development of African countries. Many Chinese projects require large investment and long pay-back terms that traditional donors are reluctant to provide.  On the other hand, however, these short-term benefits should not form a cover-up for the potential long-term negative consequences associated with neglecting issues of governance, fairness and sustainability. For example, when the “tied aid” is linked to the profitability of Chinese companies, it becomes questionable whether China would prioritize Africa’s interests or its own.

[...] The intention of China’s aid to Africa is benign but not altruistic. China does not seek to use aid to influence the domestic politics of African countries or dictate policies. Instead, it truly hopes to help Africa achieve better development while avoiding meddling with the internal affairs of African countries through conditional aid. But on the other hand, China is not helping Africa in exchange for nothing. Chinese projects create access to Africa’s natural resources and local markets, business opportunities for Chinese companies and employment for Chinese labors. When Chinese officials emphasize that China also provides aid to countries that are not rich in natural resources to defuse international criticisms, they often forget to mention that China may have its eyes on other things which these countries can deliver, such as their support of Beijing’s “one China” policy, of China’s agenda at multilateral forums, and of China as a “responsible stakeholder.”  In this sense, China’s comprehensive, multi-dimensional agenda of its aid to Africa defies any simplistic categorization. [Source]

Read more about China’s relations with Africa via CDT.