China 2008: China and the Developing World

Over the next week, CDT will post a series of topic pages on relevant issues facing China. The first, below, is on China’s relations with the developing world:

One of the most interesting developments in China’s foreign policy in the last 5-10 years has been China’s increasing involvement in the developing world. China’s involvement has taken a number of forms, including direct financial aid, strengthened trade ties, and technology/arms transfers. Additionally, China has regularly hosted and attended annual meetings from a number of regions.  One of China’s most attractive features for developing countries is that it is known for providing development aid and infrastructure assistance without conditions or requirements, in direct opposition to many Western countries and organizations.  Furthermore, China strictly adheres to a non-interference policy, respecting international sovereignty and avoiding interference in a country’s internal affairs: something the West is not necessarily committed to.  The articles linked to below primarily show China’s involvement in Africa and Latin America.  As the articles describe, China has provided a wide-range of assistance, from funding for hospitals to trade agreements.

China’s Motivations: There are a number of reasons for China’s involvement in the developing world. One of the most important of those reasons is China’s access to natural resources, which are plentiful in many of the developing countries China supports.  China is anxious to secure alternative energy sources, as well as alternative markets for its products. Additionally, China reaches out to developing nations for security reasons: it both wants to solidify its periphery as well as isolate Taiwan on the international scene. Indeed, many of the countries that China has financially aided have withdrawn their official acknowledgment of Taiwan. Finally, China provides aid to developing countries in order to support a multipolar world and hedge against the United States. On a softer note, China sees itself as the “world’s largest developing country” and feels a kinship with other developing nations, though it is quickly (if it has not already) moving out of this category.

Soft Power: Developed by Joseph Nye, soft power is the concept of expanding one’s influence through non-military means.  Scholars and journalists have recently linked China’s involvement in the developing world with the concept of soft power, commenting with some concern that China may be making a conscious effort to supplant U.S. power through its financial support of developing nations.  While Chinese influence is certainly increasing in regions such as Latin America and Africa, it is unclear whether China is making a concerted effort to supplant the United States through the use of soft power.

China’s Relationship with Pariah States: Much of the criticism of China’s foreign policy has arisen from its support of pariah states.  China supports Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe, the military junta in Burma, and has provided the government of Sudan with weapons.  As mentioned above, many consider these actions as China’s way of hedging against U.S. power. Though China has remained recalcitrant in its support of some pariah nations, it’s desire to be a respected member of the international system has led China to take a leadership role against other pariah states such as North Korea.

The World’s Response to China’s outreach: The West has become concerned with China’s involvement in the developing world for a number of reasons.  First, China’s practice of providing aid without obligations has made it difficult for the West to promote good governance and sustainable development with aid as a carrot.  Additionally, as noted above, China’s support for a number of pariah states makes it nearly impossible to isolate the states to create regime change.  Hopefully, China will increasingly prioritize its standing in the world and work to become a respectable member in the global community through more responsible lending practices.


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