New Database Details China Aid to Africa (Updated)

Reuters reports that economic researchers on Monday published a database detailing China’s aid projects in Africa in an attempt to lift the curtain of secrecy from China’s development assistance on the continent:

When the research team approached China’s Ministry of Commerce, which oversees main components of the country’s aid program, the answer they got was, “Everyone who needs to know about our generosity already knows,” Parks said.

The database, compiled from English- and Chinese-language media reports on African projects, includes an interactive map that breaks down information to country and project levels. It will continually incorporate contributions from those involved in African aid, Parks and Fuchs told Reuters in an interview.

The creators of the database offered no judgments on the contentious questions surrounding Chinese aid to Africa, saying their aim was to inform the debate with data that has been missing from existing aid statistics.

But Parks said one stereotype about China in Africa – that Beijing focuses on resource extraction and big infrastructure projects like roads, dams and stadiums – partly unravels in the face of the newly compiled data.

The beta web site for the new database includes data on Chinese projects as well as links to several recent academic publications on topic. In his first overseas trip last month, new Chinese president Xi Jinping reaffirmed China’s commitment to maintaining “friendly relationships with all African countries.”

Update: As Fons Tuinstra points out in the comments, Johns Hopkins University’s Deborah Brautigam has expressed strong reservations with the database on her blog:

Today, a new paper and media-based dataset on Chinese aid/finance was released by the AidData project, in an event at the Center for Global Development. AidData collected these numbers over the past year, from media reports. According to AidData, the Chinese have committed $75 billion in official development finance to Africa, 2000 to 2011.

[…] I’ve already provided my comments to the authors in an earlier draft, and warned them about the pitfalls of this approach. Here’s my conclusion: this number is way off. Yes, it’s a start, and yes, the goal is a good one, but the approach, and the publication of this data at this early stage, is a problem, for several reasons.

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