China transforms its foreign assistance
By Ma Miaomiao  ·  2021-01-20  ·   Source: NO.3 JANUARY 21, 2021

Tunisian President Kais Saied (center) visits a hospital built with Chinese assistance in Sfax, Tunisia, on December 10, 2020 (XINHUA)

Based on its long-term experience in foreign assistance and South-South cooperation, China is transforming its international development cooperation. On January 10, the State Council Information Office issued a white paper to indicate the change and the future direction in the new era.

It is the first time that a white paper was issued on "international development cooperation" instead of "foreign assistance," Xu Xiuli, Dean of the College of International Development and Global Agriculture at China Agricultural University, told Global Times.

The transformation includes new models, partnerships and platforms and better coordination. China will continue to cooperate on international development as a builder of world peace, a contributor to global prosperity and a defender of the international order.

The background

Xu attributes the change to several considerations. While the future of all countries is even more closely connected in today's world, common challenges, from financial crises to public health emergencies, have become more frequent and severe in recent years.

Also, the global supply of public goods is in shortage, especially in areas such as peaceful development and national governance, and the gap between different regions, nationalities and cultures is becoming harder to bridge.

China is therefore expanding its international development cooperation and diversifying its forms. For example, it has introduced new mechanisms such as the Belt and Road Initiative and the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, and established the South-South Cooperation Assistance Fund.

From 2013 to 2018, China allocated $41.4 billion for international development cooperation in three categories—grants, interest-free loans and

concessional loans, with the least developed countries in Asia and Africa being the main recipients.

In recent years, the Belt and Road Initiative has been synergizing with national development strategies such as Pakistan's Vision 2025, the Philippines' massive infrastructure projects under its Build, Build, Build program, and the Bright Road initiative of Kazakhstan. It also supports regional plans including Agenda 2063, the development vision of the African Union.

In addition to undertaking engineering projects, providing goods and materials, and conducting technical cooperation, there are other forms of assistance. From 2012 to 2018, emergency humanitarian assistance was extended to 60 countries and debts worth $645 million were canceled, Chinese medical workers have served in over 70 countries and regions while young volunteers and volunteer Chinese-language teachers went to work in over 80 countries.

Rommel Banlaoi, President of the Philippine Association for Chinese Studies, called China's approach a vision that can be shared in the developing world, particularly by neighbors.

Supporting 2030 Agenda

China has also been helping other countries pursue the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, working in fields such as reducing poverty, ensuring food security and supporting healthcare and quality education, as well as promoting gender equality and eco-environmental protection.

It launched pilot projects to promote its experience in village-by-village poverty reduction in Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia. In Mongolia, Ecuador and Libya, training programs on healthcare policies and rehabilitation services for special groups were organized. In Samoa, a training center has been set up for the differently abled, providing them with basic education and skills.

Since 2013, over 60 capacity-building and technical training programs have been launched for women in particular. To expand women's participation in political and economic activities, part-time degree and non-degrees programs on women's leadership and social development have been created.

At the General Debate of the 75th Session of the UN General Assembly in September 2020, President Xi Jinping announced an additional $50 million for the UN Food and Agriculture Organization-China South-South Cooperation Program to continue supporting agricultural and rural development projects in countries including in Africa.

Besides the funding, Chinese experts and technicians have been sent to a dozen other developing nations to share knowledge and technology with local farmers and help improve their agricultural production.

Gilbert F. Houngbo, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, said China has been involved in the global cause of poverty alleviation through bilateral and multilateral cooperation, giving strong support to developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Last year, in the face of the novel coronavirus disease pandemic, China launched its most intensive and largest emergency humanitarian assistance mission since 1949 for more than 150 countries and international organizations.

Bridging inequality

Shi Zhiqin, a professor of international politics at Tsinghua University, considers it a priority to address the unbalanced development between developed and developing countries. With the rise of protectionism and anti-globalization, the gap between them is widening still.

China's development cooperation provides developing countries a platform of mutual assistance. William Jones, Washington Bureau chief of the Executive Intelligence Review magazine, said China has been exploring a new model of development which can be used by other developing countries to work their way out of the vicious cycle of crises which has characterized Western development policies since the 1970s.

Regarding the allegation that China's assistance is pushing recipient countries into so-called "financial crisis," he said, "The real threat of a 'debt trap' does not come from China, which concentrates almost solely on physical infrastructure, but rather from the Western banks whose doings are always of a rather speculative character." While some politicians and organizations still try to portray China's policies as influence-peddling, the reality is that its approach of promoting development works, he added.

The key principles for China's international development cooperation are respecting each other as equals, providing the means for independent economic growth, and ensuring delivery and sustainability of projects.

In the future, cooperation will be increased for countries participating in the Belt and Road Initiative, least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island and heavily indebted poor countries. China will seek to reinforce the South, which is a weak link in the global governance system, and push for the integration of more developing countries into the international specification of labor and cooperation. 

(Print Edition Title: A Fresh Approach)

Copyedited by Sudeshna Sarkar

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