Space success raises foreign-aid dilemma

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 October, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 October, 2003, 12:00am

SCMP, October 24, 2003

Aid workers say they expect to come under pressure from their governments to justify the same levels of development assistance in light of China's successful and costly space programme.

But they say the governments are unlikely to cut the aid.

Editorials in Western newspapers have asked why the mainland should receive US$1.8 billion in aid a year when it chooses to spend US$2 billion a year on its space programme.

Keshav Gautam, programme co-ordinator for Action Aid in Beijing, conceded he saw 'some sense in the logic'.

But he said: 'This is a question that could be put to many other states.

'India and Pakistan are a similar case. Millions of people in these countries are living in poverty, but their governments have forgotten about them.

'Look how much India and Pakistan are spending on developing their military technologies.'

Mr Gautam also argued that South Asian governments were not as good as China at meeting the needs of their peoples.

A worker for an Asian charity in Beijing said: 'India and North Korea both have nuclear programmes and people are still donating funds to them', and asked why China should be treated any differently.

Mr Gautam said because aid was often politically motivated, he was not worried that the tap would be turned off any time soon.

'Aid does not come free. There are a lot of strings attached,' he said.

'I think aid will continue to flow in. I don't see a big threat.'

According to Nick Young, editor of the China Development Brief in Beijing, some foreign aid donors see themselves as small players in a country that is spending billions of dollars of its own money for poverty alleviation.

'It's not like they're handing out cash to a beggar, or poor China,' Young said.

'A lot of donors see their aid as leverage intended to get the Chinese to change the way they're doing things.'

Young pointed to the example of Scandinavian countries, which he said tied their aid to human rights-related programmes.

'Something like the launch of the Shenzhou V will always have an impact on international donors,' he said.

'But donors are already wrestling with the fact that China is a country with huge resources.'

Young pointed out that the trend towards reducing aid to China was a reality before the space launch.

China was already declared ineligible for concessionary lending from the World Bank and the World Food Programme had set a date to pull out of China.

Business leaders said foreign companies would not change their aid practices as a result.

'Global companies are not going to be affected, because they still want to compete,' said Scott Kronick, managing director of Ogilvy Worldwide Public Relations, China.