China committed more than US$75 billion to Africa in the past decade, coming close to the level of US money although the nature of Beijing’s support was far different, a study said on Monday.
The database released by the Center for Global Development aims to be the most comprehensive account yet of foreign assistance by China, which has faced criticism in Western countries suspicious of Beijing’s motives.
The report found that China committed US$75.4 billion to Africa from 2000 to 2011, just under the US$90 billion by the United States and representing about one-fifth of the total from all major donor nations.
But the researchers verified that only around US$1.1 billion a year from China was official development assistance as defined by the club of major donors under the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
As defined by the group, aid needs to have economic development as the main objective and any loans must have concessional rates – or at least 25 per cent of the money coming as a grant.
“Pound for pound, when you compare the US versus China, the total official finance is roughly comparable. However, different people mean different things when they talk about Chinese aid,” said Bradley Parks of the College of William and Mary, who is executive director of the AidData initiative behind the study.
“The composition of the official finance is very different,” he said.
Amid the rapid growth of China’s economy, the emerging Asian power has increasingly been seen as a major player in international development, but it has resisted calls to be more transparent on its spending.
Faced with opaque data from Beijing, the new database instead draws on thousands of media reports about Chinese projects, tracking them to verify that they are going forward.
Western nations have led the charge that China is primarily interested in Africa for its natural resources and ignores the conditions of democracy and good governance on which the United States, Europeans and others insist.
The database showed a wide variety of Chinese initiatives in Africa. The most funding went to debt relief, followed by transport and storage projects and then by the agricultural sector.
Items funded by China ranged from a defence college in Zimbabwe, whose veteran leader Robert Mugabe is a pariah in the West, to an opera house in Algeria.
Ghana was the top recipient of Chinese money, although Beijing gave widely across the continent – except to countries that recognise Taiwan, which Beijing considers part of its territory.
Parks, the co-author of the study, said that the researchers’ main goal was to improve public information about Chinese assistance, not to answer questions on Beijing’s intentions.
“Frankly, there are a lot of people out there who have taken very strong opinions on one side or the other,” he said.
“From our perspective, the value of what we’ve accomplished is to try to create a public good of use to researchers, journalists and civil society organisations and they can draw their own conclusions,” he said.