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A new report by the Centre for Global Development finds that China is both a growing donor to global organisations while remaining a major borrower from development banks. Photo: EPA-EFE

Time for fresh look at China’s unique global donor-borrower role: report

  • Centre for Global Development says China is second in voting power in development banks and made large contributions to United Nations agencies
  • ‘It’s taken its place as a major donor alongside countries like the US and Japan, but it’s still benefiting from the system,’ an author of the report says
While bringing ample benefits, China’s growing contributions and influence in global organisations like the World Bank and the United Nations should be reconsidered, a new report on China’s international engagement has concluded.
The country is now second in terms of voting power in multilateral development banks, behind only the United States. This is mostly due to the growth in China’s contributions. Between 2010 and 2020, the country’s total subscribed capital to the system grew to US$67 billion from US$17 billion, according to the report, which was released on Thursday by the Centre for Global Development.
China’s engagement with the United Nations has grown significantly in recent years, becoming the UN’s fifth-largest contributor in 2019, according to the study. Photo: Bloomberg

Sarah Rose, a co-author of the report and a policy fellow at the centre, a non-profit research and policy group in Washington, said that as China’s voluntary contributions had increased, the country had come to occupy a special role.

“China is in a unique position: it’s taken its place as a major donor alongside countries like the US and Japan, but it’s still benefiting from the system at the same time, to the tune of billions of dollars in subsidised loans and procurement contracts,” she said.

“It’s a position that gives China quite a lot of power and influence across these institutions.”

China’s influence in global bodies has drawn concerns after internal audits and an external review by a law firm engaged by the bank found that World Bank leaders in 2018 pressured economists to manipulate data for its flagship “Ease of Doing Business Report” so that China would have a higher ranking. The report has since been discontinued, according to the bank.

The Centre for Global Development report found that, over the last decade, contractors from China had secured more World Bank procurement contracts than any other country, in all about 20 per cent of their value – 25 times higher than those won by US firms.

The report found that contractors from China have secured more World Bank procurement contracts over the last decade than any other country. Photo: Reuters

One reason for the strong performance, the report said, could be that the Chinese firms were particularly active and competitive in sectors that tended to dominate the multilateral development bank procurement, such as energy, water, and transport.

The study also referred to subsidies from the Chinese government that might have benefited state-owned contractors and let them undercut the bids of other contractors.

While China had become a large donor, its ranking as a recipient of multilateral institutional financing and international aid had fallen, though it remained a major borrower at lenders such as the Asian Development Bank and the New Development Bank, the study found.

IMF briefed on probe into China’s ‘Doing Business’ report rankings at World Bank

China has dropped from being the second-largest borrower to the seventh-largest for the ADB. Its ranking for the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development fell to No 9 in 2020, after being among the bank’s top five borrowers between 2012 and 2018, the study found.


Rowan Rockafellow, a research assistant at the centre and co-author of the report, said China has increasingly given money to the world’s poorest countries through development banks, while the US had reduced its contributions.

“Certainly, there are problems associated with China’s multilateral engagement – just look at the procurement section of our report. There are also tremendous benefits, not least of which includes more money for climate change mitigation, adaptation, and global health,” Rockafellow posted on Twitter.

China’s engagement with the UN system has also evolved significantly within the last decade. It was the fifth-largest contributor, behind the US, Germany, Britain and Japan, in 2019 as its financing and peacekeeping cooperation with the UN grew, according to the study.


China’s contributions to large UN development organisations rose 250 per cent between 2010 and 2019, with significant growth in contributions to agricultural, food security and children’s fund programmes, the report said.

At the same time, the largest source of aid to China, the UN Development Programme, has reduced its funding for the country over the past decade. But a handful of smaller agencies, including the International Labour Organization, World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization, increased their funding to the country, the study found.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Call for fresh look at Beijing’s growing international sway