How do recipient countries regard China’s aid? Two new papers shed light

Guest post by Hannah Ryder, CEO of Development Reimagined, and former head of partnerships for UNDP China

What do the governments of countries like Cameroon or Cambodia really think of Chinese aid and loans? It’s a question few commentators and funders ask, and even fewer are interested in helping respond to the challenges they raise.

Instead, the focus is typically on how North American or European governments view the Chinese government’s aid for poorer countries – from accusations of “debt traps” to “donation diplomacy”, while the audience for most work on China’s international footprint is typically North American or European interlocutors.

Two new papers by analysts at Development Reimagined, an African-owned development consultancy headquartered in China of which I am the director, published by the Center for Global Development, a Washington- and London-based think tank, represent a first step in addressing this deficit.

How it Works

The first paper – China’s Aid from the Bottom Up: Recipient Country’s Reporting on Chinese Development Cooperation Flows – interrogates a set of fascinating data sent by recipient countries such as Cameroon and Cambodia every 2 years to the Global Partnership for Development Cooperation (GPEDC), which was created in 2011. It is the only data set that sheds light on how effective China’s aid for developing countries is, both across those countries and compared to other aid providers, from the recipients’ perspective.

The most recent round of data collated by the GPEDC includes data on China coming directly from 27 very different countries across the globe, covering approx. $1.2bn of Chinese aid in 2017, and a mix of loans and grants. The paper also digs deeper by providing the results of interviews and a survey to understand why and how the recipient countries gathered the data and the challenges they faced.

The second paper provides a “beginner’s guide” to China’s foreign aid. With helpful diagrams, the guide is written with government representatives and civil society in recipient countries in mind, so that they can better understand the systems and use this understanding to demand what they need in the way they need it from China, as China did itself with its aid partners, and also push others development partners to do better, based on the best of Chinese processes.

So what does the report say that governments such as Madagascar or Nepal want to change about Chinese aid to ensure it reaches the poorest people?

First, the good. In the eyes of the 27 reporting countries, China performs well on compared to other aid providers on aspects such as how predictable the aid is – i.e. usually if Chinese stakeholders say they will deliver a project they will – and also how much the aid can be transparently recorded on government budgets – reflecting the fact that Chinese aid is often negotiated between governments, rather than channelled to the private sector or civil society, which is more common with other development partners.

The bad? The 27 reporting countries suggest that China seems to be more focused on inputs (e.g. roads built or health kits donated) than real results in terms of poverty reduction, and many of the ideas and delivery of Chinese aid come from and are by Chinese stakeholders – not the country’s own (i.e. tied aid, in the jargon). Most also feel that China’s loan and grants procedures are complex, even just for recording purposes.

Overall, the data and responses from recipient countries show that neither China nor other aid providers can claim to be unequivocally better – they all have a way to go to fulfil modern expectations for truly beneficial development partnerships.

And that’s the real challenge. China is just one partner in a global aid industry that remains ineffective.

Jonathan Glennie, Lead Author of the report, said: In giving aid, China should not be accountable to the Global North. It should be accountable to the Global South and the key issues the Global South cares about. Our report shows that recipient countries desperately want to understand and manage aid themselves, whether from China, US or the UAE. The role of the international development community is to amplify and support this desire and help aid recipients gain more agency vis-à-vis China as well as other development partners”.

That’s where the “guide” comes in – it responds directly to this challenge by clearly setting out Chinese aid management structures to help recipient countries better engage with their Chinese interlocutors, and get the best out of Chinese aid, however “good” or “bad” it currently is.

Subscribe to our Newsletter

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link in the footer of our emails. For information about our privacy practices, please see our .

We use MailChimp as our marketing platform. By subscribing, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to MailChimp for processing. Learn more about MailChimp's privacy practices here.


9 Responses to “How do recipient countries regard China’s aid? Two new papers shed light”
  1. It is important to get balanced perspectives on China’s engagement around the world, given the noise in the West about what is done. Those interested in the topic might want to check out SAIS-CARI’s highly credible research and now database produced under supervision of Deborah Brautigam – including on China’s lending practices in Africa and the propagated noise and hype about African countries’ debt to China (which frankly sometimes reminds one of racist/colonial mindsets that imply African leaders cannot think for themselves about what is best for what they wish to achieve).

    • Hi Zenda, late to your comment but thank you very much for highlighting Deborah and her team’s work. We think what they do is excellent. Indeed, in the main report we do make reference to it, and in fact we had in an earlier draft written more about the comparisons between what their research and others incl. aid data gather, but didn’t publish those in the end – maybe we should, soon! In addition, would love to point you to a new piece of work we have been doing on African debt, exploring exactly the issues you mention, and interrogating current narratives on the economic future of African countries. Our analysis suggests that there are aspects of the structure of global debt that need to change. Find all the analysis here: Thank you again!

    • Liberatus J. Rwebugisa

      It is extremely misleading/misguided to think that the UN, IMF, WB, USA, EU, and/or China have a genuine interest in alleviating or eradicating poverty in Africa (and elsewhere). They are NOT and they will NEVER be. They have their own geopolitical economic interests, one of which is “Siphoning resources and globalizing poverty by destabilizing ‘their strategic’ regions/nations.” Nothing more, nothing less. It is upon the Africans and the African leadership to stand on our feet, define Africa’s interests, make a bold decision to join the negotiation table as one voice to build equitable partnerships, reject false pretense and fraudulence/dishonest from the North, and build a new Africa. It is time to think community empowerment NOT aid/loan projects. Thinking otherwise is naive at best, and fraudulent at worse.

  2. Larry Garber

    Join earlier comment in encouraging readers to check out the SAIS-CARI research. Surprised there is no reference to this work (even if only to highlight different approaches) in the post. Also agree that China’s aid raises fundamental questions about who decides what is best for a recipient country (the country ownership question revisited) and how to assess the true economic benefits of the assistance provided by China.

    • Hello Larry, thank you very much for your comment. As I’ve responded separately to the earlier comment, indeed we do refer to Deborah and team’s excellent research, I and my team use it often. That said, the GPEDC data set that we draw on for this report IS unique and worth highlighting in its own right. It is bottom-up, directly from countries, and from across the world. SAIS-CARI research is, in contrast, top-down. Data from aid-data, JICA, etc is also from different sources. SAIS-CARI also only focuses on Africa. Hope that makes the distinction in approach clear, and feel free to be in touch with us directly (at if you’d like to know more in terms of comparisons in terms of size, etc. We’ve done that analysis just not published it. Thanks!

  3. It takes a special leadership ethos, when approached by potential donors from ANY country or organization, to stay away from personal inducements and to proactively focus agreements toward societal uplifting over personal gains. Similarly, donor representatives approaching a government or organization ought to do so from altruism, not personal or political gain. We must try to help others because we ought to support humankind through difficulties.

  4. Hi Hannah, very interesting read!

    When considering the impact of aid provided by China (or by any other development partner), we need to take into account not only the direct effects, but also the ‘second-order’ effects on the broader economy. For example, Chinese contractors and businesses also create jobs for local workers, contribute to build their capacity etc. In many African countries, Chinese-financed and built infrastructure projects have contributed to developing domestic cement or construction material industries, with positive effects for the rest of the economy.

    We discuss these issues in a new synthesis report, available here:

    This draws from excellent research from top scholars in the field (including SAIS-CARI, mentioned in the comments above), here: