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China Releases First Report On Foreign Aid

China on Thursday released its first report on the country’s investment in foreign aid over the past few decades and its impact on developing countries, noting that “its rise as an aid donor is a good development at a time when the global financial crisis is straining most other countries’ spending,” the Associated Press/Washington Post reports. 

“Its budgeted foreign aid has swelled nearly 30 percent a year since 2004, and from the first year of the Communist government in 1950 through 2009 has totaled 256.2 billion yuan ($39.2 billion), the State Council Information Office said in the report,” the news service writes (4/21).

The report describes the distribution and management of the country’s foreign aid, Xinhua reports. According to the news service, low-income countries in Africa and Asia are the recipients of an estimated 80 percent of the China’s total foreign aid, but aid money also goes to low-income developing countries in the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, Latin America and Oceania. “The aid funds are mainly geared toward agriculture, industry, economic infrastructure, public facilities, education and medical and health care,” the report found, according to Xinhua.

A separate Xinhua article provides a greater breakdown of how aid money, including grants, interest-free loans and concessional loans, has been spent, according to the report. For instance, “[i]n the financial resources provided by China, grants are mainly used to help recipient countries to build hospitals, schools and low-cost houses and support well-digging or water-supply, and other projects for social welfare as well as in the fields of human resources development cooperation, technical cooperation, assistance in kind and emergency humanitarian aid,” the news service writes (4/21).

Since dispatching its first medical team to Algeria in 1963, the report estimates more than 21,000 health workers have worked in recipient countries, where they have treated about 260 million patients, Xinhua/People’s Daily Online reports. “In 2009, 60 Chinese medical teams composed of 1,324 members provided medical services at 130 medical institutions in 57 developing countries, according to the white paper,” the news service writes (4/21).

While aid money from China has been “welcomed by recipient governments, it has drawn fire from the U.S. and other Western donors, who say Beijing’s lack of transparency is contributing to corruption and mismanagement,” the AP/Washington Post continues. “While the report addresses some criticisms, … it largely glosses over contentious issues. It lacks specifics on aid to particular countries and does not address complaints that many aid-backed projects require the use of Chinese contractors or are used to secure rights to oil, minerals or other natural resources.” Despite such shortcomings, the news service describes the release of the report as a “step toward transparency for a government that has largely refused to subject its aid program to international scrutiny.”

The report defends China’s aid program, portraying the country as “a willing and reliable partner for the developing world, ready to grant assistance without ‘political strings attached’ unlike Western donors who impose stringent conditions and whose own budgets are increasingly strained,” the AP/Washington Post writes, adding that the country’s total aid remains significantly lower than major donors like the U.S. China provided $3.1 billion in development assistance in 2009, while the U.S. provided $28.8 billion in the same year, according to the news service (4/21).