In a sign of changing global economic and political influence, with a profound impact on development policy, recent reports show that China has lent more money to developing countries in the last 2 years than the World Bank. According to research by the Financial Times newspaper, the China Development Bank and China Export – Import Bank made loans of at least $110bn, compared with just over $100bn by the World Bank.
Many have traditionally been wary of China’s growing economic and financial influence in the world’s poorer countries. However, the World Bank says that it is now trying to find ways to cooperate with China’s institutions to reduce competition between the organisations. DFID has also recently announced that it is looking at ways to work very closely with China in partnership to speed up development in Africa. The European Commission has spoken about the need for a trilateral dialogue (EU-China-Africa) to support efforts towards achieving the MDGs in Africa. So it appears concern around China’s growing influence is giving way to recognition of the need to work together.
So what are the ‘dangers’ that many fear from Chinese investment? Well, concerns have been raised that Chinese aid is focussed on projects designed to provide for the domestic needs of China’s booming economy, rather than on alleviating poverty in Africa. Others are worried that lending turns a blind eye to civil and human rights abuses. Some have even mooted the idea that a ‘Cold War style’ competition for influence in Africa could ensue similar to the disastrous aid programmes, pursued by the US and Soviet Union, linked to the political preferences of the donor power.
China’s rise as a global economic power with vast financial reserves means that it is quickly becoming a major player in international development. While opinion seems to remain divided on the benevolence of this change, it cannot be ignored. Like it or not, Western donors have to find ways to work with the ‘new kid on the development block’ and develop dialogue and partnership to eradicate poverty. Development advocates will need to recognise this and adjust their focus accordingly.