China has committed $75bn (£48bn) on aid and development projects in Africa in the past decade, according to research which reveals the scale of what some have called Beijing’s escalating soft power “charm offensive” to secure political and economic clout on the continent.
The Chinese government releases very little information on its foreign aid activities, which remain state secrets. In one of the most ambitious attempts to date to chip away at this secrecy, US researchers have launched the largest public database of Chinese development finance in Africa, detailing almost 1,700 projects in 50 countries between 2000 and 2011.
China’s financial commitments are significantly larger than previous estimates of the country’s development finance, though still less than the estimated $90bn the US committed over that period. Researchers at AidData, at the College of William and Mary, have spent 18 months compiling and encoding thousands of media reports to construct the database, and hope users will contribute further detail on the projects.
The data, which challenges what has for years been the dominant story – Beijing’s unrelenting quest for natural resources – is likely to fuel ongoing debate over China’s motives in Africa.
There are few mining projects in the database and, while transport, storage and energy initiatives account for some of the largest sums, the data also reveals how China has put hundreds of millions of dollars towards health, education and cultural projects.