For the second edition of the TSDM Case Studies in Chinese Political Economy course, students attended a talk by Professor Dan Banik of the University of Oslo Centre for Development and Environment. The presentation and ensuing conversation centered around changing trends in developmental aid, with particular attention given to the China model of assistance and its applications in Africa. At a time when this analysis is particularly topical given trends of criticism towards and reconsideration of Chinese extending influence in the developing world, Professor Banik left us with new information and unanswered questions begging further exploration.
在中国政治经济案例分析的第二次课上,来自奥斯陆大学环境与发展中心的Dan Banik教授为同学们带来了一次精彩的演讲,主题是发展性援助的变化趋势,其中着重 关注中国对非援助的模式以及该模式在非洲的应用情况。当前,由于西方国家逐渐开 始重视中国在发展中国家影响力的扩大,中国对非援助与中非关系已经成为了一个十分热门的话题, Banik教授的演讲不仅为我们带来了许多新的信息和知识,还为我 们留下了思考问题以帮助我们更好地了解主题。
Banik began his presentation with an examination of traditional aid motivations with roots in the Fukuyaman rhetoric coming out of liberal capitalist democracies as they worked to extend their proclaimed triumphant developmental model across the developing world. China, he argued, has been so welcomed by countries in Africa because it attempts to distance itself from, and in some cases outright reject, altruistic aid that is often made conditional upon ascribing to certain ‘western’ ideologies and values. Rather, China endorses aid in line with economic interests that coincide with national interests as part of a mutually beneficial relationship. For example, in contrast to the clear wall that European and American countries delineate between official development assistance (ODA) and business investment, Chinese operations tend to blur this line. China does not use the ‘savior narrative’ when embarking upon such ‘win-win’ ventures, which according to Banik helps increase buy-in from African leaders by giving at least the appearance of a partnership, rather than simple charity. It also helps that Chinese aid comes with few questions and no requirements of having to implement policies in line with the values of the donor. China regularly asserts that it is the largest developing country in the world, and thus can claim to understand challenges of development while also being able to credibly limit the it commits to projects, in contrast to the often open-ended Western operations seen as interventionism.
Despite the aforementioned positive attributes of this model from the Chinese perspective, and notwithstanding western criticisms stemming from protectionist reflexes, the most telling criticism is that Chinese development aid has itself developed a neocolonialist character. Much of this mutually beneficial exchange network is constructed whereby raw materials go from Africa to China to be processed and resold to African nations as manufactured goods - a cycle more reminiscent of British trade with India than a new-age development strategy. And even though China has traditionally made a habit of focusing aid on turnkey projects that are
to be maintained by the local nations upon completion, more and more recent projects are diverging from this implementation model due to recipient government demands for follow-up materials, assistance with repairs, and other maintenance that only Chinese engineers can provide. As a result, China is now finding itself stuck in the long-term commitments for which it has always criticized the West. In this same vein, the Chinese model’s emphasis on not asking tough questions of the local governments has started to lead to issues as underlying political tensions and questions of project ownership, studiously ignored during project design, cause problems following completion.
The involvement of the Chinese private sector in these activities is the subject of both criticism and heightened interest, as the role companies and corporations play is unique. There is the argument that Chinese development assistance has led to the growth of corporate social responsibility, evidenced by increasing business support for public sector policies. As China has no official aid agency, such as NORAD in Norway or USAID in the USA, many of the companies involved in public projects assume the work traditionally done by governmental organs, even before winning a government contract for continuing their work. While the key role that the private sector plays in Chinese-led development is not well understood, Banik argues that this point could provide an interesting basis for comparison with other international aid models, and thus demands further exploration.
What is clear from Banik’s talk is that both Western and Chinese donors have much learn from each other. The Chinese could learn from the West how to better conduct feasibility studies and ask hard questions up front, in order to better ensure long-term viability of projects. As the Chinese find themselves in longer-term commitments, they could also learn from the West's expertise in resource management and organizational capacity building. The West, by contrast, could learn from China’s more business-focused development model. Critiques of China from the West are often exaggerated, particularly on matters of good governance, when in reality the two sides are not in direct competition and many aspects of the Chinese aid model are undertaken by NGOs working in the same space. The Chinese are able to work within systems of corrupt governments, potentially because of different perceptions of right and wrong in terms of what constitutes corruption, which is potentially a source of their greater efficiency in African countries; NGOs tend to just go around the state altogether and give aid to grassroots initiatives. Western organizations could certainly be more efficient if they were better able to work with local governments. Mostly, the West could be more effective by treating aid recipients as partners rather than charity-cases.
Of course, questions were raised during the discussion on a variety of issues, including ‘dead
aid,’ the feasibility of incorporating anti-corruption clauses into business agreements, and the tradeoff between full support and local capacity building. What is left for us now, Professor Banik implied in parting, is to attempt to understand the bigger picture formed by all these pieces, and reevaluate aid structures to promote future growth through understanding the differences between the Chinese and Western aid models.