Why China Should Send Aid Abroad

September 07th, 2011 | Economic Observer

Since June, Beijing authorities have shut down 30 unlicensed schools that had been serving the children of the city’s migrants workers. And yet while there’s now no school for these children because their parents don’t have a Beijing hukou (residence permit), a project called “China-Africa Project Hope” (中非希望工程) opened with fanfare to assist countries like Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya, Namibia and Burundi in building 1,000 schools over the next decade.

Initiated by an organization called the “World Eminent Chinese Business Conference” (世界杰出华商大会), and endorsed by the Ministry of Civil Affairs, this project immediately sparked criticism: “Why are we ignoring our own kids, while building primary schools in Africa?”

Many people hold the view that “China is still a developing country with enough difficulties of its own, why should we be sending aid to other countries?”

I personally hold a very different view. I believe in the internationalization of China’s philanthropy, for several reasons.

First, by going abroad, we can share international philanthropic resources to develop China’s strength in this field; second, by assisting others, China will raise its global status and improve its image; third, by learning from the experience of others, China will improve its professionalism and improve “social supervision” and transparency.

China itself has been a beneficiary of international assistance. It’s the world’s largest developing country, and over the past 30 years it has received nearly $7 billion of direct aid, as well as more than $140 billion of aid as soft loans from international financial institutions and foreign governments.

Shanghai’s Suzhou Creek pollution control project, for example, as well as the expansion of Beijing’s subway system and international airport, all received funds and technical support from abroad. Not only did this aid solve the financial problems which China faced, but it also brought us valuable technical and managerial experience.

When Wen Jiabao, China’s premier, attended the United Nations’ Millenium Development Goals Summit in 2000, he vowed that China would build 200 schools, send 3,000 medical specialists, train 5,000 medical personnel, provide 100 hospitals with medical equipment and medicine, and support 200 energy and environmental projects to promote sustainable development in developing countries.

In recent years, various arguments continue to appear about the threats posed by a rising China. They mostly come from some developed Western countries, whereas we rarely see this kind of “China threat” analysis emanating from developing countries.

One very important reason is that people in these parts of the world share a common sense of identity with China, by expanding aid to developing countries, China can further enhance this bond.

In addition, via aid projects, these countries will also naturally alter their previously mistaken views about China by coming into contact with Chinese products, and this will also help establish a preference for Chinese goods in the future. China has gradually become an economic power, so the world is changing its view on the role China plays – and what image it has on the international stage.

The Chinese government, entrepreneurs and NGOs should all participate more actively in international philanthropy. This will impact on China’s global reputation and also global strategy in the future.

China still has a lot to learn to develop a more worldly perspective, and to understand the concept of “global charity”.

It needs to study the international financial regulatory mechanisms and how charitable foundations operate.

It needs to insist on openness and transparency in its operation, such as annual accounts and the disclosure and reporting of its finances, as well as accepting outside auditing so as to establish a credible mechanism for tracking the flow of donations, and to ensure the charity’s credit rating.

China should also allow the establishment of charitable organizations which don’t rely on the government, looking to the strength of organizations such as Oxfam UK, Taiwan Buddhists’ Tzu Chi Foundation and Médecins Sans Frontières.

Up until recently, domestic Chinese charities have rarely participated in humanitarian relief work in the third world.

The China-Africa Project Hope will be one of these actions. As long as this project’s executive body can commit itself to being 100% transparent, and to being financially audited by a reputable accounting firm, the project will be a great achievement and China should contribute to it.

We are much more likely to win favor through non-government charitable assistance than through state-backed financial aid. Besides, this is also a new non-governmental diplomatic channel. It’s much easier to reach a recipient country’s people, to gain their trust, and promote deeper mutual understanding and cooperation through non-government aid.

China’s philanthropy must go global.

The public should focus more attention on ensuring these organizations are open and transparent so as to ensure a sound basis for the development of Chinese charities abroad.

No matter how many flaws there are in the way Chinese charities operate, we still ought to have confidence in charitable work. After all, China needs to participate in charitable projects and to have a good heart.

By Jin Chen (金晨), from Peking University’s National School of Development

Category: Africa, Asia / Pacific, Central & South America, Featured Articles, International Relations