Tracking Chinese Aid

Don’t miss this week’s show on foreign policy and politics.


This week our show looked at some of the trickiest questions in foreign policy — when should the U.S. intervene in the Middle East? How should the West respond to rising ethnic nationalism in Eastern Europe? And how can we anticipate the decline of whole civilizations?

On top of that, one of our segments tackled the tricky issue of foreign aid, recently a subject of intense criticism from “America first” nationalists and right-wing fiscal hawks. We spoke to Michael Tierney, a founder of AidData.org, who hopes to counter criticism of foreign aid ineffectiveness with better data on where the money is going.

But with President Trump rolling back foreign aid commitments and USAID potentially on the chopping block, it might be time to worry less about what America is doing and more about what the other guys are up to.

That’s why AidData.org hasn’t stopped at tracking US aid. It’s also paying close attention to Chinese foreign aid around the globe.

Chinese foreign investment has expanded massively in the past two decades as China’s economy continues to grow. In a provocatively titled New York Times Magazine article, “Is China the World’s New Colonial Power?“, reporter Brook Larmer traces the vast network of Chinese infrastructure spending across Africa, Asia, and Latin America — a network you can see mapped out on AidData’s website.

In tiny Rwanda alone, China is investing in over 50 projects, from a youth employment scheme to the construction of a women’s center.


“Everyone in America—from consumers to businesspeople—should understand what’s happening in China.”

Curious about China’s rise? Check out our 2013 interview with former Reagan adviser Deborah Hewitt.


That is only the start. On May 14, President Xi Jinping’s announced $124 billion for the “Silk Road” initiative, aimed at countering nationalist economics and establishing China as the world leader in foreign investment. Plans to invest billions in foreign infrastructure had world leaders from Britain to Pakistan eager to show they were open for business.

Not everyone is so enthusiastic. A recent article from AidData’s team showed that Chinese aid in Africa benefited political elites without necessarily delivering on the widespread economic benefits they promised. Some local leaders accuse politicians of trading sovereignty over natural resources for flashy airports and highways.

Europe is no less skeptical than Africa. The day after Xi announced his initiative, EU leaders “backed away”, demanding greater transparency and environmental protections. Even in Britain, previous Chinese investment in vital infrastructure like railways has raised alarm about national security.

Silk Road aside, it might not be Europe that China’s after. See for yourself — AidData has tracked more than 3,000 Chinese foreign aid projects in Africa, and that number is only growing.