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China's aid to Africa above reproach

By He Wenping (People's Daily Overseas Edition)

11:38, August 11, 2011

Recently, the severe famines in Somalia and other countries in the Horn of Africa have greatly troubled many international communities. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China declared recently that the Chinese government will offer emergency food aid worth 90 million yuan, which equals about 14 million U.S. dollars, to the affected African countries. Meanwhile, it will continue to communicate with U.N. institutions, including the World Food Program, through bilateral channels to discuss issues on offering emergency aid to Somalia.

China's aid to Africa began in 1959. When Premier Zhou Enlai visited Africa in as early as the beginning of the 1960s, he proposed the "Eight Principles for China's Foreign Aid to other Countries," which clearly prescribed that while the Chinese government offers aid to other countries, it will strictly respect their sovereignty and would never attach any extra conditions or ask for any privileges.

On Nov. 8, 2009, at the opening ceremony for the Fourth Ministerial Conference of the China-Africa Cooperation Forum held in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, Premier Wen Jiabao restated the principles once again in his theme speech and firmly promised that, "China's foreign aid and support to Africa has not and will never have any extra political conditions attached."

In sharp contrast to the Western policy of interference after the Cold War that links assistance with democracy, China's African policy does not involve "ideologies," stressing non-interference in internal affairs and respect for the development path independently chosen by Africa. China has never imposed any political condition on its assistance to Africa.

The reasons why China's African policy is different from the West's mainly lie in the similar miserable historical memories of China and Africa as semi-colonial and colonial countries (they lost enormous precious resources and the right to develop because of Western powers' interference) as well as the unprecedented subject of development and challenges faced by Africa and China as developing countries.

China has accomplished achievements through more than 30 years of reform and opening-up instead of by copying or imitating the Western political or economic development models. China has maintained social and economic stability and accordingly achieved economic development by exploring its own development path that is in line with its context and opposing Western interference.

A Chinese saying goes, "do not impose on others what you do not desire to do." China's diplomatic policy shows respect and fully believes that African countries and people who best understand their national contexts can find the appropriate development paths for themselves without the instructions and interference from foreign countries. The China-Africa relations are a type of South-South cooperation characterized by equality, mutual benefit and respect, and common development.

However, certain Western politicians, media outlets and non-governmental organizations in recent years have repeatedly criticized China's no-strings-attached aid to Africa. They claimed that by offering no-strings-attached aid, China was actually supporting some "rogue states" and "failed states" in a covert way, which was against Western efforts to promote democracy and human rights and to combat autocracy and corruption in Africa.

Their criticism seems reasonable but is in fact far-fetched after careful analysis. First, most countries rely mainly on themselves for development. More importantly, it is impossible to achieve "democracy," "human rights," and "sound governance" in a short time simply through nice-sounding slogans and propaganda campaigns. These goals will be naturally achieved after a country's economic development, educational and legal systems, and democratic consciousness reach certain levels.

China has actively conducted economic and trade cooperation with African countries, contributing to about 20 percent of Africa's economic growth in recent years. Furthermore, it has also greatly helped African countries carry out large-scale infrastructure projects, improve the people's living standards, reduce poverty and train talent. In other words, China has been helping laying a solid economic and talent foundation for true democracy and sound governance in Africa. After all, Africans themselves have the final say on the development path of Africa.

He Wenping is director of African Studies Section at the Institute of West Asian and African Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.


Leave your comment1 comments

  1. Name

Matts Mahumane at 2011-08-1170.26.22.*
Yes, Democracy, Human rights, Good governance are beautiful words and principles, but when the West had Africa under their feet those words were not preached. Now that there are other new actors in the scene like the BRICS, all of a sudden the West is "nice" to Africa.

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