Charity Begins at Home

Why China's Foreign Aid Won't Replace the West's

Liberian children hold Chinese flags before the arrival of China's President Hu Jintao in Monrovia February 1, 2007. Thousands of cheering Liberians lined the streets of the capital Monrovia to greet Hu, hoping for desperately needed investment for their war-scarred nation. Christopher Herwig / Courtesy Reuters

A few years ago, I came across a story about a dispute over a courthouse that China had built as an aid project in the Cook Islands. Apparently, the bathrooms in the structure did not account for the significant differences in body shape between the average Chinese and the average Cook Islander. And although that issue was rectified and the courthouse still stands, the building is rusting and the judges perspire working with broken air-conditioning in the tropical heat.

Stories like this have provided ammunition to critics of Chinese aid who insist that Beijing must adopt international standards and policies for overseas development assistance. Their insistence usually stems from two main motives. First, aid professionals worry about the impact of Chinese aid on development outcomes. Second, Western officials seem more concerned about China’s influence in the developing world. But given the complex mix of factors that shape Chinese aid

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