China continues to assist with Africa's development and strives to improve the way its aid is managed
by Liu Wei
China's aid to Africa began in 1956, and from then on, it has been playing an important role in promoting the rapid development of Sino-African relations. Tanzania-Zambia Railway (Tanzam Railway), the largest foreign aid project ever undertaken by China, was completed 35 years ago. However, its operation is now on the verge of suspension due to lack of fuel. This has prompted media questions and criticism on China's way of running foreign aid projects in Africa. Criticism ranged from comments like, "unlike China's way, Western countries would probably invite non-governmental organizations or non-profit organizations to give advice on better running the aid projects," to "aid projects undertaken by China were likely to not function properly or be abandoned in the end due to lack of running capital or mismanagement."
Wang Cheng'an, former Deputy Director of Department of Aid to Foreign Countries of Ministry of Commerce, said that those who made such comments had no knowledge of China's foreign aid policies. "China's Africa aid is characterized by no strings attached, non-interference in others' internal affairs and focusing on infrastructure construction," he told ChinAfrica.
"Tanzam Railway once fostered rapid development of the African economy. Its current situation mainly results from changes of the economic environment, not from China's way of giving aid. We respect African countries' way of managing the railway, but offer technological support at the same time," Wang said. After the railway was completed and handed over to African countries, China has been providing technical supports to its operation. Now, eight technicians are still in Africa to help run the railway.
No strings attached
Currently, China is providing more and more aid to African countries. Its aid falls into the category of South-South cooperation and is of mutual benefit among developing countries.
With similar historical experience, both China and African countries value their sovereignty and dignity. He Wenping, Director of African Studies Section of Institute of Western Asian and African Studies with Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said China's assistance to African countries has never had and will never have any political preconditions attached. The unconditional aid embodied the principles of mutual respect and equality, she added.
"Since the reform and opening up, China has been a recipient of assistance given by Western countries and international financial organizations. However, it is a fact that only by sticking to its own development path suitable to its reality, has China maintained its current social and political stability and economic development", she said.
According to Wang, China's foreign aid used to be solely on the bilateral basis. In 1971 when China restored its lawful seat in the United Nations, it began to get involved in multilateral aid. But most of its foreign assistance still falls into the bilateral category due to the simpler procedure and high efficiency of this kind of aid.
"In addition, the eight forms of China's assistance to African countries, like whole-set projects, technical cooperation and medical teams sent abroad, determine that the aid cannot be participated in by non-governmental organizations. Huge and complicated projects such as the African Union headquarters building would never be completed without effective government organizational coordination," he told ChinAfrica.
"We would have to have lots of meetings had one of the G8 countries wanted to help us build a stadium. But China would do it immediately without any endless meetings on environment, human rights and good governance issues," said Sahr Johnny, Ambassador of Sierra Leone to Beijing.
In response to the comments that China only builds roads and bridges when offering aid to African countries, Wang said well-equipped infrastructure can lay the foundation for economic development and provide potential business opportunities.
While Western countries pay more attention to so-called "capacity building," China helps African countries build roads and bridges from which local people get direct benefits.
In July 11, 2008, the World Bank released a report, "Building Bridges: China's Growing Role as Infrastructure Financer for Sub-Sahara Africa." It analyzed the infrastructure conditions in Africa and concluded that China played an important role in promoting African countries' economic development.
According to Wang, China will continue to spare no efforts to help African countries based on its capability in the future, as it has always done. Meanwhile, it will seek to improve management and supervision of the aid projects provided and help train more local professional personnel in the process.