International Policies

Chinese Foreign Aid: Can It Help the World’s Women?

All eyes turn to China this week, as it hosts the summer Olympics, but many look with deep suspicion. Many in the West – including the media, policymakers, and the general population – don’t  know how to approach such a massive country with an unfamiliar and non-democratic government, and economic growth that is unique in its scale, pace, and approach. Its economic success has drawn criticism (some fair, and some less so), and the press has attributed China’s ascendance as a contributor to a number of current crises. The rise in food prices is often pinned on increased consumption by China and neighboring India, and high gas prices have been blamed on China’s increased demand for energy which is in turn blamed for carbon emissions that cause climate change.

An unrelentingly negative approach to China’s policies and economic expansion is unhelpful, and sometimes hypocritical. It also risks alienating this important ally, as well as other emerging nations. Fareed Zakaria blogged on this “China Bashing” for the Washington Post, saying:

We have not pursued a foreign policy toward the world’s newly rising powers that aims to create new and enduring relations with them, integrate them into existing structures of power and lay out new rules of the road to secure peace and prosperity. If the emerging countries grow strong outside the existing order, they will freelance and be unwilling to help build better structures for the future.

This missed opportunity also holds true for integrating rising powers (not just China, but India, Brazil, and many others) into the international donor community and working with them to help lift other countries out of poverty. Given the ongoing and increasing need for effectively deployed aid (particularly aid that benefits women and girls), it is critical for the donor community to engage China, including them and other emerging donors in lessons learned and policy making, as well as learning from China’s experience. China is generous in its giving to developing countries, particularly African nations. While this is not new – China has been engaging in South-South collaboration with many Asian and African countries for decades – it has increased aid (alongside foreign investment), and in 2006 pledged over five billion dollars to African countries, in the form of loans, grants, debt relief, and professional training. China’s contribution to women could come through the health sector. China has a long history of deploying medical teams to other developing countries, and supporting health infrastructure development, often through building hospitals. China also has its own remarkable history of improving maternal and child health, and reducing maternal mortality, and has made great strides in increasing access to education, particularly for girls, and promoting women’s equality.

The new PAI research commentary, “New” Donors: A New Resource for Family Planning and Reproductive Health Financing?, explores the world of new donors, including China, how they can be engaged, and the possibility for them to supplement the inadequate funding now available for programs that support the empowerment, health, and very survival of women. Approaching these emerging donors does not mean overlooking major problems: there is truth to charges of China propping up bad governments through its aid, and to charges of internal human rights abuses, not to mention the violation of reproductive rights that is the one-child policy. Further, even though China’s historic and per capita emissions pale in comparison to those of the US and European countries, its current emissions are helping to propel the world towards catastrophic climate change. However, these problems won’t disappear without meaningful engagement with China. It is critical to harness the power of emerging donors to create a safer, healthier, and more unified world, after the torch goes out in Beijing, 2008. 

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