China, MDGs & Post-2015

Development Policy06 May 2013Xuefei Shi

China’s influence in Africa, as well as the feasibility to share its experience in development in this continent, is complicated.

China’s influence in Africa, as well as the feasibility to share its experience in development in this continent, is complicated. A local taxi driver once showed his dissatisfaction about a serious delay of a road construction project by a European company in the over-crowded centre of Dar es Salaam. He hoped that, according to his career experience, the construction would have been completed months in advance were it contracted to Chinese, who “will not have weekends or long holidays before it finishes.” However not everyone appears to like the hard-working Chinese. Another Tanzania worker hired in a Chinese restaurant complained to me about his no-weekend job and the demanding boss after I visited there for many times. He did not appreciate at all the long daily working hours from 9 am to 11 pm, and the excessive tasks that he was assigned to, though he admitted that the family of his boss worked even harder than the local employees.

The Chinese working ethic is always proudly introduced by the government and migrants as one of the key factors that make the country’s fast development in the last three decades possible. There remained a large population in domestic China facing extreme poverty and other living difficulties in 1990s before MDGs were envisioned. However, as reported by UNDP, by the year of 2010 China had achieved at least thirteen years in advance the domestic universalisation of primary education, seven years in advance the reduction of extreme poverty rate by half as well as the child mortality by 2/3. It completed moreover an extensive supply system of clean water for the agricultural section with a population more than 300 million in the year of 2009, six years ahead of the time planned. From their standpoint, the diligent Chinese should have been in an advantageous position to contribute to the achievement of MDGs for both its own people and the rest of the world.

From 2005 onward, the Chinese government continued to demonstrate its resolutions in foreign aid in different high-level UN conferences on MDGs and aid effectiveness. In September 2005, former president Hu Jintao reiterated and extended China’s commitment to providing tariff-reduction, financing, debt-relief, training and medical assistance to Africa at the time when he was attending the UN 60 Anniversary Summit, which was the first time that the Chinese government clarified its international responsibility as regards the achievement of MDGs in other developing countries. Almost at the same time, the Chinese government started to engage itself more into the aid coordination with traditional donors. A China-DAC study group was once summoned particularly aiming to reflect and share China’s experience in poverty alleviation and in better utilization of foreign aid. As for the international concerns on its growing influences over Africa, the government published for the first time several white papers on its general foreign policy, aid policy and Africa policy. Yet as regards China’s foreign aid, in addition its responsibility for the fulfillment of MDGs in Africa, more criticisms than praises have been nevertheless found in recent years, leaving China’s support to Africa “a costing but thankless task”, in spite of the fact that the government’s new affirmative idea of more engagement in global affairs has pushed China more actively involved in the global efforts as regards MDGs.

One of the reasons that has rendered China’s contribution to the global efforts for MGDs less impressive could be its unique thinking of development based on its own success in that respect, which in turn isolates China to some extent from the internationally accepted norms and guidelines. For instance, it is supporting Africa in a way so distinct and independent from the established international aid architecture and the MDGs framework, by means of which the last decade witnessed a huge expansion of development cooperation between China and Africa. Mainly based on the triennial Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) that started in 2000, China has promised and provided development assistance to Africa in various areas as infrastructure, agriculture, education, health, debt-relief, tariff-reduction, technical transfer etc.

Additionally, though China signed the United Nation Millennium Declaration, coupled with the three aid-related declarations from Paris, Accra and Busan, some parts of MDGs have never become the principles in practice that guided China’s domestic policies or foreign aid. Among all the goals that are set for MDGs, the Chinese government has demonstrated particular interest in and made great effort to the poverty alleviation, as well as the poverty-related education and health issues. The mainstream of China’s foreign aid policy toward Africa has therefore correspondingly been formulated with an extreme focus on the improvement of livelihood based on the requests of the recipient governments and also on China’s own successful experience in fast development. This uniqueness of the country’s development assistance to Africa is furthermore defended by the long history of China-Africa friendship and China’s non-membership of OECD/DAC, which make the Chinese government more confident in its relationship with Africa and in creating and prompting its own ideas about development. In the 5th Ministerial Conference of FOCAC held in July 2012, a Beijing Action Plan (2012-2015) was announced to support Africa’s peaceful development with emphasis on financing, aid, Africa integration, People-to-People exchanges, and regional peace and security. New loans with a total amount of 20 billion USD were planned in favour of Africa’s further development in infrastructure, agriculture, manufacture and small-middle sized enterprises. Additional number of Chinese agricultural technology demonstration centres was pledged, as well as more training programs, scholarships, medical teams, and cultural and vocational centres.

It is clear that China itself has changed so much from the time when it decided to participate in MDGs mainly as a developing and aid recipient country. With regard to the Post-2015 design, China should be prompted to take a more responsible role, as now it is the largest emerging donor and a major player in South-South cooperation and be included indisputably at the top level as a propeller for a better world other than an invited participator. There are at least three areas in the future global development design where China’s practical knowledge can exercise. First of all, the Chinese government has accumulated substantial experience in efficiently dealing with incoming foreign aid and in shaping solid partnership with different donors. China ranks one of the most successful countries that have exploited and made full use of the aid for their domestic development. The share of the experience that China acquires will unquestionably enrich the knowledge pool of international efforts to achieve aid and development effectiveness. Secondly, the high administrative efficacy and focus that Chinese governments of different levels have displayed in promoting particularly poverty alleviation, primary education and child/maternal health can serve a good example for the other countries that have failed to some extent to achieve MDGs in their jurisdictions in the last ten years. Last but not least, China’s practice of independent South-South development cooperation frameworks with Africa and other regional partners should be better studied as an alternative option from the established international aid system to lower the transactional cost either in multilateral arrangements, in financing or in the transfer of necessary technologies for urgent development goals in the future.