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Targeted Assistance

As China continues its foreign aid programs across the developing world, more emphasis is being put on community-based development and training

By NewsChina Updated Jan.1

At the Forestry Commission Training Center in Kumasi, south-central Ghana, a couple of trainees wearing masks attentively watch a Chinese instructor showing them how to construct a bamboo table using locally harvested material. Other trainees are scattered in different groups, busy practicing new skills learned from bamboo artisan teachers from China, including straightening, curving and cutting bamboo poles to the proper size. 

Sponsored by China’s Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) and part of China’s foreign aid program, the one-month “Training Course on Bamboo and Rattan Product Development Technology in Ghana 2019” was organized by China’s International Center for Bamboo and Rattan (ICBR) and co-organized by the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources of Ghana and the International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation (INBAR) from late August to late September in 2019.  

Sharpening Skills
This time, 90 participants from across Ghana joined this year’s course. For some, it was the second or third time attending after two training courses on bamboo product making in 2016 and 2018 under the auspices of the same foreign aid program.  

Dai Honghai from ICBR, who coordinated the training this time, said that the first course in 2016 involved 19 Ghanaian artisans, who were invited to China for a three-month technical training course. During the second one-month training course in Ghana, 100 Ghanaian artisans were invited to participate. Trainees learned how to build bamboo furniture from Chinese craftspeople who work at leading bamboo product companies in China. This encompassed practical skills such as primary processing, furniture design, cutting, joinery and finishing. 

Reflecting on the training program’s relevance to local community development and poverty alleviation in Ghana, Michael Kwaku, who works at INBAR’s West Africa Regional Office in Ghana, told NewsChina that on this training course, Chinese technicians have given more people the knowledge and capacity to use bamboo to create high-value products. “This should improve their incomes, and more generally raise awareness about bamboo’s usefulness,” said Kwaku. “For example, the government of Ghana is now very interested in moving forward to promote bamboo. Through this training course, and future training courses, we hope to make bamboo an important part of local poverty alleviation,” he said.  

Bukaya Zakari, a trainee who attended this year’s course, said that the program had changed the way she thought about the value of bamboo she previously used as fuel. “I have learned how to design and construct a bamboo table. Especially, how to cut and join the table parts. With this new knowledge and construction skills, I have made two bamboo tables on my own successfully,” Zakari said.  

“I’m confident and empowered now as a woman to do this kind of work... After this training, I know if I get a workshop where I can work with my bamboo and processing machines, I will make a good income to support myself and family,” she said. 

The 2018 training program has shown significant positive impacts on promoting local people’s livelihoods and developing the bamboo industry in Ghana. Dai said that two of the participants, Salisu Mohammed and Sarpong George, had already secured a contract worth over US$5,000 to produce bamboo furniture similar to what was produced during the training for a hotel resort in the Lake Volta region of Ghana. The two said in a post-training report that had it not been for the ICBR training, they would not have secured the contract. 

“By transferring knowledge and techniques from their own bamboo sector, China is giving us something much more powerful than infrastructure – they are giving Ghanaians the tools to create their own livelihoods,” Kwaku told NewsChina in an email interview.  

Localized training and capacity building programs under China’s overall foreign aid plan have seen significant increases in recent years. Statistics MOFCOM gave to NewsChina indicate that since MOFCOM started to shift its foreign aid training format from inviting trainees from developing countries to China to conducting localized training program in host countries in 2015, there have been 230 programs across sectors including agriculture, forestry and fishery. Dai said that localized community-based capacity building programs surged from 2017 to 2019. Bamboo training programs like the one in Ghana have been offered in other countries including Ethiopia and Ecuador, and will continue to be conducted in the following years. 

Enhanced Support 
Starting in the 1950s, despite being a developing country, China became a major source of direct foreign aid for the main purpose of gaining more political support internationally. In 1973, the total amount of official development assistance (ODA) reached about 2 percent of gross national income (GNI), higher than the OECD goal of 0.7 ODA percent of national income which was first agreed in 1970 as a target for developed donor nations, with some notable exceptions, including the US. According to preliminary OECD data for 2018, published in summer 2019, only five countries met the 0.7 percent of GNI target down from seven nations in 2017. However, if looked at by total spend, the US comes top (at 0.17 percent of GNI), followed by Germany and the UK.  

In 1978, China’s GDP was 1.74 of the world’s total GDP, and by 2014, it was 14.78 percent of global GDP. At the same time, the amount China spent on ODA also increased.  

According to China’s Foreign Aid White Paper (2011), China’s foreign aid funds mainly include free aid, interest-free loans and concessionary loans. By 2010, the cumulative amount of foreign aid provided by China reached 256.29 billion yuan (US$36.5b), including 106.2 billion yuan (US$15.1b) for free aid, 76.54 billion yuan (US$10.9b) for interest-free loans and 73.55 billion yuan (US$10.48b) for concessionary loans. According to the follow-up China’s Foreign Aid White Paper (2014), China’s foreign aid totaled 89.34 billion yuan (US$12.73b) from 2010 to 2012. NewsChina learned from official sources that no updated figure is available.  

In an article titled “Foreign Assistance and National Soft Power: China’s Status Quo and Countermeasures” published in May 2015 in the Wuhan University Journal, the author stated that the beginning of the 21st century saw rapid development of China’s official 
assistance programs. Through analyzing open data, the article found that between 2001 and 2013, the amount of Chinese foreign aid has increased from US$743 million to US$7.462 billion, with an average annual growth rate of 21.20 percent. At the same time, China’s share of foreign aid in the world is increasing. In 2001, China’s international aid was only 1.25 percent of the world’s share, then declined to 0.91 percent in 2003, then rose rapidly, reaching 3.89 percent in 2013, surpassing the UK and ranking fourth in the world since then. 

As China’s economy grew, its role in providing foreign assistance changed from being a recipient country to a cooperative country and a donor country.  

China’s principle of abiding “respect, non-condition, non-privilege” in providing foreign aid to other countries has been criticized as being contradictory to the Western-style of ODA and loans, which often list conditions for economic or political reform, improving governance, reducing graft and increasing transparency of the recipient countries, particularly when it comes to debt restructuring programs led by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). During the Latin American debt crisis of the 1980s, the IMF forced austerity packages and reforms that would favor free-market reforms in return for debt relief.  

The effect of all types of foreign monetary assistance in developing countries by China has been significant. This includes ODA and other forms of assistance, such as loans. According to a study by research lab AidData titled “Aid, China, and Growth: Evidence from a New Global Development Finance Dataset,” Chinese official development assistance (ODA) boosts economic growth in recipient countries. “For the average recipient country, we estimate that one additional Chinese ODA project produces a 0.7 percentage point increase in economic growth two years after the project is committed,” stated the report.  

Between 2000-2014, Chinese official finance was US$354.3 billion. During the same period, US official finance was US$394.6 billion, according to AidData. However, the make-up of the financing was different, with the US giving ODA at US$366.4 billion, and China’s total ODA was US$81.1 billion. The rest was in the form of what AidData categorized as “Other Official Flows.” 

Holistic Approach
As China continues to provide steady financial support for developing countries including the recent earmarking of US$2 billion and US$1 billion for the “South-South Cooperation Fund Project” in 2015 and in 2017, China-aided roads, schools, hospitals, conference centers, stadiums and other infrastructure have been built in different parts of the developing world, many of which have become local landmarks. As a new trend, a wider range of assistance covering all aspects of the socio-economic development of the least developed countries is taking place in fields including economic infrastructure, social public infrastructure, human resources development, trade promotion, environmental protection, humanitarian and other social and economic development spheres.  

There have been more grassroots community-based technology training programs. According to a list of foreign aid capacity building projects conducted in 2019 provided by MOFCOM to NewsChina in November, apart from the bamboo and rattan training program, other training programs aimed at capacity building for local community development include hybrid rice technology, fish disease prevention, hen farming, fungus production, clean water and garbage treatment, small hydro plant construction and hotel management.  

According to Shi Jin from the Hangzhou Regional Center for Small Hydro Power (HRC), one of the coordinators for the training program on small hydro power for developing countries this year, some seemingly small projects can lead to a transformative change for local community development. Shi told NewsChina of a project in Cameroon, West Africa, in which training on small hydro power applications can benefit local farming communities through securing a stable power supply to bake coffee beans. This prevents the economic losses caused by the mismanagement of temperature control which often happened in the past. “In addition, this can reduce deforestation in rural Cameroon,” Shi said.  

In March 2018, in order to better coordinate foreign aid projects and streamline management, the Chinese government announced the establishment of China International Development Cooperation Agency (CIDCA) as an independent and direct organ under the State Council to 
integrate the responsibilities of MOFCOM for foreign assistance and coordinate with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. CIDCA is responsible for formulating strategic guidelines, plans and policies for foreign assistance. 

Li Xiaoyun, professor of development studies at China Agricultural University, stressed that the system of international development has seen significant changes in recent years with China’s experiences, principles and way of approaching foreign aid. This includes reciprocity and supporting infrastructure construction in the developing world, which have been accepted by the international system. “Such changes have gained China’s foreign aid efforts much more attention and recognition,” Li said in a December 2018 interview with Wenhui Daily. 

“Some wrong perceptions and comments on China’s foreign aid, such as China imposing neo-colonialism or grabbing resources are now less mentioned or believed,” he said. 

Li said that in recent decades, international development assistance organizations, including the World Bank, which used to be influenced by Western countries’ foreign assistance frameworks, are learning from China’s development model and engaging in multilateral cooperation with China on certain projects.  

“Within the international development assistance system, focuses on reform to gain assistance effectiveness have shifted toward development effectiveness. This is influenced by China’s successful foreign aid experience,” Li said.