China still needs Aid

It seems that despite my thorough explanation of why China is not a rich country, even though it has the second highest GDP in the world, major governments have started to cut aid to China.

Really? Second richest country?

The UK’s department for distributing foreign aid actually had it’s budget grow by 1/3 this year, so it’s not just budgetary reasons for cutting their aid to China. The argument is simple, a country growing 10% a year is not in need of foreign aid.Japan has been a major mover of money in China’s direction, since 1979 they have given over $40 billion to China. They made an argument similar to the UK’s this morning, why should they be giving aid to a country that has a larger GDP than their own? Part of this also stems from China’s worsening relations with Japan; another is the fact that China itself is now a large distributor of aid (including North Korea who isn’t exactly “friendly” towards Japan).


Good call Japan, no poverty here

The problem here is that China has made these arguments entirely too easy for foreign countries to make. 

In 2008 China was in Olympic overdrive. CCTV 5 (the sports channel) even became CCTV Olympics, and rebroadcasted hundreds of hours of old Olympics, which strangely only showed Chinese athletes winning gold medals. The students on campus were required to make mock Olympic torches and make weekly runs through town to build Olympic spirit. The way everyone was acting it seemed as if we were mere feet from the Birds Nest itself (a place several students dreamed of making a pilgrimage to).

The fact was that Longzhou couldn’t have been much further from Beijing; we weren’t even close to a freeway. So you can imagine my surprise when the school received surveys from the government for me to fill out 6 months before the opening ceremony. Questions like “How has the Beijing Olympics changed your daily life?” and “How have the Beijing Olympics improved your city?” I was new to China then, but I still had a feeling that they were more interested in hearing the “right” answers than the truth.


You should have seen her house before the Olympics

I had shared those feelings though with my students. I warned them that volunteers like me would start to leave China after the Olympics, because China was starting to seem like a rich country to Westerners. The students didn’t understand the connection between hosting the Olympics, and a drop in foreign aid. 

VSO, the UK’s version of the Peace Corps, pulled out of general education in late 2008, leaving only a few select volunteers behind to try to create a teacher training program. My own organization, that boasted more than 60 volunteers 10 years ago, has shrunk to 20, with half of those set to complete their terms at the end of this next school year. The drop in numbers in my organization is due largely to a lack of funding in general, as well as a shifting of funds to “more” needy countries.

The situation in China’s countryside is still a desperate one, in spite of the glitz of Shanghai and the skyscrapers of Beijing. Don’t buy into these easy arguments that China doesn’t need our help, because those in the countryside truly do.

Click here for more posts about life in Rural China

8 responses to “China still needs Aid”

  1. Kyle F says:

    Tom I appreciate your insight especially since this is an issue that I have thought a lot about. I understand your point but I am going to push back on your assessment.

    The reason that countries give foreign aid are two fold:
    1) In order to lift a poor county up to the level where they can now sustain themselves. If a country is too poor to build basic infrastructure, feed people at a subsistence level, provide some minimal level of health care etc. then developing their economy on their own is extremely difficult. Foreign aid helps get an extremely poor country to a level where they can pull themselves up.

    China is now at a point where they can handle stuff on their own. Sure they have more people in extreme to moderate poverty than there are people in North America but they also have foreign currency reserves in the trillions, a space program and they spent a boatload on the Olympics. They have poverty but they are at the point in their development to be able to address it.

    2) Item number two is to curry favor with the government or regional governments. Governments do this all the time to maintain relationships, reward or bribe another country. The US does this a lot and China is getting really good at it, especially in Africa. In this regard having a rich country spend money through foreign aid in China may still make sense.

    I hope I don’t come off as callous since I too know that not everyone in China is a rich Beijinger but the average person in China is in a different league compared with people in the poorest countries. Aid should go instead to countries who cannot afford to take care of the poor not ones that have the ability.

    If I am seeing this wrong please respond.

    • Tom says:

      I would argue that Japan might still have some concern over number 2, they aren’t the most popular country from the Chinese perspective, but than again I guess if a billion dollars doesn’t do it, maybe it can’t be bought.
      To address number one, there are also a few African nations with space programs, but are still not in a position to move up the development ladder. Just because Govt’s have the money to pull people out of poverty, doesn’t mean that they will (Libya is a nice example). Also I wouldn’t say that necessarily it is America’s (or any other countries) “job” to pull China in the right direction. Perhaps I should have made this more clear in the post that there was still a need for volunteers and aid organization (and that gov’t money often supports those), as China still has a very limited civil society.
      Perhaps we should look at development in smaller geographical terms, its no different providing schooling to an orphan in China, Africa, or the US. Where there is need, we should try and have a system in place that addresses it.

      • Chopstik says:

        I was going to offer comments similar to Kyle F but he has made them far more eloquently than I would have – so I’ll just borrow his. 😉

        More precisely, I’ll append to his slightly and then add one additional insight, if I may? I understand your argument, Tom, that aid agencies and volunteers should continue to support the rural poor in China and I’m not sure that I totally disagree with that notion. However, the concept of foreign aid as done on a governmental basis may not be appropriate. At this point, China can make legitimate claims to being both a super-power and being a third-world power. Just because they can, though, does not make it appropriate to do so. The government wants to be treated as more than the sick man of Asia (indeed, part of the legitimacy that the government claims is that it no longer holds that title and that it is a stronger and more powerful nation because of the rule of the CCP) but it also wants to still claim solidarity with other third-world nations (most notably in Africa which is rich in natural resources) and oppose the intervention of Western nations offering money with conditions on how it should be spent – something that I would not be surprised to find it does internally (though I do not know at this point it if it is true).

        Frankly, should a nation that has hosted a very good Olympics (in terms of the spectacle and gala) and is striving to put a man on the moon with their space program be allotted government funds for development from other nations? Should a nation that offers its own foreign development to African nations (with no strings attached other than “friendly” relations) be receiving other foreign development funds itself? Should a nation that has done comparatively little to raise its own (admittedly numerous) poor from poverty be rewarded with funds from other nations to do the work it should be doing itself? (Of course, this argument is that the role of a government is to help its people which is not an absolute, quite frankly.)

        I don’t mean to argue that this is a black and white issue because it is not. But there are certainly some arguments that can be made both ways.

      • Tom says:

        I was hoping that this post would at create a little conversation about aid. Both of you have made excellent points. I think in general gov’t aid programs are often ineffective, or are made with ulterior motives, as you’ve mentioned (esp. China’s aid to Africa). Like I said in response to Kyle, I should have probably separated these to kinds of aid, gov’t and ngo, since they are in many cases worlds apart in how the operate (although ngo’s have their hidden agendas too).

  2. […] Seeing Red in China My life in their world Skip to content HomeAbout MeMap of China ← China still needs Aid […]

  3. Bill Rich says:

    The real question is: Should Chinese government aid China ? Chinese government has the money. Why not use some of these on their own people ? I do understand from the question from a Chinese officials to reporters when being asked tough questions. The correct answer is, of course: “We speak for the government.” And so should all government resources, including money. But would it be appropriate for the Chinese government use some of its vast financial resources to help its own people ? I know, the Japanese government, the British government, the US government, all in deficits, should pay way more than the Chinese government to help the Chinese poor.

    • Tom says:

      The British gov’t though is actually increasing its aid spending, but cutting it to several countries it has deemed no longer needing aid.
      I am glad this post, some of which I don’t’ necessarily agree fully with, is causing us to look a little closer at how we determine who is needy. It’s also interesting that these calls are coming now that China is number two, was the number three spot not rich enough to bring it’s own people out of poverty?

  4. yaxue c. says:

    For one, Chinese communist party has been treat the rural population badly for as long as they have been in power; for another, foreign aids do not always get to where they are meant to go because of corruption. I am going to try to write a guest post explaining the government’s rural policies over the past decades, although I am nowhere adaquate for the topic. Rural China is an important topic, and the discussion should continue.

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