The Chinese Government is frequently criticised for not being transparent about its aid program. As I mentioned in my quick summary yesterday, there's not a lot of specific data in the Chinese aid white paper. But we can make a few comparisons — on geographical spread, type of aid, and income level of recipient country.
China's aid system is complex, involving numerous government departments and actors. Sharing of information between the Ministry of Commerce (which manages grants and interest-free loans) and China Eximbank (which provides concessional loans) is not great.
There's some suggestion that the total aid figure is 'multiples higher than the government announces', but on my calculations the US$14.41 billion number for 2010-2012 cited in the White Paper is more or less accurate. Moreover, the statements in the White Paper that in recent years China's foreign assistance 'has kept growing' and that it will it 'continue to increase the input in foreign assistance' doesn't look like a Chinese Government that is trying to hide the true size of its program. We can't demand China publish more data and then turn around and dismiss it.
But back to the comparisons. The first white paper provided cumulative data up to 2009. It's not entirely clear, but this likely covers the period 1950-2009. The second white paper gives us data from 2010-2012. The charts below indicate the percentage of total aid for the given period.
Geographical distribution: the takeaway here is that more than 50% of China's total aid goes to Africa; Asia and Latin America have consequently fallen slightly.
Distribution according to income level of recipient: in recent years China has highlighted its support for least developed countries (LDCs). The trend here indicates this rhetoric is matched with aid dollars. [fold]
Type of aid: the Chinese Government is phasing out interest-free loans. They were a feature in the 1980s and early 90s before Eximbank was formed and most of these tend to be converted into grants eventually anyway. This is reflected in the trend: Chinese aid is essentially now 50% concessional loans and 50% grants.
Unfortunately, we can't directly compare the forms of aid across the two white papers, as the second has more categories than the first. But the main takeaway is that China's aid program has diversified away from a focus on economic infrastructure and industry to include more emphasis on social and public infrastructure, donations, and training.
Source: data from 2011 and 2014 white papers; Xinhua