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China in Africa: The Real Story

Chinese aid for South Africa?

Deborah Brautigam

Image Credit: Flickr/ GovernmentZA via The Diplomat
I was struck by an article today in The Diplomat on Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi's visit to South Africa, where Wang met with South African president Jacob Zuma. The article noted "In their meeting, both Wang and Zuma stressed the importance of Chinese aid for South African development."

I immediately wondered about this. South Africa, is, like China, an upper middle income country. China gives South Africa very minimal official development assistance [yes, this is true even if researchers relying on AidData mistakenly list South Africa as one of China's biggest aid recipients ... sigh...]. South Africa has received only scholarships, some Confucius Institutes, and a handful of "gift" projects that are basically symbolic; there is very little official aid. The relationship is all about business -- and politics -- and has its bumpy side. Consider the long standing concern with South Africa's industrial development and competition with Chinese imports, for example, or the ongoing kerfuffle over the inability of the Dali Lama to obtain a South Africa visa.

The article linked to a video of a CCTV clip with the title "Two sides vow to strengthen industrial cooperation". Listening to the clip, I found no mention of Chinese "aid", per se, although they did mention China's "consistent support and help" to South Africa while also emphasizing that Beijing sees the relationship as one of "mutual benefit".

Does anyone else wish that we could get away from the language of "aid" -- this notion that cooperation (or support or help) to an African country should be automatically termed foreign aid -- a one-way transfer of alms from richer to poorer countries?  Here's to more discussion about things like "industrial cooperation" or even "support and help" that poor countries provide to richer countries. After all, the West clearly receives support and help for its goals from the aid it gives, no?