Today, the Chinese Government released its much-awaited second White Paper on Foreign Aid. It's been in the pipeline for a while, as I've noted a number of times, and follows the first white paper published in April 2011. 

So what does it say?

First, it is an overview of China's foreign assistance from 2010-2012, rather than a forward-looking strategy. But this is an improvement on the first paper, which was an overview of the entire aid program across its 60-year history.

How much?

Over the 2010-12 three-year period, the White Paper says China provided US$14.41 billion of aid in three forms:

Where?

121 countries, including 51 in Africa, 30 in Asia, 19 in Latin America & the Caribbean, 12 in Europe and 9 in Oceania.

Principles

There's an interesting new addition to the list of basic principles underpinning China's provision of assistance: 'keeping promise'. The others are more familiar, and rather repetitive: mutual respect, equality, mutual benefits, and win-win.

Priorities

The White Paper focuses on two key themes: 'helping improve people's livelihood' and 'promoting economic and social development'. It is interesting to see what is prioritised under these broad headings.

Under the first theme, the White Paper states that 'one of the important objectives of China's foreign assistance is to support developing countries to reduce poverty and improve the livelihood of their peoples' (Australian aid watchers will note there's no explicit mention of 'national interest').

Also under the first theme, China focuses on agricultural development, improving the level of education, improvement of medical and health services, building public welfare facilities, and humanitarian aid. While we still don't have any specific country data, there are some good examples and cumulative figures for each of these sectors. For example, between 2010-12 China completed agricultural demonstration centres in 17 countries, constructed 80 medical centres and undertook 29 well-drilling and water-supply projects.

The second priority, promoting economic and social development, is more interesting. The White Paper emphasises improving infrastructure, strengthening capacity building, promoting trade development, and strengthening environmental protection. There are some notable overlaps with the Australian Government's (and others') focus on 'economic diplomacy'. Examples include promoting exports to China through offering zero tariff treatment to least-developed countries.

Finally, the White Paper devotes significant attention to regional and international cooperation. We discover that in 2010-12 China contributed a total of US$285 million to multilateral organisations, including the UN, the World Bank, IMF and Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. As I mentioned in a post earlier this week, most of China's aid is distributed bilaterally. New Zealand will be pleased that its 'world-first' trilateral cooperation project with China in the Cook Islands got a mention (Australia's pilot cooperation with China in PNG didn't).

The future

The final paragraph offers a hint of where the aid program is heading.

China will continue to increase the input in foreign assistance, further optimize assistance structure, highlight key aspects, innovate assistance means, raise the efficiency of capital utilization, effectively help recipient countries improve their people's well-being and enhance their capability of independent development. China is willing to work with the international community to share opportunities, meet challenges, strive to realize the world's dream of lasting peace and common prosperity, and make greater contribution to the development of mankind.

In short, the White Paper is heavy on cumulative detail and light on country specifics, but it is a definite improvement on the broad overview of the first White Paper. The stated priorities offer an insight into how China conceptualises its aid program.