Chinese views on China's role in international development assistance

Merriden Varrall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


China's increasing role as a provider of overseas aid is the subject of considerable debate both within and outside of China. However, despite research activity examining how Chinese aid is materialized, very little is actually known about why Chinese aid projects are developed or implemented the way they are. Although recent indications suggest the Chinese government is increasingly willing to be more open about overseas aid, for example, the release of the first White Paper on Foreign Aid in 2011, external observers remain largely unaware of the values, goals and motivations behind Chinese aid projects. Alongside this lack of information, non-Chinese analyses tend to be founded on a Realist approach to understanding international relations in which a "rising power" such as China automatically constitutes a threat to existing power relations. As a result, many scholars conclude that China's aid is part of a strategic quest to further its own geopolitical ends. This paper provides insights into the contentious topic of the drivers behind Chinese overseas development assistance. It finds that Chinese elites in the international development sphere do not share the views prevalent in Western international relations discourse about the international system and China's role within it. This article argues that exploring Chinese development actors' and commentators' conceptions of what development means, along with their views on China's role and obligations within the international system, allows a better understanding of the motivations behind Chinese aid, and a re-examination of some of the misconceptions around Chinese aid as a tool of Chinese geopolitical strategy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)233-255
Number of pages23
JournalPacific Affairs
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • Chinese aid
  • Chinese foreign policy
  • development theory
  • nationalism
  • elite worldviews


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