China and the African State Evidence from Surveys, Survey Experiments, and Behavioral Games in Liberia

What are the effects of Chinese investment and development projects on the perceived legitimacy of
African states? Since its “Year of Africa” in 2006, China has dramatically increased the size and scope of
its aid and investment to the continent (Bräutigam 2009). In some countries, China now rivals USAID and
other Western agencies. At a Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in 2000, the Chinese
inaugurated a “strategic partnership” with 44 African governments, and pledges to the continent have
doubled at each FOCAC summit since then (Strange et al. 2013).

This growth has ignited an acrimonious debate among both scholars and policymakers. Some argue that
China is a “rogue” donor whose tendency to impose few if any conditionalities on the aid and
investment it delivers will only “[underwrite] a world that is more corrupt, chaotic, and authoritarian”
(Naím 2007). They worry that China’s increasing presence on the continent will erode transparency and
further estrange African citizens from their own governments. Others (including some African heads of
state) counter that, with fewer conditionalities, Chinese projects are implemented more quickly and at
lower cost than their Western counterparts (Wade 2008). Critics respond that China prioritizes speed
and low cost at the expense of quality and fair play in its negotiations with both the citizens and
governments of recipient countries.

Empirical evidence traditionally has been scarce on both sides of this debate (Large 2008; Strange et al.
2013). This situation is starting to change: new research suggests that the effects of Chinese aid are
more complex than the simplified policy debate that has been dominant suggests. On one hand, studies
have found that China does not systematically favor resource-rich countries or less democratic or more
corrupt governments in its allocations of foreign aid (Dreher and Fuchs 2015). Instead, like Western
donors, Chinese aid policy seems to be largely shaped by foreign policy considerations (Dreher et al.
2015). On the other hand, there is also emerging evidence that Chinese aid differs from other forms of
development assistance. It is more prone to “political capture” by recipient governments than World
Bank assistance (Dreher et al. 2015), and there is emerging evidence that it may both increase local
corruption and perceptions of corruption (Isaksson and Kotsadam 2016; Kelly, Brazys, and Elkink 2016).
In comparison, research on non-Chinese foreign aid and investment generally has found null or even
positive effects on governance and perceptions of governance. Existing studies suggest that provision of
social services by donors, investors, and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) improves the
quality of political institutions in recipient counties (Jones and Tarp 2016); strengthens rather than
weakens tax morale, at least in sub-Saharan Africa (Sacks 2012); and has no effect on recipient
governments’ tax efforts (Morrissey 2015). In a survey experiment in India, Dietrich and Winters (2015)
find no evidence to suggest that citizens rate their own governments less favorably after learning that
social services are funded by foreign governments. Relatedly, in a field experiment in Bangladesh,
Guiteras and Mobarak (2014) find that subsidies for the construction of sanitation facilities initially
increase citizens’ support for local government but have no effect after citizens learn that the facilities
were funded by an NGO. Indeed, if anything, existing research suggests that politicians reap electoral
gains from foreign aid designated for development (Cruz and Schneider 2012).

Wednesday, November 16, 2016 - 2:00pm

Last updated: November 16, 2016