Over the last several weeks, there has been a fair amount of media coverage related to AidData's publication of a new database of Chinese development finance to Africa (available at china.aiddata.org) and a new working paper from AidData and CGD staff and faculty affiliates. Some media outlets have characterized our findings more accurately than others. Agence France-Presse (AFP) ran an article entitled “China Ranks Second to US in Money to Africa” and did a reasonably good job of ensuring that readers understood the distinction between "official finance" and "official development assistance". However, other media outlets were not quite so careful and conflated our estimates of official finance with "aid". Other news agencies slurred the crucial distinction between official commitments and the actual provision of resources.
Lest there be any confusion, our CGD working paper indicates that we were only able to classify roughly $13 billion in development finance activities that seemed to fall in line with the OECD's definition of "official development assistance" (ODA) commitments. On an average annual basis, that is roughly $1.1 billion per year, which is significantly less ODA than the US commits to Africa each year. However, we also track (a) flows from the Chinese government to Africa that fall closely in line with the OECD's "other official flows" (OOF) definition, and (b) official flows from China to Africa for which we have insufficient information to make an ODA or OOF designation "Vague Official". If you sum all ODA-like, OOF-like, and Vague Official commitments from the Chinese government to Africa over the twelve year study period, you arrive at an estimate of $75.4 billion in reported official finance commitments.
To its credit, China Daily made an admirable attempt to explain these categorical distinctions to their readers. They were also correct to note that the publication of our database does not represent an attempt to reveal government secrets. AidData has a strong track record of working with governments and inter-governmental organizations to help make their development finance data more accessible and actionable. Our objective is simply to generate more granular and comprehensive Chinese development finance data using systematic, transparent, and replicable methods. We are motivated by the conviction that open data will improve our collective understanding of the distribution and impact of Chinese development finance.