Explore our decade's worth of research in Chinese development finance and public diplomacy

Focus Areas

Development finance Public diplomacy

Our China Research

A decade of innovation, rigor and collaboration

AidData's China research began a decade ago, with a team of William & Mary faculty, staff, and students asking a common question: How do you figure out what China is funding when, where, and to what effect?

Because China's state-backed lenders and donors rarely disclose the terms and conditions or implementation arrangements that govern the country's aid and debt, we face a knowledge gap in understanding the socio-economic, environmental, governance, and geopolitical implications of these financial flows.

Today, as China has established itself as a financier of first resort in emerging markets, this question is relevant now more than ever. To bolster the country's soft power, leaders in Beijing have mobilized government agencies, media outlets, and educational institutions at home and abroad as a megaphone to tell China’s story to the world.

As China's engagement with the world has changed, so too has AidData's research. We have broken new ground to quantifiably measure a much broader range of China's activities than had been previously attempted before. We have systematically quantified key dimensions of Chinese public diplomacy and influence with foreign leaders and publics. We've revealed the specific terms of debt contracts in foreign countries with China's state-owned banks. And we are currently tracking China's full development finance portfolio.

Earlier versions of our Global Chinese Development Finance Dataset have led to more than 250 publications that have been cited over 4,000 times in academic literature and 450 times by leading journalists.



Together with researchers from the World Bank, the Harvard Kennedy School, and the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, an AidData working paper, China as an International Lender of Last Resort, finds that Beijing has dramatically expanded emergency rescue lending to sovereign borrowers in financial distress—or outright default.


The Delivering on the Belt and Road examines how Beijing’s funding priorities have changed in the era of the BRI. Using a dataset of over 13,000 Chinese state-financed development projects between 2000 and 2017, it compares financing for projects that are substantively BRI-like in their intent, regardless of when they occurred or whether they involved a BRI member country.


The Corridors of Power report analyzes Beijing's efforts to cultivate economic, social, and network ties with 13 countries in South and Central Asia (SCA) over two decades. These ties foster interdependence with the PRC that have the potential to both empower and constrain SCA countries, while threatening to displace or diminish the influence of regional rivals such as Russia, India, and the United States.

The Banking on the Belt and Road report introduces a uniquely comprehensive dataset of international development finance. With new updates to, you can search detailed records for 13,427 projects worth $843 billion across 165 countries in every major world region from 2000 to 2017.

Updates to AidData's China Public Diplomacy Dashboard let users dive into China’s soft power toolkit for 38 countries across Asia and the Pacific. With these new updates, you can track its financial diplomacy at the subnational level and access detailed country profiles for a bird's-eye view of China's influence instruments.

AidData publishes its groundbreaking report, How China Lends, and accompanying search tool, to provide a rare look into the original texts of 100 debt contracts between the Chinese government and 24 low- and middle-income countries.

Co-published with the Center for Global Development, Kiel Institute for the World Economy, and Peterson Institute for International Economics

AidData's most recent Listening to Leaders Survey of nearly 7,000 leaders in 141 countries finds an increasingly contested development cooperation field, as China rises sharply in influence among developing country leaders

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Listening to Leaders 2021


AidData researchers contribute a chapter to the National Bureau of Asian Research's book, Strategic Asia 2019: China’s Expanding Strategic Ambitions.

Two reports, Influencing the Narrative and Silk Road Diplomacy, analyze China's efforts manage negative reactions to its growing military and economic strength, as well as to win friends and allies.

The Silk Road Diplomacy report was co-published with the CSIS China Power Project and the Asia Society Policy Institute.

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China's public diplomacy


An AidData Working Paper, Connective Financing, uses high-resolution satellite imagery and a first-of-its-kind geolocated dataset of Chinese development projects to measure the impacts of China's infrastructure investments on regional inequality.


In its flagship report, Ties that Bind, AidData provides the first quantitative look into China's public diplomacy activities in the East Asia and Pacific region between 2000 and 2016.

Ties that Bind was co-published with the CSIS China Power Project and the Asia Society Policy Institute.


AidData's Global Chinese Official Finance Dataset, Version 1.0 launches, capturing 4,373 project records totaling $354.4 billion in Chinese development finance from 2000-2014.


To discover the impact of Chinese-funded infrastructure on forest health in ecological hotspots in Cambodia and Tanzania, AidData conducts a geospatial impact evaluation (GIE), overlaying our geo-referenced Chinese project data with high-resolution satellite data.


AidData debuts its Tracking Underreported Financial Flows methodology, tracking 1,699 development finance activities in Africa from 2000 to 2011.