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Unpacking the Chinese Government’s New Development Vision

Image via Xinhua/Xu Zheng

This weekend the Chinese government released a new white paper on development. It comes in unassuming guise – it’s basically a MS Word Doc with the workaday title of China’s International Development Cooperation in the New Era. But in its own way it’s eye-popping.

If (like me) you have an irrational fetish for long lists of country names, this document is for you. The bulk of the white paper outlines the different kinds of engagement between China and the global south. To see it all together is quite something: water treatment plant in Cameroon! Hospital in Jamaica! Broadcast centre in the Comoros! Irrigation in Kyrgyzstan! It even pointed out that, thanks to Chinese coaching, the Papua New Guinea ping pong team won two silver medals at the 2019 Pacific Games (“the team’s best ever performance.”)

The white paper can be read as a panoramic landscape of Chinese engagement with the global south.

More capable minds than mine are currently unpacking its implications across Twitter. But, here are some initial observations:

As Marina Rudyak pointed out, the white paper seems to continue the shift from a focus on aid to one on development, which was kicked off by the establishment of the China International Development Cooperation Agency in 2018. What’s notable here is the scale: there seems to be an underlying agreement that for the BRI to deliver, Chinese companies need functioning markets around the world – ideally running according to Chinese standards. This contains a second, more audacious assumption: that it’s possible for China to kickstart this development itself, in many countries at once.

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