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recent study surveyed 6,807 leaders from 141 countries, finding that global perceptions of China’s international development aid, and the role of multilateralism, have changed since the same study was conducted in 2017. These leaders were consulted from the public and private sectors of low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), holding positions in government agencies, non-governmental organizations, in-country development organizations, and academic institutions, among others. 

The study was carried out by AidData, a research lab at the College of William & Mary from June to October of 2020, and asked leaders to identify which development partners they worked with, how influential they perceived these partners to be, and if the development aid they received was helpful. Although the report acknowledged that the immediate threat of the pandemic likely impacted leaders’ responses at that time, the survey omitted pandemic-related questions and left unresolved the extent to which the virus interrupted global development patterns during 2020.

The report found that, among global development partners, China found a spot among the top ten most influential development partners, joining actors such as the United States and the International Monetary Fund. It ranked 8th overall, with 76% percent of leaders indicating that China was “quite influential” or “very influential” in shaping domestic policy priorities.

Additionally, the leaders who verified China’s development advice or assistance responded from 113 different countries in 2020. That’s 61 additional countries since the last survey in 2017––a massive increase.

The report pointed out that China’s expansion in development aligns with President Xi Jinping’s pursuit of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), an infrastructure development strategy aimed to invest in foreign countries and international organizations. In the survey responses, the top two regions that received development aid from China coincided with the regions prioritized by the BRI: the East Asian Pacific region and sub-Saharan Africa.

Yet despite leaders seeing China as highly influential, the country still has room to grow in the realm of development aid, explained Samantha Custer, the project manager of the report.

“China’s footprint is still not as large as a United States or a World Bank and instead is more similar to a France or a Sweden but with substantially more influence,” she said in an interview with Diplomatic Courier. “China is clearly rising and is clearly influential. You see it in terms of how they're perceived and in terms of their ability to shape priorities. But this influence is not inevitable, because it's not uniformly well-received.”

In fact, the reception of China’s development aid was an outlier among other influential development partners. Generally, AidData observed that the most influential partners were the most helpful, such as the World Bank or the European Union. But that was not the case for China. Its results were mixed: compared to its competitors, leaders viewed China’s aid as being less helpful and less positive for their countries. “This implies that China must overcome a perception challenge if it is to live up to its positioning as a development partner,” concluded the report in response to the opinions surrounding China’s influence.

Beyond the rise of China, the report also surveyed respondents on the usefulness of multilateralism in international development. According to Custer, skeptics of multilateralism claim that two forces are undermining its value: a rising discontent with status quo institutions and increased competition in development aid. Yet Custer contended that multilateralism has persisted.

“What we see in the survey is that the debate might be happening, but that does not seem to affect at all the high degree of value that the world's leaders seem to place in these institutions,” she said. “They’re still perceived as neutral or trusted partners that bring substantial technical expertise to the table––and often substantial financial resources.”

But the report does not sufficiently address the pandemic’s role in this perspective on multilateralism. In the 2020 survey, the top two actors that leaders ranked as most helpful were multilateral, health-related organizations: The World Health Organization (WHO) and The Global Fund (GF). However, the report maintained that these rankings were largely a continuation of previous trends.

“While this might be partly due to the survey coinciding with the peak of the COVID-19 crisis, the GF and GAVI (The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations) were also among the most helpful donors in 2017,” stated the report. Perceptions of the WHO could not be compared, as it was not included in the 2017 survey. 

Custer explained that the way COVID-19 affected this year’s results is likely two-sided and clouds its net impact. 

“The pandemic was important in that it, on the one hand, created new opportunities for development partners to compete with each other for influence (think competing vaccine diplomacy of actors such as the US, China, Russia, etc.)," she told Diplomatic Courier, "but on the other hand, the exigency of a global pandemic opened up new doors to unprecedented cooperation as international actors shared data and methods, pooled resources, and catalyzed new venues for collective action such as the COVAX alliance,” she said.

AidData plans to conduct this same study in 2023. Compared to the present report, an examination of the survey results from 2017, 2020, and 2023 could provide a clearer picture of how COVID-19 has impacted trends in international development aid.

About
Thomas Plant
:
Thomas Plant is a student at the College of William & Mary pursuing a BA in International Relations and Hispanic Studies. He is a founding co-director for DisinfoLab, an undergraduate research lab at W&M.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.

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www.diplomaticourier.com

New Study Highlights Changing Global Perceptions Of Development Partners

Photo by Pixabay.

August 13, 2021

A new study from the College of William & Mary's AidData research lab found that world leaders increasingly see China as an influential development partner, while multi-lateral, health related organizations like the WHO are also seen as increasing their influence.

A

recent study surveyed 6,807 leaders from 141 countries, finding that global perceptions of China’s international development aid, and the role of multilateralism, have changed since the same study was conducted in 2017. These leaders were consulted from the public and private sectors of low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), holding positions in government agencies, non-governmental organizations, in-country development organizations, and academic institutions, among others. 

The study was carried out by AidData, a research lab at the College of William & Mary from June to October of 2020, and asked leaders to identify which development partners they worked with, how influential they perceived these partners to be, and if the development aid they received was helpful. Although the report acknowledged that the immediate threat of the pandemic likely impacted leaders’ responses at that time, the survey omitted pandemic-related questions and left unresolved the extent to which the virus interrupted global development patterns during 2020.

The report found that, among global development partners, China found a spot among the top ten most influential development partners, joining actors such as the United States and the International Monetary Fund. It ranked 8th overall, with 76% percent of leaders indicating that China was “quite influential” or “very influential” in shaping domestic policy priorities.

Additionally, the leaders who verified China’s development advice or assistance responded from 113 different countries in 2020. That’s 61 additional countries since the last survey in 2017––a massive increase.

The report pointed out that China’s expansion in development aligns with President Xi Jinping’s pursuit of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), an infrastructure development strategy aimed to invest in foreign countries and international organizations. In the survey responses, the top two regions that received development aid from China coincided with the regions prioritized by the BRI: the East Asian Pacific region and sub-Saharan Africa.

Yet despite leaders seeing China as highly influential, the country still has room to grow in the realm of development aid, explained Samantha Custer, the project manager of the report.

“China’s footprint is still not as large as a United States or a World Bank and instead is more similar to a France or a Sweden but with substantially more influence,” she said in an interview with Diplomatic Courier. “China is clearly rising and is clearly influential. You see it in terms of how they're perceived and in terms of their ability to shape priorities. But this influence is not inevitable, because it's not uniformly well-received.”

In fact, the reception of China’s development aid was an outlier among other influential development partners. Generally, AidData observed that the most influential partners were the most helpful, such as the World Bank or the European Union. But that was not the case for China. Its results were mixed: compared to its competitors, leaders viewed China’s aid as being less helpful and less positive for their countries. “This implies that China must overcome a perception challenge if it is to live up to its positioning as a development partner,” concluded the report in response to the opinions surrounding China’s influence.

Beyond the rise of China, the report also surveyed respondents on the usefulness of multilateralism in international development. According to Custer, skeptics of multilateralism claim that two forces are undermining its value: a rising discontent with status quo institutions and increased competition in development aid. Yet Custer contended that multilateralism has persisted.

“What we see in the survey is that the debate might be happening, but that does not seem to affect at all the high degree of value that the world's leaders seem to place in these institutions,” she said. “They’re still perceived as neutral or trusted partners that bring substantial technical expertise to the table––and often substantial financial resources.”

But the report does not sufficiently address the pandemic’s role in this perspective on multilateralism. In the 2020 survey, the top two actors that leaders ranked as most helpful were multilateral, health-related organizations: The World Health Organization (WHO) and The Global Fund (GF). However, the report maintained that these rankings were largely a continuation of previous trends.

“While this might be partly due to the survey coinciding with the peak of the COVID-19 crisis, the GF and GAVI (The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations) were also among the most helpful donors in 2017,” stated the report. Perceptions of the WHO could not be compared, as it was not included in the 2017 survey. 

Custer explained that the way COVID-19 affected this year’s results is likely two-sided and clouds its net impact. 

“The pandemic was important in that it, on the one hand, created new opportunities for development partners to compete with each other for influence (think competing vaccine diplomacy of actors such as the US, China, Russia, etc.)," she told Diplomatic Courier, "but on the other hand, the exigency of a global pandemic opened up new doors to unprecedented cooperation as international actors shared data and methods, pooled resources, and catalyzed new venues for collective action such as the COVAX alliance,” she said.

AidData plans to conduct this same study in 2023. Compared to the present report, an examination of the survey results from 2017, 2020, and 2023 could provide a clearer picture of how COVID-19 has impacted trends in international development aid.

About
Thomas Plant
:
Thomas Plant is a student at the College of William & Mary pursuing a BA in International Relations and Hispanic Studies. He is a founding co-director for DisinfoLab, an undergraduate research lab at W&M.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.