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Beijing's Billions

Author: Evan A. Feigenbaum
May 20, 2010
Foreign Policy

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In April, the United Nations and the U.S. government co-hosted a conference in New York to raise funds for the reconstruction of earthquake-ravaged Haiti. More than 50 countries kicked in $5.3 billion in all, at least a billion dollars over their initial goals. But the world's fastest-growing economy ponied up a miserly $1.5 million, comparable to the donations made by Gambia and Monaco--hardly top-three economies--and less than the cost of a house in some of the tonier suburbs of Shanghai.

Yet tensions are growing between the way China spends its money abroad and its goal of being viewed as a responsible global player. Chinese leaders face increasingly stark choices about whether and how to move China closer to the international mainstream. And at least some recent Chinese decisions suggest that changes might be afoot.

China has come under frequent criticism for failing to play by the rules followed by the established powers and institutions when opening their checkbooks to the rest of the world. No wonder: Chinese loans are often negotiated in secret, come without conventional expectations or conditions attached, and are offered to countries where Western money fears to tread, usually with good reason. China is both an investor and a donor of aid--it converted $75 million in loans to Afghanistan into grants last year--but Beijing generally prefers to act alone, rarely coordinating its strategies or programs with other countries.

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