When It Comes to Foreign Aid, China is Far From Dominant in the Pacific

May 28, 2019

Disaster relief supplies from the United States arrive in the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.
Credit USAID

The Pacific region is the most dependent on international aid of any region in the world, with 6 percent of regional GDP coming from foreign aid. The common narrative is that China is dominant in that space.

But a recently completed project by Australia’s Lowy Institute found the truth to be a lot more complex.

Jonathan Pryke and Alexandre Dayant spent almost two years developing an interactive map that illustrates foreign aid flows to Pacific Island nations. They joined The Conversation to discuss their findings and how they assembled the data.

The data currently covers the period from 2011-2016. Of note were several interesting conclusions including:

-China was responsible for 8 percent of total aid to the Pacific region, the 4th largest international donor.

-Australia and New Zealand contributed the most and second-most aid respectively, providing more than 50 percent of total aid. Japan was the 3rd largest donor.

-Chinese spending tends to be directed toward infrastructure projects, while Australia and other Western donors tend to focus spending on governance projects.

-The total dollar value of aid from the United States is believed to be undercounted because much of the assistance provided to Pacific nations from the U.S. is distributed through the Interior Department unde the Compact of Free Association and not logged by the U.S. Government as foreign aid.

-France spends around 2 billion Euros per year in the Pacific, but largely in its overseas territories of French Polynesia and New Caledonia, so the spending is not considered foreign aid.

-62 donors (both national governments and international NGOs) contributed funding for more than 13,000 projects during the evaluated period.