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Guo Heping: Instead of 'outcompeting China' in foreign aid, the US should learn from China

CIDCA| Updated: 2024-03-28

Recently, the head of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) made outcompeting China the key focus of the federal foreign aid budget for the 2025 fiscal year in a speech. On top of the "Countering Chinese Influence Fund" and the provision of "alternative to Chinese 'hard infrastructure' solutions," the special "aid" investment to "counter China" exceeds $6.5 billion. This is the first time that the US has made outcompeting China an independent priority for its foreign aid, and it even went so far as to slander Chinese aid as coercive, predatory, and aggressive. 

The US openly incorporating outcompeting China into its foreign aid plan exposes the underlying Cold War mentality and hegemonic ideology beneath its glamorous façade once again, showing an increasingly severe anxiety, fear, and delusion towards China. Some Chinese netizens have put forward a practical suggestion: instead of racking their brains to outcompete China, why not take the opportunity to learn from China? In the author's opinion, this seemingly simple suggestion reflects profound wisdom. And most importantly, what should the US learn? 

First, they should abandon Cold War mentality and learn about shared future.

The US claims in its budget that it aims to prevent direct and indirect harm to US interests by China and provide direct alternative solutions to Chinese products. It also emphasizes the need to  employ "all the tools at our disposal" to outcompete China  in its nearly $900 billion defense budget, with a focus on addressing the challenges from China, specifically allocating $9.9 billion for the "Pacific Deterrence Initiative" against China. It is not difficult to see that the so-called "outcompeting China" by the US is not benign competition for mutual progress, but fundamentally treats China as the most significant geopolitical challenge and rival. This is not in line with the trend of inclusiveness, openness, cooperation and development, nor does it serve the fundamental interests of the countries and peoples in the region, let alone the important consensus reached between the heads of China and the US. Behind the US' agenda of "outcompeting China" in foreign aid lies its consistent hegemonism and Cold War mentality, its own sense of insecurity and tarnished record of "universal democracy," and an indiscriminate attack on China's high-quality development of foreign aid. 

In contrast to US aid, China has never and will never turn aid into a weapon of confrontation. China's international development cooperation and foreign aid have always adhered to the concept of "a shared future for humanity," focusing on building a community with a shared future for mankind and implementing the Global Development Initiative (GDI), to continuously promote global development cooperation and common development. China's foreign assistance investment continues to increase, with innovative approaches, implementing thousands of complete aid projects and material assistance in over 160 countries worldwide. In the past six years, in addition to epidemic prevention assistance, China has implemented over 800 emergency humanitarian aid projects in more than 40 countries, and provided emergency food assistance to over 30 countries. These significant achievements demonstrate China's positive contributions to promoting the implementation of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and building a community with a shared future for mankind. 

Second, they should abandon interference in internal affairs and learn about win-win cooperation.

The US foreign aid claims to change the rules of the game, defend their interests, and advance a vision of US values for the Indo-Pacific region. In its defense budget, the US for the first time listed a dedicated funding item for Taiwan and authorized the use of US inventory weapons to aid Taiwan. Unsurprisingly, the US once again exposes its attempts to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries, engage in subversive infiltration, and incite separatist conflicts under the spotlight of the world. The "Millennium Challenge Corporation" can withdraw preferential loans at any time on the grounds of "harming US interests," and project agreements are superior to the domestic laws of recipient countries. The US aid budget is just another old script of interfering in the internal affairs of other countries. Regardless of how the US promotes "democracy,""human rights," and "transparency," the world can clearly see the intentions behind it: using the American model to do American business and serve American interests. 

In contrast to US aid, China has never and will never turn aid into a trap. China's international development cooperation and foreign aid have always been based on South-South cooperation, consistently adhering to the principle of non-interference in other countries' internal affairs, not imposing its will on others, not attaching any political conditions, and always in line with the fundamental interests, development strategies, and the will of the people of partner countries. While respecting and encouraging people of all countries to independently explore and choose development paths suitable for their conditions, China actively shares its experience of modernization by hosting numerous training programs and personnel exchange projects, training over 400,000 governance and technical talents for more than 180 countries and regions in over a hundred fields and specialties such as agriculture, education, health, and climate change response. This has made significant contributions to promoting the economic and social development of partner countries and facilitating the exchange of governance experiences. 

Third, they should abandon forming cliques and learn about openness and inclusiveness.

The US budget hyped up the "Countering Chinese Influence Fund" and the "International Infrastructure Fund," with aid targeting China accounting for 15 percent of the total foreign aid budget request. Disregarding the essence of international development cooperation and foreign aid, the US uses aid as bait and leverage, forming "small circles" and "exclusive blocs" to entice countries to openly or covertly oppose or constrain China in accordance with US intentions. Under the guise of development aid, it is actually about taking sides and forming alliances; and in the name of multilateralism, it is acting unilateralism in reality. 

In contrast to US aid, China has never and will never turn aid into a bargaining chip. China's international development cooperation and foreign aid have always adhered to true multilateralism, not forming circles, let alone alliances, and continuously consolidated and deepened friendly cooperation with other developing countries to seek common prosperity and development. China actively engages in trilateral cooperation, collaborating with over 20 international organizations and social organizations, including the United Nations, in 50 countries to implement a series of livelihood projects, which has benefitted over 30 million people. China has been coordinating major landmark projects and "small yet smart" livelihood projects, promoting the Chinese "golden brand" aid projects such as Juncao, artemisinin, hybrid rice, and Luban Workshop to benefit developing countries and their people. Within the GDI framework, China continues to expand partnerships, mobilize development resources, improve cooperation mechanisms, and establish action platforms. Cooperation mechanisms such as the "GDI Group of Friends" and the "Global Development Promotion Center Network" have gained widespread recognition, with resources from the global development project pool and fund pool continuously accumulating, and platforms such as the the Forum on Global Action for Shared Development continuously upgrading. 

There is no future in "outcompeting China", win-win cooperation is the right way. As the Chinese leader repeatedly pointed out, China-US relations are not a zero-sum game of rivalry. Both sides should adhere to the principles of mutual respect, peaceful coexistence, and win-win cooperation. Major power competition is not the theme of this era and cannot solve the problems faced by China, the US, and the world. As the world's top two economies and pivotal major countries, China and the US should engage in exchanges and dialogues in the field of international development cooperation and foreign aid, and expand practical cooperation. The US should effectively follow the "San Francisco Vision" reached between the two heads of state, abandon zero-sum thinking, give up the illusion of "outcompeting China," and work together with China to promote the implementation of the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, playing an active role in forging an inclusive, balanced and coordinated development pattern that features win-win cooperation and mutual prosperity.

*The English version is for reference only. In case of any discrepancy or ambiguity of meaning between the English translation and the Chinese version, the latter shall prevail. The author of the Chinese article is Guo Heping, an observer on international issues with the Global Times.


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