China assists needy nations for the sake of common development
By Kang Bing
China Daily

A passenger train is seen on a bridge of the Chinese-built railway linking the Kenyan capital Nairobi with Mombasa and Naivasha in 2017. (Photo: Xinhua)

Editor's Note: Why is China helping other countries with investments and loans, and through other forms of financial assistance? The obvious answer is to help them develop their economies and improve local people's livelihoods. But there is another, perhaps more important reason behind that, as a senior journalist with China Daily explains in the third of a series of commentaries.

When I was a teenager, the names of the countries I first got familiar with were the United States, the Soviet Union, Albania, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Vietnam and Tanzania. The first two, I was told, were the superpowers that imposed sanctions on us, while the others were poor brother countries we supported in their fight for justice and national liberation struggle.

Children like me could not understand why we were helping other countries when we ourselves were suffering from hunger. In the few movies we saw, people in some of those countries apparently ate and dressed better than us.

From the early 1950s, despite being short of resources itself, China started helping needy countries. For a decade or so, the assistance was mainly politics-driven-directed toward the socialist camp. Many of the Asian and African countries fighting for independence from colonial rule were included in China's assistance program.

In 1973, China gave 5.8 billion yuan ($906.40 million) worth of grants to other countries, which made up 7.2 percent of the Chinese government's expenditure-apparently too high to be sustainable. Since the launching of opening-up more than four decades ago, China has been adjusting its foreign assistance policy, helping only the most needy and friendly countries without any preconditions. Apart from grants, interest-free and concessional loans today make up a large part of China's foreign assistance.

In the early stage, China's assistance was mostly targeted at landmark projects such as stadiums, gyms and conference centers. In recent years, however, drawing experience from its own development success, China has been helping other countries to strengthen their communication infrastructure and improve the living standards of their people. In fact, China has helped build more than 100 railways, expressways and ports in African and Asian countries.

From 2013 to 2018, China allocated 270 billion yuan as foreign assistance, 127.8 billion yuan of which were grants, making up 47.3 percent of the total. By encouraging developing countries to use interest-free and concessional loans for other projects, China ensured the grants mostly went to small and medium-sized social welfare projects promoting human resources and technological cooperation, or to material assistance and emergency humanitarian assistance programs.

During the same period, China was involved in the construction of 423 assistance projects focused on infrastructure and agriculture. It provided 124 countries and regions with consignments, covering fields such as industrial production and management, agriculture and animal husbandry. China also organized more than 7,000 seminars and training sessions for foreign officials and technology experts, and trained about 200,000 people in different fields.

By the end of 2019, China had dispatched more than 27,484 medical workers to 72 countries and regions to help improve the local healthcare systems. In fact, about 1,000 Chinese doctors are still working in 111 healthcare facilities of 55 countries, according to a recent State Council Information Office white paper.

While increasing government scholarships have enabled thousands of students from the developing countries to complete their advanced studies in China, as many as 20,000 young Chinese have volunteered to work in 80 countries as Chinese language and arts teachers. Demonstrating the spirit of internationalism and humanitarianism, thousands of Chinese people are contributing to the cause of common development, sometimes paying the highest price for their commitment-over the past six decades, more than 700 Chinese have sacrificed their lives while working on assistance projects.

Having visited some developing countries and witnessed the shocking poverty there, I have got the answer to the question I asked myself as a teenager: Why we should help other countries? I believe peace and prosperity can prevail only when all the people in the world, regardless of their nationality, have access to the basic necessities such as enough food, clean drinking water, healthcare and education.

Since millions of people in the world still lack these necessities, it is the obligation of the better-off countries to lend them a helping hand to promote common development and world peace.

The author is former deputy editor-in-chief of China Daily.