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North American Report
UPDATED: October 9, 2013
China Quells Concern of Its Growing Donor Role
By Ryan M. Allen

When Wang Yi, China's Minister of Foreign Affairs, addressed the world in a United Nations (UN) speech he expectedly addressed the ongoing issue of Syria on September 27. But, it was his attention to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that was the most essential statement from his speech.

Wang affirmed that China would adhere to the MDGs, a set of aid and development expectations established by UN member nations in 2000, and the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness in 2005, an agreed international multilateralism on aid effectiveness.

"China supports the continued and full implementation of the Millennium Development Goals and the early launch of inter-governmental negotiations on the post-2015 development agenda," said Wang.

The UN addresses the sentiment from some in the international community who have grown uneasy with China's incumbency as a dominant player as an aid-giving nation. The main concern is that the new donor would not follow traditional roles and strategies.

"Even though the government has been very generous in writing off the zero-interest loans over time, its financial support is not always aligned with what the recipient government identify as reform priorities in their own education sector strategies," said Dr. Gita Steiner-Khamsi, professor of Education and Department Chair of International and Transcultural Studies at Teachers College-Columbia University.

With China's new and rapidly more important prominence in the community, Wang made it clear that his country is a responsible power that is ready to take on an expand role.

"We will play a more proactive and constructive role in addressing international and regional hotspot issues to promote peace and dialogue, defuse conflicts and safeguard world peace and stability," said the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

China does offer a new perspective for donor nations, as it was subjugated by former colonial powers similarly to current aid recipient nations. Thus, its level of empathy for colonial-like policies is heightened.

A key theme from Wang's speech is reflected in their overall foreign policy, and this is in the form of respect for national sovereignty rights. This connects back to the mentioned subjugation that China faced during the "Century of Humiliation," still on the minds of Chinese decades later.

"In history, the Chinese people have always embraced international exchanges and trade, not foreign aggression and expansion," Wang said, "and adhered to the patriotic resolve to defend the homeland rather than the colonialist doctrine to seize new territories."

The Foreign Minister's speech brought positivity and hope to the aid community, according to Dr. Steiner-Khamsi.

"The Government's endorsement of the Millennium Development Goals needs to be interpreted as a sign that China is from now on member of the international donor community that agreed on development goals as well as modalities on how to achieve them effectively," she said.

This is not the first time Western powers have been concerned with a rising Asian power in this regard.

As Japan was economically developing, it too faced skepticism from the traditional Western powers. The Japanese have been careful with their aid commitments, reflecting upon their own subjection under the U.S. after World War II.

But, the Japanese's past colonial ambitions also complicate their role in developing nations. China was never a part of the colonial powers, and had been the victim during this era of Western expansionism.

Regardless of Western apprehensions to China's new and expanding role, the East Asian giant is firmly here to stay in this role. But, Wang's speech shows that China is willing to cooperate with the status quo, yet new and fresh approaches will be considered.

"We are committed to working with others to establish a new type of international relations based on win-win cooperation," Wang stated.

The breakthrough as a major donor may also have some economic benefits for China, as there will now be a greater need for Chinese professional aid or development workers, according to Dr. Steiner-Khamsi. This is certainly good news for recent university gradates facing one of the world's toughest employment markets.

The author is an adjunct lecturer at Berkeley College. He is also researching politics and education at Teachers College-Columbia University

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