Gates to China: More aid please

Bill Gates at the 2010 TED Conference. Gates presses China for increase in quality and quantity of aid funding. Photo by: Suzie Katz / CC BY-NC-ND

Bill Gates, the world’s richest man and one of its most influential philanthropists, is asking China to not only be a rising economic juggernaut, but also become a bigger player in development.

“I think that there is a real opportunity there. What they’ve done to date, as far as anything that is visible, is quite modest,” Gates said on Tuesday in Australia, where he met with Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

Although China is already providing aid, mostly in Africa, little is known on the magnitude and value of China’s development assistance policy because the secretive nation has not opened its books yet, the billionaire noted.

A recent study by AidData estimated China’s aid to Africa reached $75 billion from 2000 to 2011.

“I am hopeful that Chinese aid, both in terms of the quality of the aid and the quantity of the aid, will continue to increase,” Gates said in Canberra, where he lobbied for Australia to honor its aid commitments and received a new $80 million pledge from the government to eradicate polio worldwide via the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

What will China do?

The question is whether the Asian super powerhouse will heed to the call of world’s richest man for more aid funding.

“China has its own agenda and doesn’t coordinate with other donors in the international community. As China’s economy grows and it allocates more funds for foreign assistance, there is great potential for China to play a positive role in development projects,” said Bonnie Glaser, Senior Advisor for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Glaser told Devex she is “skeptical” that Beijing will coordinate with or support the Western development agenda: “China is not likely to attach conditions to its foreign assistance as does the IMF or OECD.”

As for transparency, “China is reluctant to tell the world the details of its foreign aid in part because China has many people living in poverty and there is a potential domestic backlash if the aid figures become public,” she added.

Glaser estimates that between a third and a quarter of Chinese ODA goes to North Korea, which has been “increasingly defiant” of Beijing’s interests in its recent behavior.

China ally

Over the past years, Gates has become China’s friend, defending the latter’s side over its recent spat with technological giant Google, fostering stronger partnerships and selling nuclear technologies.

Last March, the former Microsoft chairman even highlighted China’s innovations are helping the world, saying the economic powerhouse has lifted 600 million out of poverty in the three decades, and in 2011 the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation signed a cooperation agreement with China to improve rural agriculture, relieve poverty and address health issues through technology.

“This partnership demonstrates the critical role that rapidly growing countries like China can play in driving innovation to reduce hunger and poverty,” the philanthropist said a few months ago about his relationship with the Chinese.

Gates also negotiated three years ago selling to China wave reactor technology produced by the nuclear power start-up he is backing up. Today the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is working with China’s leading institutes to develop polio vaccines, anti-TB drugs and better-yielding rice varieties, among other projects.

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About the author

  • John Alliage Morales

    As a former Devex staff writer, John Alliage Morales covered the Americas, focusing on the world's top donor hub, Washington, and its aid community. Prior to joining Devex, John worked for a variety of news outlets including GMA, the Philippine TV network, where he conducted interviews, analyzed data, and produced in-depth stories on development and other topics.

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