Beijing spends big to win friends and influence across East Asia

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China spent more than $48 billion across East Asia and the Pacific between 2000 and 2016 to reward countries that consume its products and support its foreign policy positions, a new report has found.

Infrastructure investment dwarfed other arms of Chinese public diplomacy over the period, according to a study by US research lab AidData released on Wednesday, totaling $48.5 billion, with a further $273 million spent on humanitarian aid, $613 million on direct budget support and $90 million on debt relief.

China’s end game was clear, the report found, rewarding “countries that consume more of its products, open market opportunities for Chinese firms, sway natural resource ‘gatekeepers,’ legitimize its maritime and territorial claims and secure support for its foreign policy positions in the United Nations and other international forums.”

The net result has been largely positive, but with some caveats, said Samantha Custer, AidData’s director of policy analysis, with leaders across the region viewing China as a valuable source of ready capital, and people on the ground more aware of Beijing’s influence.

“A number of factors could threaten these gains,” said Custer. “Disputes in the South China Sea, the perception that China does not always follow through on its infrastructure promises, and the specter of indebtedness as countries struggle to repay mounting debts to Beijing.”

Beijing spends big to win friends and influence across East Asia

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