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Congressional Research Service, “U.S.-Funded Assistance Programs in China,” April 22, 2011

Thomas Lum wrote this report.
April 22, 2011

This report examines U.S. foreign assistance activities in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), including U.S. Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) programming, foreign operations appropriations, policy history, and legislative background. International programs supported by U.S. departments and agencies other than the Department of State and USAID are not covered in this report.

U.S. foreign assistance efforts in the PRC aim to promote human rights, democracy, the rule of law, and environmental conservation in China and Tibet and to support Tibetan livelihoods and culture. The United States Congress has played a leading role in initiating programs and determining funding levels for these objectives. Congressionally mandated rule of law, civil society, public participation, and related programs together constitute an important component of U.S. human rights policy towards China. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States is the largest provider of “government and civil society” programming among major bilateral foreign aid donors.

During the past decade, the U.S. Department of State and USAID have administered a growing number and range of programs in China. Between 2001 and 2010, the United States government authorized or made available nearly $275 million for Department of State foreign assistance efforts in the PRC, of which $229 million was devoted to human rights, democracy, rule of law, and related activities, Tibetan communities, and the environment. U.S. program areas include the
following: promoting the rule of law, civil society, and democratic norms and institutions; training legal professionals; building the capacity of judicial institutions; reforming the criminal justice system; supporting sustainable livelihoods and cultural preservation in Tibetan communities; protecting the environment; and improving the prevention, care, and treatment of HIV/AIDS in China. The direct recipients of State Department and USAID grants have been predominantly U.S.-based non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and universities. Some Chinese NGOs, universities, and government entities have participated in, collaborated with, or indirectly benefited from U.S. programs and foreign aid grantees.

Some observers have debated the efficacy of U.S. foreign assistance efforts in China. Some policy analysts argue that U.S. democracy, rule of law, and related programs have had little effect in China due to political constraints and restrictions on civil society imposed by the PRC government. Furthermore, some policy makers contend that the United States should not provide assistance to a country, like China, that has significant foreign aid resources of its own. Other
observers argue that U.S. assistance activities in China have helped to build social and legal foundations for political change and bolster reform-minded officials in the PRC government. Some experts also propound that U.S. programs have nurtured relationships among governmental and non-governmental actors and educational institutions in the United States and the PRC, which have helped to develop common understandings about democratic norms and principles.

U.S. foreign assistance efforts in the PRC aim to promote human rights, democracy, the rule of law, and environmental conservation in China and Tibet and to support Tibetan livelihoods and culture. U.S. assistance to China generally does not focus on development objectives such as poverty reduction, economic growth, basic health care and education, and governmental capacity. Congressionally mandated human rights and democracy efforts—rule of law, civil society, public
participation in government, and related programs—constitute an important component of U.S. human rights policy towards China, along with the U.S.-China Human Rights Dialogue, public diplomacy efforts, and reporting on human rights conditions in the PRC. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) does not have an aid mission in China and administers PRC programs through its regional office in Bangkok, Thailand.

During the past decade, U.S. assistance to China has grown in size and breadth. Between 2001 and 2010, the United States government authorized or made available nearly $275 million for the State Department’s foreign operations programs in China, of which $229 million was devoted to human rights, democracy, rule of law and related activities; Tibetan communities; and the environment. (See Table A-1.) U.S. program areas include the following: promoting civil
society, the rule of law, and democratic norms and institutions; training legal professionals; building the capacity of judicial institutions and reforming the criminal justice system; supporting sustainable livelihoods and cultural preservation in Tibetan communities; protecting the environment; and improving the prevention, care, and treatment of HIV/AIDS. The direct recipients of State Department and USAID grants have been predominantly U.S.-based nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and universities, although Chinese NGOs, universities, and some government entities have participated in, benefited from, or collaborated with U.S. programs and grantees. In 2010, USAID provided the following overview of its programs:

The USAID Regional Development Mission for Asia (RDMA) works with its partners to promote, change and solidify China’s role as a stable, secure and reliable stakeholder in the international community. The U.S. Government’s (USG) priorities are to work with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), universities and other partners to promote the rule of law and human rights and effective action on environmental and health issues. Activities promote transparency, citizen participation and good governance. The Mission will also continue to support activities which preserve cultural traditions and promote sustainable development and environmental conservation in Tibetan communities.

Comparisons with Other Aid Providers
According to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), in 2009 the largest bilateral aid donors, in order of the amount of official development assistance (ODA) provided to China, were Japan, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Spain, and the United States. With the exception of the United Kingdom and the United States, the top bilateral donors all provided over half of their assistance in the form of concessional loans. In terms of grant disbursements, in 2009, Japan, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom provided $300 million, $361 million, $179 million, and $86 million, respectively, largely focused on education programs. The United States government extended $65 million in grant assistance to China in 2009, and was the largest source of “government and civil society” programming, providing $19 million per year on average between 2007 and 2009, according to OECD data.

European Union (EU) aid efforts in the PRC, particularly in the area of legal development, reportedly have exceeded those of the United States in terms of funding, but have placed greater emphasis on commercial rule of law. The EU also has set up a joint law school administered through the University of Hamburg and located at the China University of Politics and Law in Beijing. According to the European Commission, during the middle of the last decade EU assistance to China moved away from the areas of infrastructure and rural development and towards support for social and economic reform, the environment, sustainable development, good governance, and the rule of law. The EU funded aid projects and programs in China worth €128 million ($182 million) in 2007-2010.6 Recent program areas and funding levels include the following: Democracy and Human Rights (€ 1.9 million); NGO Co-financing (€7.2 million); Gender (women migrant workers–€.7 million); Health (€1 million); Environmental programs (€8.5 million); Urban Development (environmental, social, and cultural programs–€5.3 million); Business Cooperation (cooperation, training, and technical assistance–€7.9 million); Higher Education (€5.2 million); and Information Technology and Communication (€5.3 million).

In other comparative terms, the Ford Foundation, which does not receive U.S. government support, has offered grants worth $275 million for programs in China since 1988. The Ford Foundation aims to “develop the social sector and help marginalized groups access opportunities and resources.” Working with research entities, civil society organizations, and government institutions, Ford Foundation efforts promote transparent, effective, and accountable government;
civil society; criminal and civil justice system reform; access to secondary and higher education; community rights in sustainable development; and education in the areas of sexuality and reproductive health.

Policy Debate
As with many other efforts to promote human rights and democracy in China, U.S. assistance has not led to fundamental changes. Some experts argue that foreign-funded rule of law, civil society, and related efforts in China have produced marginal results due to PRC political constraints, such as the lack of judicial autonomy, restrictions on lawyers, weak enforcement of laws, and severe curbs on civil liberties and the ability of Chinese citizens to perform social functions
independently of state control. Some analysts suggest that the limited influence of China’s judicial, legal, and civil society institutions, organizations, and actors significantly reduces their value as real agents for democracy, and suggest that U.S. programs should focus on changing China’s approach to the law rather than expanding existing rule of law programs.9 Some policymakers contend that a country such as China, which has significant government resources, should not receive U.S. foreign assistance.

Other analysts contend that U.S. human rights and democracy programs in the PRC have helped to build foundations for political change – more comprehensive and detailed laws, more professional judicial and legal personnel, more worldly and assertive NGOs and social organizations, and a cadre of human rights activists and lawyers – and have bolstered reformminded officials in the PRC government. Some experts add that efforts that support incremental rather than fundamental change have the best chance of achieving results in the current political environment, in part through increasing “the capacity of reform-oriented individuals in China to be effective in their own work,” including those within the government and without. Many foreign and Chinese observers have noted that awareness of legal rights in many areas of PRC society is growing. Another study suggests that rule of law and civil society programs are especially valuable through their direct impact on social organizations, lawyers, local officials, and others.

Developments in Civil Society in China
U.S. democracy programming operates in a difficult but resilient Chinese social environment. In the past decade, civil society organizations have mushroomed while a small network of human rights activists and lawyers has emerged. China now has roughly 190,000 lawyers, compared to roughly 110,000 in 2005, or about one for every 7,000 people.13 This ratio compares to about one lawyer for every 6,000 people in Japan and every 300 in the United States. However, in the past few years, the PRC government has stepped up harassment of lawyers and closed law firms that work on politically sensitive or human rights cases. In 2010, six prominent human rights lawyers were detained by government authorities, along with dozens of other political activists and bloggers.

According to PRC official estimates, there are over 400,000 officially registered civil society groups or social organizations in China, compared to 288,000 in 2004. When unofficial, grassroots groups are included, the total number of social organizations is estimated to be several million.15 PRC civil society groups, some of which have participated in U.S. assistance programs, have raised concerns among China’s leadership about their growing influence and foreign contacts. In 2005, Beijing began to tighten restrictions on social organizations while expressing suspicions towards foreign NGOs in China and their support for Chinese civil society groups. As one example of the increasingly restrictive environment for NGOs, in 2010, leading Chinese HIV/AIDS activist Wan Yanhai, founder of an organization that supports HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention, left China for the United States, expressing concerns for his personal safety.

Program History
The U.S. Congress plays a greater role in determining foreign operations appropriations for China than it does for many other bilateral aid recipients. Congress has determined funding levels for democracy programs in China and aid activities in Tibet through annual foreign operations appropriations earmarks. Over the past decade, funding to support other purposes, such as HIV/AIDS programming and other efforts, has been supported by Congress as well (see

In 1997, President Bill Clinton and PRC President Jiang Zemin agreed upon a U.S.-China Rule of Law Initiative, though funding for the program was not provided until 2002. In 1999, Congress began authorizing assistance for the purpose of fostering democracy in China. In 2000, the act granting permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) treatment to China (P.L. 106-286) authorized programs to promote the rule of law and civil society in the PRC. The Consolidated Appropriations Act for FY2000 (P.L. 106-113) provided $1 million for U.S.-based NGOs to preserve cultural traditions and promote sustainable development and environmental conservation in Tibet. In 2002, Congress made available $10 million from the Economic Support Fund (ESF) account for activities to support democracy, human rights, and the rule of law in China, including up to $3 million for Tibet.

Since 2006, Congress has set aside special Development Assistance account funds for American universities for education and exchange programs related to the rule of law and the environment in China. The United States government began implementing HIV/AIDS programs in the PRC in 2007. Criminal justice and other programs conducted by the Resident Legal Advisor at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing expanded later in the decade.

Major Programs
Human Rights and Democracy Fund (DF)—Democracy Programs

Congress plays an important role in determining the size of U.S. human rights and democracy and programming in China. The State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) administers democracy programs in China using Democracy Fund account appropriations as determined by Congress. DRL aims to promote or empower the rule of law, civil society, and citizen input into government decision making, and to build the capacity of related institutions in the PRC.

DRL directly funds U.S.-based non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and U.S. universities. Some funding passes through U.S. NGOs to Chinese social organizations as part of projects to train local NGOs. Through the Bureau’s programs, U.S. government and non-governmental entities engage and influence Chinese NGOs; government-sponsored social organizations and institutions, such as women’s groups and universities; reformist or progressive government bodies; and legal and judicial institutions and individuals. Due to political sensitivities and to protect its grantees working in China, DRL does not openly disclose the names of its grant recipients. By comparison, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) supports relatively overtly pro-democracy groups and activities, including NGOs in China and the efforts of Chinese dissidents in exile (see textbox). Major DRL program areas in China include the following:

  • Rule of Law: strengthen legal and judicial institutions and promote their independence; train legal and judicial professionals; increase public access to the justice system; promote criminal and civil law reform. Temple University’s Master of Laws degree program in Beijing has been a major recipient of USAID grants and Democracy Fund support.
  • Civil society: strengthen the capacity of non-governmental organizations, foundations, and charitable groups in fund-raising and NGO management.
  • Citizen participation: promote public input in policy formation and public dialogue.
  • Labor: advance labor law, rights, and advocacy; develop collective bargaining mechanisms; strengthen migrant worker rights.
  • Good governance: support government transparency and electoral reform.
  • Civil liberties: promote freedom of expression, the press, and information; advance mass media development; support freedom of religion.

Development Assistance (DA)—Rule of Law and Environmental Programs
Since 2006, Congress has earmarked Development Assistance (DA) account funds for rule of law and environmental programs through annual foreign operations appropriations measures. U.S. assistance helps to provide Chinese law students with legal training, build the capacity of Chinese law colleges and judicial institutions, develop citizen awareness of the legal system, and enhance legal safeguards for human rights. U.S. institutions involved in these programs include the University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law, American University Washington College of
Law, and the University of Massachusetts. PRC partner universities are China University of Political Science and Law, Zhejiang Gongshang University, and South China University of Technology. USAID supports a rule-of-law program that works with local institutions to enhance criminal defendants’ rights, strengthen their legal counsel, and promote fair criminal justice procedures. Another USAID-funded administrative law and procedures program aims to make
government agencies and officials more transparent and equitable in their exercise of power.

USAID administers four environmental programs in China using Development Assistance funds. The U.S.-China Partnership for Environmental Law helps to train environmental law professionals, advance reform in China’s environmental law, and build capacity in environmental governance. Vermont Law School, in partnership with Sun Yat-sen University in the city of Guangzhou, is carrying out this program. The Guangdong Environmental Partnership (GEP) was launched by the U.S.-based Institute for Sustainable Communities with funding from USAID, support from U.S. private corporations, and the collaboration of Chinese educational institutions and communities. GEP promotes improved energy use and environmental, health, and safety policies and regulations.

The U.S.-China Sustainable Buildings Partnership (SBP) promotes energy efficiency in China’s commercial buildings by offering new policy tools and construction methods. SBP is being implemented by ICF International with USAID support, in collaboration with the China Academy of Building Research, Tongji University (Shanghai), China Standard Certification Center, and U.S. environmental foundations and other groups. The U.S.-China Partnership for Climate Action focuses on industrial and power plant energy efficiency and urban policies for low greenhouse gas emissions in two Chinese provinces. The lead implementers are the Institute for Sustainable Communities and the World Resources Institute, with USAID and U.S. private sector support and the collaboration of U.S. and PRC research institutions and Chinese government agencies. Other USAID environmental efforts in China have included water and sanitation projects, financing for clean energy investment and development, combating illegal logging and trafficking of wildlife and marine products, and quality assurance of energy-saving compact fluorescent lamps.

Economic Support Fund (ESF)—Tibet
U.S. assistance has supported cultural preservation, sustainable development, and environmental conservation in Tibet since 2000. The implementing partners for USAID programs in Tibet and Tibetan communities are the Bridge Fund, the Tibet Poverty Alleviation Fund, and Winrock International.

Livelihood and Education
USAID activities in Tibetan areas aim to promote the formation and development of small businesses, business associations, business development centers, herder cooperatives, crop and livestock production, and eco-tourism enterprises. U.S. assistance programs include professional, business, and management training and vocational education for Tibetans. Education projects and activities include primary school facilities improvements, teacher training, and English language instruction. ESF funds support efforts to provide Tibetans with water and sanitation services,
improved access to health services, teacher training and schools, greenhouses, and micro-loans. USAID programs aim to expand citizen involvement in local community development planning, economic enterprises, and social services.

U.S. assistance to Tibetan communities includes support for research and development regarding environmentally safe grassland management and endangered species mitigation. USAID programs promote the use of solar energy and the sustainable use of forests. They have helped to build water supply and waste management systems. Other USAID efforts include training Tibetans in natural resource management and environmental conservation and raising awareness
about climate change and its local effects, reducing vulnerability, and developing responses to environmental changes.

Cultural Preservation
USAID cultural efforts in Tibet include the following: Tibetan language instruction; preservation of traditional heritage, culture, and art, including scriptures, books, and dance; restoration of historical sites and buildings; and the marketing of traditional products.

Global Health and Child Survival (GHCS)—HIV/AIDS Programs
Since 2007, the United States has supported programs to address HIV/AIDS problems in regions of high incidence in China. The Department of State, USAID, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have aimed to help build the capacity of Chinese local and provincial governments to respond to the disease in the areas of prevention, care, and treatment. U.S. assistance focuses on the building of health systems—including monitoring and research—that can be replicated or adopted by PRC provincial governments. Efforts have been made to bring non-state actors, such as health experts, into the policy-making process. Recipients of direct and indirect U.S. assistance include local non-governmental organizations, community-based groups, government-sponsored social organizations, clinics and health care workers, and provincial health bureaus. USAID works with, but does not provide assistance to, local PRC Centers for Disease
Control. Implementing partners are Family Health International, Population Services International, Private Agencies Collaborating Together, Research Triangle Institute, Micro International, and Management Sciences for Health.

International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE)—Criminal Law and Procedure
INCLE account funding supports the Resident Legal Advisor (RLA), based in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, to provide expertise on U.S. criminal law and procedure to PRC government officials, legal scholars, and academics, and to “promote long-term criminal justice reform consistent with international standards of human rights.” Reform areas include coerced confessions, the rights of defense lawyers, and evidence at trial. The PRC government reportedly has taken steps to apply more rigorous standards towards pre-trial detentions and capital convictions, reduce abusive
interrogation practices, and protect some rights of defense lawyers. The RLA also is involved in U.S.-PRC law enforcement cooperation in the areas of narcotics, corruption, money-laundering, counterterrorism, computer crime, and intellectual property rights. Most of the RLA’s activities are conducted by the RLA alone or in cooperation with nongovernmental organizations.

Other Programs and Assistance

The Office of American Schools and Hospitals Abroad (ASHA) of USAID’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance provides grants to private and non-profit educational and medical institutions in foreign countries. The purposes of such assistance include fostering mutual understanding, introducing foreign countries to U.S. ideas and practices in education and medicine, and promoting civil society. Since 1997, ASHA has supported projects in China, including helping to establish the Center for American Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, supporting the Hopkins-Nanjing Center for Chinese and American Studies in Nanjing, and providing a grant to Project Hope for its efforts at the Shanghai Children’s Medical Center.

Disaster Assistance
In July 2008, the United States government (USAID and the Department of Defense) provided a total of $4.8 million in humanitarian relief to areas and victims affected by the May 2008 earthquake in Sichuan province that killed nearly 70,000 people. USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance awarded $1.2 million to the Asia Foundation to promote rural housing reconstruction and raise public awareness about natural disasters. Other funding went to the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) for relief supplies and to the Los Angeles County and Fairfax County fire departments for related support. The Department of Defense provided $2.2 million for tents and emergency relief supplies.

Legislative Restrictions on Foreign Aid to China
The FY2002 appropriations measure (P.L. 107-115) removed China from a list of countries prohibited from receiving U.S. indirect foreign assistance and no longer stipulated that ESF account funds for democracy programs in China be provided to NGOs located outside the PRC. Ongoing restrictions on U.S. foreign assistance in China and other relevant legislative provisions include:

  • Some U.S. sanctions in response to the Tiananmen military crackdown in 1989 remain in effect, including the requirement that U.S. representatives tointernational financial institutions vote “no” or abstain on loans to China (except for those that meet basic human needs).
  • U.S. representatives to international financial institutions may support projects in Tibet only if they do not encourage the migration and settlement of non-Tibetansinto Tibet or the transfer of Tibetan-owned properties to non-Tibetans, whichsome fear may erode Tibetan culture and identity.
  • None of the multilateral assistance made available for the United NationsPopulation Fund (UNFPA) may be used for a country program in China.
  • U.S. laws that can be invoked to deny foreign assistance on human rights grounds include Sections 116 and 502B (security assistance) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (P.L. 87-195).

Foreign Operations Appropriations FY2010-FY2011
For FY2010, funding for DRL-administered democracy programs continued at FY2009 levels ($17 million). The Consolidated Appropriations Act, FY2010 (P.L. 111-117) provided support for HIV/AIDS and criminal justice programs in China totaling $7 million and $800,000, respectively. In addition, P.L. 111-117 included the following provisions:

  • Notwithstanding any other provision of law, not less than $12,000,000 ofDevelopment Assistance funds shall be made available to United Stateseducational institutions and nongovernmental organizations for programs and activities in the People’s Republic of China relating to the environment, governance, and the rule of law. (P.L. 111-117, Sec. 7071(g)(3))
  • Notwithstanding any other provision of law, not less than $7,400,000 of ESFfunds should be made available to nongovernmental organizations to support activities which preserve cultural traditions and promote sustainable development and environmental conservation in Tibetan communities in the Tibetan Autonomous Region and in other Tibetan communities in China. (P.L. 111-117,Sec. 7071 (a) (2))

For FY2011, the State Department requested $7 million for HIV/AIDS efforts and $850,000 for the Resident Legal Advisor. For Tibet programs, the State Department requested $5 million. For FY2012, the State Department made the same requests for programs and funding as for FY2011.28 Democracy, rule of law, and environmental programs in China using DF and DA account funds continue in 2011, although actual appropriations remain undetermined.



DA: Development Assistance
DF: Human Rights and Democracy Fund (Democracy Fund)
DRL: Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
ESF: Economic Support Fund
GHCS: Global Health and Child Survival
INCLE: International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement
NED: National Endowment for Democracy
NGO: Non-governmental Organization
USAID: United States Agency for International Development

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