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Congressional Research Service, U.S. Assistance Programs in China, May 11, 2012

CRS report written by Thomas Lum.
May 11, 2012

Executive Summary

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.

Between 2001 and 2011, the United States government authorized or made available $310 million for Department of State foreign assistance efforts in the PRC, including Peace Corps programs. Of this total, $257 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. Appropriations for Department of State and USAID programs in China reached a peak in FY2010, totaling $46.9 million. Funding decreased by nearly 20% in FY2011, to an estimated $37.7 million. Further significant reductions are expected in FY2012 and FY2013, resulting in the discontinuation of a number of rule of law and environmental programs.

Some analysts argue that U.S. democracy, rule of law, environmental, and related programs have had little effect in China. Furthermore, some policy makers assert that the United States government should not provide assistance to China because the PRC has significant financial resources of its own, some of them obtained through unfair trade practices, and can manage its own development needs. Other observers contend that U.S. assistance activities in China have helped to protect some rights, 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. Other programs are said to have reduced environmental and health threats coming from China. Some analysts posit that U.S. programs in China aim to promote U.S. interests in areas where the PRC government has lacked the expertise or will to make greater progress.

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