UN Development Programme, Brief on White Paper on China's International Development Cooperation in the New Era, January 2021

A review by the United Nations Development Program.
January 20, 2021

A portion of the UNDP review of the new Chinese white paper is below. The full pdf is available at the link below. The pdf includes charts and footnotes.


The newly issued third WP provides a comprehensive overview of China’s foreign aid experience and guiding principles combined with a forward-looking perspective. It is an exhaustive document exceeding the total length of the previous two papers combined. Below, we summarise key developments and new concepts described in the 2021 update and provide some suggestions and reflections on how to move these concepts forward.

What’s new?

It is no longer just about “aid”. The difference between the third WP and the previous two papers is clear from the outset and reflected in its title and messaging – “China's International Development Cooperation in the New Era”. The new WP presents a more comprehensive understanding of development cooperation, going beyond “China’s Foreign Aid”.

As the title indicates, the WP’s scope and objective are not limited to traditional, mainly bilateral “aid”, but involve a broader discussion about China’s multiple South-South cooperation engagements with bilateral and multilateral actors.2 Foreign aid – in its standard Official Development Assistance/ Other Official Flows (ODA/ OOF) definition – remains the primary means, but it is not the only means.

The reference to “in the new era” specifies a new direction, which began with the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in 2012. The WP takes stock of the recent evolution of China’s engagements in international development
cooperation and reflects on the linkages of these engagements with China’s overseas development priorities, as well as the development priorities of partner countries, and bilateral and multilateral development actors.

It involves a broadened scope captured in the concept of “grand foreign aid” (“da yuan wai”). In addition to the extensive elaboration on recent, concrete achievements, the WP also provides the basis for the strategic framework of Chinese overseas engagement, describing the cultural and philosophical background, as well as the overarching approach and principles.

The 2021 paper explicitly articulates the strategic priorities of China’s international development cooperation engagements (pp.6-7):

Mission: “promoting a global community of shared future”
Underlying guideline: “pursuing the greater good and shared interests, with higher priority given the former”
Focus: South-South cooperation
Major platform: Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)
Goal: “helping other developing countries to pursue the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”.