USA and other G7 countries have launched a Build Back Better initiative which will gather like-minded democracies and will close the infrastructural gap between the low-and middle-income countries. The initiative is said to be launched to counter the Belt and Road initiative of the Chinese Communist government.
These statements speak volumes about how the United States, its allies, and China deploy foreign aid to advance national interests and win friends abroad. But how do these overtures translate into influence and partnership with foreign leaders and publics?
In June, AidData, a research lab at the College of William & Mary’s Global Research Institute, published the results of a survey of public, private, and civil society leaders from 141 countries who were asked to identify which foreign actors they had worked with and how they would rate their influence and helpfulness. The results we report below are based on the responses of 6,807 leaders who shared their views between June and September 2020, as compared to a previous AidData survey in 2017.
Respondents reported that China was an undeniable force in shaping domestic policies in their countries; it eclipsed all but one G-7 economy in our list of the most influential development partners. But the surveyed leaders were mixed as to whether China’s influence was a net positive or negative for their countries. Ultimately, leaders consider China when they set priorities, but in translating policy agendas into action, they still more often turn to intergovernmental actors or to G-7 partners. China’s ability to reshape international norms, win support for alternate models of development, or displace status quo power is not fait accompli.