RWR Data Shows Most of China’s Foreign Aid for COVID-19 Provided through Chinese Companies; RWR Data Summarizes China’s Global COVID-19 Outreach
During the global spread of COVID-19, the Chinese government has sought to establish a reputation for being a key supporter of the efforts of countries around the world to contain and fight back the virus. RWR has tracked these efforts, cataloguing the sources, methods, timeline and destination of Chinese aid provided between March and early May 2020. This data shows that, since March 1, 2020, Chinese donations have been announced to at least 127 different countries and that approximately half of these announced transactions have been provided through corporations, rather than government agencies or philanthropic organizations.
RWR provides a number of visuals below that provide additional detail on the number of COVID-19 related donations and how, where and when they have been distributed. These visuals count the number of unique donations, not the number of PPE items or any approximate value assigned to them. A unique donation is considered an assistance package delivered to a specific country. The announcement of donated items to multiple countries would be counted once for each country receiving the aid.
The numbers reported below are designed to exclude transactions that are traditional exports from China (i.e., items procured by foreign countries or companies). An effort has been made to capture only support that was delivered either at no cost or on some discounted or clearly subsidized terms. Although these details were not always available, RWR has used its best efforts to categorize transactions appropriately.
Ironically, this question of which transactions are donations and which are procurements has been another source of friction related to China’s track record on transparency as it relates to the virus and the messaging wars that have followed around the world. On several occasions, there has been open dispute and local controversy around supplies that were originally represented as donations later being alleged to be procurements.
Over Half of China’s COVID-19 Donations Provided by Corporations
As demonstrated below, approximately half of the donations between March and early May were provided by Chinese companies. Not surprisingly, in many cases, these firms had significant business interests or objectives in the countries to which they distributed the aid. While the level of coordination in Beijing that went into the supplies being sent through companies, rather than through government sources, is unclear, it seems likely that part of the reason would be the benefit that this might provide to their respective brands, reputations, and long-term business interests in the country. Indeed, in certain situations, these corporate gains could be seen as simultaneously reinforcing the strategic interests of the state.
Channeling aid through companies offers Beijing a potential means to boost public perception of Chinese enterprise abroad and mitigate existing levels of skepticism regarding Chinese investments held among certain foreign governments, many of which have grown more concerned about predatory investments by Chinese companies amidst the market vulnerability caused by the pandemic.
The Chinese companies that have given multiple COVID-19-related donations to countries during the past several weeks tend to be companies that are involved in construction, travel, energy, or technology. RWR data shows China Railway Construction Corp. is the company most active in China’s COVID-19 response efforts. This is also a company that has been among the most prolific contractors along the Belt and Road Initiative. Since March 1, CRCC has made at least 60 international donations.
Regional Breakdown of China’s Approach to Foreign Support for COVID-19
RWR data indicates that sub-Saharan Africa and Europe have been the two largest regional recipients of Chinese aid during this period. The substantial influx of donations into sub-Saharan Africa from Chinese philanthropic entities has been led by the Jack Ma Foundation, which has given support to each African country. (Jack Ma was the co-founder and CEO of Alibaba until 2019.)
While donations from Chinese companies have been observed in all regions, it is worth noting that donations from the Chinese state have been significantly less in Eurasia and North America, where donations by corporate entities are clearly dominant in our numbers.
As noted above, the choice of funneling supplies through companies, rather than government, in these areas (or the choice to allow companies to take the lead) could be attributed to the opportunity the situation presents to reform the image and perception of Chinese firms in countries that been skeptical of Chinese investment in recent years and where they would like to become more active players in the future.