Friend or foe?

24 Jan 20

China has emerged as the country that donates the most international aid. But is it really the force for good it claims to be?

Two years ago, Kenya opened its biggest-ever infrastructure project 18 months ahead of schedule. Built and financed by the Chinese government, the new £2.5bn railway line, running 470km from Nairobi to the port of Mombasa is named the Madaraka Express, in commemoration of the day Kenya attained internal self-rule. As president Uhuru Kenyatta pointed out at the launch ceremony, the railway supersedes the ‘lunatic express’, built by the British more than a century ago when Nairobi scarcely existed as a town.

The symbolism could not be much plainer: China is helping the developing world realise its potential now that it has rid itself of the colonial yoke. In Africa, Asia and – to a lesser extent – South America, a vast array of Chinese-backed projects such as airports, stadiums, electricity grids and gas storage are now improving many lives materially.

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