About 40 percent of that can be defined as aid, based on the parameters of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, according to Bradley Parks, AidData’s executive director. During the same period, the United States provided $106.7 billion in aid, according to the group.
Most of the Chinese money comes in the form of loans, many of which are for projects being built by Chinese state-owned companies. The contracts typically have strict conditions attached to them; borrowers often have to start repaying the loans within a few years, unlike loans from the World Bank, which can have a grace period of a decade.
“The work that they do, the assistance that they provide, seems to be more about China than it is about the countries that are the target, or the recipients of the assistance,” said Mark Green, the administrator of the Agency for International Development.
But the Chinese companies have had great success in winning contracts for projects in Africa. In some cases, this is tied to bribing officials. But in others, Chinese companies have been good at managing relations because, unlike American companies, they have a strong presence on the ground.
“For American businesses to compete effectively in the region, the U.S. government must develop methods to come to the table with a full package,” said Mike Davis, an American businessman in Uganda. “The current approach has not proven effective when you compare it against the competition.”
Mr. Trump, driven by a desire to confront China’s growing influence, signed a bill to double the war chest of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, which finances American businesses in developing nations. Starting in October, the agency will have $60 billion to dole out in the form of loans, loan insurance and equity.
But the agency’s chief executive, Ray W. Washburne, said projects that the agency finances still “have got to make economic sense,” adding, “The Chinese seem to be doing these loan-to-own programs.”