The EU's and China's Development Assistance towards Central Asia: Low Versus Contested Impact

Fabienne Bossuyt

In recent years, both the EU's and China's international development activities have been attracting growing attention in the academic literature. However, the development assistance to Central Asia by China and the EU, despite both actors' increasing involvement in the region, remains largely unexplored. In filling this gap, the paper provides a comparative analysis of EU and Chinese development assistance towards the Central Asian countries. In particular, it examines what impact their assistance has on the ground and how receptive the Central Asian states are to the assistance provided by these two leading actors.Methodologically, the paper draws on insights from semi-structured interviews with relevant stakeholders, including officials, experts and practitioners, and document analysis of primary and secondary sources. The primary sources include statistical data, official documents of the Chinese government (including press releases by Chinese embassies in the region), the EU institutions and the Central Asian states. The paper finds that, with the exception of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, receptiveness to the EU's aid is low, mostly because it involves political conditionality and interference in domestic affairs. In contrast, receptiveness to China's assistance is high across the entire region. Moreover, despite having spent a considerable amount of funding in the region throughout the past two decades, the EU's development assistance to Central Asia fails to have a significant impact. In turn, China's foreign aid to Central Asia is more pervasive, and has a tangible impact on the ground. However, the positive impact of China's assistance, not least improved living standards as a result of enhanced transport and electricity infrastructure, is being offset by the negative implications of its increased involvement, including deepening economic and financial dependency.

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