The world’s largest charitable foundation and one of the world’s more totalitarian governments might seem like odd bedfellows, but both, it turns out, have similar goals. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced that they are launching a far-reaching partnership with the Chinese government for international aid work on Wednesday. Over the coming months and years, the Gates Foundation and the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology will jointly fund a number of global health and agricultural innovations. The decision to fund good works by the Gates Foundation isn’t simply a Chinese philanthropic move–it also has everything to do with rising Chinese food demands and economic imperialism. But, here’s the rub… that’s not such a bad thing.
Details of the China-Gates Foundation partnership will be released this week at the G20 conference in Switzerland, but the outline is clear: The two will be co-funding a series of new global health products, conducting R&D work into increasingly agricultural yields, and working on IT tech for rural areas worldwide. According to a public statement by Chinese Vice Minister of Science and Technology Zhang Laiwu, “Innovation to advance human welfare is a goal that China shares with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation […] Together we can do more to improve agriculture and health in some of the poorest nations.”
According to the Gates Foundation, the most likely initial candidates for project funding will be disease vaccines, new diagnostic tests for tuberculosis and other diseases, and development of new varieties of crops and livestock. The Chinese government and the Gates Foundation are in the process of setting up a joint committee which will handle approval and disbursement of the funds. Exact funding amounts were not available as of press time, but the Gates Foundation stated that they will actively seek “additional investment from the public and private sectors” in addition to their own contributions for the project.
The worldwide scope of this project coincides with the rapid growth of China’s economic power in the global south. Chinese diplomats have become increasingly assertive in Africa and scaremongering articles about China’s newfound African economic pull can be found in all sorts of responsible publications. In sheer business terms, African nations imported nearly $70 billion in Chinese goods in 2010–while exporting $60 billion worth of products to China. Outside of the United States and the old colonial capitals of London, Paris, Lisbon, Brussels, and Rome, China has become Africa’s largest business partner.
A similar dynamic is also at work in South America. China has turned to South America for agricultural imports–China simply does not have enough land and enough crops to feed their growing population. And it’s not just food: According to a 2005 policy paper, China is also turning to Latin America as a source of energy imports. Chinese companies are also increasingly involved in railroad and mining projects that recall the Victorian-era colonialism of the European Great Powers. The American government has been taking an increased interest in the Chinese presence in Latin America, which they view as a possible violation of the Monroe Doctrine.
Teaming up with the Gates Foundation isn’t just a charitable move on the part of the Chinese government. The partnership is a perfect example of soft power–the spreading of influence through propaganda, public works, and cultural prestige. By helping farmers and ranchers in the world’s poorest regions raise healthier livestock and bring more goods to market, China is simultaneously helping the poor and bettering the economic status of the Peoples’ Republic. As China becomes an increasingly assertive world power, aggressive public diplomacy will become more and more commonplace on their part. The Gates Foundation partnership is a genius move that benefits both parties. China is guaranteeing themselves more influence and goodwill over the third world’s farmers, while the Gates Foundation helps fight global hunger–everyone wins.
[Image: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation]