As China expands its worldwide economic footprint through ambitious policies such as the Belt and Road Initiative, an increasing number of average people are exposed to Chinese workers and China’s business practices. These experiences in turn shape their perceptions of China. One facet of China’s foreign economic activities at the center of scholarly and policy debates is foreign aid.
While IPE and China scholars have focused on the economic effects of China’s official financing, no studies examine how aid shapes citizen’s opinions of China in recipient countries. I propose a two-part mechanism through which aid influences perceptions–exposure and filter pathways–and predict that China’s financing has differential effects by type. I test my theory by pairing 2016 Afrobarometer survey results with geocoded data on over 1600 Chinese foreign aid projects from AidData.
Direct exposure to Chinese aid fosters resentments toward China when the project has mixed development and commercial purposes. Other forms of aid have inconsistent effects. However, aid primarily operates via the filter pathway. As Chinese aid becomes more salient within a country, citizens associate Chinese inﬂuence with their own government. Citizens then use their satisfaction with the ruling regime, or lack thereof, as a heuristic for how they feel about China.