Global China or South-South Neighbour? A Case Study of Health Aid from Beijing to Kathmandu

Katherine Cheng

In the last few decades, China has transformed itself from an aid recipient into the world’s second-largest economy and one of the most powerful actors of overseas development (Mawdsley 2012; Chin 2012). With ongoing changes to the international world order, it is more important than ever for academics and policymakers to comprehend the impact of China’s foreign assistance. Most of past research has been focused on China’s infrastructure development projects in Sub-Saharan Africa (Guillon 2017; Grépin 2014). However, as recent data has shown, China’s aid to nations outside of Africa and sectors outside of infrastructure are much more significant than previously thought (Dreher 2017). In particular, past literature has suggested that China’s health aid is distinct from that of the West because it is framed as South-South cooperation, which is the cooperation between developing countries. The debate surrounding the impact of China’s South-South aid remains in contention, with academics divided on whether it is a mutual effort of partnership or a narrative used by China to further its national interests (Quadir 2012; Lin 2016). Nepal, the recipient of $27 million USD from China in the 2015-2016 fiscal year (IECCD 2017), is one of the largest South Asian beneficiaries of Chinese health aid and is a prime example of China’s aid to developing nations outside of Africa and sectors outside of infrastructure. Therefore, my case study on China’s health aid to Nepal will address this gap in literature and will strengthen academic understanding of China’s role in development and South-South aid.

As a result, my research is centred on China’s five main health projects in Nepal: targeted reconstruction assistance for the 2015 earthquake, the Chinese Medical Team, the National Ayurveda Research and Training Centre, the B.P. Koirala Memorial Cancer Hospital, and donations for epidemic prevention and emergency medical supplies – all of which take place in Kathmandu Valley (IECCD 2017). My study revolves around the following research questions: To what extent does China’s health aid to Nepal embody the principles of South-South aid? Are there correlations between China’s health assistance and its other political or economic interests – and if so, what are the implications?

From May to August of 2018, I conducted field research in Kathmandu. During my fieldwork, I will collect data through in-depth semi-structured and open-ended interviews, participant observation, surveys, and focus groups with stakeholders such as Chinese Medical Team members, hospital staff, and government officials of China and Nepal. In addition, a literature review and primary data to map the distributions and history of health funding from China to Nepal between 2000 and 2017 will be used to complement the qualitative data. In doing so, I will triangulate data from resources such as governmental reports from Nepal and China, AidData reports on China’s underreported aid, academic journals, and news publications.

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