The thesis traces the evolution of China's interpretation of "mutual benefit" in foreign aid over three key periods: (1) the 1950s to 1978, prioritizing recipient well-being; (2) 1979 onwards, emphasizing mutual benefits; and (3) from 2010, with a renewed focus on recipient interests. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) significantly shapes China's aid paradigm, expanding the concept to a global scale, integrating economic, political, and developmental objectives. While China claims non-interference, practical aid often yields political benefits. The BRI introduces financial integration, extending beyond traditional concessional loans to include various funds, aid-trade partnerships, and investments. Challenges include transparency issues and concerns about a debt trap. In specific cases like Myanmar and Indonesia, economic benefits take precedence, reflecting a pragmatic approach to diplomatic engagement, promoting trade, securing resources, and facilitating Chinese businesses abroad. Defining China's mutual benefit approach necessitates a robust institutional framework and consistency between policy and practice amidst the complexity of evolving foreign aid policies.
Min Zhang was born in Beijing, China. She completed her first PhD (in Chinese) in international relations at the China University of Political Science and Law in July 2017, where she engaged in research on China's foreign policy, foreign aid, trade and investment, South-South cooperation and global governance. She then worked full-time at Radboud University to pursue her second PhD in international development, continuing with the focus on China's aid, trade, investment and South-South development cooperation. She has published a number of articles in SSCI journals and top Journals in Chinese. For her research on China’s foreign aid, she did extensive fieldwork in China, Myanmar and Indonesia, visiting Chinese aid projects, and meeting Chinese officials, scholars, enterprise workers, and NGO staff. During her studies in both China and the Netherlands, she has been involved in many research projects.