Promoting Development: The Political Economy of East Asian Foreign Aid

By Tieri, Silvia | Journal of East Asian Studies, July 2018 | Go to article overview

Promoting Development: The Political Economy of East Asian Foreign Aid


Tieri, Silvia, Journal of East Asian Studies


Promoting Development: The Political Economy of East Asian Foreign Aid. By Barbara Stallings and Eun Mee Kim. Singapore: Palgrave, 2017. 271 pp. $99.00 (e-book)

Foreign aid has re-gained the attention of a wide and diverse scholarship lying at the intersection of political economy, finance, development studies, geopolitics, and international relations. This is due to the growing presence of non-mainstream providers within a foreign aid system historically dominated by Western donors. These rising actors differ from traditional ones because they are not Western/high-income nations, and because they act outside the normative framework which has supposedly governed foreign aid disbursements for decades.

In the book under review, Stallings and Kim look at the foreign aid policies of three of these actors---Japan, South Korea, and China--focusing on the economic model that characterizes their behavior as donors. The book's main conclusion is that the aid performance of these donors presents a set of relevant and peculiar features that can be summarized as the "East Asian model of aid." This places them as a unicum within the donors group, as well as grants their foreign aid a high level of effectiveness.

The book is a rich addition both to the literature on foreign aid per se and to the ongoing debate on non-traditional aid. First, it offers a comprehensive analysis of the foreign aid policy of three non-mainstream donors: China, Japan, and South Korea. The study of Japanese and South Korean aid policies is particularly useful. While China's "South-South partnership" program has attracted growing attention in the last decade, resulting in a burgeoning body of literature, the same cannot be said for Japan, despite Japanese aid being significant in Asia. There is even less analysis of South Korea, likely due to the fact that it is a more recent donor (net donor since 1997, and member of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's Development Assistance Committee (OECD DAC) since 2010). This books attempts to fill the gap in the literature providing important information about the foreign aid behavior and foreign aid vision of all the three donors. Also, contrary to the classification of Japan as a traditional donor, it successfully highlights the peculiarities that distinguish it from fellow DAC members.

Second, the book successfully places this set of information within the debate on foreign aid drivers and effectiveness, with rigor and originality. Foreign aid has been discussed since its inception after World War II. Most scholars who have looked at the determinants of foreign aid argue that donors are driven by their own interest, although donors maintain they target recipients' needs. This was evidently stated with the creation of the DAC within the OECD in 1962, and the formulation of a clearly development-oriented aid paradigm (ODA, i.e. Official Development Assistance). Due to the nature of the OECD, the DAC paradigm and ODA have been associated to high-incomeAVestern donors. In the last two decades, however, a growing number of middle-income donors that are believed to act outside the DAC framework have increased their aid disbursements and gained popularity among recipients. These actors are often ambiguously grouped and referred to as emerging, new, alternative, or non-traditional donors. Proliferation and success of these other donors have gained them a central position within the discussion on foreign aid. Stallings and Kim bring fresh air into the debate on how these donors differ from traditional ones, and whether their mode of aid is going to bring about a new paradigm to the detriment of the OECD-DAC one. The conceptual contribution of their work is to provide a third category--that of East Asian donors--which transcends the traditional versus alternative dichotomy. The authors argue that the East Asian model of aid of Japan, South Korea, and China is unique, different from both the DAC and "the rest. …

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