On her way to Myanmar, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a speech urging developing countries to be "smart shoppers" when accepting foreign aid. "Be wary of donors who are more interested in extracting your resources than in building your capacity," warned Clinton. "Some funding might help fill short-term budget gaps, but we've seen time and again that these quick fixes won't produce self-sustaining results."
Media outlets interpreted Clinton's warning as being directed at China. It is a surprise to hear such a statement from the US Secretary of State. These words do not show the confident US we are used to seeing.
China's foreign aid has its flaws, but its goals are at least much simpler than those of the US. US aid often takes the form of arms, and comes with many harsh political warnings. Rarely can its aid bring direct benefit to the welfare of foreign countries. In another word, the US definition of foreign aid comes down to weapons and politics, yet these will bring virtually nothing to a country's "capacity." The US is actually the donor country should be wary of.
On the contrary, China's foreign aid usually targets a country's infrastructure and welfare. It covers everything from basic industries, transportation and agriculture to healthcare, education and other essential sectors. These donations not only bring relief to immediate suffering but also help build-up long-term and sustainable solutions to these. The principle difference between Chinese and US foreign aid is that the Chinese respect a country's free will when it offers its donations, whereas the US' aid may be the carrot which followed by stick. It will not be hard for "smart shoppers" to make a better choice.
Clinton may think her soft-power diplomacy is invincible. But that is no replacement to the practical works and tangible benefits a country has to bring to win over a region. It is also possible that Clinton has no choice since the US has become increasingly incompetent in dealing with its own crisis.
The US treasury deficit has gone through the roof, its trade competitiveness has been poor, and it is forced to borrow to bail itself out. Its budget planning has already indicated that its superpower status is about to soon fall.
This reflects a reality that the US crisis has become a downfall to its diplomacy. It can only maneuver empty promises in an attempt to hold its influence in Asia.
No country will believe that the US donation are given more wholeheartedly than China. But countries in Asia and Africa would love to see the US come down to earth and start to compete with China on offering aid. Should it fail to honor its promises and commitment in Asia and Africa, those accusations it poured on China will one day come back to hunt it.
Clinton should have been very clear that China rarely targets the US. However, the US' return to Asia strategy has been specifically designed for China. China is following its own path, while the US has been trying to set its own course. Which is easier and will last longer? The answer is fairly obvious.