Origins and use:
This phrase was used by President Xi Jinping during his first official visit to Africa in 2013. His announcement offering “no strings” aid to African countries was intended to mark a departure from the conditions imposed by Western countries and international lenders, such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. “China will continue to offer, as always, necessary assistance to Africa with no political strings attached,” Xi said.
He referred to it again at a major conference on China-Africa cooperation in 2018, where he unveiled China’s “five no” approach to Africa: “no interference in African countries’ pursuit of development paths that fit their national conditions; no interference in African countries’ internal affairs; no imposition of China’s will on African countries; no attachment of political strings to assistance to Africa; and no seeking of selfish political gains in investment and financing cooperation with Africa”.
These policies have allowed China to provide repressive governments in countries like Sudan and Zimbabwe with much-needed financing with little or no political or human rights considerations.
In reality, China’s aid and development financing do come with strings tied to Beijing’s business interests, such as the Belt and Road Initiative, and foreign policy goals, such as its One China Policy in relation to Taiwan.
Implications for human rights
Western countries and international lending institutions often impose a number of conditions in exchange for foreign aid, trade deals and loans as an incentive for recipient countries to strengthen human rights, principles of governance, labour laws and other issues relating to the welfare of populations.
Without greater transparency of the investment deals made by China, it is difficult to assess whether the “five nos” are actually followed in practice. Large or multiple loans, particularly to countries that would find it difficult to access funding from other international lenders, create financial dependence that can then be leveraged for political favours, such as support for China’s positions in international forums, countering criticism of China’s human rights record, or an expectation that recipient states self-censor in their remarks on China.