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China defends foreign aid record

China has defended its often-criticised role as a foreign aid donor, saying its assistance boosts developing countries and provides an alternative to Western donors who impose more conditions on recipients.

China said its rise as an aid donor is a good development at a time when the global financial crisis is straining most other countries' spending.

Its budgeted foreign aid has swelled nearly 30% a year since 2004, and from the first year of the Communist government in 1950 through to 2009 it has totaled 256.2 billion yuan (£23.7 billion), the State Council Information Office said in its report.

"Over the years, while focusing on its own development, China has been providing aid to the best of its ability to other developing countries with economic difficulties, and fulfilling its due international obligations," the report said.

The gathering pace of Chinese aid is evident in many corners of the developing world.

It is building roads and railways around Africa, textile mills in Syria, cement plants in Peru and bridges in Bangladesh.

While welcomed by recipient governments, it has drawn fire from the US and other Western donors, who say Beijing's lack of transparency is contributing to corruption and mismanagement.

While the report addresses some criticisms, saying Chinese projects employ local workers, it largely glosses over contentious issues. It lacks specifics on aid to particular countries and does not address complaints that many aid-backed projects require the use of Chinese contractors or are used to secure rights to oil, minerals or other natural resources.

Still, the report marks a step toward transparency for a government that has largely refused to subject its aid programme to international scrutiny.

"It's a big step for them," said Deborah Brautigam, an expert on China-Africa relations at American University in Washington. "They're trying to figure out what it means to be a responsible, great power, and one of the things they've been getting beaten up about a lot is foreign aid."

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