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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

U.S.-Funded Assistance Programs in China

Thomas Lum
Specialist in Asian Affairs

This report provides legislative and policy background concerning U.S. assistance programs in the People's Republic of China (PRC). The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) does not have an official presence in China. The majority of congressional foreign operations appropriations for the PRC promotes the rule of law, civil society, and political development in the country. These programs constitute a key component of U.S. efforts to promote democratic change in the PRC. Other related U.S. activities include participation in official bilateral dialogues on human rights, public diplomacy programs, and open criticism of PRC policies.

During the past decade, U.S. democracy assistance to China has grown in size and breadth. Funding has grown from an annual average of $9.9 million during the 2000-2004 period, mostly for democracy assistance and aid to Tibetans, to $35.3 million during the 2005-2009 period. During the latter period, the United States supported not only democracy and Tibetan programs but also HIV/AIDS programs, educational exchanges, and expanded rule of law programs in the PRC that include environmental law and criminal justice. Between 2001 and 2010, the United States government authorized or made available nearly $275 million for foreign operations programs in China, of which $229 million was devoted to rule of law and civil society programs and to Tibetan communities.

The Department of State's Human Rights and Democracy Fund (HRDF) has been the principal means of support for U.S. rule of law and civil society activities in China. The Development Assistance (DA) account, administered by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), has been a growing source of funding for rule of law programs. The U.S. Congress has played a leading role in initiating programs and determining funding levels for these objectives. Non-governmental organizations, such as the Ford Foundation, and other countries also provide substantial democracy-related assistance to the PRC.

U.S. rule of law and civil society programs have created a web of relationships among governmental and non-governmental actors and educational institutions in the United States and China. Despite growing contacts and common interests among these entities, Chinese civil society groups remain subject to PRC restrictions and periodic crackdowns on their activities. Some of these groups also have been affected by the ups and downs of the U.S.-China bilateral relationship. Some experts argue that foreign-funded rule of law and civil society efforts in China have produced limited gains due to PRC political constraints. Others contend that such programs have helped to build social foundations for political change and have bolstered reform-minded officials in the PRC government.

Date of Report: July 9, 2010
Number of Pages: 13
Order Number: RS22663
Price: $29.95

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