Abstract: What explains China’s persistent financing of high-profile “prestige projects” in developing countries? More generally, why do governments sometimes pursue grandiose but non-essential development projects in societies with urgent basic development needs? I argue that governments of least developed countries often have strong domestic political incentives to seek and associate themselves with externally-financed prestige projects, and that donor governments provide these projects to states willing to support donors’ diplomatic interests. After identifying a set of Chinese government-financed prestige projects using a new dataset, I show that these projects are concentrated in the world’s poorest and smallest countries. I also find that China’s government overwhelmingly supplies prestige projects to states that increase their support for Chinese diplomatic objectives. Accompanying tests do not find similar relationships for China’s concessional foreign aid or commercially-oriented development projects. A final set of tests examines the public opinion consequences of prestige projects. Overall, the findings illuminate a thus far underappreciated political logic for prestige projects, and also offer an initial step in understanding the public opinion effects of different types of Chinese development projects.

Bio: Austin Strange is an assistant professor of International Relations in the Department of Politics and Public Administration The University of Hong Kong. He researches and teaches Chinese foreign policy, international political economy, and international development. Austin’s first research agenda investigates contemporary China’s overseas development finance. With colleagues, he is currently writing a book for Cambridge University Press on this topic. A separate book project examines shifts in China’s approach to global development and China’s influence in developing countries since 1949. His second agenda examines the domestic sources of trade and diplomacy across Chinese history. His research employs observational datasets, survey experiments, interviews, and archival work.

Austin is also a postdoctoral fellow with the Columbia-Harvard China and the World Program. He received a Ph.D. in Government from Harvard University, M.A. from Zhejiang University, and B.A. from the College of William & Mary. More information on his research is available at www.austinstrange.org

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