Since the 1950s, Taiwan and China have utilized foreign aid as an instrument of foreign policy. After Taiwan's forced withdrawal from the United Nations in 1971, diplomatic and aid-giving competition with China became more intense. As a result, Taiwan's and China's struggles to gain supporters have been reflected in foreign aid strategies. Taiwan's bid for the UN and the WHO, and the issue of diplomatic recognition empirically demonstrate the utilization of aid to obtain diplomatic support from recipient countries, and, frequently, any decisions are heavily influenced by the competition it experiences with China. Theoretically, this highlights an important relational framework for analyzing foreign aid decisions – particularly the management of foreign relations of small states or middle powers simultaneously influenced by greater powers and aid recipient states.
Using data from ICDF and related reports, we observe geographically concentrated patterns in the distribution of Taiwan's aid recipients from 1988 to 1997 – mostly in Latin America and Southeast Asia. In contrast to China's foreign aid which emphasizes infrastructural development, the spirit of Taiwan's economic development aid programs often took the form of technical cooperation. However, a high percentage of aid went to countries with diplomatic ties to Taiwan. With civil society development and increased international activities of Taiwanese NGOs in humanitarian relief and development projects after 2000, we find a new emerging set of geographical aid distribution patterns that expand beyond countries that recognize Taiwan. In addition, while the process of incorporating civil society into foreign aid work was initiated by the ICDF the following decade, Taiwanese NGOs have increasingly demonstrated autonomous international agendas, funding, and direction, as well as the formation of civil society alliances that work on common international development issues.