This week, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab unveiled his departments Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) allocations for 2021/22. China will receive £900,000 from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), a cut of 95 percent. The news comes after the government announced it would break its manifesto commitment to spend 0.7 percent of its gross national income on aid, reducing it to 0.5 percent until the UK economy recovers from the coronavirus pandemic.
The FCDO is set to spend £8.1 billion on ODA over the next year.
About half of this will support programs in Africa, with a “major shift” to East Africa as a “national strategic interest” has been identified, Mr Raab said.
Another third of the aid budget will go to the Indo-Pacific and South Asian region, funding projects on climate change, open societies, and post-Brexit links, Mr Raab announced.
China, however, will see just £900,000, a 95 percent cut from previous ODA allocations.
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The key sectors included in the development of these programs include agriculture, disaster risk reduction, global health, trade and investment.
In practice, this means that the UK spends money in China to help develop education, support human rights, combat illegal wildlife trade and promote green energy projects – not just in China, but in tandem with China in other developing nations.
So what changed?
In July 2020, British MPs requested a review into why the UK sent £71 million in aid to China in a year, despite China’s economy being some five times bigger than the UK’s.
Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith said: “China is the second-largest economy in the world, and it is winning business all over the world by undercutting firms in the West.
“This makes it all the more urgent that we have a strategic review of the entirety of our relationship with and our dependency on China, including this sort of nonsense spending on aid.”
Then, with the ongoing damage to the British economy caused by the pandemic, it was only time before the “axe would fall” on China, reports claimed.
Mr Raab said the allocated ODA for the 2021/22 period will still fund initiatives to promote “open societies and human rights”.
What has the reaction been?
Some have praised the FCDO’s decision, while others have heavily condemned it.
Sarah Champion, the Labour MP who chairs the House of Commons international development committee, told POLITICO: “Amid sweeping aid cuts to some of the world’s poorest nations, it is astounding that the UK still gives any ODA to China.
“I expect UK taxpayers would much rather see aid going to countries that are on the brink of humanitarian crises rather than to the second-largest economy in the world.”
Conservative MP Bob Seely, a longstanding critic of Beijing, also welcomed the cut, noting that China is richer than Britain and has a large defence budget.
However, Mr Raab has also been accused of announcing the major funding cuts at the end of the session in the House, thereby avoiding Parliamentary scrutiny.
Layla Moran, the Liberal Democrats’ spokesperson for foreign affairs, said the government was hiding from “MPs’ scrutiny because they know how damaging this is to the UK’s reputation on the world stage.”
There has also been a damning backlash from humanitarian sources.
More than 200 NGOs including Save the Children, Oxfam and Care International urged the government to reverse the cuts, which they described as a “tragic blow for many of the world’s most marginalised people.”
A joint statement said: “In a year when the UK has the chance to show leadership at G7 and COP26, withdrawing vital investment needed to keep everyone safe from health pandemics, conflicts and climate change is the wrong move.”