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UK’s Foreign Office slashes aid to China by 95 percent

The U.K.’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office will cut its aid budget for programs in China by 95 percent.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab unveiled his department’s Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) allocations for 2021-22 in a written parliamentary statement Wednesday.

Britain will only spend £900,000 on human rights initiatives in China, he said, with some additional funding this year to meet former contractual agreements.

Raab said the U.K.’s aid money will instead be geared toward exerting “maximum influence as a force for good in Africa and strategically tilt towards the Indo-Pacific,” in line with a wider British strategy published last month.

The move comes after the British 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 British economy recovers from the coronavirus pandemic.

The FCDO will spend £8.1 billion in ODA next year, or about 80 percent of the U.K.’s total aid budget. About half of this money will support programs in Africa, with a “major shift” to East Africa where Britain identifies “a national strategic interest,” Raab said.

One-third of the department's aid budget will be spent in the Indo-Pacific and South Asia, funding projects on climate change and open societies, and reinforcing post-Brexit trade links, he added.

Programs in China, however, will see a 95 percent cut and receive just £900,000 in ODA cash from the FCDO next year. That will fund initiatives to promote “open societies and human rights,” Raab said.

“The resulting portfolio marks a strategic shift, putting our aid budget to work alongside our diplomatic network, our science and technology expertise and our economic partnerships in tackling global challenges,” Raab said.

Sarah Champion, the Labour MP who chairs of the House of Commons international development committee, welcomed the cut in funding to China, but said it was “very surprising” that such a major economy was still receiving U.K. aid.

“Amid sweeping aid cuts to some of the world’s poorest nations, it is astounding that the U.K. still gives any ODA to China,” she told POLITICO. “I expect U.K. 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 defense budget.

Raab also faced criticism from Labour and the Liberal Democrats for announcing the allocations in a written parliamentary statement, without a detailed breakdown by country.

“To sneak out a written statement at the end of the day shows a lack of respect for both parliament scrutinizing these cuts and the aid organizations that are hearing about the spend for the first time only now,” Champion said.

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 U.K.’s reputation on the world stage.”

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.”

“In a year when the U.K. 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,” they said in a joint statement.

The new U.K. totals also place a big emphasis on global health, with a particular focus on tackling COVID-19. That will become the top priority of Britain’s aid funding next year, receiving £1.3 billion. Most of this money will be channelled through vaccine initiatives COVAX and Gavi as well as the World Health Organization.

A further £491 million will go toward establishing new trade relationships with developing countries, the government said, while humanitarian response is allocated £906 million; climate change and biodiversity gets £534 million; and promoting girls’ education in about 25 countries receives £400 million.

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