The UK will use international aid to “challenge malicious actors” and create new trading partners, the Foreign Office has announced.
As part of the new international development strategy released on Monday, outlining how the UK will use its reduced aid budget in coming years, the government said it would spend more on working directly with other countries and less so for multinational organizations, such as the UN.
The change aims to give the Foreign Office greater control over how aid money is spent and allow the UK to offer an alternative to supporting ‘malicious actors’ – believed to be the China and its Belt and Road Initiative, which has been criticized as involving large amounts of debt and comes with political strings attached.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said: “In an increasingly geopolitical world, we must use development as a key part of our foreign policy. Malicious actors treat economics and development as a means of control, using clientelism, investment and debt as a form of economic coercion and political power.
“We will not mirror their malicious tactics, but we will match them in our determination to provide an alternative.”
In a written statement to the House of Commons, Ms Truss added that the strategy would “challenge reliance on malicious actors, providing choice and bringing more countries into the orbit of market economies”.
As well as providing ‘honest and reliable investments’ and creating new trading partners for Britain, the strategy focuses on supporting the fight against climate change and global health, delivering humanitarian aid and empowering women and girls – a key priority for Ms. Truss.
But Labor MP Sarah Champion, who chairs the House of Commons International Development Committee, criticized the document as “little more than an overhaul of existing slogans” that replicated Chinese tactics rather than challenging them.
Ms Champion said: “Supporting the world’s poorest should not be contingent on a trade deal or agreeing to investment partnerships.
“The UK has rightly been extremely critical of China for such an approach, so I don’t see why we are going the same way. It is depressing and disappointing that the UK is developing a strategy like this.
While praising the strategy’s focus on women and girls, Ms Champion said there was no question of “replacing the £1.9bn funding that would be needed to restore dedicated spending gender equality to where they were in 2020”.
Stephanie Draper, chief executive of Britain’s Bond aid network, also criticized the policy as “largely driven by short-term political and economic interests”, but acknowledged there were “some positives”.
She said: “The gaps in the strategy signal the UK’s loss of leadership in global development. By using the dwindling UK aid budget to bolster commercial interests, by reducing our global commitments and by leaving poverty reduction on the back burner, the UK has missed a golden opportunity to properly rethink its role on the world stage – and risks abandoning those who need it most.”
The government has cut aid spending from 0.7% of gross national income (GNI) to 0.5%, breaking a manifesto promise and cutting the aid budget by £4.5bn.
Monday’s International Development Strategy highlighted the government’s commitment to cut spending to 0.7% of GNI “once the fiscal situation permits”.