The UK will use international aid to “challenge dependency on malign actors” and “offer honest alternative for low- and middle-income countries,” the Foreign Office has said.
Announcing the new International Development Strategy on May 16, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the UK must use international aid to achieve its foreign policy goals and counter “malign actors.”
She said in a statement: “In an increasingly geopolitical world, we must use development as a key part of our foreign policy.
“Malign actors treat economics and development as a means of control, using patronage, investment, and debt as a form of economic coercion and political power. We won’t mirror their malign tactics, but we will match them in our resolve to provide an alternative.”
Truss did not name the “malign actors,” but she has previously criticised the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime’s “economic coercion.”
Truss said the UK and Australia were determined to act together in “calling out China” when it imposes coercive trade measures on countries such as Lithuania, which saw its exports to China blocked after it allowed Taiwan to open a de facto embassy in Vilnius using its own name.
The foreign secretary also warned against economic dependence on China and noted that developing countries have been lured into debt-trap investment programs like the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
In an apparent bid to counter such practices, the Foreign Office said the new UK aid strategy will “use British International Investment and other tools to provide honest and reliable finance to help low- and middle-income countries take control of their futures, giving them an alternative so they are not burdened with unsustainable debt with strings attached.”
The UK government also said it will “rebalance the aid budget towards bilateral programmes” and rely less on multinational bodies such as the United Nations.
The Foreign Office said this will “give the government greater control on how money is spent, allowing a focus on priorities and improv[ing] lives around the world.”
But Labour MP Sarah Champion, who chairs the International Development Committee in the House of Commons, criticised the strategy as “little more than a rehash of existing slogans” that replicated Chinese tactics rather than challenging them.
She said: “Supporting the poorest in the world should not be conditional on a trade deal or agreeing to investment partnerships. The UK has rightly been hugely critical of China for such an approach, so I fail to see why we are following down the same road.”
The UK government reduced aid spending from 0.7 percent of gross national income (GNI) to 0.5 percent, cutting £4.5 billion ($5.5 billion) from the aid budget.
The new aid strategy stressed that the government was committed to returning spending to 0.7 percent of GNI “once the fiscal situation allows.”