China’s growing role in international development marks a systemic global shift that will require robust challenge by Britain if its interests are threatened, a UK government white paper on aid has warned.
With David Cameron starting as foreign secretary and under scrutiny for his previous business links with China, the document does not hold back in challenging the Chinese development model or its growing influence.
The drawbacks listed include “operating with lower social and environmental standards, limited transparency, allegations of corruption and capture of local elites, and limited coordination through the multilateral system, especially of bilateral instruments like the belt and road initiative”.
The white paper warns “China’s growing role as an actor in international development marks a systemic shift in the global development landscape” and has wide implications for Britain’s own development policies. It says that “between 2008 and 2021, China made $498bn in loan commitments, equivalent to 83% of World Bank sovereign lending during the same period”, adding: “Its increased assertiveness in seeking to shape the international order makes it essential for us to navigate the challenges that come with its evolving development role.”
The white paper promises the UK will resist the risks China “poses to open societies and good governance”, saying it will seek to influence Chinese thinking and act robustly where necessary.
“Given China’s critical role in raising global development standards and achieving the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs) by 2030, it is important that China’s domestic initiatives complement multilateral efforts rather than undermine them,” the white paper said.
The commentary brings into the open longstanding tensions between the Chinese model of development and Britain’s commitment in the white paper to forming partnerships and targeting low-income groups.
The white paper, the brainchild of the development minister. Andrew Mitchell, contains a plethora of ambitious plans to stretch the balance sheets of multilateral banks and mobilise pension funds to direct finance to meet the currently badly offtrack SDGs.
Through the greater use of guarantees it is estimated multilateral development banks could yield about $300m (£240m) to $400m of additional finance over the next decade, the white paper suggested.
The World Bank estimates there is an existing total pipeline of $1.2tn for sustainable infrastructure projects in low- and middle-income countries – far short of the additional $3.9tn needed annually through to 2030 to meet the SDGs.
At a global food summit in London marking the launch of the white paper, Britain’s biggest philanthropist, Sir Chris Hohn, the managing partner of the Children’s Investment Fund, announced he was giving another $50m personally to prevent and treat child wasting and believes his contribution can leverage another $500m in grants.
It is estimated the hedge fund manager has given £4bn to various philanthropic schemes mainly concerned with child poverty or the climate crisis.
Aid groups welcomed the plans and scale of ambition in the white paper, but almost universally criticised the government’s cuts in its own aid budget, as well as the proportion of the aid budget now diverted to domestic use.