UK government 'gave China £48m in aid last year'

Average incomes in China will soon be too high for the country to continue to receive foreign aid, watchdog says

UK backbenchers are seeking a more hawkish stance in regards to Beijing. PA
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The UK government gave almost £50 million ($65 million) to China in aid last year, a watchdog said as it complained of “insufficient transparency” in how the money is spent.

Amid frosty relations with the rising Asian power, the government is in the process of re-evaluating its wider relationship with Beijing.

Many backbench MPs are pushing for a more hawkish approach, with some ministers describing the growing influence of China as an “epoch-defining challenge”.

A report by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact found that assistance to China was about £48 million in 2021-2022, a drop from just over £80 million in 2019.

It is expected to continue to fall, with the commission estimating that it could be £10 million by the end of 2024.

But the watchdog expressed concern at the lack of transparency from the government and British Council on aid spending.

“While UK aid to China has fallen rapidly in recent years, taxpayers are still not being told clearly how much aid will continue and what it will be spent on," said Sir Hugh Bayley, who led the latest review.

“From the limited information shared with us, we’ve established that most aid funding to China from across government has ended.

"Remaining aid spend will focus on higher education, English language, arts and culture and, to a lesser extent, human rights.

“Average incomes in China will soon be too high for the country to continue to receive foreign aid and there appears to be no clear government strategy for how to manage this, which could put some of the benefits from past UK development assistance at risk.”

The report noted that the watchdog was “able to find only very limited information in the public domain on how aid to China was evolving and what it was being spent on".

“The British Council does not publish documents reporting on the design, implementation and results of its substantial programmes in China,” it said.

A Foreign Office representative said: “We stopped direct aid to the Chinese government in 2011 and the FCDO committed to cut ODA-funded programmes in China by 95 per cent from the 2021-22 financial year, with remaining funding focused on specific programmes that support British values around open societies and human rights.

"No funding goes to the Chinese authorities.

“We remain committed to transparency and will continue to work closely with ICAI to ensure that all UK aid spending maintains our high standards of transparency and has the greatest impact.”

The report also found that Foreign Office funding for Chinese Chevening Scholarships, which support international students who want to study in British universities, has remained stable at between £1.65 million and £1.7 million since 2019.

Updated: July 12, 2023, 11:01 PM