Both China and India boast economies significantly bigger than Britain’s causing many to question why UK tax-payers’ money is sent to the Governments in Beijing and New Delhi. China’s is the second most powerful financial nation on the planet with an economy with an economy almost four times bigger than the UK economy. Beijing’s military spending is also almost four times higher than Britain’s defence budget.
India became the fourth biggest economic power in the world in 2019, nudging the UK into fifth place. It also sent a lander to the Moon this year.
Now the Prime Minister’s key Downing Street adviser Dominic Cummings is thought to be studying plans to redefine what the vast foreign aid budget can be spent on.
Under the UK’s legally-binding commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of national output on overseas aid, such expenditure is governed by a strict international Overseas Development Aid definition.
But a “new British standard of aid spending” is said to be under consideration that could see the cash shared more widely across Whitehall departments including with the Ministry of Defence.
One Cabinet source said: “It’s our money and it is up to us how we spend it.”
Eyebrows were raised when it emerged more than £151million went to projects in China and India last year.
Spending in China rose by £11.7million to reach £55.6million in 2018 and in India it went up by £4.9million to £95million.
China’s defence budget was £133.39bn last year and also spent and a year ago it became the first country to land a robotic spacecraft on the far side of the Moon as part of its £6.39bn drive to become a leading power in space exploration.
It also wants to send astronauts to the Moon and is planning to launch a space station an now spends more on its civil and military space programmes than Russia and Japan.
Meanwhile, British taxpayers picked up the tab for £1.1m awareness campaign aimed at reducing salt intake in China, a £984,000 study into air pollution, a £43,112 teacher training programme and a £55,392 scheme to reform China’s animal testing laws to bring them into line with international standards.
India, which actually has its own £620m foreign aid programme, is also an ambitious player in the space race and last summer spent £107.8m on the launch of its Chandrayaan-2 lunar probe.
It has a £47.08bn annual defence budget but still accepted handouts from the UK to fund a £443,284 weather forecasting improvement programme, an £81,091 alcohol advice line, a £40,179 study into whether yoga can be used to prevent type-2 diabetes and a £25,878 campaign promoting employment of women in India’s energy sector.
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Former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell said support should go to the poorest and giving it to China had brought aid spending into disrepute.
Mr Mitchell said: “Spending hard-earned taxpayers’ money in China, a country powering out of poverty and attaining superpower status brings Britain’s brilliant development work into disrepute.
“The British public support aid being used to save lives and tackle humanitarian problems and disasters, they do not support this money being used in comparatively wealthy countries, such as China.”
A Government spokesman said: “Our development work with China and India, alongside our world-class defence and diplomacy, is crucial for addressing issues such as trade, climate change and human rights.”