Britain's continuing aid to China - £27 million last year - prompts questions
Figures leaked hours after Chinese space probe lands on moon show £27 million given last year
Peter Simpson in London
The British government is facing a public backlash after it emerged that China, the world’s second-largest economy, received millions of pounds in aid – despite the fact it had just funded a lavish space mission.
Figures leaked to a national newspaper within hours of the Chang’e-3 lunar landing showed that London gave £27.4 million (HK$346 million) to Beijing last year.
The revelations sparked angry calls for a probe into why cash-strapped Britain was giving so much financial assistance to “wealthy China”.
“The public will be rightly horrified that we are still wasting money on aid to China,” Tory parliament member Peter Bone told the Daily Mail, which obtained and published the figures.
The findings also contradict ministerial assurances made in 2011 that 16 countries – including China – would no longer receive aid, following a review.
Bone called on Justine Greening, the international development secretary, to explain why British money was still going to Beijing.
He added: “It’s extraordinary that we are doing this while they send a mission to the moon.
“If these aid programmes are still continuing, then I think Justine Greening needs to come to parliament and explain what the justification is, because I can’t think of one.”
The coalition government on Monday insisted it no longer gives money “directly” to China.
Instead, aid is given via non-governmental partners “working to achieve British objectives” such as tackling climate change and building sustainable economies.
A spokesman for the Foreign Office said: “Since 2011, we have stopped or are in the process of stopping bilateral aid to more than a dozen countries that are becoming more prosperous, like China and Russia.
“This has allowed us to concentrate our efforts where the need is greatest and where we can have most impact,” he said.
“It is right that where these programmes have closed that Her Majesty’s government continues to work with non-governmental partners on global issues like sustaining economic growth and climate change which affect us all.”
Hundreds of users on social media criticised the British government’s China aid policy.
“This is an absolute disgrace. There are children going to school hungry and pensioners freezing to death in Britain, and this totally inept government send millions to China,” posted one Twitter user.
And more of Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party rounded on him.
“I am very surprised [by the figures]. When China is sending missions to the moon, it is quite clear they no longer need our help,” said Pauline Latham, a Conservative member of the Commons International Development Committee.
A scathing editorial in the popular and influential Daily Mail claimed the aid given to Beijing was “enough to pay for almost 1,000 [National Health Service] nurses”, a reference to the brutal austerity cut backs to the country’s health care system.
“So much for the coalition assurances that aid has been stopped to this economic superpower, with its £2 trillion [foreign currency] reserves,” it said.
The leaked figures showed that a further 14 countries received cash last year, adding up to a total of £131.9 million.
Vietnam was given £51.5 million, Cambodia £14.5 million, Indonesia £11.3 million and Kosovo £10.2 million.
“Taxpayers expect UK aid to be helping people in the world’s poorest nations,” said Matthew Sinclair, the chief executive of the British pressure group TaxPayers’ Alliance.
The government came under similar fire last year for awarding more than an average of £280 million a year to India – despite the country’s own multimillion space programme.
Downing Street was forced to promise to cut foreign aid to India by 2015.