Donald Trump wasn’t the only American politician who promised on the campaign trail to scrap foreign aid once he got into office. Many of his allies in Congress made the same pledge, but now, to push back on China’s influence, the anti-aid coalition has changed their tune.
A little over a week ago, Trump signed into law legislation establishing the International Development Finance Corporation, which earmarks US$60 billion in funds to finance investments in developing countries.
There was no big announcement, and the text detailing the new entity was buried deep within a large bill that focused mainly on reauthorizing Federal aviation programs and improving aircraft safety certification processes.
The amount of money is just a drop in the bucket compared to commitments from China under the Belt and Road Initiative, the total amount of which is sometimes cited as around US$1 trillion. But it is an increase over funds currently provided by the US and was green-lighted under an administration that had been committed to eliminating most foreign aid.
What some in Washington are saying about the change in policy (per the New York Times):
“I’ve changed, and I think [Trump has] changed, and it is all about China,” Republican congressman Ted Yoho, a member of the House Freedom Caucus which has traditionally been staunchly opposed to foreign aid.
“My whole impetus in running for Congress in the first place was to get rid of foreign aid. It was my thing… But if we can reformulate and modernize it, yeah, I have no problem with that. There are people who want to do this for humanitarian aid, fine. There are people like me who want to do this for national security, like me, fine.”
While it is far smaller than Chinese commitments, it “allows us, at least, to compete,” Tom Hart, North America executive director of development NGO, ONE, said.
“I’m astonished, to be honest. I still can’t believe we got it done,” Democratic Senator Chris Coons said. “We’ve been working on this since 2015. It is basically the same proposal we had under the Obama administration. We rebranded to focus it on China.”
The moral of the story: If you want to pass bipartisan legislation in the US Congress, just say that its goal is to counter China.