Tuesday’s Republican debate contained several examples of creative foreign policy budget solutions. Michele Bachmann suggested, to much applause, that Iraq should “reimburse” the U.S. for “what we have done to liberate” them. But former Massachusetts governor stepped forward with a new proposal to have China take over the U.S.’s humanitarian aid responsibilities around the world. He said:
Part of [the foreign aid budget] is humanitarian aid around the world. I happen to think it doesn’t make a lot of sense for us to borrow money from the Chinese to go give to another country for humanitarian aid. We ought to get the Chinese to take care of the people that are taking that borrowed money today.
What Mitt Romney doesn’t mention is that China already has an active foreign aid policy in Africa. And the aid rarely comes with onerous conditions like anti-corruption measures, government and economic reforms and accountability for how the money is spent. A Council on Foreign Relations report on Chinese efforts to secure access to African oil, says:
International observers say the way China does business—particularly its willingness to pay bribes, as documented by Transparency International, and attach no conditions to aid money—undermines local efforts to increase good governance and international efforts at macroeconomic reform by institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
While western economic aid is frequently criticized for requiring recipients to undergo at times disastrous economic reforms, the Chinese model is aimed toward securing access to natural resources with few strings attached to aid dollars.
A recent Chinese government report on foreign aid in Africa suggests that its aid “falls into the category of south-south cooperation and is mutual help between developing countries,” but critics charge that Chinese aid in Africa has frequently been used to strengthen authoritarian governments and feeds corruption.
After the U.S. abandoned Zaire strongman Mobutu Sese Seko, China stepped in, sending an estimated 1,000 Chinese technicians to work on agriculture and forestry projects in the early 1990s.
And earlier this year, China’s foreign minister pushed for the lifting of sanctions against Zimbabwe, provided an additional $7.5 million in aid to Robert Mugabe’s government and signed a new bilateral agreement between the two countries.
While Mitt Romney seems to think that encouraging China to take over the U.S.’s humanitarian assistance responsibilities is an easy and cost-free method of cutting the federal budget, he should take a closer look at how U.S. foreign policy interests in Africa might be effected by increasing the influence of Chinese foreign aid.