Page last updated at 01:15 GMT, Thursday, 12 March 2009

Tories hit out at UK aid to China

Chinese shanty town
Despite China's growth millions of its citizens still live in poverty

Suggestions that the UK should continue giving millions of pounds in aid to China until 2015 have come under fire from the Conservatives.

The Commons International Development Committee says that despite China's economic growth, it still suffers substantial poverty.

The superpower, which spent 20bn on last year's Beijing Olympics, received more than 38m in British aid in 2007.

The Tories say that UK aid should be targeted instead on poorer countries.

Shadow international development secretary Andrew Mitchell said: "British taxpayers need to know that their aid money is helping the poorest people in the world, not going to countries which have enough money to tackle poverty themselves.

"China... has an ambitious space exploration programme and is sitting on foreign exchange reserves of almost 2tn," he added.

Despite recent rapid growth, there is still substantial poverty in China
Malcolm Bruce, committee chairman

He pointed out that China is emerging as a major aid donor in its own right, despite around 16% of its 1.3 billion people still living in poverty.

Mr Mitchell said the countries should retain a strong development partnership based on dialogue, advice and skill sharing.

The cross-party International Development Committee had concluded that the aid is effective and needed in a country where just under half the population still live in poverty.

Millions have no access to clean water, sanitation or health care and HIV/Aids is spreading fast within vulnerable groups.

It said that aid to China should continue beyond the government's current proposed cut-off point of 2011.

Members want Britain to offer up to 10m a year until 2015 - more than twice the aid the UK gives to poverty-stricken Liberia, according to Mr Mitchell.

Much of the British aid goes to starting small scale projects which are picked up by the Chinese government once they prove effective.

Continued aid could help to influence China to develop in a sustainable, low-carbon direction, the committee said in a report.

Influence

Chairman Malcolm Bruce said: "Despite recent rapid growth, there is still substantial poverty in China. The global financial crisis and the 2008 earthquake have exacerbated existing poverty."

He said the Department for International Development (DFID) had built influential relationships in China in areas such as agriculture and climate change.

"The costs of not helping China to continue to develop, and to develop sustainably, are likely to be higher to the UK taxpayer than providing limited funding for an ongoing development partnership," he added.

A DFID spokesman said: "Although our funding is planned to end in 2011, we will continue to work closely with China to make sure they have the tools and expertise they need to tackle poverty... as well as meeting new challenges, such as climate change."

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