Does Trump’s slashed Foreign Aid Budget give China the Advantage?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The US foreign aid budget is not mainly about helping the poor. It is an instrument for buying influence in countries important to the US. The poorest countries in the world do not get much help from the US. Israel, which is a wealthy country, gets over $3 bn. a year, some of it going to Israeli civilians! Egypt is a relatively poor country, but most US aid to Cairo goes to the Egyptian military. In fact, they don’t need or know what to do with all those Apache helicopters, which are mostly just warehoused. This military aid to Egypt is a bribe for them to continue to honor the Camp David peace accord with Israel.

Taken as a whole, foreign aid makes up about 1% of the US budget (the public thinks it is 25%). It is a minor amount, but the Trump budget to be voted on later this week cuts it by about a third. These are the top recipients with total sums, below.

Afghanistan $4.7B

Israel $3.1B

Egypt $1.46B

Iraq $1.14B

Jordan $1B

Pakistan $742.2M

Kenya $626.4M

Nigeria $606.1M

Tanzania $575.3M

Ethiopia $513.7M

from Washington Post

Since Israel and Egypt are teflon, the cuts will fall on other countries, and fall heavily. Afghanistan may have to make do with more like $3 bn. a year. Iraq, still struggling against Daesh (ISIS, ISIL), with some 5,000 US troops on the ground, may also see heavy cuts. And to get a savings of $8-10 billion, perhaps Trump will have to cut Pakistan, Jordan, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania and Ethiopia entirely.

Since the aid is intended to win influence, the obvious conclusion is that cutting the aid will significantly reduce US influence.

Does it matter? Well, if Trump wants to turn Afghanistan around, he will find that he needs Pakistan (however much its general play a double game, supporting some radicals to keep influence in the Pashtun areas of Afghanistan). Losing all or most influence in Islamabad would be bad for this effort.

The Afgan paper Hewad reported on 15 March according to BBC Monitoring,

“Speaking on contacts between Trump and Ghani the Afghan ambassador to Washington Hamdullah Mohib has said: Trump’s questions and long conversation were noteworthy. Trump asked: What does Afghanistan need to become economically self-reliant? How can the mines industry and trade be developed in Afghanistan? According to Muhib, Trump paid close attention to the answers given to his questions.”

The paper argued that Trump is about to drop Pakistan, and it hopes that Afghanistan would benefit.

Pakistan is a country of nearly 200 mn. people and is the sixth largest country in the world by population, and is highly strategic.

Remember that Afghanistan is landlocked and needs export routes to the Persian Gulf for shipping. Those go through Pakistan. Some could go through Iran, but Trump would like that even less.

But it isn’t just an issue that US foreign aid is intended to get specific diplomatic work done.

The US is in competition with other powers for the political support of countries such as Pakistan and Tanzania. Cutting their aid is a form of shouting at them to go away and find some other friend.

China is poised to move in to replace the US where it can. Its foreign aid budget is about 1/4 of that of the US. But even $10 bn goes a long way in many poorer countries.

Thus, China already has a China-Pakistan Economic Cooperation zone, CPEC, funded by China to the tune of $40 bn. It is extremely ambitious, involving improvements in ports, rail transportation, and energy generation. In essence, China is trying to re-do Pakistan as Hong Kong west. Pakistani development will help China’s troubled Xinjiang Province.

The Chinese have been willing to share Pakistan with the US in the past, as a friendly nation with a substantial military and a nuclear arsenal. But they will be even happier, no doubt, to have it all to themselves.

China has emerged as a top aid donor to countries like Kenya, which appear to be on Trump’s chopping block.

So at a time when Trump wants to win in Afghanistan he is giving Pakistan away to China, and giving away much of Africa to China, as well.

The danger is that the US will end up like Trump himself, living in a gilded tower, isolated and with no significant friends or allies, open to a debilitating belief in conspiracy theories.

China will know what to do.

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Related video:

CGTN: “Watch: Debut of Chinese PLA military parade in Pakistan”

12 Responses

  1. Pakistan has the sixth largest population in the world. It isn’t sixth largest in land area–quite far from that. It’s probably closer to number 30 or so in land area.

    China engages in projects that are extremely smart. They fund manufacturing and industrial projects worldwide, ensuring that both donor and recipient gain from the project. We largely bankroll military purchases worldwide, which amounts to a subsidy for our private defense corporations. China with much less foreign aid gains far more in terms of influence than we do.

  2. Once the ROW discerns the new U.S. administration are merely rank amateurs fraught with personality disorders and insanity, they will become easy prey for wiser and more experienced leaderships as President Putin has already firmly established.

  3. The strong possibility exists China is just a funny sounding word to Trump. He doesn’t build casinos there, and they don’t loan him money. Which makes China about as relevant as the Democratic Republic of Congo to Trump.

    Does he realize pulling out of the TPP resulted in a new trade alliance with China as the dominant force?
    Does he care?

  4. The US foreign aid budget is not mainly about helping the poor.

    Make that “The US budgets are not mainly about helping the poor.”

  5. Does Trump’s slashed Foreign Aid Budget give China the Advantage?

    China has an intelligence advantage over the United States and has had this advantage for several years, especially since and during the US wars on Afghanistan and Iraq. Where the U.S. went in with guns ablazing,, creating shock and awe and trillions of debt, the Chinese went into Afghanistan and other nations with money bags and walked out with contracts for special minerals and other precious goodies for profit. Meanwhile claims of American exceptionalism continue to evolve into hubris. Pride has been known to precede a fall, and hubris makes it a slam dunk.

  6. The US bombs, China builds. All interventions have severe negative downsides for the intervenee and the intervenor. But if the choice is framed as “Bomb or Build” it is easy enough.

  7. I work a lot with USAID. They actually do work on poverty alleviation. The more relevant question is whether those programs are effective. Most poverty in developing countries is structural and/or the result of political conflict and feudal-like or post-colonial exploitation. USAID has little impact on those situations except palliative assistance. However, in less dysfunctional countries, USAID (and other donors) has funded local organizations (esp.NGOs/CSOs) that effectively address poverty and empowerment.

  8. “Does Trump’s slashed Foreign Aid Budget give China the Advantage?”

    In a word, YES

    Between trump slashing the aid and the state department budgets, China will have an open field to do whatever they want, which will be making as many friends as possible by spreading all their excess dollars around via major investments that will better the lives of he people instead of making it easier for the government to make war.

    Just like when USA companies PAID Chinese companies to take the USA IP, the USA is now handing the world to china on a gold platter with a big, ornate “T” on it.

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