Trump green-lights $60 billion answer to China’s OBOR
US President Donald Trump, seeking to counter China’s growing geopolitical influence, is embracing a major expansion of foreign aid that will bankroll infrastructure projects in Africa, Asia and the Americas — throwing his support behind an initiative he once sought to scuttle. With little fanfare, Trump signed a bill a little over a week ago that created a new foreign aid
agency — the US International Development Finance Corp — and gave it authority to provide $60 billion in loans, loan guarantees and insurance to companies willing to do business in developing nations.
The move was a significant reversal for Trump, who has harshly criticised foreign aid from the opening moments of his presidential campaign in 2015. Since becoming president, Trump hs proposed slashing $3 billion in overseas assistance, backed eliminating funding for the Overseas Private Investment Corp and taken steps to gut the US Agency for International Development, the state department agency that dispenses $22.7 billion a year in grants around the world.
The president’s shift has less to do with a sudden embrace of foreign aid than a desire to block Beijing’s plan for economic, technological and political dominance. China has spent
nearly five years bankrolling a plan to gain greater global influence by financing big projects across Asia, Eastern Europe and Africa.
Now, Trump wants to fight fire with fire. “I’ve changed, and I think he’s changed, and it is all about China,” said Republican representative Ted Yoho, who helped sell the plan to other conservative Republicans in the House , which has historically opposed foreign-aid programmes.
The effort is part of a sweeping attempt by the Trump administration to prevent China’s
economic and political dominance. Trump has already imposed tariffs on $250 billion in
Chinese goods as punishment for Beijing’s trade practices, which he says put US companies at a disadvantage. Last week, his administration detailed a plan to use expanded powers to crack down on foreign investment in the US, which was aimed primarily at making it harder for China to gain access to US technology and trade secrets.
And the administration said last week that it would sharply restrict exports of civilian nuclear technology to China. The new bipartisan push to increase foreign aid began under the Obama administration, but it was rebranded as a means of competing with China’s “Belt and Road Initiative”, also known as the One Belt One Road initiative, which has a goal of distributing $1 trillion in construction aid and investments to more than 100 countries.
China’s biggest investments are targeted to countries, like Pakistan and Nigeria, with a goal of expanding Beijing’s geopolitical power and gaining access to natural resources like minerals and oil. But it is also spending billions on projects in smaller countries that are less likely to turn a monetary or political profit. Last month, President said China would provide $60 billion in financial support to Africa, including credit lines, grants and investment financing.
The investments have raised concerns that poor and emerging nations like Djibouti and Sri Lanka could be increasingly beholden to China, which can seize local assets if countries default on loans. The US’ initiative is far less ambitious. But it “allows us, at least, to compete,” said Tom Hart, North America executive director of ONE, the development non-profit that musician Bono helped found. The new agency will supplant the Overseas Private Investment Corp, established in 1971 as a lending facility to encourage US companies to invest in developing countries, and will have twice its overall lending capacity. The new entity, like the old, is funded primarily through fees, and will provide loans, loan guarantees and political-risk insurance to companies willing to take the gamble of investing in developing countries.
Republican senator Bob Corker, chairman of the senate foreign relations committee, said the initiative represented a strategic shift. Trump seems to be learning that the projections of military power alone will not be enough to compete with China, he said. “We’re seeing what China is doing throughout Africa and South America, and people are waking up and realizing we have to have involvement with these countries