UK aid helps countries stand up to Chinese 'bullying,' says former DFID chief

Anne-Marie Trevelyan, former U.K. secretary of state for international development. Photo by: Hannah McKay / Reuters

LONDON — The United Kingdom’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office is helping lower-income countries stand up to “abuse” from China, according to former International Development Secretary of State Anne-Marie Trevelyan.

Speaking at an event on the government’s integrated review at the Conservative Party conference, Trevelyan, who served as the Department for International Development's final secretary of state, highlighted how aspects of development policy fit into broader U.K. foreign policy goals.

Talking about the country’s international alliances, Trevelyan said, “Looking at the work we did through DFID and now the FCDO in understanding those developing countries that are at risk of being, in my view, abused by [the] likes of China, who want to asset strip and have control and gain huge potential military advantage where they want to use it, is really important.”

She continued: “Understanding that the challenges of climate change, the management of water, the risks to so many states that are at sea level, we have to understand that those relationships are critically important. They are about nonmilitary things at the moment. But if those relationships become strong and something goes wrong, we have to have those relationships.”

Trevelyan, who worked as a defense minister before leading DFID, said the U.K. had a “global advantage in that space,” stemming from the country’s technology, legal frameworks, and “understanding” to support “critical resource management issues.”

This work helps “countries who would otherwise potentially be exposed to the abusive behavior of those bullying nations,” she added.

The U.K. government’s justification for the merger of DFID with the Foreign & Commonwealth Office was to make foreign policy and development goals more aligned. But the move was strongly criticized by the development sector and some politicians, who said it risked weakening both areas and jeopardized the country’s international reputation.

The upcoming integrated review also aims to increase alignment in the government’s international objectives, with some hints at the event about what it could contain.

What do development advocates want from the UK's integrated review?

Development leaders say the review is a chance to put development at the heart of U.K. foreign policy, but are skeptical about how seriously their views will be considered.

Tom Tugendhat, chair of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, which scrutinizes U.K. international policy, said there were “buzzwords and code words that mean something to insiders and very often mean nothing to outsiders” surrounding the review.

“The point about the [frequently mentioned] ‘burden sharing’ … is actually this is the fundamental point about British foreign policy into the future. … Whatever happens really around the world, this policy applies,” he said.

Trevelyan also suggested there could be an increased focus on Southeast Asia and a strong focus on maritime power.

“The seas and oceans … link up the leading democracies of the world and indeed so many of those developing countries … that we in the new construct of FCDO want to reach and partner with, to help them to grow and become strong nations standing on their own feet,” she said. “[We] want to rely on the safety of all these waterways for our collective security, prosperity, and connectivity.”

About the author

  • William Worley

    William Worley is the U.K. Correspondent for Devex, covering DFID and British aid. Previously, he reported on international affairs, policy, and development. He also worked as a reporter for the U.K. national press, including the Times, Guardian, Independent, and i Paper. His reportage has included work on the Rohingya refugee crisis in Bangladesh, drought in Madagascar, the "migrant caravan" in Mexico, and Colombia’s peace process. He can be reached at william.worley@devex.com.