The UK’s aid engagement with China

An information note providing a factual account of how UK aid has been spent by government departments supporting China’s own development, partnering with China on global development challenges, and working with third countries on their engagement with China.

  1. Status: Completed
  2. Published: 28 April 2021
  3. Type: Information note
  4. Subject: Transitioning development partnerships
  5. Location: China
  6. Lead commissioner: Sir Hugh Bayley

Read the information note and July 2021 update*

Information note

This information note maps out bilateral UK aid spending in and with China across 11 areas of spending, including by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), and the Prosperity Fund.

It provides an overview of the history of UK and China development cooperation, maps UK aid expenditure ‘to’, ‘with’ and ‘on’ China, and includes case studies on the former Department for International Development’s (DFID) ‘Global Development Partnership’, infrastructure development in third countries and global health-related activities.

The note explains that according to the latest official statistics, UK aid to China from across government hit a record high of £68.4 million in grants in 2019. It also identifies additional UK aid spending, including work with China to tackle development issues in third countries, and regional and global programmes implemented in China, taking the estimated total in 2019 to nearly £82 million.

The note highlights that over two-thirds of the official spend went to UK research institutions or diplomatic efforts, and much of it included a strong emphasis on promoting secondary commercial and diplomatic benefits for the UK, alongside its primary purpose of poverty reduction.

It also raises questions about the government’s approach for transitioning out of its aid relationship with China, following the announcement that the FCDO would scale back some of its support, and with China due to become ineligible to receive any aid in the next four to six years.

Proposed lines of enquiry

We identified four lines of inquiry that merit further scrutiny:

  • Ensuring a pro-poor focus
  • Taking a strategic approach to transition
  • Improving transparency
  • The use of ‘development diplomacy’


Read the news story

Update to the information note

As this information note was being finalised, the Foreign Secretary announced that in China, he had “reduced FCDO’s ODA for programme delivery by 95% to £0.9 million (with additional ODA in this year only to meet the contractual exit costs of former programmes).”

ICAI was not provided with advance information about these reductions and was therefore not able to report fully on these changes at the time. We committed instead to follow up with the government and have published an update that provides an overview of the reductions that have been made.


Read the news story


*In July 2021 we published an update to this information note. Originally, this was published as a separate document. In September 2021 we merged these into one report, which you can find above.



Published 11 November 2020

Evidence gathering


Information note publication

Published 28 April 2021

Update to information note

Published 21 July 2021

Parliamentary scrutiny

IDC hearing 22 September 2021

Further update

Published 13 July 2023