March 24, 2011; Source: Associated Press | According to AP, "U.S. efforts to counter China's growing influence in the developing world are a likely casualty of the budget battles . . . as chunks of the foreign aid program face the ax."

There are lots of reasons for being concerned about the proposed cuts in the budget of the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID) and other aid programs – the budget approved by Republicans includes slashing disaster assistance by 49 percent, aid to refugees by 39 percent, and assistance for financial institutions such as the World Bank by 44 percent – but using development aid to compete with China's burgeoning influence isn't one that quickly comes to mind.

The Republicans appear to be unmoved by America’s historic role of using its wealth through foreign aid to address the problems of the poor. In recent hearings, House members appeared fixated not on the big issues of development aid, but on minutia such as a USAID expenditure of $100,000 for “eco-friendly motorized cycles.” Finding discussion of the importance of helping the poor to be unpersuasive with the budget cutters, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and others are using the competition-for influence argument. In a nutshell, they hope to convince the House to maintain foreign aid, not because it’s good for the world’s poor, but because if America’s commitment to development aid slips, we will lose our influence among developing nations to the likes of China.

Deborah Brautigam of American University says that U.S. development assistance in 2009 (apparently grants and loans) was $28.8 billion compared to an estimated Chinese aid amount of $3.1 billion. But perhaps the competitive field is for influence in Africa. U.S. government aid to Africa was $7.2 billion compared to only $1.4 billion from China, but China provides an additional $6 billion in export credits and commercial loans in Africa. Will the competition argument win over recalcitrant Republicans taking aim at this nation's comparatively (in GDP terms) tiny commitment to development aid?—Rick Cohen