Should the U.S. borrow less and tell China to donate more aid?
October 19th, 2011
06:00 PM ET

Should the U.S. borrow less and tell China to donate more aid?

By CNN's Adam Levine

It was a single line in a Republican debate focused mostly on domestic issues, but former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's suggestion that the U.S. borrow less from China, pull back some on humanitarian aid and push China to give more instead got the attention of the audience in the hall.

The comment came during a heated discussion about spending cuts at Tuesday's night's presidential debate in Nevada sponsored by CNN and the Western Republican Leadership Conference.

"I happen to think it doesn't make a lot of sense for us to borrow money from the Chinese to go give to another country for humanitarian aid. We ought to get the Chinese to take care of the people," Romney said to applause from the assembled crowd of western state Republicans.

Romney spokesman Ryan Williams told CNN Wednesday the candidate "was not suggesting that the United States should eliminate all spending on foreign assistance and instead leave it to other governments to engage in that activity.  Rather, he was making the point about the need to prioritize what we spend our federal dollars on given the state of our federal defect."

But Williams said Romney does believe that "if programs are not effective in advancing our strategic goals, then they should be eliminated."

"Governor Romney supports targeting our scarce assistance resources in a strategic manner. The goal of assistance programs must be to enhance the security and prosperity of the United States and our allies, and the programs must be effective," Williams said in a statement e-mailed to CNN.

"This means focusing our assistance - particularly in the turbulent Middle East - on those programs that best support an international system based on free markets, representative government and human rights. And assistance programs must push back against forces that seek to destabilize that system."

Romney has a point about pushing China to do more, said Douglas Paal, Director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's Asia program.

The United States should want China to be a bigger stakeholder "and do more of what we have been doing by ourselves for decades. Aid is among them," Paal said.

China has "vastly increased" its investments in Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia recently, Paal noted. That spending is not necessarily aid in the way the United States does it.  Instead, some see what China does as more of a transaction, like getting oil in exchange for building infrastructure.

"The recipients seem to like it - although there have been allegations of corruption on both sides of some transactions - even better than Western aid, because China imposes fewer "strings" on its aid," Paal observed.

John Norris at the liberal think tank Center for American Progress called it a "curious abdication" of U.S. leadership by Romney.

"The idea that we would tell Somali refugees pouring into Kenya, 'Sorry, we can't help. Maybe the Chinese can,'" does not line up with the American tradition of helping people in crisis, Norris said.

And humanitarian aid is not only aligned with the U.S. desire to help those in need, but also with foreign policy and national security imperatives, Norris said.

"The other part is development to help countries committed to reform and democracy," and the Chinese are not committed to that, Norris observed.  Norris, like Paal, said the Chinese approach is more mercantile.

"They don't really care if a country is committed to democracy or anything else," Paal said. "The Chinese put the biggest investment in countries where they are hoping to get natural resources out of the ground."

Patrick Cronin noted that before the China comment, Romney was making a "useful distinction" between aid that supports U.S. national security interests and humanitarian and development aid.

"Foreign aid has several elements," Romney said during the debate. "One of those elements is defense, is to make sure that we are able to have the defense resources we want in certain places of the world. That probably ought to fall under the Department of Defense budget rather than a foreign aid budget."

"He was not wrong to do this," said Cronin, the senior director of the Asia program at the Center for a New American Security, "because national security interests require some foreign aid, and all other aid is far more a discretionary act of goodwill."

"Governor Romney was obviously trying to protect foreign aid from deep cuts to balance the U.S. budget, because, as he said, some of this aid is supporting the regions where we have troops on the ground," Cronin said. "He took a sensible middle ground, or at least left it implicit, that we could cut some foreign aid, but should not cut it all."

Cronin, who only read the excerpts but did not watch the debate, said he would want to hear more about what Romney had in mind regarding China.

"I think he may have meant in this impromptu sound bite, is that the United States, as the world's largest debtor nation, and China, as the world's largest creditor nation, should be redistributing some of the burden for helping others around the world," Cronin said.  "Its aid might actually help with economic development and poverty alleviation rather than simply support China's mercantilist policies."

Moreover, suggested Cronin, Romney could also be suggesting that U.S. aid "should increasingly cut out the middle man for delivering assistance and flow more directly to worthy developing nations."

American Enterprise Institute's Danielle Pletka did not take Romney's proposal as a serious one.  She said that Romney was arguing about how much the United States borrows from China and was not truly suggesting the nation give up its foreign aid responsibilities to China as a cost-saving measure.

"To be fair to Romney, I don't think he was actually suggesting Chinese should give humanitarian aid, he was making a rhetorical point," said Pletka, the vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the conservative think tank.  "He's not a fool. He understands we are not going to subcontract our foreign policy priorities to the Chinese."

Humanitarian aid is not something the candidates are making a big issue of in the campaign "and for good reason," because the foreign policy budget pales compared to other big ticket items in the campaign, Pletka noted.

Even so, foreign aid is never going to be a winner for candidates trying to appeal to the American public, Pletka said.

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Filed under: 2012 Election • China • debate • Diplomacy • Foreign Policy • Romney
soundoff (42 Responses)
  1. glenda boyd

    No more obama

    May 24, 2012 at 10:41 pm | Reply
  2. kokazhreurq

    BPH85D gomzfodmzxpm

    November 15, 2011 at 11:16 am | Reply
  3. ykyylnioq

    o4xiQO xdcuhhrlbugz

    November 13, 2011 at 9:29 am | Reply
    • Chuckie

      I totally agree with Rep. Ted Poe redgnairg the use being made with our Foreign Aid. It seems that the great majority agree with what he said; however, neither him nor anyone else has said what to do now to change and or stop our current Foreign Aid program. If the majority is in disagreement with the way our Foreign Aid is being distributed, that is fine with me, but LET'S STOP IT NOW!

      May 21, 2012 at 6:19 am | Reply
  4. Chartric

    I actually found this more enrteatniing than James Joyce.

    November 13, 2011 at 3:23 am | Reply
  5. John

    Yanks are subhuman

    October 22, 2011 at 9:29 pm | Reply
  6. Kweso

    Let's see; Republicans accuse Obama of letting american status decline but now they want china to overtake america as the most compassionate nation. Just how do you force china to give more?

    October 20, 2011 at 12:19 pm | Reply
    • Bruce

      INVADE THEM!!!1!1!ONE!!!
      :P

      October 20, 2011 at 12:31 pm | Reply
  7. FIELD1stSGT

    Well hell yes tell China to donate more and go to hell with Obama on borrowing more money. These idiots Cain and Abelobama are and will destroy our Constitution and democracy.

    October 20, 2011 at 10:48 am | Reply
    • Bruce

      We'll stop borrowing money by reducing the federal budget. The first step is to lay off all First Sergeants in our military, and then to deny them unemployment insurance...

      October 20, 2011 at 10:50 am | Reply
  8. individual

    I do not support Gov Romney, but he has a point in one particular area he didn't even mention. (Is that like tripping over a treasure chest while walking the beach in the dark?)
    I digress. Back to the point. China. Why do we send them aid? We do. Look it up. It is ridiculous. It is as dumb as providing subsidies to wealthy corporations, i.e. the oil industry. Of course MItt isn't against corporate subsidies.

    October 20, 2011 at 10:01 am | Reply
    • Bruce

      Maybe we send China foreign aid because the Peace Corps make a good impression on the Chinese and improve the image of the US in the eyes of many Chinese citizens.

      Democracy doesn't happen on its own, in some abstract sense of critical thinking in an emotionless vacuum. To get Chinese citizens to think that the Americans might have a good idea, an idea that is better than the local Communist politicians in power, they first need to *like* us. Foreign aid is valuable in this sense.

      Or, we can just continue to borrow money from China to pay for our military adventures so we can posture all-self-important and rattle our swords in "defense" of Taiwan. Yeah... that'll work to change the perspective of the mainland... right.

      October 20, 2011 at 10:26 am | Reply
      • FIELD1stSGT

        You got to be kidding. Improve the US in China's eyes. They like Obama with the Red Chinese wish nothing else but to destroy us. Where were you in Vietnam, Korea. These bas@#$%! have been killing Americans for years.

        October 20, 2011 at 10:52 am |
      • Bruce

        If China invaded Mexico, or Canada, you can bet your a$$ that we would be killing Chinese soldiers in our backyard...

        October 20, 2011 at 10:54 am |
  9. steve harnack

    Considering that if Romney knew anything he would know that China is by far NOT our biggest creditor. I don't know why the TP doesn't like him. He can pander and mislead just as well as the others.

    October 20, 2011 at 9:44 am | Reply
  10. Thomas

    Romney is weak / Perry is a Neanderthal !

    KHADDAFY'S GONE ,

    Imagine what Obama could do if Congress would get off there butt !

    Mitt , would be laughed at in Asia !

    October 20, 2011 at 9:31 am | Reply
  11. Bruce

    Yeah, let's cut the $1B or $2B foreign aid budget in the name of "fiscal responsibility" and increase the hundreds of billions of dollars we spend on fighting wars... by borrowing from China.

    China should shoot back at Romney and suggest that they may not wish to finance our warmongering indefinitely into the future. They should point out that the money they loan to the US government is used against their strategic interests when it comes to how we treat Taiwan and how they view that same island.

    October 20, 2011 at 9:28 am | Reply
  12. Zious

    US have no right to tell China what to do or not to do. But yes, we most certainly have the right and the obligation to borrow less from China. That is entirely at our discretion. We as an economy have become obese like a lot of our citizens. Unless we stop feeding ourselves junk we will never resolve our issues.

    October 20, 2011 at 9:16 am | Reply
    • Bruce

      As long as a trade deficit exists with China, either the US government or the US consumer (public or private debt) must continue to borrow from China.

      The problem isn't with fat people who buy cheap crap from China, it's with the fact that we don't make stuff at home any longer that is worth at least as much as that cheap crap and sell it back to China.

      October 20, 2011 at 9:31 am | Reply
      • Bruce

        Further, what we should encourage China to realize is that, in spite of apparent short and medium term gains and growth, in the long term it does not serve their interests to maintain such a large trade imbalance between the US and China.

        Once we go under, we take them down with us. It's like that idiot Trump says–if you owe the bank $250,000, that's your problem and the bank owns you. If you owe the bank $250 billion, that's the bank's problem and yow own the bank.

        October 20, 2011 at 9:38 am |
  13. Ellen

    In 2006, the figure was just over $22 billion for humanitarian foreign aid. That may not seem like a lot, but with 44 million Americans living below the poverty level, that money would equal $500 for each man, woman and child. That is a HUGE amount for someone in that situation.

    October 20, 2011 at 9:12 am | Reply
  14. Phil in KC

    God help me, but I think I agree with him. That's a very scary thing. Let's face it, we owe to much to a Communist government. They don't have to take us over militarily; they're doing it financially. If we continue to let them, the Red Chinese and the Saudis will own us outright.

    October 20, 2011 at 8:55 am | Reply
  15. yellowdog

    The right always acts like 90% of our budget is sent to Outer Mongolia to do a study in yak fertility. All foreign aid amounts to less than one percent of the budget – a large part of that is sent to Israel and other countries that are darlings of the right wing. Republicans, please make sure your brain is in gear before putting your foot in your mouth. Oh wait, that assumes a brain doesn't it.

    October 20, 2011 at 8:37 am | Reply
  16. zb

    In another sign of the idiocy of the Republica/Tparty and their candidates and the willingness of Romney to say anything it takes to win the nomination, you can't lead the world if you are not willing to actually do the things to be a leader. Don't they understand that foreign aid is how we bribe countries to do what we want just as business and lobbyist make political contributions?

    October 20, 2011 at 7:32 am | Reply
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    October 20, 2011 at 4:08 am | Reply
  18. Ricardo Williams

    So Romney believes in redistribution of wealth when it comes to China, but not when it comes to the wealthy 1%?

    October 20, 2011 at 3:33 am | Reply
    • Jake

      Typical gop hypocrit. Suprises me not in the least. Idiot!

      October 20, 2011 at 3:42 am | Reply
  19. jv.e.hodgson

    Any kind of aid that supports the Military or spy organisations of foreign counties should be stopped.
    The global military industrial complex as predicted by Eisenhower has ensured we have global armed strife all over the globe since the end of the cold war Internally in Russia, the Middle East, Bosnia and Serbia, then the Taliban and the perceived national security need to Invade Iraq and then Afghanistan and covertly bomb Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen.
    Then get real like China. AID has to have a semi commercial investment return for the US, the only exception being Humanitarian aid but like all sensible house hold that amount has the limit of what the US can afford without increasing its debt at home. I agree with me138 Charity begins at home.
    Regards,
    Hodgson.

    October 20, 2011 at 1:29 am | Reply
  20. Jake

    Ron Paul hit the nail right on the head whe he said "the usa is an empire" and world history shows that every single empire in the history of the world rose to greatness and then crumbled under it's own weight. You guys had your chance to not follow history..but you did and now look at you. A nation broke, seemingly at war with everybody and divided more than ever. I'd say as would most of the world that we are looking at the end of the "american empire" and how did it happen? Crumbled under it's own weight just like every other empire in history. Way to go usa...nice job! Or should i say Et tu, Brute?

    October 20, 2011 at 12:43 am | Reply
    • Jim

      Nicely said. Looks like you nailed it right on the head too Jake.

      October 20, 2011 at 3:12 am | Reply
      • Vicky

        .. doing it the right way?? That doesn't even make sense unless Paw has bcmoee governor of Mass while everyone was looking away. What one governor does for HIS state cannot be compared to what another governor does for HIS state. Each state has its own constituencies and needs .. what's right for one is not right for another. This is just another example of why Paw is not ready for primetime .. another reason is that shooting poison arrows at someone's back when you can't even defend your words to their face is very unbecoming for someone who wants to be President. Just makes you want to see the person get a real good smackdown, whether you care for Romney or not. Paw should go back under his rock.

        May 21, 2012 at 2:59 am |
    • jay

      What is he trying to say? Vote for me or we'll crumble? Who's going to take over? The Chinese? That's right we owe them trillion of dollars.

      October 20, 2011 at 4:15 am | Reply
  21. helenecha

    Here is a good will to Romney. Talk more and think less.

    October 20, 2011 at 12:07 am | Reply
    • helenecha

      Here is a good will to Romney. Talk more and think less so that Romney can take a break after work.

      October 20, 2011 at 1:39 am | Reply
  22. Hypocritique

    Don't tax the rich – tax the Chinese!

    "redistributing the burden"? Sounds like socialism to me.

    October 20, 2011 at 12:04 am | Reply
  23. me138

    I say stop all foreign aid every last bit of it until our mess here is fixed. Charity begins at home!

    October 19, 2011 at 9:30 pm | Reply
    • Tamooj

      Ummm... "Charity begins at home" sounds like a cute innocent homily, but it's evil – it *is* one of the core tenants of Satanism. Yep; "Take care of yourself and you family, friends and community first, then offer help to strangers". It's about selfishness and self interest. Letting the poor people or the little brown people wait in line for your help is bigotry and self-interest. Christ taught us to help the poor and those most in need. Our "neighbors" we are commanded to love aren't those next door, (who probably have refrigerators and microwave ovens and cellphones) but the ones we find beaten by robbers on the side of the road to Jerusalem. (Luke 10:25-37). There is a stark ethical difference between saying "Charity starts at home" and saying "Put your own house in order". Finally; foreign aid and humanitarian assistance are such a TINY part of our budget problem. All US aiid, military, economic, humanitarian was $47B last year, compared to the US deficit of $14,800B. See,when you show the same number of digits for both numbers comparisons make more sense! Math is hard! So, they were whining about 1/10 of 1%. How is this not just evil racism?

      October 20, 2011 at 8:49 am | Reply
  24. logicnLa

    Talk about pandering! Less than one tenth of a percent of our budget goes to foreign aid. That will pay for lunch for the President and the cabinet- good job Romney.

    October 19, 2011 at 8:08 pm | Reply
  25. David

    Sure. China can do that after the US stops selling arm to Taiwan and Taiwan is united with Mainland, after the US stops muddling in South China Sea and China expels all intruders in South China Sea, and after the US pulls out of South Korea. Before these happen, China needs the money to build aircraft carriers. China has none of these mega battle groups and the US has 11.

    October 19, 2011 at 7:36 pm | Reply
  26. cellblock131

    China and the Middle East should start donating to the poor. China wants to be a superpower? Let them prove it through benevolence towards other that may not be of any help to them in the future. Let China send its military out for natural disasters instead of the US.

    October 19, 2011 at 7:29 pm | Reply
    • Looke

      Why would China want to make the same mistakes as you Americans? lol. China's policy of non interference is what led her to be the leader in the 19 of the past 20 centuries. China returning to the top of the food chain is merely a return to Status Quo. The problem has always been the same. Americans / Roman Empire / etc has always been very short sighted in its policies. China on the other hand has no problem waiting for another 500 years for something to change.

      October 20, 2011 at 10:15 am | Reply

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