Budget cuts would be ‘devastating’ and ‘deadly’, say U.S. diplomats

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs, Daniel Kritenbrink (Photo: Aaron Favila/AP)

Cuts to the U.S. State Department’s 2025 budget proposed by the House of Representatives would be “deadly” and “devastating” to American efforts to counter China’s growing power in the Indo-Pacific region, two senior diplomats told Congress last week.

As part of a cost-cutting campaign, the Republican-led House is pushing appropriations bills that significantly differ from requests made by the Biden administration, including apparent proposals to remove Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s annual salary entirely.

The proposed appropriations bill for the State Department would cut its budget by 11 percent to about US$52 billion a year from nearly US$60 billion this year, and falls short of the White House’s 2025 request for US$64 billion.

It would, for instance, provide only $108 million in funding for U.S.-led international development projects, rather than the US$544 million requested by the Biden administration, and only US$4 million for global economic support, instead of the US$204 million requested.

Testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on the Indo-Pacific, Assistant U.S Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific, Daniel Kritenbrink, said the proposals would hamstring U.S efforts to counter China’s growing footprint in the region.

“These cuts would be devastating,” Kritenbrink said. “It would be devastating to our ability to stand up to China [and] devastating to our ability to continue to offer alternatives to our partners.”

“We have to be able to deliver tangible benefits and alternatives in infrastructure investments and connectivity,” he said, explaining that countries were assessing their relationships with the United States and China on the basis of which was providing more “practical benefits.”

“Also, cuts to the diplomatic engagement funding would cause us, potentially, to have to reduce our staffing and presence in the region at the time we should be stepping it up,” Kritenbrink added.

The White House has said it “strongly opposes” the proposed budget cuts. It issued a statement on Monday that accused House Republicans of “wasting time with partisan bills” meant to appeal to their base.

The “sharp reductions” would “hinder the ability to successfully implement these programs in the Indo-Pacific region, erode the U.S. diplomatic presence around the globe, and cede diplomatic and development ground to the People’s Republic of China,” it said.

Yet House Republicans have defended the proposal.

House Appropriations Committee Chair Tom Cole, a Republican from Oklahoma, called the proposed budget cut an effort to slash needless spending by America’s diplomatic bureaucracy.

“This bill prioritises our national security and reduces wasteful spending,” Cole said in a statement on Monday.

But at the hearing on Thursday, Michael Schiffer, the assistant administrator for Asia at the U.S. Agency for International Development, said the cuts would reverse hard-earned inroads into countering China’s high-spending diplomacy in the Indo-Pacific.

The aid agency had just reopened a Pacific mission in Fiji and an office in Papua New Guinea, he noted, and was striving to make its presence in the region as well-known as Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative. “It would be absolutely deleterious,” he said. “It would be deadly,” said Schiffer.