China spent $240 billion bailing out countries struggling under their belt and road initiative debts between 2008 and 2021, new data reported by The Guardian shows.
Research found that Chinese state-backed lenders released bailout funds to 22 countries, including Argentina, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Ukraine. Almost 80% of the emergency rescue lending was issued after 2016, reaching more than $40bn in 2021.
The increase in emergency financing since 2016 correlates with a drop in Chinese lending for infrastructure projects that are part of the belt and road initiative. Commitments from China’s two main institutional lenders, China Development Bank and the Export-Import Bank of China (China Exim), fell from a peak of $87 billion in 2016 to $3.7 billion in 2021, according to data analyzed by Boston University.
The failure of several infrastructure projects and the debt problems experienced by several recipient countries, hurt by the rising costs of servicing their loans, has forced a re-calibration of China’s overseas development program.
The share of Beijing’s overseas lending directed to borrowers in financial distress increased from 5% in 2010 to 60% in 2022, according to the study by researchers at AidData, the World Bank, the Harvard Kennedy School, and the Kiel Institute for the World Economy.
The study’s authors found that the average interest rate attached to a Chinese rescue loan was 5%, compared with 2% for a typical rescue loan from the IMF.
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