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China: The true cost of BRI becomes clearer

A new report by US-based AidData tears China’s enormous Belt and Road Initiative to pieces. The project has mired hundreds of nations in debt, much of which is hidden even from host countries, and the project is increasingly unpopular.

Photo: iStock

Anyone with even a passing interest in development finance, or in China’s chosen way of funding projects in the developing world this last decade, should read AidData’s latest report ‘Banking on the Belt and Road’.

In it, the research lab – located in the Virginia-based William & Mary research university and part-funded by the Ford Foundation – doesn’t so much repudiate China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as eviscerate it completely.

Its authors promise a “uniquely comprehensive and granular dataset of international development finance from China”.

They deliver that in style.

What emerges is a high-definition picture of a rich and rising superpower choosing to hone its international development strategy by simply turning on the taps and hosing down lower-income countries with money.

Spending splurge

When president Xi Jinping launched this global flagship policy in 2013, he did so with the aim of boosting global “mutual understanding and trust”.

In theory, the report notes, BRI offered lower-income states a chance “to pursue an alternative model of development free from the dictates of foreign powers”.

As you’d expect, lending ballooned. Between 2000 and 2012, before the launch of BRI, China allocated about as much to foreign development finance each year ($32 billion) as the US ($34 billion).


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