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Opinion

Financial opacity not a good look for under-pressure China

China is pushing back against claims it could have done more to combat Covid-19; it could help itself by being more open about who owes it money – and clamping down on corporate shenanigans at home.

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Throughout the coronavirus crisis, much of the focus on China has been around cause and effect. Questions, redolent of a US Congressional hearing, persist. What did Beijing know and when? Did it try to cover up the outbreak? Had it admitted the scale of the threat sooner, could it have saved itself and everyone else from the dire economic and humanitarian consequences of the pandemic?

The longer lockdowns persist and travel restrictions remain in place, the stronger will be the scrutiny of China’s actions and the damage to its brand.

Covid-19 is, curiously, a chance for Asia’s largest economy to shine: to show the world that it is a responsible and rising superpower. After all, it has long claimed to be a peer and a partner to the West, and a staunch ally of the developing world.

So far, though, Beijing’s instinct has been to virtue-signal instead of being virtuous, and to lecture rather than lie low.

On April 15, the G20 economies – including China – collectively agreed to suspend bilateral debt service payments for the world’s poorest countries until the end of 2020. Hundreds of private creditors swiftly followed this move.


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