China not on debt-trap diplomacy mission – Experts


Experts on international relations, have debunked the misconception that China is on a debt-trap diplomacy mission, using its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The experts are Shahar Hameiri, an Associate Professor, School of Political Science and International Studies, the University of Queensland, Australia, and
Dr Lee Jones of the School of Politics and International Relation, Queen Mary University of London.

In a recent presentation at the Chatham House, London, titled ‘Debunking the Myth of Debt-Trap Diplomacy: How Recipient Countries Shape China’s Belt and Road Initiative,’ Hameiri and Jones said the BRI which was launched in 2013, was widely understood as a geopolitical strategy to create a new, Sino-centric order in Eurasia or even across the entire world.

They added that despite Beijing’s protestations that the view on debt-trap misrepresented a policy intended by China as a benevolent initiative, it quickly took hold in Western policy making circles, particularly in the United States.

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“US Vice-President Mike Pence, for example, criticized China in October 2018 for using debt-trap diplomacy in Sri Lanka to establish a ‘forward military base for China’s growing blue-water navy.’ China is often said to be pursuing ‘debt-trap diplomacy’ luring poor, developing countries into agreeing unsustainable loans to pursue infrastructure projects so that when they experience financial difficulty, Beijing can seize the asset, thereby extending its strategic or military reach. Such views are mistaken for a number of reasons.

“First, the BRI is primarily an economic project; second, China’s development financing system is too fragmented and poorly coordinated to pursue detailed strategic objectives, notwithstanding leaders and central agencies’ efforts at loosely guiding the BRI’s broad direction; and, third, Chinese development financing is heavily recipient-driven,” the experts said.

Hameiri and Jones further said China cannot and does not dictate unilaterally, what is built in the name of the BRI.

They added that developing-country governments were not hapless victims of a predatory Beijing, noting that they and their associated political and economic interests, determined the nature of BRI projects on their territory.

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“Far from unfolding according to a Chinese strategic blueprint, the BRI is actually being built piecemeal, through diverse bilateral interactions.

“Sri Lanka and Malaysia are the two most widely cited ‘victims’ of debt-trap diplomacy. In reality, the most controversial projects in these states were initiated not by China, but by the recipient governments, in pursuit of their own domestic agendas. Their debt distress has not arisen predominantly from the granting of predatory Chinese loans, but rather from the misconduct of local elites and Western-dominated financial markets. China has also not benefited strategically from the upsets in these cases. It has, instead, faced negative reactions and pushback, though to a lesser extent than is commonly imagined, given the interests at stake in the recipient countries. Policymakers and civil society organizations in the West and recipient countries should stop responding to the BRI as though it were a well-planned grand strategy. What is needed is not so much a geopolitical pushback against the BRI,” the experts added.

Hameiri and Jones also said recipient governments must take greater responsibility for the evaluation of potential projects to ensure their viability and financial sustainability.

Hameiri and Jones added that recipient governments must also develop their ability to bargain with Chinese partners to make certain that local people benefit from the BRI.

They also said since China continued to place great emphasis on host-country regulation, BRI partners must bolster their laws and regulatory environment.

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“Civil society and political opposition groups in recipient countries should focus their efforts on demanding transparency and public participation around the design, feasibility, selection, pricing, tendering and management of megaprojects,” Hameiri and Jones further said.

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