China is Not Conducting Debt Trap Diplomacy in the Pacific--At Least Not Yet

Author
Jonathan Pryke
Content Type
Commentary and Analysis
Institution
East-West Center
Abstract
In an atmosphere of heightened geostrategic competition, China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has raised questions about the risk of debt problems in less-developed countries. Such risks are especially worrying for the small and fragile economies of the Pacific. A close look at the evidence suggests that China has not been engaged in debt-trap diplomacy in the Pacific, at least not so far. Nonetheless, if future Chinese lending continues on a business-as-usual basis, serious problems of debt sustainability will arise, and concerns about quality and corruption are valid.There have been recent signs that both China and Pacific Island governments recognize the need for reform. China needs to adopt formal lending rules similar to those of the multilateral development banks, providing more favorable terms to countries at greater risk of debt distress. Alternative approaches might include replacing or partially replacing EXIM loans with the interest-free loans and grants that the Chinese Ministry of Commerce already provides.
Topic
Debt, Development, Diplomacy, Geopolitics, Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)
Political Geography
China, Asia, Asia-Pacific