China Guards the Keys to an Empire of Debt


This commentary originally appeared in Barron’s on 5/6/20


The coronavirus pandemic is bringing out the best and worst in political leadership. For China, it’s the latter. While first to confront the disease, the government initially failed to inform the global community, preferring instead to hoard supplies and information. By the time authorities gave the World Health Organization access to the country, it was too late. The virus had already spread around the world.

This pattern of official obfuscation also applies to China’s international lending practices. For years, the details of China’s bilateral deals have been closely guarded, including the terms of repayment and collateral required. Now developing countries that were eager for easy money are asking how they can possibly make debt payments amid a public health emergency. They’re not hearing answers.  

The Covid-19 outbreak will cripple their economies. And while the Chinese government wants to be seen as taking the lead in the global response to the pandemic, no amount of medical supplies will assuage concerns over economic collapse.

Many of these countries face an impossible choice: Enforce a lockdown they cannot afford to stem the spread, or remain open to sustain business activity that could drive further infections. Either way, they won’t be able to pay what they no longer have.

. . . View the full op-ed at Barron’s (outside the paywall)


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