Thursday, August 29, 2019

Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts

China's offer of large cheap loans through the Belt and Road Initiative (aka the New Silk Road or One Belt One Road (OBOR)) are a threat to sovereignty of the countries that take them. But I don't know if the local rulers who take their cut to allow the loans will care very much about their country's fate.

Perhaps we won't take the yummy looking cheese that seems to be sitting on that spring-loaded hammer:

Some African countries are canceling Chinese development projects and licenses as governments wake up to the potential risks of such deals.

Over the past few years, the regime in Beijing has played a huge part in African development projects. At the same time, there have been concerns about how it carries out those projects, often luring African countries into so-called debt traps with the potential to put national assets at risk in the event of a default on repaying their loans.

The infrastructure built with these loans will benefit China. But the locals?

“The Centre for Global Development has estimated that of the 68 countries currently hosting the BRI-funded projects, 23 countries are at risk of debt distress, and in eight of those countries future BRI-related financing raises serious concerns about sovereign debt sustainability,” the letter [that 16 U.S. senators wrote Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and Secretary of State Pompeo] states. ...

As financially strapped countries negotiate with China to free themselves of mounting debt, Beijing has extracted onerous concessions, including equity in strategically important assets. Further, Beijing has repeatedly used economic pressure to affect foreign policy decisions.”

America has a role in getting those countries out of the debt trap before it springs:

Under the leadership of Administrator Mark Green, USAID recently pulled together a high-octane team of interagency technical specialists to help the government of Burma review plans for a multibillion-dollar Chinese-funded deep water port and industrial zone. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, the team included USAID and State Department economists, diplomats and lawyers working as a public investment planning SWAT team of sorts. UK and Australian expertise also worked on the effort.

This is especially important to avoid the problem of the American-supported IMF getting calls to bail out the countries that can't repay the huge debts owed to China.