JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – China spent $240 billion bailing out 22 developing countries between 2008 and 2021, with the amount soaring in recent years as more have struggled to repay loans spent building "Belt & Road" infrastructure, according to a study published Tuesday.
Almost 80% of the rescue lending was made between 2016 and 2021, mainly to middle-income countries including Pakistan, Argentina, and Mongolia, according to the report by researchers from the World Bank, Harvard Kennedy School, AidData and the Kiel Institute for the World Economy.
China has lent hundreds of billions of dollars to build infrastructure in developing countries, but lending has tailed off since 2016 as many projects have failed to pay the expected financial dividends.
"Beijing is ultimately trying to rescue its own banks. That's why it has gotten into the risky business of international bailout lending," said Carmen Reinhart, a former World Bank chief economist and one of the study's authors.
Chinese loans to countries in debt distress soared from less than 5% of its overseas lending portfolio in 2010 to 60% in 2022, the study found.
Argentina received the most, with $111.8 billion, followed by Pakistan with $48.5 billion and Egypt with $15.6 billion. Nine countries received less than $1 billion.
The People's Bank of China (PBOC) swap lines accounted for $170 billion of the rescue financing, including in Suriname, Sri Lanka and Egypt. Bridge loans or balance of payments supported by Chinese state-owned banks was $70 billion. Rollovers of both kinds of loans were $140 billion.
However, there are big differences between IMF programmes and Chinese bailouts. One is that Chinese money is not cheap. “A typical rescue loan from the IMF carries a 2 per cent interest rate,” said the study. “The average interest rate attached to a Chinese rescue loan is 5 per cent.”
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