Chinese debt trap? Host countries bear responsibility too

BANGKOK • Some months ago, I watched a Chinese official struggling to defend Beijing at a forum that examined the implications of Chinese loans and infrastructure development in the region. The room was full of people familiar with the oft-told tale of Chinese money funding unfeasible projects that eventually drowned corrupt governments in debt, leaving their countries beholden to Beijing, a phenomenon now tagged as "debt-trap diplomacy".

When pressed later to explain China's reportedly agnostic attitude towards debtor governments with dubious standing, the official replied to The Straits Times: "Should you insist they reform before you help them? Do you want them to develop first, or reform first? Which is more important?"

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 06, 2019, with the headline 'Chinese debt trap? Host countries bear responsibility too'. Print Edition | Subscribe