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?"
We have been experiencing some problems with subscriber log-ins and apologise for the inconvenience caused. Until we resolve the issues, subscribers need not log in to access ST Digital articles. But a log-in is still required for our PDFs.