Neither predator nor pal

What 100 contracts reveal about China’s development lending


WHAT DO THE following have in common? Subway cars in Argentina; digital TV in the Republic of Congo; thermal power in Kyrgyzstan; turboprop planes in Vanuatu; and the Queen Elizabeth II quay in Sierra Leone? All have benefited from Chinese lending, which has helped finance transport, power and telecommunications projects across the developing world.


China insists it is helping poor countries follow in its own debt-financed footsteps, offering the kind of patient capital other lenders are now too wary to provide. China’s critics instead accuse it of drenching countries in red ink, then grabbing strategic assets, such as ports or mines, as collateral when a country defaults.


Judging these claims can be tricky because the terms and conditions of loans are mostly hidden from view. Mostly. An enterprising team including Brad Parks at AidData, a research centre at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, has scoured parliamentary websites, official registers and debt databases in over 200 countries, looking for any loan documents that might have slipped out into the open. They have found 100 contracts signed by 24 borrowing countries, mostly with two state-directed “policy banks” ,the Export-Import Bank of China (China Eximbank) and China Development Bank.

要判断这些说法孰是孰非可能很棘手,因为贷款的条款大多没有公开——是大多,并非全部。一个勇于求索的研究团队遍阅了 200 多个国家的议会网站、官方记录和债务数据库,以寻找任何可能意外流入公开领域的贷款文件。团队成员包括弗吉尼亚州的威廉与玛丽学院(College of William and Mary)下设 AidData 研究中心的布拉德・帕克斯(Brad Parks)等人。他们找到了 24 个借款国签署的 100 份合约,其中大多数是与中国进出口银行(以下简称口行)和国家开发银行(下称国开行)这两家国家主导的「政策银行」签定的。

The contracts suggest China’s loans are not conspicuously expensive. China Eximbank’s commercial loans charge a rate of 0.5-4.5% above a floating benchmark rate (the London Interbank Offered Rate, which averaged about 1% over the past decade). These are “in line with market terms” ,say the authors.

从这些合约看,中国的贷款并不算特别贵。口行的商业贷款利率比浮动基准利率(即伦敦银行同业拆借利率,过去十年平均约为 1%)高 0.5% 到 4.5%。这与「市场行情相符」,研究报告的作者说。

Nor are the loans obviously predatory. In 99 out of 100 cases, China does not require the borrower to pawn a physical asset as collateral. This should not be a surprise. Taking possession of physical assets is “a pain” ,points out Anna Gelpern of Georgetown University, one of the study’s authors. (The one potential exception is the port loan to Sierra Leone, which mentions “equipment and other assets” detailed in another, unlocated document.)

这些贷款也不明显具有掠夺性。100 个合约中有 99 个都没有要求借款国以有形资产作抵押。这也没什么好奇怪的。接手实物资产是件「让人头疼的事」,报告作者之一、乔治敦大学(Georgetown University)的安娜・盖珀恩(Anna Gelpern)指出。塞拉利昂的港口贷款可能是个例外,合约中提到在另一份文件(研究团队未找到)中详列了「设备和其他资产」。

China’s lenders are, however, keen on Less painful forms of collateral. They sometimes insist that countries maintain a separate bank account that the lender could seize or block in a dispute. When combined with unusually broad confidentiality clauses (in some cases, borrowers cannot even reveal the existence of the loan), these accounts make it harder for a country’s other creditors, or indeed its citizens, to keep track of the government’s financial standing.


Chinese lenders do not play nicely with other creditors. They typically insist on being left out of any broader efforts to provide debt relief to a stricken borrower (although any demand for special treatment may not be enforceable in practice). Chinese banks do, however, show solidarity with their compatriots. They can recall a loan if the borrower damages the interest of any Chinese entity, including, but not limited to, other banks.


China lends more than most to inhospitable corners of the world. The 100 contracts include loans to some countries with awful credit ratings (Venezuela) and some with no rating at all (Sierra Leone). Countries like this sometimes struggle to borrow because they have too much freedom to default and cannot convince a lender otherwise. The unusual terms in China’s loan contracts make it harder for countries to bilk it. But that presumably also makes it easier for countries to borrow from it.

中国为世界上财政状况最恶劣的国家提供的贷款比大多数国家都多。这 100 份贷款合约中就包含一些信用评级非常糟糕的国家(如委内瑞拉)和一些根本没有评级的国家(如塞拉利昂)。像这样的国家有时很难借到钱,因为它们违约太容易了,也无法说服贷方相信自己不会违约。中国的贷款合同中不寻常的条款让贷款国更难赖账。但这大概也让各国更容易从中国借到钱

Published since September 1843 to take part in “a severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress.”


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