China’s lending

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…