Where is the Evidence of Debt Traps in Africa?

A China in Africa Podcast

To discuss accusations that China engages in so-called “debt trap diplomacy,” Eric and Cobus spoke with Deborah Brautigam, a Johns Hopkins University Professor and Director of the China-Africa Research Initiative in Washington, D.C.

The “debt trap” narrative, also commonly referred to as “predatory lending,” states that China uses excessive lending to developing countries knowing full well these countries will not have the means to repay these loans. In turn, these countries, many of them very poor, will then be forced to default on the loans and hand over key strategic assets to China or be forced to otherwise compromise their sovereignty to satisfy Beijing.

Looking at more than 3,000 Chinese infrastructure projects around the world, in an article recently published in The American Interest Brautigam finds no evidence to support this oft-cited charge. She writes,

The idea that Chinese banks and companies are luring countries to borrow for unprofitable projects so that China can leverage these debts to extract concessions is now deeply embedded in discussions of China’s BRI program. Critics invariably point to a single case—the Chinese takeover of Sri Lanka’s Hambantota Port—as proof of this strategy. Yet the evidence for this project being part of a Chinese master plan is thin.

China’s critics in the U.S. and Europe are misguided when they focus on Beijing’s massive lending as some kind of political conspiracy, explains Brautigam. Instead, she contends, China’s exporting of corruption and crony capitalism are much more worrisome.