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How China Lends

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How China Lends

A Rare Look into 100 Debt Contracts with Foreign Governments

Center for Global Development,

5 min read
3 take-aways
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What's inside?

China, the world’s largest creditor, lends to nations on opaque and seemingly political terms.

Editorial Rating



  • Analytical
  • Innovative
  • Eye Opening


China’s portfolio of loans to lesser developed nations puts it at the top of the list of global creditors. Ensuring repayment has led it to include terms advantageous to the lender but onerous to the borrower, as researchers Anna Gelpern, Sebastian Horn, Scott Morris, Brad Parks and Christoph Trebesch found in this cogent analysis. China’s outsized role in sovereign credit provision – and its political motivations – only underscore the overall need for more transparency in sovereign lending. Financial professionals and foreign policy students will find this an illuminating report.


China has lent extensively to governments of low- and middle-income countries.

China’s sovereign lending since 2000 has made it the world’s largest creditor. But its agreement terms are often shrouded in secrecy. An analysis of 100 loan contracts with 24 countries shows how the Chinese government and its state-backed entities extend credit, along with the specifics of such commitments and their potential global political consequences.

The coronavirus pandemic has heightened the relevance of the financial and legal particulars of such credits, along with the increasing risk that borrower nations are shouldering debts...

About the Authors

Anna Gelpern is a professor at Georgetown Law. Sebastian Horn and Christoph Trebesch are economists at the Kiel Institute for the World Economy. Scott Morris is a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development. Brad Parks is the executive director of AidData at the College of William and Mary.

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