Deborah Brautigam: No Evidence of Chinese Debt Traps in Africa

Eric Olander 欧瑞克
Jun 15 · 2 min read

Johns Hopkins University professor and director of the China-Africa Research Initiative in Washington, D.C., Deborah Brautigam, joins Eric & Cobus this week to discuss accusations that China engages in so-called “debt trap diplomacy.”

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 handover key strategic assets to China or be forced to otherwise compromise their sovereignty to satisfy Beijing.

“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.” — Professor Deborah Brautigam

Brautigam looked at more than 3,000 Chinese infrastructure projects around the world in an article recently published in The American Interest magazine and found no evidence to support this oft-cited charge. 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, explained Brautigam. Instead, she contends, China exporting corruption and crony capitalism are much more worrisome.


Do you agree with professor Brautigam’s contention that Chinese lending is more motivated by commercial considerations than political objectives and that concerns about supposed “debt traps” are overblown? Or do you think she is misreading the situation and that Chinese lending in Africa and elsewhere really is the proverbial “trojan horse” that U.S. leaders have been warning about?

Let us know what you think.


Twitter: @eolander | @stadenesque | @d_brautigam

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Eric Olander 欧瑞克

Written by

Managing Editor of The China Africa Project