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Cranes stand during the sunset at a construction site at the hotel complex construct by Chinese company on October 15, 2015 in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
Beijing is financing and executing massive infrastructure projects across the 68 nations participating in the ambitious scheme, which snakes along Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
These recipient countries, many of them emerging economies in dire need of investment, obtain funding in various forms such as sovereign loans from Chinese President Xi Jinping’s administration and credit from Chinese state-owned banks.
But concerns of developing countries taking on unrealistic financial obligations have sparked allegations of what’s being called ‘dept-trap diplomacy.’ Earlier this year, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration released a statement warning of unsustainable debt burdens being created by Belt and Road.
“Just as European imperial powers employed gunboat diplomacy, China is using sovereign debt to bend other states to its will,” according to Brahma Chellaney, professor of strategic studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research, who described Beijing’s policies as “creditor imperialism.”
In a stinging editorial published on Project Syndicate, Chellaney — a former adviser to India’s National Security Council — pointed to Sri Lanka as an example. The South Asian state, unable to pay back onerous bills to China, recently handed over its Hambantota port to state owned China Merchants Port Holdings in a $1.1 billion deal that was widely viewed as an erosion of sovereignty.
“As Hambantota shows, China is now establishing its own Hong Kong-style neocolonial arrangements,” Chellaney said. “Like the opium the British exported to China, the easy loans China offers are addictive. And, because China chooses its projects according to their long-term strategic value, they may yield short-term returns that are insufficient for countries to repay their debts,” he explained.