Caution, Cancellations, Protests as Concerns Grow on China’s Belt and Road

Concerns about debt diplomacy on China’s expansive infrastructure megaproject — the Belt and Road — have become an increasing source of debate from Asia to Africa and the Middle East. In recent weeks, more than $30 billion in projects have been scrapped and other loans and investments are under review.

 

Public opposition is also testing the resolve of ruling authorities from Hanoi to Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, as concerns about Chinese investment build.

In late August, Malaysia’s newly elected Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad canceled more than $20 billion in Belt and Road projects for railway and pipelines, and Pakistan lopped another $2 billion off plans for a railway following a decision late last year to cancel a $14 billion dam project, citing financial concerns. Nepal canceled its dam project last month and Sierra Leone announced last week that it was dropping an airport project over debt concerns.

 

In some countries such as Vietnam, it is just the idea of Chinese investment — against the backdrop of the Belt and Road — that has led to push back.

Following public protests, Vietnam recently decided to postpone plans for several special economic zones.

 

Several Belt and Road projects have seen setbacks in countries where debt concerns have coincided with political elections and a change of power — be it Pakistan, Malaysia or the Maldives, says economist Christopher Balding.

 

“The people in these countries are very worried about the level of debt that these countries are taking on in regard to China and I think that is very important to note,” Balding said. “It’s not just anti-China people that are driving this, but that there is a lot of concern on the ground in the countries about that.”

 

China says there are no political strings attached to its investments and loans. It also argues it is providing funding in places others will not. But Beijing’s takeover of a port in Sri Lanka last year and the sheer volume of Chinese investments along the Belt and Road project have done little to ease those concerns.

 

String of ports

 

Late last year, according to the New York Times, China agreed to forgive Sri Lanka’s debt in exchange for a 99-year lease of Hambanthota Port and 15,000 acres of surrounding land.

The government of Sri Lanka denies it divested land to a Chinese company, but the deal has convinced some that China is setting up debt traps to then take over the infrastructure that Chinese state-run companies build.

 

Hambanthota is one of 42 ports where China has participated in construction and operations, with more on the horizon.

In 2021, China will take over operation of one of Israel’s largest ports in Haifa. Beijing is also being eyed as a possible candidate for the development of Chabahar port in Iran, which is near the Iran-Pakistan border.

The port proposal remains in limbo, however, due to U.S. sanctions. And that’s not the only obstacle, according to David Kelly, research director at the Beijing-based group China Policy.

“It’s in the driest and most remote part of Iran,” Kelly said. “It looks like a real loser commercially, unless it handles a lot of oil.”

Analysts say the Middle East, with its oil money and deep pockets, is less at risk for debt traps.

 

However, the port that is most likely to follow in Sri Lanka’s footsteps is Djibouti, a strategically important country on the Horn of Africa, where China recently established its first overseas military base.

According to official figures, Djibouti’s debt is more than 88 percent of the GDP and China owns $1.4 billion of that. That kind of debt overhang could lead to the same type of concessionary agreements as in Sri Lanka, analysts note.

 

Debt traps

 

A report released earlier this year by Washington, D.C.-based Center for Global Development said 23 of the 68 countries where China is investing for Belt and Road projects are at high risk of debt distress. Another eight, including Djibouti, are vulnerable to debt distress linked to future projects.

 

China argues its investments are aimed at boosting trade and commerce and giving developing countries a leg up.

 

China Policy’s Kelly says places where the debt situation is more critical are countries such as land-locked and poverty-stricken Zambia. There, concerns are causing a very public push for the government to disclose the full burden of Chinese debt.

 

“The upset and upheaval in Zambia recently, where you’ve got African civil society coming out and making this case,” Kelly said, “That is always going to be more significant where you have the local people, making a local case.”

 

BRI indigestion

 

Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow with the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, says cancellations and changes are what he calls Belt and Road indigestion.

Concerns about debt traps and debt diplomacy will not have an impact on China going forward, he says, but stops, starts and cancellations will continue.

 

Oh says China’s model of development — build infrastructure and the economy will grow — may have worked at home, but it doesn’t always fit along the Belt and Road.

 

“In many of these Belt and Road initiative countries, if you lay out the infrastructure, it doesn’t automatically mean that trade and investment will take place,” Oh said, “Some of these projects will have to be more attuned to the local requirements of particular countries.”

Hosting

more

US Budget Deficit Hits Six-Year High

The U.S. government’s budget deficit hit $779 billion in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, while spending increased and tax revenues remained nearly flat, the Treasury said Monday.

It was the biggest deficit since 2012, and $113 billion more than the figure a year ago. The 2018 deficit amounted to 3.9 percent of the country’s more than $18 trillion annual economy, up from 3.5 percent last year.

The government’s deficit spending boosted the country’s long-term debt figure to more than $21 trillion, forcing the government to pay an extra $65 billion last year in interest on money the government has had to borrow to run its programs.

In all, government spending rose by $127 billion last year, while tax collections increased by $14 billion.

The Treasury said the annual deficit rose partly because corporate tax collections dropped by $76 billion after Congress approved cuts in tax rates for both businesses and individuals that were supported by President Donald Trump.

Mick Mulvaney, the government’s budget director, said the country’s “booming economy will create increased government revenues — an important step toward long-term fiscal sustainability. But this fiscal picture is a blunt warning to Congress of the dire consequences of irresponsible and unnecessary spending.”

Hosting

more

Zimbabwe’s Government Says Worst of its Economic Woes is Over

Zimbabwe’s government says the country is emerging from a recent economic meltdown that saw shops run out of goods and motorists spend long hours in lines at gas stations. Economists say Zimbabwe’s crisis is not over, as people have no confidence in the currency or in President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government.

For weeks now, there have been long and winding queues at most fuel stations in Zimbabwe, as the precious liquid has been in short supply. Lameck Mauriri is one of those now tired of the situation.

“We are really striving but things are tough to everyone,” said Mauriri. “I do not know how those in rural areas, how they are surviving, especially if in Harare it is like this. We are sleeping in fuel queues. There is not fuel, there is no bread, there is no drink. There is no everything. No cash, no jobs.”

For a decade, the country has been without an official currency and relied on U.S. dollars, the British pound and South African rand to conduct transactions. In the past three years, however, all three currencies have been hard to find, paralyzing the economy.

The introduction of bond notes — a currency Zimbabwe started printing two years ago to ease the situation — has not helped.

The bond notes were supposed to trade at par with the U.S. dollar; but, on the black market, a dollar now is now equal to close to three bond notes.

Prosper Chitambara, an economist of the Labor and Economic Development Research Institute of Zimbabwe says the bond notes are partly to blame for the price increases and shortages in the country.

“What is lacking in the economy, in the market is confidence. There is a distrust of the formal economic system,” said Chitambara. “The bond notes have definitely contributed a great deal to the current economic situation, a fallacy economic situation. What they have done is for example to increase money supply in the economy. And that money supply is not actually backed by significant productivity in the economy. That actually gives rise to general of inflationary pressures.”

He said the government’s recent introduction of a 2 percent tax on all electronic transactions pushed prices even higher and caused some shops to close.

Ndabaningi Nick Mangwana, Zimbabwe’s secretary in the Ministry of Information and Publicity, says the situation in the country is normal and there is no need for alarm.

“There is no shortage to oil itself, there is no challenge in terms of production of all these essential services,” said Mangwana. “That is why they are there if you go. There were a few people who panicked, closed a couple of shops, but those opened within hours. There was fake news and people panicked, but it is all under control.”

That is not exactly what seems to be the case on the ground. Some shops remain closed and prices continue rising. Long fuel lines remain the order of the day. 

Hosting

more

Artificial Intelligence Can Help Fight Global Hunger

A world without hunger by 2030 is the theme of this year’s World Food Day, and the goal of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. Events around the world on October 16th will promote awareness and action for those who suffer from hunger and for the need to ensure food security and nutritious diets for all. Advances in technology and artificial intelligence can help feed the world. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee explains.

Hosting

more

Facebook: Hackers Accessed 29M Accounts – Fewer Than Thought

Facebook says hackers accessed data from 29 million accounts as part of the security breach disclosed two weeks ago, fewer than the 50 million it initially believed were affected.

The hackers accessed name, email addresses or phone numbers from these accounts, according to Facebook. For 14 million of them, hackers got even more data, such as hometown, birthdate, the last 10 places they checked into or the 15 most recent searches.

 

An additional 1 million accounts were affected, but hackers didn’t get any information from them.

 

Facebook isn’t giving a breakdown of where these users are, but says the breach was “fairly broad.” It plans to send messages to people whose accounts were hacked.

 

Facebook said third-party apps and Facebook apps like WhatsApp and Instagram were unaffected by the breach.

 

Facebook said the FBI is investigating, but asked the company not to discuss who may be behind the attack. The company said it hasn’t ruled out the possibility of smaller-scale attacks that used the same vulnerability.

 

Facebook has said the attackers gained the ability to “seize control” of those user accounts by stealing digital keys the company uses to keep users logged in. They could do so by exploiting three distinct bugs in Facebook’s code. The company said it has fixed the bugs and logged out affected users to reset those digital keys.

 

At the time, CEO Mark Zuckerberg – whose own account was compromised – said attackers would have had the ability to view private messages or post on someone’s account, but there’s no sign that they did.

 

 

Hosting

more

Ціна нафти Brent упала нижче за 80 доларів за барель – уперше за три тижні

Котирування нафти еталонного сорту Brent уперше за три тижні опустилися нижче від позначки 80 доларів за барель. Як вказують аналітики, це сталося через поєднання кількох чинників.

Серед них – відчутне падіння на фондовому ринку США, яке фіксувалося впродовж цього тижня і спричинило серед інвесторів побоювання щодо уповільнення темпів зростання світової економіки. Цей чинник впливає і на попит на нафту.

Також уперше за кілька тижнів у США зафіксоване зростання кількості бурових установок. Це свідчить про те, що нафтовики готові за нинішнього рівня цін (а котирування еталонного американського сорту нафти також зросли – більш ніж до 70 доларів за барель) інвестувати в інфраструктуру транспортування, недостатність якої дотепер гальмувала зростання видобутку.

Ціни на нафту еталонного сорту Brent на американській торговельній сесії ввечері 3 жовтня сягнули максимуму на рівні 86,73 долара за барель. Настільки високого котирування не було з 30 жовтня 2014 року.

Hosting

more