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China’s Debtbook Diplomacy: Experts Discussed Beijing’s Role in Central Asia

Tajikistan, due to the growth of the debt to China, is among the eight most vulnerable countries, according to an expert from the United States. Tajik analysts believe that this tendency poses a threat to the country’s security and even to its territorial integrity.

On November 4, IWPR Tajikistan held the discussion of the research “Debtbook Diplomacy: China’s Strategic Leveraging of its Newfound Economic Influence and the Consequences for U.S. Foreign Policy” by the American researchers Sam Parker and Gabrielle Chefitz. The discussion participants also reviewed the recent CABAR.asia research “Sinology Schools in Central Asia: Problems and Prospects”.

Expert discussion at IWPR Tajikistan. Photo: CABAR.asia

Sam Parker, Master in Public Policy candidate at Harvard Kennedy School, introduced the concept of China’s “debtbook diplomacy” to Tajik experts. According to Parker, China’s debtbook diplomacy is a technique to leverage accumulated debt of debtor nations to advance its existing strategic goals.

The debtbook diplomacy cycle involves three stages:

  • investment stage, when China offers its financial assets to developing countries on favorable terms, especially under Belt and Road Initiative (BRI);
  • infrastructure development stage, when Chinese companies undertake the construction of large, but not cost-effective infrastructure facilities;
  • debt collection stage.
Sam Parker. Photo: CABAR.asia

Debtor countries often do not profit from new Chinese projects due to a number of reasons, including corruption, underdeveloped economies, etc. and are unable to pay Beijing their debts. China requires such governments to repay the debt in a combined way. For example, Beijing, in exchange, requires a license for exploitation of certain territories, profitable political agreements or public support at the international level for both foreign and domestic Chinese policies.

Focusing on the growth of China’s economic influence in the Central Asian region, Parker noted that Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are in the top eight most vulnerable countries due to increased debt to China.

A slide from Sam Parker’s presentation at the meeting with Tajik experts. Charts show the projected growth in the external debt to China of the eight most vulnerable countries.

Tajik experts briefed Parker on the dynamics of growing China’s influence in Tajikistan. They expressed their concern about the threats that, in their opinion, the increasing influence of China imposes on Tajikistan. Among them, there are threats to the territorial integrity of Tajikistan, threats to Tajik national identity, threats to the Tajik economy, and threats to ensuring and protecting human rights in Tajikistan.

IWPR Tajikistan Program Coordinator Dmitry Zavialov noted that assessments of China’s activities in the region always should be based on the findings of fundamental studies, which are currently too few in Central Asia. Zavialov emphasized the importance of the CABAR.asia research “Sinology Schools in Central Asia” and that the academic potential of the Central Asian Sinology Schools needs constant support and should be strengthened in every possible way.

The discussion participants noted the necessity to conduct such meetings in the future.

The research “Debtbook Diplomacy: China’s Strategic Leveraging of its Newfound Economic Influence and the Consequences for U.S. Foreign Policy” is available at: https://www.belfercenter.org/sites/default/files/files/publication/Debtbook%20Diplomacy%20PDF.pdf

The research “Sinology Schools in Central Asia: Problems and Prospects” is available at: https://cabar.asia/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/07-10-2019_China_paper_10_MB.pdf  

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