China has spent a trillion dollars to expand its influence across Asia, Africa and Latin America through its Belt and Road infrastructure program. Now, Beijing is working on an overhaul of the troubled initiative, according to people involved in policy-making.
A slowing global economy, combined with rising interest rates and higher inflation, have left countries struggling to repay their debts to China. Tens of billions of dollars of loans have gone sour, and numerous development projects have stalled. Western leaders have criticized China’s lending practices, which some have labeled “debt-trap diplomacy,” embarrassing Beijing. Many economists and investors have said the country’s lending practices have contributed to debt crises in places like Sri Lanka and Zambia.
After nearly a decade of pressing Chinese banks to be generous with loans, Chinese policy makers are discussing a more conservative program, dubbed Belt and Road 2.0 in internal discussions, that would more rigorously evaluate new projects for financing, the people involved said. They have also become open to accepting some losses on loans and renegotiating debt, something they had been previously unwilling to do.
Chinese President Xi Jinping once called the initiative “a project of the century,” but the overhaul exposes limits to his vision to reshape the global order. At a November meeting with senior officials, Mr. Xi noted that the international environment for Belt and Road was becoming “increasingly complex,” and stressed the need to strengthen risk controls and expand cooperation, according to state-media reports of the meeting. [Continue reading…]