China’s Cities Are Buried in Debt, but They Keep Shoveling It On

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China’s rapid urbanization has been a topic of discussion for many years, with cities mushrooming across the country. However, China’s urbanization has brought with it a huge burden of debt for its cities. Reports show that Chinese cities have built up an enormous amount of debt, which many economists believe could lead to a financial crisis.

China’s cities are buried deep in debt, but they continue to accumulate more. The reason, it seems, is a fixation on growth, fueling further investment and infrastructure-building. The Chinese economy has been growing at a breakneck pace, averaging around 6-7% per annum over the last decade, and now stands as the second-largest economy in the world, trailing only behind the US. However, the country shows no signs of slowing down, and its focus on achieving higher and higher levels of growth has led to the country’s cities getting buried in debt.

The debt situation in China is not just limited to its major cities. Small cities and towns too have hit breaking points, racking up unsustainable levels of debt. According to a report by the National Institution for Finance & Development, China’s overall local government debt was $4.23 trillion in 2018. This figure is astounding, given that it is almost equal to the size of the country’s GDP. It poses a significant risk to China’s economic stability.

The reason for the ever-increasing debt is the Chinese government’s love of investing in infrastructure projects, which they believe drives growth. Studies show that the infrastructure development is one of the primary drivers of debt accumulation in China. In a bid to build more buildings, roads, bridges, and other infrastructure, China’s local governments take on more and more debt. This investment has massively expanded infrastructure all over the country, but it has also led to extensive deficits.

The Chinese government has allowed local government financing vehicles (LGFVs) to borrow money and invest in infrastructure projects throughout the country. This move has led to a sharp increase in the borrowing by local governments, leading to highly-leveraged situations. The main problem here is that it is difficult to determine how much of this infrastructure spending is actively contributing to the country’s growth.

Despite the risks, China continues to pursue growth through investment in these projects. The government still insists that infrastructure investment is a crucial aspect of generating economic growth, arguing that it creates jobs and increases demand for goods and services. However, the returns from these projects may not always be lucrative or even sustainable. Therefore, there is a danger that this approach is leading towards a debt-induced crisis as these highly ambitious projects don’t pay off.

One of the drivers of China’s debt is a vicious cycle of debt, in which local governments create more debt to pay off older debt. The debt burden becomes so high that the local government can no longer repay the debt, and it resorts to taking on more debt to stay afloat. This cycle creates a situation where the country’s debt keeps growing.

The situation is alarming, with some analysts suggesting that China may face an economic collapse if the debt burden is not addressed soon. Moreover, the government’s obsession with growth, at all costs, has led to immense stress on the local government officials who rarely have the skills and expertise to manage local government finances. This pressure, coupled with poor financial decision-making, leads to an inefficient use of funds and projects that are poorly managed.

In conclusion, despite the mounting debt, China’s government remains undeterred in its pursuit of growth. It has significantly boosted the economy and created massive infrastructure projects across the country. However, as the debt pile grows, so does the risk of a financial crisis, which could have not only major implications for the country but also for the global economy. China’s leadership will need to focus its attention and resources on reducing local government debt and addressing the ailing financial system. The world would benefit from a more balanced, sustainable, and less debt-ridden approach to China’s economic strategy in the coming years.