China, US in talks to ease countries’ debt; experts said the move could lead to a new breakthrough in cooperation
Published: Feb 24, 2024 12:13 AM
Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

China and the US have maintained communication through bilateral and multilateral channels on debt issues, and China is willing to work with all sides to continue making efforts to ease the debt of developing countries, Mao Ning, spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China, said on Friday.

The remarks were made in response to reports on the two countries' discussion on new measures to prevent a wave of emerging market sovereign debt defaults.

Chinese experts said that the bilateral cooperation over this debt issue could potentially lead to a new breakthrough in cooperation between China and the US, especially as the bilateral relations were often characterized by confrontation rather than cooperation due to US targeted policy.

Speaking at a regular press conference on Friday, Mao said that as a matter of principle, China has always attached great importance to the debt issue of developing countries. Adhering to the principles of equality, consultation, cooperation, and mutual benefit, China has consistently worked to help alleviate the debt burden of developing countries and promote sustainable development, the spokesperson said.

China has actively participated in initiatives such as the G20 Debt Service Suspension Initiative and other cooperative frameworks, she added.

According to Bloomberg's report on Friday, the US and China are discussing new measures to prevent a wave of emerging market sovereign defaults, citing people familiar with the matter, a move that the media described as "one of the most significant attempts in years at economic cooperation" between the two countries.

The talks - including ways to pre-emptively extend loan periods before countries miss payments - are broadly aimed at both easing the $400 billion-plus annual debt service burden for poor countries and finding an alternative to the high borrowing rates those nations now face in the market, according to the media report.

Cooperation between China and the US on the debt issue not only helps to reduce the risk of defaults in developing countries but also sends a stronger signal to the global market on the urgent need of recovery from the pandemic, Zhou Mi, a senior research fellow at the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation, told the Global Times on Friday.

Both China and the US share common responsibilities and interests on this issue. A major upheaval in global finance could have significant negative implications for the economies of both countries and global development as a whole, Zhou said.

The cooperation would include alleviating repayment pressure on debts and avoiding concentrated debt maturity, Zhou said.

While both China and the US are major financial markets and therefore hold responsibilities in helping to tackle the debt issue of developing countries, experts said that the US is more important regarding this matter due to its greater obligations, given the fact that the surge in defaults in emerging markets is related to the US Federal Reserve's relentless interest rate hikes.

Due to the generally fragile nature of emerging market economies, their relatively simplistic industrial structures and lower resilience to risks, they are much more vulnerable in the face of the Federal Reserve's aggressive interest rate hikes, Hu Qimu, a deputy secretary-general of the digital-real economies integration Forum 50, told the Global Times on Friday.

Against this context, the US has more responsibilities and obligations from a historical perspective, while China's efforts in helping to tackle the debt issue are more about risk prevention and control, and its commitment to helping developing countries achieve sustainable development as the world's second largest economy, Hu said.

China and the US have intensified interactions recently in economic sectors. The third China-US Economic Working Group meeting was held recently in Beijing, where officials of the two countries had in-depth, candid, pragmatic and constructive exchanges on the macroeconomic situation and policies, G20 financial cooperation, debt of developing countries, industrial policies and other issues, according to a statement by the Chinese Ministry of Finance on February 2.

Experts said that this positive trend offers much-needed reassurance for businesses in the two countries as well as the international community, amid rising global challenges.

The bilateral cooperation in tackling the debt issue could potentially result in a new breakthrough in cooperation between China and the US, experts said.

In recent years, economic and trade cooperation between China and the US has been characterized by a predominance of confrontation, failing to reach consensus in the economic domain, Hu said.

The significance of reaching consensus between the two major economies in this matter lies not only in the issue itself but also highlights cooperation in broader economic sectors such as interest rates, exchange rates and credit projects, in addition to traditional areas such as climate cooperation and counter-terrorism, according to Hu.

Despite the disagreements between the two countries over some key matters such as technology, we should actively seek cooperation when necessary and not let differences deter us from collaboration, Zhou said, noting that "failing to cooperate would be detrimental to all parties involved."