With a huge trade surplus over the last two decades, China has emerged as a significant net lender to the world, especially to governments and state owned entities – many of which are in the developing world.
The Chinese government's claim to rest of the world surpassed $5 trillion, which is around 6 percent of the global GDP.
This figure includes China's $1 trillion portfolio investment in US treasury instruments.
However, as the Chinese authorities do not report their aggregated figures, the scale in state lending was unknown to the world until the Harvard Business Review recently published a report.
A wide range of data collected from diversified sources over years suggest that the Chinese state and its subsidiaries have already given $1.5 trillion in loans and trade credits to 150 nations and their state-owned entities.
This has turned China into the world's largest official creditor, surpassing traditional and official lenders such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), or all Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) creditor governments combined.
The Harvard Business Review based its report on analysis of multi-year data compiled from hundreds of primary and secondary sources, put together by academic institutions, think tanks, and government agencies – including historical information from the Central Intelligence Agency. This provided the first comprehensive picture of China's official overseas debt stocks and flows worldwide.
It includes nearly 2,000 loans and nearly 3,000 grants given out since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949 to 2017. Most Chinese loans have helped finance large-scale investments in infrastructure, energy and mining.
Maximum market terms in state lending
Researchers Sebastian Horn of the University of Munich, Carmen M Reinhart, international financial system professor at Harvard, and Christoph Trebesch, macroeconomics professor at Kiel Institute for the World Economy, outlined the nature of Chinese state lending as similar to capital market terms.
They observed that most of the loans and credits by Chinese state entities are near to those from capital markets in terms of interest rate, collaterals, and the tough conditions in case of defaults.
Other funding to governments by states and international organisations like Breton Woods are much more concessional and includes more grants and aid.
For example, after World War II, the US had given $100 billion in today's value to the war-ravaged Europe for economic reconstruction. But 90 percent of that was grants and aid and very little was in market terms.
Developing world's liability to China growing rapidly
Average liabilities of 50 developing nations to China have increased from 1 percent of their GDP in 2005, to 15 percent of their GDP in 2017. To a dozen of them, the debt level is at least 20 percent of their GDP.
Since 2011, two dozen developing countries have restructured their debts to China.
More importantly, the analysis reveals that 50 percent of China's loans to developing countries go unreported, meaning that these debt stocks do not appear in the "gold standard" data sources provided by the World Bank, the IMF or credit-rating agencies.
Unreported lending from China has grown to more than $200 billion as of 2016.