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China scaling back spending in Southeast Asia

Agencies . Perth
06 Jun 2023 00:00:00 | Update: 05 Jun 2023 23:10:23
China scaling back spending in Southeast Asia

Asian Development Bank and World Bank have overtaken China as top source of development funding, think tank says.

China has cut development assistance to Southeast Asia as Beijing directs money elsewhere, giving up its position as the region’s single largest source of funding, according to a report by an Australian think tank.

China was Southeast Asia’s biggest single source of development assistance between 2015 and 2019, but was overtaken by the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Lowy Institute said in the report released on Sunday, reports Aljazeera.

China’s contribution to the region fell from $7.6bn in 2015 to $3.9bn in 2021, according to the Sydney-based Lowy Institute.

In total, China disbursed $37.9bn – nearly 20 per cent of the region’s total financing – between 2015 and 2021, equal to $5.53bn on average annually.

Southeast Asia received about $200bn in total from partners overall during the period. China’s funding, mostly consisting of loans, has been used to back major infrastructure projects across the region, including high-speed rail projects in Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand.

“The most striking trend in China’s [official development finance, ODF] in Southeast Asia between 2015 and 2021 is the decline in China’s relative importance as a partner,” the Lowy Institute said in the report, predicting that the “lingering effects of the pandemic” would continue to disrupt Beijing’s development financing.

“In 2015, China provided some 24 per cent of the region’s ODF. By 2021, this had fallen to 14 per cent.”

In China’s place, other countries and partners, including the United States, Australia and Japan, are ramping up assistance as they compete for influence with Beijing, said Lowy Institute’s lead economist Roland Rajah.

“Intensifying geostrategic tensions between China and Western governments have also seen a growing focus on using development finance, particularly in infrastructure, as a means of competing for influence,” Rajah said.