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Data Analysis for Transparency and Accountability in China’s Overseas Economic Activity

The Global China Initiative (GCI) at the Boston University Global Development Policy (GDP) Center manages five open-source databases tracking Chinese overseas development finance and investments. Through these databases, GCI aims to provide transparent data to aid the public, including policymakers, journalists, academic researchers, civil society, and others, in analyzing and holding accountable Chinese overseas loan commitments and investments. We see these datasets as global public tools, allowing empirical data to improve dialogue around China’s overseas economic activity.

Our databases are created through open-source methodologies, including manual internet sleuthing, web scraping, and reviewing government documents. After finding the loan commitment and investment information, we publish data verified by both Chinese sources and host country sources or through consultation with government entities and China’s policy banks, the China Development Bank (CDB) and China Export-Import Bank (CHEXIM). This double verification process ensures data credibility and reliability.

Each database reflects various regional and sectoral aspects of Chinese development finance and investment activity.

The China Overseas Development Finance (CODF) Database was established in 2020 and is the first global, validated, and geolocated record of Chinese overseas development finance from 2008-2019. With data up to 2019, the CODF Database tracks 858 loans, 615 with specific geographic footprints, and an additional 243 without footprints (for example, in 2012 Bolivia borrowed $100 million from CHEXIM to finance 2,000 public transport buses, which are mobile and hence cannot be mapped to one place).

To support tracking social and environmental impacts from development projects, the CODF Database displays the proximity and overlap of geolocated projects with Indigenous people’s lands, critical habitats, and national protected areas. The methodology for the CODF Database was outlined in a September 2021 journal article published in Nature’s Scientific Data.

Regionally, the Chinese Loans to Africa (CLA) Database tracks loan commitments from all Chinese lenders to African government and state-owned borrowers. Chinese lenders include policy banks, commercial banks, companies, and other Chinese financing entities. Founded in 2007 by the China Africa Research Initiative at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS-CARI), the CLA Database moved to the GDP Center in March 2021 and currently hosts data up to 2019.

Another regional database is the China-Latin America Finance (CLAF) Database, established in 2014 with the Inter-American Dialogue to track loan commitments from CDB and CHEXIM to Latin American and Caribbean government and state-owned borrowers.

On the sectoral side, the China’s Global Energy Finance (CGEF) Database was established in 2018 to depict overseas energy development finance from China’s policy banks and currently has data up to 2020. It differs from the China’s Global Power (CGP) Database, which was established in 2020 and covers overseas power plants financed by both Chinese development finance and foreign direct investment. Rather than tracking investment value, the CGP Database measures China’s overseas power projects by generating capacity, allowing analysis of the projects’ CO2 emissions.

Lastly, the brand new China Overseas Finance Inventory (COFI) Database covers Chinese development finance, equity, and other debt investments in the power generation sector across 76 Belt and Road Initiative countries. Launched in February 2022, the COFI Database is a collaboration between the Boston University Global Development Policy Center, the World Resources Institute, the Inter-American Dialogue, and SAIS-CARI and fills a major gap in tracking finance from China’s commercial banks.

Across scope, regional or sectoral focus, users can easily digest and access information that was previously not publicly available. Accompanying each interactive tool is a policy brief or bulletin that contextualizes the most up-to-date data, as well as policy recommendations.

As we continue updating these databases on an annual basis (stay tuned!), we aim to deliver evidence-based data analysis for accountability and transparency in China’s overseas economic activity and engagement. Explore the data when you can and remember that credible evidence matters.

Oyintarelado (Tarela) Moses is the Data Analyst and Database Manager for the Global China Initiative at the Boston University Global Development Policy Center.

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