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Q&A: Why African Governments May Want to Pay Attention to Jamaica’s Decision to Freeze Borrowing From China

Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness (R) and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang attend a meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on November 8, 2019. FLORENCE LO / POOL / AFP

Jamaica is taking bold steps to manage its growing indebtedness to China as part of an ongoing policy experiment that puts a hold on new borrowing from Beijing until the government reduces its current level of debt. And Kingston’s approach in how it’s trying to reconcile the need to build new infrastructure while at the same time trying to bring its debt under control could serve as a compelling case study for African countries who are struggling with identical challenges.

While some of China’s critics in the U.S. and Europe who have long accused Beijing of “predatory lending” will likely interpret Jamaica’s decision to halt new borrowing from Beijing as a kind of repudiation of the Chinese but that would be a misreading of the situation, according to Jevon Minto, a China-Latin American scholar The Inter American Dialogue, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. While there are a lot of concerns about China’s surging influence in Jamaica and many of the same hostilities towards the Chinese are also prevalent in African countries, Minto contends the government’s decision regarding Chinese loans is much more about managing the country’s debt than any ideological repudiation of the Chinese or some kind of endorsement of the U.S.-led “debt trap” narrative.

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