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【IFIMES】Belt and Road Initiative: Challenging South and Southeast Asia

The following content is provided by IFIMES Department for Strategic Studies on Asia

(Author: Prof. Anis H. Bajrektarevic (Entity of the Special Consultative status with the UN / Executive Assistant to HoM))

 

編輯摘要

2017年一帶一路峰會以後,東南亞國家例如印尼對一帶一路計劃表示樂觀,坊間預料他們將收到巨額的中國資金投入國家基建。在印尼政府部長Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan簽署了28個一帶一路合作項目後,有關一帶一路真正目的的揣測又多愈來愈流行,不少人質疑計劃是否一個地緣政治工具,甚或是一個將其他國家拉入債務陷阱的手段。

不少東盟國家擔心「一帶一路」會令當地經濟發展越來越依賴中國 (圖片來源: Wikimedia Commons)

一帶一路: 中國的債務陷阱        

為了實行一帶一路計劃,中國定意分別在65個基建項目中投入4.4兆美金的巨額。資金將由中國進出口銀行、亞投行以及絲路基金三個機構中投入。可是,一帶一路的實行引起各類爭議,其中一個就是債務陷阱。

 

斯里蘭卡是其中一個被是迫放棄中國債務的一帶一路合作國家。漢班托塔國際機場成本高達十九億美元,利息是6.3%,機場沒有帶來任何利潤。結果,斯里蘭卡政府損失了大量資金,亦令國家無法償還中國債務。由於無力抵債,在二零一六年六月,斯里蘭卡與中國簽定合約將土地資產-南部深水大港漢班托塔租借給中國。根據一個印度有名的中亞合作聯盟策略分析師Brahma Chellaney,中國利用一帶一路計劃作一個債務外交手法,一種以債主關係作外交的根基的手法,而通常這手法是由債主國故意提供過量的借貸而造成,一旦負債國無法履行合約義務,債主國家就有機會干涉負債國的經濟及政治情況。

 

馬來西亞總理Mahathir Mohamad 在2018年8月提及他的國家會停止所有中國支持的計劃,包括一條價值200億美金的鐵路計劃。

 

Anis H. Bajrektarevic教授在吉隆坡經濟論壇指出:「我們應該避免絕對分類… 但是,實際上雙向利益發展策略在歷史上沒有帶來滿意的結果。除了滿有爭議的布雷頓森林體系外,留意一下國際發展上的贏家們。他們不是全為是公平制度下的透明機構:UNIDO(聯合國工業發展組織)以及亞投行等,但亦包括伊斯蘭開發銀行、石油輸出國組織國際開發基金、聯合國貿易和發展會議等機構。如果他們提供的同樣是債務,要不是他們存在只為了提供諮詢服務嗎?」

馬來西亞總理馬哈蒂爾上台後叫停了數項「一帶一路」項目,當中包括興建高鐵及石油管道 (圖片來源: Wikimedia Commons)

印尼與馬來西亞的教訓

同樣的顧慮在印尼同樣盛行,尤其印尼自身面對不少本土問題下有意圖加大限度參與一帶一路計劃。在2019年三月,印尼的國外債務達到三千八百多億美元,當中政府及中央銀行已佔一千九百億美元(上升了3.1%),私人債務達到一千九百七十億美元(一年間上升12.8%)。

 

雖然印尼外債對GDP比例只在36.9%安全水平,而且S&P 環球債務等級才剛將印尼長期借貸評分由BBB-上調至BBB,但是印尼的經濟根基仍然很脆弱。

 

例如在2018年,由於聯儲局FED 利率新高以及土耳其貨幣危機,印尼盾兌美元大幅眨值,跌穿15000低位,是自1998年金融危機下最低,是該區域中表演最差的貨幣。印尼盾極端浮動使償還利息和外債的成本更高。1998年金融危機當時很多公司破產,國家經濟增長率達到負13.1%,印尼有甚麼原因還透過一帶一路計劃增加他的債務?

 

另外,一帶一路計劃亦帶來另一個風險。印尼巨港輕軌計劃與斯里蘭卡機長一樣很有潛力,可是經常空車沒有訪客。事實上,計劃每個月錄得89億印尼盾的虧損。

 

而且事實上,基建計劃不能改善經濟增長以致收窄貧富差距,尤其是印尼東部地區。不同爭議顯出政府簽定一帶一路合作計劃很可疑。另外,可惜的是基建的建造過程中牽涉印尼嚴重貪污的問題,並沒有改善人民福祉,只是滿足特定群體。總括而言,印尼有一定機會落入中國的債務陷阱,並進一步打擊印尼經濟。

 

政府需要做更多工作確保一帶一路不會導致很大損失。就如馬來西亞所做的事,政府要與中國再談判合作的時期與條件。印尼要明白中國需求印尼多於印尼需要中國,因為一帶一路的海路計劃沒有印尼不能實現。馬來西亞的例子證明中國是可談判的。如果做不到談判,我相信印尼重蹈斯里蘭卡覆轍不會太令人驚喜。

 

The euphoria about the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in Indonesia and elsewhere in South and Southeast Asia (SEA) has been felt since 2017, particularly following the country’s participation in the BRI Summit in Beijing that year, where Indonesia (along with other SAARC and ASEAN member states) was expected to receive massive investments from China to support several infrastructure projects.

 

This year, the debates concerning the BRI are again becoming prevalent after Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs Luhut Binsar Panjaitan as Indonesia’s representative signed 28 BRI projects last April.  Among the various debated subjects is the growing concern about the real nature of the BRI. Is that a Chinese developmental initiative or a geopolitical instrument that uses debt-trap as a tool to bring targeted countries into the desired terms.

 

The BRI as Chinese debt trap

In the realisation of the BRI, China is targeted to spend US $ 4.4 trillion (Rp 62.7 thousand trillion) which is divided into various infrastructure projects in 65 countries. The funds from China will be disbursed from three main institutions, namely the Export-Import Bank of China, the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Silk Road Fund. However, the implementation of the BRI caused various kinds of controversy, one of which was related to the fear of a debt trap.

 

Sri Lanka is one of the BRI participating countries that must give up on China’s debt. The Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport (MRIA) project in Sri Lanka which costed US $ 190 million (Rp 2.7 trillion) with an interest of 6.3 percent did not benefit from the airport’s operations.

 

As a result, the Sri Lankan government is losing money. This made the country unable to pay debts to China. The inability to pay credit or interest, at the end of June 2016, led Sri Lanka to make an agreement with China in the form of equity (surrendering land for lease) for 99 years to the country.

 

According to a well-known SAARC strategic analyst based in India, Brahma Chellaney, what China does with its BRI is a debt-trap diplomacy effort, where this type of diplomacy is a bilateral relationship that is interwoven on the basis of debt. In its operations, this type of diplomacy involves a creditor country that deliberately extends excessive credit to the debtor country. If the debtor country cannot fulfill its debt obligations, often the creditor country will make it possible to interfere with economic and political conditions in the debtor country.

 

Acknowledging this, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in August 2018 said his country would stop funding-backed projects from China, including a railway line worth US $ 20 billion as there is a possibility that the country would be trapped in huge debts.

 

“We should avoid binary categorisations… However, a bilateral approach in developmental strategies historically does not bring back satisfactory results. Besides the Bretton Woods instruments – often enveloped in controversies, do not forget developmental champions. All of them are multilateral institutions of fair conditionalities, of balanced and transparent instruments: UNIDO, ADB, but also Islamic Development Bank, OFID or UNCTAD. If not a loan, ask them at least for advice”, prof. Anis H. Bajrektarevic reminded us recently in Kuala Lumpur at the Economic Forum.

 

Indonesia and lessons from Malaysia

The same concern is also prevalent in Indonesia, given that the country, in the midst of many of its own problems, the government seemed to be incessantly ambitious to continue to take part in the BRI. It is important to remember that currently Indonesia’s external debt has reached US$387.6 billion at the first quarter of 2019.  It consists of government and central bank external debts of US$190.5 billion that have slightly rose by 3.1 percent (year-on-year) and private external debts of US$197.1 bilion that have rocketed by 12.8 percent (year-on-year).

 

Although the ratio of Indonesia’s external debt to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is relatively safe at the level 36.9 percent and S&P Global Rating has just raised the long-term sovereign credit ratio for Indonesia from “BBB-“ to “BBB”, the Indonesia’s economic foundation is very fragile.

 

In 2018, for instance, the massive capital outflow made significant depreciation of the Rupiah against the US dollar due to the hike of Fed Fund Rates and the contagion of Turkish lira crisis. The currency hit about 15,000 rupiah against the greenbacks, the lowest level since the 1998 financial crisis, and made it one of the worst performing currencies in the region.

 

The extreme volatility of the Rupiah causes payments of interests and foreign debts more expensive. The 1998 financial crisis provided a precious experience that many companies faced default and the country’s economy experience chaos with economic growth of -13.1%. With such conditions, how come Indonesia dear to magnify its debts by signing massive BRI projects?

 

There is also a concern that the BRI projects is, instead of profiting Indonesia, putting the country at a disadvantage. One example comes from the Palembang LRT project, which has the same potential as the airport in Sri Lanka, is empty with little visitors. In fact, this project must suffer losses with an operating burden of Rp. 8.9 billion (US$618, 545) per month.

 

By looking at the fact that infrastructure projects have not been able to improve economic growth and to the gap in inequality – especially in the East – as well as various other disputes, the government’s decision to sign many BRI projects is certainly questionable. Also ironic is that the implementation of infrastructure development in Indonesia remains suffering from overt corruption practices. Instead of aiming at the welfare of society, infrastructure projects often become fields of concern for interested parties. Overall, there is a possibility that Indonesia will face Chinese debt trap is it is not careful, which would have negative impacts on the Indonesian economy.

 

The government needs to be able to make sure that participating in the BRI would not led to its loss. As what Malaysia has done, Jakarta may need to renegotiate with China on the terms and conditions of those projects. Indonesia must realise that China needs them more than they need China as the planned maritime route under the BRI would not be realised without Indonesia. Malaysian case demonstrates that negotiation is possible with China. Failure to do the above, it would not be surprising if what happened to Sri Lanka would also happen to Indonesia.

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