Beijing has lent as much as $1.5 trillion to countries struggling financially, according to AidData. Chinese financial institutions lent $1.3 trillion to developing countries between 2000 and 2021, according to a new report by AidData released this week.

The research estimates that 80% of China’s overseas lending portfolio in the developing world is currently supporting countries in financial distress. Developing countries reportedly owe Chinese lenders between $1.1 trillion and $1.5 trillion as of 2021.

AidData researchers analyzed nearly 21,000 projects in 165 low- and middle-income countries, which were financed with Chinese grants and loans between 2000 and 2021.

According to the report, China remains the world’s single largest official source of international development finance.

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“Beijing is navigating an unfamiliar and uncomfortable role – as the world’s largest official debt collector,” AidData researchers wrote, adding that the country is “increasingly behaving like an international crisis manager.”

Data shows that the cumulative number of Chinese grant- and loan-financed infrastructure projects in the developing world with significant environmental, social, or governance (ESG) risk exposure skyrocketed from 17 projects worth $420 million in 2000 to 1,693 projects worth $470 billion in 2021.

The report highlighted that China would not have become the world’s largest official creditor to the developing world – larger than the World Bank, the IMF, and all Paris Club creditors combined – if not for its massive stockpile of foreign exchange reserves. The country’s official foreign currency reserves total approximately $3.1 trillion as of 2023, according to AidData.

The study found that the destinations for Chinese overseas lending have changed. Loan commitments to African countries reportedly plunged from 31% of the total in 2018 to 12% in 2021, while lending to European countries almost quadrupled to 23%.