a close up of a map© Provided by South China Morning Post Publishers Limiteda close up of a map© Provided by South China Morning Post Publishers Limited

The head of the US government’s international finance development agency has stepped up criticism of China’s overseas investment strategy, dismissing Beijing’s efforts to give it greater legitimacy by partnering with other countries on infrastructure projects and accusing China of being “in it to grab their assets”.

Pushing back against international criticism that China’s finance model is predatory and smothers recipient countries in debt they cannot pay, Chinese officials and state media have recently scrambled to play down the geopolitical nature of the “Belt and Road Initiative”, instead focusing on sustainable development and job creation for recipient economies.

But Ray Washburne, president and CEO of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) – an intergovernmental agency that channels US private capital into overseas development projects in the form of loans, funds and political insurance – said on Wednesday that China did not appear to be changing its modus operandi.

“I haven’t seen it,” Washburne said. “[China is] not in it to help countries out, they’re in it to grab their assets.”

Washburne made the remarks at OPIC’s Washington headquarters, almost five years to the day that Chinese President Xi Jinping unveiled the “Belt and Road Initiative” – formerly “One Belt, One Road” – to build economic, political and cultural ties around Asia and beyond through state-led investment.

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Repeating criticism his agency has frequently directed towards Xi’s signature foreign policy initiative, Washburne said China was purposefully plunging recipient countries into debt, then going after “their rare earths and minerals and things like that as collateral for their loans”.

A spotlight fell on the so-called loan-to-own nature of some of…

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