Report to Congress on China’s Global Investment

February 23, 2024 11:09 AM

The following is the Feb. 22, 2024, Congressional Research Service In Focus report, China’s Global Investments: Data and Transparency Challenges.

From the report

During the past 20 years, the People’s Republic of China (PRC or China) has significantly increased its investment overseas. In 1999, China launched its “Go Global Strategy” to support the expansion of Chinese firms abroad and make them more globally competitive. Since then, these firms—many of which are closely tied to the PRC government—have acquired foreign assets and pledged billions of dollars to finance infrastructure abroad. Many in Congress and the Biden Administration are focusing on the critical implications of China’s growing global economic reach for U.S. economic and geopolitical strategic interests.

International analysts are divided on the nature of Chinese activities. Some argue that these activities are primarily commercial. Others contend that the surge in global economic activity is largely directed and funded by the state as part of a concerted effort to bolster China’s position as a global power and support PRC industrial and foreign policy objectives. A number of U.S. policymakers also have grown concerned about the terms of China’s economic engagements and how PRC overseas lending may create unsustainable debt burdens for some countries. There is also concern that the bulk of China’s lending supports commercial projects that benefit the PRC state firms that often implement them, sometimes to the disadvantage of host-country businesses and workers.

Data limitations, combined with the number of unknown variables that drive China’s foreign economic policy decisionmaking processes, can affect how Members of Congress perceive and address the challenges that China’s overseas economic activities pose to U.S. and global interests. These limitations and uncertainties also complicate efforts to understand trends and assess the ways in which China’s global economic reach may differ from that of the United States.

Data Limitations

A major challenge when researching global investment is the accuracy, completeness, and timeliness of data and information. While this challenge is not unique to projects involving PRC actors, it is exacerbated by the nature of many Chinese projects and loans, whose terms are not always publicly available or transparent. No comprehensive, standardized, or authoritative data are available on all PRC overseas economic activities—from either the PRC government or international organizations. Numerous think tanks and private research firms have developed datasets to track overseas investment, loans, and grants by PRC-owned firms and institutions using commercial databases, news reports, and official government sources, when available. These datasets often record the value of projects, loans, and grants when commitments or pledges are publicly announced (e.g., at press conferences). However, many of these deals may never be formalized, and if they are, project and loan details may change, and projects may not always come to fruition for various reasons (e.g., changing economic and political conditions, or concerns about sovereignty, debt structure, or environmental impact).

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