China’s looming debt bomb

But the loans that allowed all that spending have just 50 per cent odds of being paid back, says an independent research group that has spent years studying Caofeidian. The stakes are enormous. Caofeidian was a project of national importance for China, a “flagship,” according to Jon Chan Kung, chief researcher at Anbound, a Beijing think tank.

“If this project fails, it proves that the major model driving China’s development has also failed,” he says.

Debt now stands to undo at least some of what China’s spending has accomplished. Some of the country’s major projects have done little more than strand vast amounts of invested capital. Debt is just one of the ticking time bombs in China today. China must also cope with the fallout from slowing spending in a place where social stability has been largely defined by one thing: the non-stop accumulation of wealth.

“There will be a financial crisis. And I feel that the financial crisis is in the near term,” says Anne Stevenson Yang, co-founder of Beijing-based J Capital Research.