On this episode of the ChinaPower Podcast, we are joined by Nicholas Borst to discuss China’s debt situation and fiscal policy. He explains that China’s debt levels have increased dramatically relative to the size of the Chinese economy and China has more debt as a proportion of GDP compared to the United States. Much of the debt is concentrated in local governments, state-owned enterprises (SOEs), and real estate developers. Mr. Borst describes China’s decentralized fiscal system where the Chinese central government is fiscally conservative and local governments bear more risk and are responsible for healthcare, infrastructure, and social insurance as well as supporting key central initiatives such as the Belt and Road Initiative. Although no Chinese local government has defaulted to date, Chinese SOEs have defaulted, and their defaults have led to shocks to the Chinese market. Looking forward, Mr. Borst argues that the reforms passed at China’s recent “Two Sessions” will do little to address the root issues of China’s fiscal issues.
Nick Borst is the vice president and director of China research at Seafarer Capital Partners. Prior to joining Seafarer, he was a senior analyst at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco covering financial and economic developments in Greater China. Previously, Mr. Borst was the China program manager and a research associate at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. He also worked as an analyst at the World Bank, reviewing Chinese overseas investment projects. His research focuses on financial reform in China, investment flows between the United States and China, and China’s shadow banking system.