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World Bank adopts US$1.5b annual China lending plan over US objections

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Mr Mnuchin wants the World Bank to "graduate" China from its concessional loan programmes.

Washington

THE World Bank said that its board on Thursday has adopted a new plan to aid China with US$1-1.5 billion in low-interest loans annually till June 2025, despite the objections of US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and several US lawmakers.

Mr Mnuchin told a House Financial Services Committee hearing that the Treasury's representative on the board had objected on to the plan on Wednesday, adding that he wants the World Bank to "graduate" China from its concessional loan programmes for low- and middle-income countries.

The five-year lending strategy plan was published on Thursday afternoon (Friday morning, Singapore time) after the World Bank's board "expressed broad support" for the multilateral development lender's engagement in China's structural and environmental reforms.

The World Bank said that its lending would decline over the "country partnership framework" plan, in line with reforms agreed under a US$13 billion capital increase agreed in 2018.

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The World Bank loaned China US$1.3 billion in the fiscal 2019 year ended June 30, down from about US$2.4 billion during fiscal 2017.

The new plan calls for lending to "gradually decline" from the previous five-year average of US$1.8 billion.

"Lending levels may fluctuate up and down from year to year due to normal pipeline management based on project readiness," the World Bank said in its plan.

It added that Beijing had requested continued financing from the World Bank's International Bank for Reconstruction and Development division "as platforms for reform, institution building and knowledge transfer".

But the decline in lending is not fast enough for Mr Mnuchin, who has argued that China is too wealthy for such international aid when it is lending hundreds of billions of dollars of its own to poor countries through its Belt and Road infrastructure drive.

US lawmakers are also increasingly expressing concerns that US taxpayer funds loaned through the World Bank to China will enable human rights abuses and unfair economic competition with the US.

In Senate floor remarks on Thursday, Senate Finance Committee chairman Charles Grassley cited alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang associated with detention camps for Muslim Uighurs in criticising the World Bank lending plan.

"The World Bank, using American tax dollars, should not be lending to wealthy countries that violate the human rights of their citizens and attempt to dominate weaker countries either militarily or economically," Mr Grassley said.

Representative Anthony Gonzalez, a Republican from Ohio who has introduced legislation to curb World Bank funding to China, added: "For me, even a dollar is too much for our taxpayers to be contributing to China."

Although the US holds an effective veto power over major board decisions such as capital increases and leadership appointments, the latest China lending plan did not require a formal vote.

Mr Mnuchin told lawmakers that he expected the World Bank's lending to China to fall below US$1 billion during the current fiscal year, with more repayment funds flowing back to the lender from China than loan funds going out.

The World Bank said that the lending to China in the five-year plan would be aimed at advancing market and fiscal reforms to encourage private sector development; promoting greener growth by reducing pollution and reducing carbon emissions; and increasing Chinese citizens' access to health and social services. REUTERS

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