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Local Government Debts in China Continue to Rise

In response to the epidemic, China’s issuance of debts has expanded. This has also led local governments to have a higher fiscal risk. Data shows that, by the end of 2020, local governments in China had a debt balance of 25.66 trillion yuan (US$3.99 trillion), with the debt ratio rising by nearly 4 percentage points over 2019.

Among the 31 provinces, Jiangsu, Shandong and Guangdong, the top 3 provinces in terms of gross domestic product (GDP), are also the regions with the largest amount of local debts. In 2020, between January and June, Jiangsu’s debt issuance reached 245.871 billion yuan (US $38.2 billion), almost the level of the entire year of 2019. Guangdong’s debt issuance in the first half of 2020 has already surpassed the total for the whole year of 2019. The speed of debt accumulation also significantly accelerated in the provinces that have a low economic ranking. For example, the size of Yunnan’s debt issuance reached 137.667 billion yuan (US$ 21.4 billion), more than double that of the same period in 2019.

The debt growth of local governments helps further promote investment but it also increases the risk of default. China stipulates that a local government’s debt ratio should not exceed 100 percent. That is, the maximum balance of local debt should not exceed the level of local fiscal capability. However, nine provinces have already exceeded the threshold of 100 percent.

Li Yang, the director of the government affiliated National Institute for Finance and Development, said that, if local governments cannot rely on their own revenues to balance their own expenditures, it is a dangerous fiscal phenomenon.

Source: Central News Agency, May 9, 2021