Geolocated Dataset of Chinese Overseas Development Finance

Photo by Luca Bravo via Unsplash.

China is now the world’s largest source of bilateral development finance and will likely continue to play a prominent role in sovereign lending through its multi-billion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

A new journal article published in Nature’s Scientific Data by a team of Boston University Global Development Policy Center researchers introduces major methodological enhancements in tracking China’s overseas development finance, including:

  • The use of an original application programming interface (API) to gathers news in multiple languages;
  • Double verification of every record to ensure every finance commitment has been formalized;
  • Visual geo-location to trace the precise footprint, or location, of every project.

This peer-reviewed research outlines the data collection and verification process for the dataset behind the China’s Overseas Development Finance Database, launched in December 2020 by the Boston University Global Development Policy Center. Within the dataset, 862 finance commitments to 94 countries have been identified and verified, with 669 of them geo-located.

Covering the years 2008–2019 to enable analysis before and after the announcement of the BRI, the dataset enables economic, environmental and social analyses with high-precision spatial accuracy, as well as spatiotemporal monitoring by project stakeholders and enhanced planning by project managers.

The data compilation and double verification process is summarized in Figure 1, below:

Figure 1: Process of Compiling and Validating Records of China’s Overseas Development Finance

Note: Numbers indicate sequential steps, as described in the text. Projects and amounts listed correspond to the observations in each source that would qualify for inclusion in the present dataset: sovereign finance commitments of $25 million or more, by the China Development Bank or the Export-Import Bank of China, between 2008 and 2019. The sum for Horn et al. (2019) reflects total debt from all Chinese lenders. The number of World Bank-reported projects reflects all named projects in the geo-located dataset. n.a. denotes data that is unavailable because it is not collected by the individual sources. Source: Ray, et al.; Nature’s Scientific Data.

Aiming to provide evidence-supported data to build an empirically based understanding of Chinese overseas development finance, the double verification process grants all scholars and stakeholders the confidence that every record in the dataset does indeed exist.

To read about the risks to global biodiversity and Indigenous lands from China’s overseas development finance, see the September 2021 journal article published in Nature Ecology & Evolution.

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