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Chopping away local debts of China

By Li Hong (People's Daily Online)

15:06, August 15, 2011

The fear over China's local government debts to continue ballooning and endangering financial stability is overblown, for policy-makers in Beijing will never lose sight of the debts and loosen stern control of them.

Ordered by Premier Wen Jiabao, the National Audit Office had looked into the balance sheets of all the country's local governments of provinces, cities and counties. The lid was lifted: A total of 10.7 trillion yuan ($1.7 trillion) was borrowed, with bank loans making a lion's share.

The latest news from the authorities in Beijing says that 4.6 trillion yuan, or about 40 percent, is due in 2011 and 2012. Others will extend to as faraway as 2018, so it won't be a big problem of repayment. The Central Government has garnered sufficient ammunitions in store to meet timely payment and prevent a default from crippling bank security and economic growth.

The options on the table include: Local governments are asked to develop new revenue sources including selling lands and locally-owned properties to meet the arrears; and if necessary, individual provinces could apply to the Ministry of Finance for a sale of local government bonds.

Unlike the bulk of foreign countries, Beijing has centralized issuance of securities since 1949. Stripping local governments' rights of selling debts, China has always been on a solid financial base and averted the debt woes now sweeping city halls in the Western developed countries.

Not all of the local government debts will end in bad loans for China's lenders, as many projects funded by past borrowings, including the state-of-the-art high-speed trains and inter-province freeways, are expected to generate stable incomes, which will flow back to service bank loans.

Some overseas commentators are making a big mountain fuss out of a mole, alleging China's bank system would be brought to the ground by the amassing local debts. About a month ago, some investment banks and hedge funds even began to short the second largest economy and the yuan – China's currency.

The speculations have been proved ill founded and died out amid the churning debt tempests in the United States and Europe. Most experts would agree that, as compared with the U.S. and European fiscal woes, China's is just too little.

One fact is very assuring. China's Central Government is well budgeted and its economy is humming. The monthly revenue has arrived at nearly one trillion yuan now. Whenever a locality needs urgent help, the national coffers could come for a perfect bailout.

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