Friday, December 10, 2021

Montenegro, China, and the Media: A Highway to Disinformation?

"Perast - Montenegro" by MILACHICH is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

How do Chinese banks really lend in risky countries overseas? Although no documented cases have come to light in Africa (or elsewhere), rumors that Chinese loan contracts allow China to seize land or unrelated strategic assets, like ports, as collateral for sovereign (i.e. government) loans are rife in African media and civil society.

As part of our ongoing CARI research project on Chinese lending, we published this week a detailed investigation by our European colleagues Laure Deron, Thierry Pairault, and Paola Pasquali into similar media rumors surrounding a Chinese-financed highway in the small, mountainous Eastern European nation of Montenegro. 

The Chinese loan contract for this highway has been available online.* These scholars’ detailed examination of this case sheds light on just how reporters’ lack of understanding of common legal terms, in a context where the “China threat” narrative boosts viewership, can lead to rumors like these: 

ON JUNE 21 2021, THE FRENCH PUBLIC TELEVISION channel France 2 evening news aired a report in which it was stated that Montenegro, a heavily indebted nation, was at risk of “having to cede some of its land to China” as a result of its inability to pay back a loan for the construction of a highway. According to reporters, Montenegro’s Port of Bar could be annexed by China “completely legally”, thanks to an “extraordinary contract” that had, “already [been] implemented by the Chinese in Sri Lanka or in Djibouti”. As the report further explained, Montenegro had accepted conditions “never seen before in Europe (…)”: under the contract, should it fail to pay back the loan to the Chinese bank, Montenegro would need to concede lands”. The Balkan State, allegedly, had even requested that the European Union “help pay back the Chinese, lest the latter use its territory as a repayment means”. 

Is this the case? Read on


*the English version starts on p. 50.

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