China’s debt bomb looks ready to explode

Minxin Pei is professor of government at Claremont McKenna College and a nonresident senior fellow of the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

Confidence in the safety of Chinese banks has been badly shaken by the failure of several small banks in Henan Province in April this year. In terms of their assets of about 40 billion yuan ($6 billion) and the number of customers, roughly 400,000, the shuttered rural banks are minions in China’s financial system.

The implosion of these poorly supervised and likely corruption-ridden financial institutions should not be surprising. But how local authorities handled the fallout is shocking even to the most jaded observers of China’s political scene.

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Instead of compensating the depositors, who are entitled to up to 500,000 yuan, according to government regulations, officials in Henan have done everything imaginable to silence them.

They initially restricted the movement of the depositors by turning the COVID test code on their smartphones red, which effectively made it impossible for them to take public transportation or even drive their own cars. A public outcry forced the Henan government to abandon this abusive tactic.


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