Global Political Economy: China Seminar - International Competition and the Stalemate in Sovereign Debt Restructuring

POLIS is delighted to bring you this fourth seminar of its Global Political Economy series! This event is the fourth of five seminars focussing on China and the GPE.

Friday 15th March | SR 2.06 Baines Wing | Online (Zoom) | 3pm – 4.30pm (GMT)

Speaker: Professor Lee Jones (Queen Mary University of London)

‘International Competition and the Stalemate in Sovereign Debt Restructuring: From the Age of Choice to the Age of Choke’


Until recently, sovereign borrowers in the Global South were supposedly enjoying an unprecedented ‘age of choice’, as geopolitical competition between lenders allowed them to extract better terms. Today, many developing countries face a looming debt crisis. Many financing options have dried up, while debt restructuring talks have often stalled, compounding debtors’ misery. This is frequently attributed to geopolitical rivalry among creditors, reflecting China’s rise as a sovereign lender. But why should competition between providers, once supposedly a boon for borrowers, now be a bane? This article explains, by switching an inadequate geopolitics lens for a political economy analysis. We argue that the earlier expansion lending was primarily driven not by geopolitical contestation but by prevailing politico-economic conditions within China and on international financial markets amid US-led quantitative easing, and facilitated by China’s fragmented internal governance. As economic conditions changed, financing dried up and creditors scrambled to secure a return on their loans. Today, China’s chief competitors are not Western states, but rival lenders: commercial bondholders and multilateral development banks. Given China’s fragmented governance, Chinese lenders’ commercial motives primarily drive its behaviour, not geopolitical objectives.

Lee Jones is Professor of Political Economy and International Relations at Queen Mary University of London. His research focuses on political economy, security, governance, sovereignty and intervention, particularly in East Asia. Jones’s current research focuses on Chinese development financing, Western attempts to compete with China, and the global debt crisis. He is co-author of Fractured China: Exploring How State Transformation is Shaping China’s Rise (Cambridge University Press, 2021, with Shahar Hameiri) and The Political Economy of Southeast Asia: Politics and Markets Under Hyperglobalisation (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020, with Toby Carroll and Shahar Hameiri). His most recent book is Taking Control: Sovereignty and Democracy after Brexit (Polity, 2023, co-authored with Philip Cunliffe, George Hoare and Peter Ramsay).

This event will be hosted in a hybrid manner. The in-person venue is in SR 2.06 in the Baines Wing, University of Leeds. Refreshments and snacks will be provided.

Attendance is also welcome online via the Zoom link. (Meeting ID: 895 101 4913 | Passcode: 5pWW^C)