Examining World Bank Lending to China: Graduation or Modulation?

Under the World Bank’s 2018 capital agreement, borrowing countries are expected to gradually reduce their portfolios once a base income threshold—the Graduation Discussion Income (GDI)—is reached. However, the agreement also affirms the case for ongoing lending to these countries. One justification is tied to external value beyond the borrowing country’s borders (global public goods, or GPGs). Another is tied to building capacity within the borrowing country, which can mean a focus on sub-regions where poverty remains high and capacity weak. In this paper, we examine World Bank graduation policies and lending through the lens of China, which maintains a large portfolio of World Bank projects. China currently exceeds the GDI thresholds for IBRD borrowing at the national level, while income inequality within the country leaves many noncoastal provinces below the GDI per capita threshold. Aggregate and provincial-level analysis of World Bank lending in China shows that less than half of China’s portfolio comprises activities clearly linked to GPGs, while a slight majority of projects are based in provinces with per capita income below the GDI threshold. A substantial number of World Bank projects in China focus on climate change mitigation and transportation infrastructure construction, while a smaller number relate to capacity building. Overall, we find evidence that China’s borrowing is broadly consistent with the 2018 principles of institutional capacity strengthening and GPG-related engagement, although significant areas of bank engagement do not appear to fall within the parameters of these principles.


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