The Chinese have long been using “debt diplomacy” to build their influence across the globe. And with the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic severely impacting economies everywhere to the greatest extent since the Great Depression, this is a dangerous time for underdeveloped nations to engage in large borrowing deals with the Chinese.

The leaders of the G20 have suspended principal and interest payments, for some of the poorest countries that are in economic stress due to the pandemic and in danger of defaulting on loans, through the end of 2020 at least. China has joined in on this. However, they’d never done so in the past as their predatory lending practices have made them the world’s leading loan shark nation. 

They are following the ancient Chinese stratagems that they have been following for centuries. Many have said that a number of these tactics go back to Sun Tzu and the Art of War:

 Decorate the tree with false blossoms

(樹上開花/树上开花, Shù shàng kāi huā)

Tying silk blossoms on a dead tree gives the illusion that the tree is healthy. Through the use of artifice and disguise, make something of no value appear valuable; of no threat appear dangerous; of no use appear useful.

Make the host and the guest exchange roles

(反客為主/反客为主, Fǎn kè wéi zhǔ)