China has over the past few years experienced periodic outbreaks of defaults by online peer-to-peer (P2P) lending platforms, with the scale increasing each time.
Another such wave has struck in the past few weeks, with several large platforms going bankrupt. The most influential of these was Tuandai, based in Dongguan, Guangdong Province.
Following Tuandai’s default announcement, more than 1,000 investors protested in front of the Dongguan People’s Government building, where the Chinese Public Security Bureau dispatched several hundred officers to stand guard.
Since last month, P2P lending platforms are reported to have gone into default in many of China’s major cities, including Dongguan, Chengdu, Shenzhen, Hefei and Hangzhou.
The companies include KDW, Formax, Limin, Lingqianguan, Zhongjin Gold, QBM and ZCT, but the most startling is the sudden demise of Tuandai, which involved loans exceeding 14.5 billion yuan (US$2.16 billion), with 220,000 investors likely to lose money.
Tuandai started out as one of China’s Internet financial technology unicorns — start-ups valued in excess of US$1 billion.
Its chief executive officer, Tang Jun (唐軍), is a start-up mentor at an incubator for young innovators and entrepreneurs in Dongguan. Tang has received numerous official accolades and often teaches classes for people born after 1985 on how to set up and finance a company.
However, this wave of large-scale defaults might have happened because lenders have used start-ups for illegal fundraising.
P2P online lending platforms normally function as intermediaries between lenders and borrowers, while collecting a fee for the service. This mode of operation does not create much scope for large-scale defaults to occur.
However, the firms that have run into trouble were not content to just earn service fees. Some of them have used large numbers of dummy accounts to borrow money through their platforms and divert it to other purposes, while continually taking out new loans to repay old ones.
To borrow money, they have to attract lenders by offering higher interest rates, but any Ponzi scheme is bound to collapse eventually.
In theory, P2P lending is good for lender and borrower, because it enables them to save on the operational costs involved in bank loans. This allows lenders to earn a higher rate of interest than they would from a bank deposit, while borrowers pay a lower rate of interest than they would on a bank loan.
However, because of a lack of supervision in China, lending platforms are not transparent and can be turned into cash machines for their operators.
In a chain reaction over 42 days following last year’s Dragon Boat Festival, 104 P2P platforms were hit by defaults, with 7 trillion yuan in loans disappearing and tens of thousands of people losing their money.
Now that benchmark company Tuandai has declared that it is in default, it remains to be seen whether this will induce lenders on other platforms to demand their money back, or whether it will trigger a new wave of defaults or sets off wider sociopolitical repercussions.
Honda Chen is an associate research fellow at the Taiwan Academy of Banking and Finance.
Translated by Julian Clegg
China has long sought shortcuts to developing semiconductor technologies and local supply chains by poaching engineers and experts from Taiwan and other nations. It is also suspected of stealing trade secrets from Taiwanese and US firms to fulfill its ambition of becoming a major player in the global semiconductor industry in the next decade. However, it takes more than just money and talent to build a semiconductor supply chain like the one which Taiwan and the US started to cultivate more than 30 years ago. Amid rising trade and technology tensions between the world’s two biggest economies, Beijing has become
With a new White House document in May — the “Strategic Approach to the People’s Republic of China” — the administration of US President Donald Trump has firmly set its hyper-competitive line to tackle geoeconomic and geostrategic rivalry, followed by several reinforcing speeches by Trump and other Cabinet-level officials. By identifying China as a near-equal rival, the strategy resonates well with the bipartisan consensus on China in today’s severely divided US. In the face of China’s rapidly growing aggression, the move is long overdue, yet relevant for the maintenance of the international “status quo.” The strategy seems to herald a new
To say that this year has been eventful for China and the rest of the world would be something of an understatement. First, the US-China trade dispute, already simmering for two years, reached a boiling point as Washington tightened the noose around China’s economy. Second, China unleashed the COVID-19 pandemic on the world, wreaking havoc on an unimaginable scale and turning the People’s Republic of China into a common target of international scorn. Faced with a mounting crisis at home, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) rashly decided to ratchet up military tensions with neighboring countries in a misguided attempt to divert the
Toward the end of former president Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) final term in office, there was much talk about his legacy. Ma himself would likely prefer history books to enshrine his achievements in reducing cross-strait tensions. He might see his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) in Singapore in 2015 as the high point. However, given his statements in the past few months, he might be remembered more for contributing to the breakup of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). We are still talking about Ma and his legacy because it is inextricably tied to the so-called “1992 consensus” as the bedrock of his