Global Development Institute Blog

The China in Europe Research Network (CHERN) has released their call for applications for 2020.

Each year the network issues calls for applications (what they refer to as ‘Short Term Scientific Missions’ (STSMs)) across its five working groups, for a PhD student or Postdoc to visit another institution and work with a member of the network for several weeks on a piece of research.

Dr Nick Jepson is leading one such working group on finance and is keen for high quality applications from candidates interested in visiting the Global Development Institute at The University of Manchester (UK) to work on a grant proposal, the focus of which would be on Chinese loans to European Countries. The duration is expected to be for around 3 weeks in September/October 2020. Full details can be found below:

Description of the topic:

One of the aims of CHERN Working group 3 (Financial investments, services and speculation) consists in mapping the nature, extent and geography of financial flows and linkages between China and Europe. China is now a major bilateral creditor worldwide, via its two official ‘policy banks’- China Development Bank (CDB) and China Export Import Bank (CHEXIM). CDB and CHEXIM loans to European states have becoming increasingly common in recent years, typically financing transport, energy and industrial projects, with the majority of loans going to non-EU Central and Eastern European states. Reported examples include $14.5bn for natural gas development in Russia, $3bn to Ukraine for agricultural projects and $1.3bn for coal power plants in Bosnia & Herzegovina, as well as $7.8bn for a nuclear plant in the UK. However, neither CDB nor CHEXIM releases detailed information on the amounts nor terms of their international loans and while borrowing states report their Chinese debts to the World Bank, this data is not made public.

Meanwhile, rising levels of external public debt, particularly across EMDEs (emerging markets and developing economies) are a major concern, compounded by the economic impacts of COVID-19. Bilateral debts to China play a prominent role in such worries, in part because China is not a member of the Paris Club of sovereign creditors- and thus stands outside existing mechanisms for debt restructuring in cases where borrowing countries struggle to repay their loans. In part too, the absence of reliable information on Chinese lending patterns has helped to fuel speculation that China may be practicing ‘debt trap diplomacy’- providing deliberately unsustainable amounts of credit in an effort to gain economic and political leverage (or perhaps seize strategic assets) when borrowers then fall into debt distress.

Because we lack official sources on CDB and CHEXIM loans, several teams of researchers have attempted to fill the gap via data collection efforts which cross-reference media reports (from both China and borrowing countries), central banks and ministries of finance. Only one of these, hosted by AidData at the College of William & Mary in the US, attempts to be geographically comprehensive (and thus is the only one to include loans to European states). However, AidData only covers the period up to 2014 (and thus ends just a year after the announcement of the Belt and Road Initiative). It has also been criticised for inaccuracies, which perhaps stem from its attempt at worldwide coverage as opposed to regional specialisation. Other, regionally focused projects exist which are able to employ greater specialist expertise (SAIS-CARI at Johns Hopkins for Africa, the China-Latin America Finance Database at Boston University and Chinese Aid in the Pacific, hosted by the Lowy Institute). But we lack an equivalent comprehensive database of Chinese loans to Europe. The aim of this STSM will be to prepare and submit an application for funding to construct such a database.


The STSM will involve a collaborative effort between the host and visiting researcher in order to:

  • Investigate funding sources. The most likely source of funding for the project is the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation’s Database Grant (which awards up to EUR120000 over three years), though alternatives and the possibility of matching funds from other sources will be explored.
  • Seek international partners for the bid (especially in China and/or Taiwan).
  • Analyse comparable projects on other world regions and build an overall methodological framework for the project, including an overview of methods for data collection and use of sources.
  • Identify needs in terms of costs- research assistants, website building and hosting, potentially fieldwork aimed at verifying loan details in specific states.
  • Prepare and submit a grant bid.

Expected results:

  • A completed grant bid for constructing the database
  • A short policy brief on official Chinese finance in Europe

Special criteria:

  • Expertise in the political economy of Central and Eastern Europe is desirable.
  • Some knowledge of official Chinese lending practices and/or global financial governance is preferred. Facility in Chinese language would be an advantage but is not required.

To apply or for more information please contact Nick Jepson (

The other four working groups, where they are based and who to contact can be found below: topics:

  • Mapping of Chinese investments in Europe’s agriculture and food sector, Department of Government and Polities, University College Cork (Ireland), Niall Duggan (
  • Chinese FDI in Renewables in Europe, Università di Pavia- Pavia (Italy), Roberta Rabellotti
  • Chinese construction projects in the Balkans: a baseline study, Institute of Economic Sciences, Belgrade (Serbia), Elena Jovičić,,
  • Chinese elite migrants in Europe, Iscte-Instituto Universitário de Lisboa/ Cies-Iscte (Portugal), Sofia Gaspar (

Application Process

The list of supporting documents to be submitted for the evaluation includes:

  • The submitted STSM application form (downloadable when the online application is submitted – see point 3 above) including also motivation and workplan summary highlighting the proposed contribution to the scientific objectives of the CHERN COST Action and the general activities of the host institution;
  1. A letter of support and a written agreement from the home Institution;
  2. A Full CV (including a list of academic publications – if applicable). The CV must include the award date of the applicants PhD and their current position.

The applications will then be assessed by the CHERN STSM Committee and researchers affiliated to the Host institutions.

  • The applicant will be formally notified of the outcome of their STSM application by the STSM Coordinator by 05/09/2020.
  • Within 30 days from the end date of the STSM, the successful applicant must submit a scientific report to the Host institution and to STSM Coordinator Martina Bofulin. The template for the scientific report is accessible at e-COST application for STSM. The applicant is also responsible for acquiring an official acceptance letter / Email confirmation of acceptance from a senior Researcher affiliated to the Host institution formally accepting the scientific report. This formal acceptance of the scientific report has to be sent to the Grant Holder and STSM Coordinator for archiving purposes.
  • In addition to the above requirements by the COST Association and the host institution, the grantee will be required to contribute to the CHERN blog.

Failure to submit the scientific report within 30 days from the end date of the STSM will effectively cancel the grant.

Also note that Grant holder or Cost Association cannot be considered grantee’s employer. Grantees must take care of their own health security, social security, safety provisions, taxation.


Deadline for applications to be submitted: 15/08/2020

Notification of application outcome: 05/09/2020

Period of STSM: between 15/09/2020 and 31/12/2020 (depending on the individual STSM)

Submitting the reports: within 30 days from the end date

Accepting/ rejecting the reports: within 2 weeks after submission of the report

Execution of the payment of the grant: within 4 weeks after submission of the report.

Covid-19 notification

As different countries are implementing different measures regarding border-crossing within Europe, STSMs applicants are advised to check individual country stipulations when applying to the present call as well as be in regular contact with the host institution prior to the STSM commencement.

COST Action CA18215 cannot be held responsible for any country limitation that would prevent effective participation to the CHERN STSM. It also cannot be liable for any costs incurred due to host and/or home country imposed quarantine due to COVID-19.