Steep commercial terms for China's investment in infrastructure projects across Eurasia related to its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) may give it control of key ports and other assets. However, the recipients of Beijing's supposed largess regularly find themselves trapped in debt.

That unwelcome outcome comes with a triple price tag for China itself: The first is potentially rising anti-Chinese sentiment, the second an ever more intense questioning of Chinese intentions, and third, a tarnishing of the benevolent image that China is so eager to cultivate.

Cynically dubbed debt-trap diplomacy, multiple countries along China's BRI risk financial crisis. The Washington-based Center for Global Development recently warned that 23 of the 68 countries involved were "significantly or highly vulnerable to debt distress."