He just worked for three weeks straight, says Christoph Trebesch; now he finally has some time to think again – and to spend more time with his children. He recently submitted a grant application to the European Research Council, into which he “threw everything he had”. Trebesch hopes to receive funding approval. The 42-year-old economist is a renowned expert on debt crises – a topic that receives far too little media attention.
Since 2017, Trebesch has headed the research field of International Financial Markets and Macroeconomics at the Kiel Institute for the World Economy. At Kiel University, he teaches as a professor of macroeconomics. In recent years, he has focused particularly on China’s lending policies. Currently, he is concerned with the question of political power in the financial system. His new research agenda revolves around the question of what new world order the rise of China will bring about, Trebesch tells us. This is also what his research proposal is about.
Understanding China’s economic rise
While the US-dominated international system slowly erodes, world events are increasingly shifting toward Asia, according to Trebesch – with China playing the decisive role in this shift. The big question, according to the academic, is: Is the world becoming even more globalized thanks to China? Or will it break up into different spheres of influence again? “What’s next? This is the question that drives me,” says Trebesch.
The Kiel economist also sees research on China as an obligation: “For a country to develop such a large international footprint in such a short time is rare in history – and incredibly impressive.” As an economist, he says, he simply has to look to China – also because there is still far too little understanding of how China, as a state-governed system, was able to achieve so much economic success, contrary to popular belief. Moreover, researchers know far too little about how China’s growth model works within the country and where its risks lie. There is hardly any transparency and little data: “We are still poking around in the fog far too much.”
Research focus on debt crises
His fascination with international issues dates back to his youth, Trebesch says. “Looking outward was something I was born with.” As a diplomat’s child, he realized early on that Germany and Europe are not the center of the world. Trebesch was born in Brussels and grew up in Bonn and Rome. In Berlin, he first studied business administration at the Technical University, then economics at the Free University. Trebesch gained international recognition with his research on historical debt crises and debt cuts; during the Greek financial crisis, Trebesch was therefore in great demand.
With the onset of China’s lending boom, Trebesch began to shift his focus to its effects and made an international name for himself in this area as well. Although he has been conducting intensive research on China for several years, Trebesch has never been to the country himself. That almost embarrasses him, he says. Because he has actually wanted to go for a long time. “But first the births of our three children got in the way. And then Covid came along.” So his first trip to China will have to wait. Adrian Meyer