When China unleashed the largest stimulus package in its history in response to the 2008 crisis and slowing export markets in the west, it came at a price. Today China is grappling with a bill that some economists say has driven total debt to gross domestic product past 200 percent.
While China offers the most extreme example of using debt to fund growth, it is a pattern that has been repeated across Asia. Without exports, central banks turned on the taps, leading to a jump in household and corporate borrowing.
Now, as the US Federal Reserve considers a reversal of its ultra-loose monetary policy, the region faces a new challenge: coping with life after debt. And as investors gauge the impact of that transition, the ghosts of the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis have been reawakened.
"All this QE [quantitative easing] money has lead to a massive credit inflation bubble in Asia," said Kevin Lai, chief regional economist at Daiwa Securities. "The crime has been committed, we just have to deal with the aftermath. During that process there will be a lot of damage . . . It's like a margin call. Households will need to sell their assets. There will be a lot of wealth destruction."