ALTHOUGH China's external debt is forecast to reach US$100 billion this year, China-watchers remain confident Beijing will be able to repay its loans without difficulty. They say as long as the country continues to chalk up robust economic and export growth and to increase its foreign reserves, it can still borrow more to finance its economic development without alarming international lenders. Still, they feel China should show more restraint by thoroughly screening requests for external borrowing because there is a real possibility it may not be able to keep up the breakneck pace of economic growth of previous years. ''Yes, it is not a good sign that the external debt is expanding faster than economic growth, but it is still nowhere near the dangerous level,'' says Ma Guonan, a senior economist at Peregrine Brokerage. He doubts China can maintain the impressive economic and export growth rates of the first half of this year and believes it should tighten the rules for foreign borrowing. Benny Chiu, a Hongkong Bank China Services research manager, agrees. He said: ''The debt is not of any concern. There's no debt crisis.'' In a report yesterday, the People's Bank of China predicted that the country's external debt would reach about $100 billion, up 20 per cent from last year's $83.5 billion. Analysts say China's debt problem should be seen in relation to its debt-service ratio, foreign exchange reserves, economic growth and export growth. ''What's more important should be the debt-service ratio and the government's ability to repay,'' says Mr Chiu, adding that based on these two points, there is nothing to worry about. Nomura Research Institute economist Nick Ni said: ''Although the figures appear worrisome, there shouldn't be any problem, because the Chinese Government can service the loans.'' He said the country's rising foreign exchange reserves, growing exports and tight control of foreign debt suggest that loan servicing is not a problem for China. ''Allowing enterprises to borrow [using] foreign loans is strictly controlled by the Chinese Government. Applications have to be made. ''Under the system, the government is well aware of its ability to repay foreign loans, while it approves enterprises to borrow abroad,'' he says. Mr Ni believes the release of debt figures is more or less routine. But the signals given by the figures could stop enterprises wanting to tap foreign markets, he said. ''It will serve to warn those companies of the seriousness of the national external debt and, thereby, help slow lending activities,'' he said.