Chinese Threaten to Whack Dollar

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 8/08/2007 02:12:00 PM
Ooh...I've been waiting for this sort of news. The UK Daily Telegraph reports that Chinese officials are saber-rattling about selling off dollar reserves in the event America passes legislation leading to tariffs being imposed on Chinese goods. I know, I know; you're all probably aware of (Larry Summers') assertion that the US-China trade relationship is the "balance of financial terror" that may lead to "mutually assured financial destruction." While my belief is that both parties will be hurt, I ultimately believe that the US will be hurt more than China. While China has export markets other than the US and can even develop local Chinese consumption which remains weak, the US likely doesn't have another major creditor to take the place of China if it pulls out of its end of the Bretton Woods II arrangement.

Hillary Clinton, the most geopolitically knowledgeable of US presidential candidates (sorry Ron Paul), has already mentioned that this sort of thing would come to pass given America's dependence on the kindness of strangers to fuel its debt-fueled financial debauchery. Of course, it may be a bluff, but dang, it's a pretty formidable one. China's message is a strong one: Sammy, don't bite the hand that feeds (sorry, I can't find the original Nine Inch Nails video clip):
The Chinese government has begun a concerted campaign of economic threats against the United States, hinting that it may liquidate its vast holding of US Treasury bonds if Washington imposes trade sanctions to force a yuan revaluation.

Two Chinese officials at leading Communist Party bodies have given interviews in recent days warning, for the first time, that Beijing may use its $1,330bn (£658bn) of foreign reserves as a political weapon to counter pressure from the US Congress. Shifts in Chinese policy are often announced through key think tanks and academies.

Described as China's "nuclear option" in the state media, such action could trigger a dollar crash at a time when the US currency is breaking down through historic support levels.

It would also cause a spike in US bond yields, hammering the US housing market and perhaps tipping the economy into recession.

It is estimated that China holds more than $900bn in a mix of US bonds.

Xia Bin, finance chief at China's Development Research Centre (which has cabinet rank), kicked off what appears to be government policy, with a comment last week that Beijing's foreign reserves should be used as a "bargaining chip" in talks with the US.

"Of course, China doesn't want any undesirable phenomenon in the global financial order," he said.

He Fan, an official at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, went further yesterday, letting it be known that Beijing had the power to set off a dollar collapse, if it chose to do so.

"China has accumulated a large sum of US dollars. Such a big sum, of which a considerable portion is in US Treasury bonds, contributes a great deal to maintaining the position of the dollar as a reserve currency," he told China Daily. "Russia, Switzerland and several other countries have reduced their dollar holdings. China is unlikely to follow suit as long as the yuan's exchange rate is stable against the dollar.

"The Chinese central bank will be forced to sell dollars once the yuan appreciated dramatically, which might lead to a mass depreciation of the dollar."

The threats play into the presidential electoral campaign of Hillary Clinton, who has called for restrictive legislation to prevent America being "held hostage to economic decisions being made in Beijing, Shanghai or Tokyo". She said foreign control over 44pc of the US national debt had left America acutely vulnerable.

Simon Derrick, currency strategist at the Bank of New York Mellon, said the comments were a message to the US Senate as Capitol Hill prepares legislation for the autumn session.

"The words are alarming and unambiguous. This carries a clear political threat and could have very serious consequences at a time when the credit markets are already afraid of contagion from the sub-prime troubles," he said.

A bill drafted by a group of US senators, and backed by the Senate Finance Committee, calls for trade tariffs against Chinese goods as retaliation for alleged currency manipulation.

The yuan has appreciated 9pc against the dollar over the last two years under a crawling peg but it has failed to halt the rise of China's trade surplus, which reached $26.9bn in June.

Henry Paulson, the US Treasury secretary, said any such sanctions would undermine US authority and "could trigger a global cycle of protectionist legislation."