China’s central bank on Monday proposed replacing the US dollar as the international reserve currency with a new global system controlled by the International Monetary Fund.
The goal would be to create a reserve currency “that is disconnected from individual nations and is able to remain stable in the long run, thus removing the inherent deficiencies caused by using credit-based national currencies,” Zhou Xiaochuan, governor of the People’s Bank of China, said in an essay posted in Chinese and English on the central bank’s website.
Although Mr Zhou did not mention the US dollar, the essay gave a pointed critique of the current dollar-dominated monetary system.
“The outbreak of the [current] crisis and its spillover to the entire world reflected the inherent vulnerabilities and systemic risks in the existing international monetary system,” Mr Zhou wrote.
Analysts said the proposal was a clear indication of Beijing’s fears that actions being taken to save the domestic US economy would have a negative impact on China.
“This is a clear sign that China, as the largest holder of US dollar financial assets, is concerned about the potential inflationary risk of the US Federal Reserve printing money,” said Qu Hongbin, chief China economist for HSBC.
For now, China has little choice but to hold the bulk of its $2,000bn of foreign exchange reserves in US dollars and this is unlikely to change in the near future.
To replace the current system, Mr Zhou suggested expanding the role of Special Drawing Rights, which were introduced by the IMF in 1969 to support the Bretton Woods fixed exchange rate regime but became less relevant once that system collapsed in the 1970s.
Today, the value of SDRs is based on a basket of four currencies – US$, Yen, Euro and Pound Sterling – and they are used largely as a unit of account by the IMF and some other international organizations.
“The US dollar is still the most important currency for settling international trade, pricing and payment in the current international monetary system,” Hu Xiaolian, director of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange, which manages the country’s foreign exchange reserves, said at a press conference earlier in the day. “Investing in US Treasury bonds is an important element in China’s forex reserve investment and we will continue this practice.”
China’s proposal would expand the basket of currencies forming the basis of SDR valuation to all major economies and set up a settlement system between SDRs and other currencies so they could be widely used in international trade and financial transactions.
Countries would entrust a portion of their SDR reserves to the IMF to manage collectively on their behalf and SDRs would gradually replace existing reserve currencies.
Mr Zhou said the proposal would require “extraordinary political vision and courage” and explicitly acknowledged a debt to the theories of John Maynard Keynes, who made a similar suggestion in the 1940s.
More recently, US economist and Nobel prize winner Joseph Stiglitz, who is visiting China this week, has suggested expanding the role of SDRs to lay the foundation for the creation of a world currency.
In the short term, China expects the IMF to “at least recognize and face up to the risks resulting from the existing system, conduct regular monitoring and assessment and issue timely early warnings,” Mr Zhou’s essay said.
23 Mar 2009 2:22pm
By Jamil Anderlini in Beijing
Source: The Financial Times