China has since 1994 operated some form of currency peg, harder or softer, between its yuan and the U.S. dollar. While China’s state-run Xinhua news agency has in recent years railed against U.S. management of the dollar, and has called for “a new, stable, and secured global reserve currency,” this week’s Geo-Graphic illustrates why China has little incentive to press for such a thing.
During the 1956 Suez crisis the Eisenhower administration threatened to create a sterling crisis in order to force Britain out of Egypt. A collapse in sterling would have caused minimal collateral financial damage in the United States owing to trivial U.S. government holdings of British securities – amounting to just $1 per U.S. resident. In contrast, China’s holdings of U.S. securities today amount to over $1,000 per Chinese resident. Any major fall in demand for dollar-denominated assets would cause a collapse in the global purchasing power of China’s massive dollar hoard.
For its part, the United States finds congenial a world in which a dollar sent to China for cheap goods comes back overnight in the form of a near-zero interest loan, which can then be recycled through the U.S. financial system to create yet more cheap credit.
Neither partner in this monetary marriage is, therefore, likely to file for divorce any time soon.
Steil: Red White
Steil: The Battle of Bretton Woods
Eichengreen: Exorbitant Privilege
Treasury: Report on Foreign Portfolio Holdings of U.S. Securities
Xinhua: U.S. Must Address Its Chronic Debt Problems