【英语财经】人民币国际化中的矛盾 China’s paradoxical push to build a global currency

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2014-6-20 06:18

小艾摘要: We hate you guys.” This was how Luo Ping, a senior official at the China Banking Regulatory Commission, vented his frustration at the US in 2009. He and others in China believed that, as the US Feder ...
China’s paradoxical push to build a global currency
We hate you guys.” This was how Luo Ping, a senior official at the China Banking Regulatory Commission, vented his frustration at the US in 2009. He and others in China believed that, as the US Federal Reserve printed money to resuscitate American demand, the value of China’s vast US Treasury bond holdings would plunge along with the dollar. “Once you start issuing $1tn-$2tn?.?.?.?we know the dollar is going to depreciate so we hate you guys – but there is nothing much we can do,” Mr Luo told a New York audience.

These frustrations have been catalysts of great change. The authoritarian rulers of 1.3bn people felt an imperative to reassert control. Imbued with the resentful narrative of a “century of national humiliation”, they felt the prospect of the US squandering Chinese wealth was an indignity too far. In response, Beijing decided to hasten the promotion of the renminbi as a global currency. That way China’s exporters could earn “redbacks” rather than greenbacks, allowing their revenues to be invested at home rather than recycled into US Treasuries – the only pool of dollar liquidity big and safe enough to absorb significant investments from China’s reserves (which rose to $3.95tn at the end of March).

Therefore, the genesis of renminbi internationalisation, which will be a key theme during the UK visit this week of Prime Minister Li Keqiang, is indivisible from China’s aspiration to blaze its own trail rather than integrate into a Pax Americana in whose creation it had no say.

The scheme is showing signs of success. Financial capitals are competing for a slice of the fast-growing market in offshore renminbi. London plans to underline its credentials by designating China Construction Bank as a clearing bank for the currency. This should make trading in renminbi more efficient, more liquid and less risky. It could also attract Chinese companies keen to invest in Europe, and make it easier for investors to enter China’s capital markets.

The use of renminbi as a global payments currency is growing rapidly, though from a small base. In April it was the seventh most used currency, with 1.4 per cent of transfers, up from 0.6 per cent in January 2013, according to Swift, the international payments network. In the US the redback is also gaining a following, with the value of renminbi payments between the US and the rest of the world rising 327 per cent in April, compared with the value in April 2013.

At times, adopting the renminbi is portrayed as a snub to the US. Russian politicians have called for a “de-dollarisation” of their economy after sanctions imposed by the US and EU in response to Moscow’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea.

Such are the easy wins. Creating a genuine world currency will be much harder, rubbing up against the central paradox of China’s emergence: its political system relies on control while acceptance into global free markets needs liberalisation.

Institutions that hold renminbi have precious little scope to invest them. China has opened only tiny apertures for foreign investors in its domestic capital markets, promoting instead an offshore renminbi capital market that is as yet minuscule in comparison with its US dollar counterpart. Jonathan Anderson, economist at the Emerging Advisors Group, estimates that in mid-2013 total capital market assets freely available to international investors in US dollars were worth $55tn; in euros, $29tn; in yen, $17tn; and, in sterling, $9tn. The renminbi offered a mere $250bn. “That is about 0.1 per cent of the global market, putting the renminbi on a par with the Philippine peso and just a bit higher than the Peruvian nuevo sol,” Mr Anderson wrote.

Of course, Beijing could throw open its capital markets but doing so might leave it at the mercy of the type of capital outflow that precipitated the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s. It would also require the opening up of its state-owned banks, local government bond issuers and state companies to scrutiny from foreign investors.

So reasserting one form of control would entail sacrificing another: winning a measure of freedom from the “dollar zone” and the concurrent influence of the Fed would imply inviting in the oversight of global capitalism, the rules of which were written under Pax Americana.

“我们讨厌你们这些家伙。”2009年中国银监会(CBRC)高官罗平在发泄自己对美国的不满时如是说。他和中国其他一些人相信,随着美联储(Fed)为恢复美国需求而增印钞票,中国所持有的大量美国国债会和美元一道贬值。罗平对一批纽约听众说:“一旦你们启动1万亿至2万亿美元的印钞……我们就知道美元会贬值,因此我们讨厌你们这些家伙,但我们没有办法。”

这些不满成为中国发生巨变的催化剂。这个拥有13亿国民的政府感到了重新掌握控制权的必要性。“百年国耻”这一充满愤怒的说法深入他们的内心,他们一想到美国有可能挥霍中国的财富就倍感侮辱。对此,中国政府决定加快推进人民币的全球化。这样中国的出口企业就可以赚回人民币而不是美元,于是它们的收入就能投到国内,而不必重新流入美国国债——这是唯一一个流动性和安全性都高到足以吸收中国外汇储备大量投资的美元资产池。今年3月末中国的外汇储备攀升至3.95万亿美元。

因此,人民币国际化(中国总理李克强本周访英的一个关键主题)的起因,脱离不了中国对开辟自己道路的渴望,它不愿融入“美国治下的和平”(Pax Americana),毕竟它在其中没有发言权。

中国人的计划正显露出成功的迹象。全球金融资本都争着想在快速增长的人民币离岸市场上分一杯羹。伦敦想通过指定中国建设银行(CCB)为人民币清算银行来凸显自己的资格。此举应会令人民币交易的效率和流动性增加,风险减少。这还能吸引渴望在欧洲投资的中国公司,也能让投资者更方便地进入中国资本市场

人民币作为全球支付货币的使用量增长迅速,尽管基数很小。根据国际支付系统Swift的数据,今年4月人民币成为全球第七大支付货币,在所有转账支付中占1.4%,而2013年1月这个比例只有0.6%。人民币在美国也获得青睐,今年4月美国与其他国家之间的人民币支付价值与去年同期相比增长了327%。

使用人民币有时会被描绘为对美国的冷落。俄罗斯吞并乌克兰的克里米亚后招致欧美制裁,俄国政客们遂呼吁本国经济“去美元化”。

这些都是人民币全球化相对容易取得的进展。但创造一个名副其实的世界货币要困难得多,它会与中国崛起的核心矛盾发生摩擦:其政治体制依赖于管控,而被全球自由市场接受则需要自由化。

人民币持有机构鲜有将所持人民币投出去的机会。中国在国内资本市场只为外国投资者开了一个小孔,却努力推进人民币离岸资本市场的发展,而与美元资本市场相比,它的规模仍微不足道。Emerging Advisors Group的经济学家乔纳森?安德森(Jonathan Anderson)估计,2013年年中,可供全球投资者自由投资的资本市场总资产中,美元资产总价值为55万亿美元,欧元资产总价值为29万亿美元,日元资产总价值为17万亿美元,英镑资产总价值为9万亿美元。而人民币资产总价值仅为2500亿美元。安德森写道:“这一数额约为全球市场的0.1%,令人民币的地位与菲律宾比索差不多,仅略高于秘鲁的新索尔。”

当然,中国政府可以敞开国内资本市场的大门,但这样或许会使它遭遇严重的资本外逃,这样的资本外逃曾引发20世纪90年代末的亚洲金融危机。而且中国的国有银行、地方政府发债机构和国有企业也要向外国投资者开放监督。

因此,想要重获某种控制权就必须牺牲另一种:赢得脱离“美元区”及美联储影响的一定自由,就意味着邀请全球资本主义的监督,而后者的种种规则正是在“美国治下的和平”框架下制定的。

注:作者是英国《金融时报》副主编、新兴市场编辑。

译者/曲雯雯

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