In a surprising turn of events, today's biggest piece of news received a mere two paragraph blurb on Reuters, and was thoroughly ignored by the broader media. An announcement appeared shortly after midnight on the website of the People's Bank of China.
The statement, google translated as "Pragmatic and pioneering spirit to promote cross-border renminbi business cum on monitoring and analysis to a new level" is presented below:
Reuters provides a simple translation and summary of the announcement: "China hopes to allow all exporters and importers to settle their cross-border trades in the yuan by this year, the central bank said on Wednesday, as part of plans to grow the currency's international role. In a statement on its website www.pbc.gov.cn, the central bank said it would respond to overseas demand for the yuan to be used as a reserve currency. It added it would also allow the yuan to flow back into China more easily." To all those who claim that China is perfectly happy with the status quo, in which it is willing to peg the Renmibni to the Dollar in perpetuity, this may come as a rather unpleasant surprise, as it indicates that suddenly China is far more vocal about its intention to convert its currency to reserve status, and in the process make the dollar even more insignificant.
International Business Times provides further insight:
This is all part of China’s plan for the internationalization of its currency, which may, in the decades to come, threaten the global ‘market share’ of other currencies like the US dollar.
Previously, China also announced that bilateral trades with Russia and Malaysia will begin to be conducted with the yuan and the ruble and ringgit, respectively.
Other moves on the part of China to internationalize its currency include allowing foreign companies to issue yuan-denominated bonds and relaxing rules for foreign financial institutions to access the yuan.
Aside from the efforts of the Chinese government, fundamentals also point to the increasing international popularity of the Chinese currency.
China is already the leading trade partner with Australia and Japan. It’s also the leading or a large trade partner with many of its smaller neighbors. The purpose of having foreign currencies is to conduct foreign trade and investment, so the yuan is expected to become a more attractive currency for China’s trade partners, espeically as the government continues to relax restrictions.
The reason for this dramatic move may be found in what Stephen Roach wrote a few days ago in Project Syndicate:
In early March, China’s National People’s Congress will approve its 12th Five-Year Plan. This Plan is likely to go down in history as one of China’s boldest strategic initiatives.
In essence, it will change the character of China’s economic model – moving from the export- and investment-led structure of the past 30 years toward a pattern of growth that is driven increasingly by Chinese consumers. This shift will have profound implications for China, the rest of Asia, and the broader global economy.
Like the Fifth Five-Year Plan, which set the stage for the “reforms and opening up” of the late 1970’s, and the Ninth Five-Year Plan, which triggered the marketization of state-owned enterprises in the mid-1990’s, the upcoming Plan will force China to rethink the core value propositions of its economy. Premier Wen Jiabao laid the groundwork four years ago, when he first articulated the paradox of the “Four ‘Uns’” – an economy whose strength on the surface masked a structure that was increasingly “unstable, unbalanced, uncoordinated, and ultimately unsustainable.”
The Great Recession of 2008-2009 suggests that China can no longer afford to treat the Four Uns as theoretical conjecture. The post-crisis era is likely to be characterized by lasting aftershocks in the developed world – undermining the external demand upon which China has long relied. That leaves China’s government with little choice other than to turn to internal demand and tackle the Four Uns head on.
The 12th Five-Year Plan will do precisely that, focusing on major pro-consumption initiatives. China will begin to wean itself from the manufacturing model that has underpinned export- and investment-led growth. While the manufacturing approach served China well for 30 years, its dependence on capital-intensive, labor-saving productivity enhancement makes it incapable of absorbing the country’s massive labor surplus.
Instead, under the new Plan, China will adopt a more labor-intensive services model. It will, one hopes, provide a detailed blueprint for the development of large-scale transactions-intensive industries such as wholesale and retail trade, domestic transport and supply-chain logistics, health care, and leisure and hospitality.
Obviously, a reserve currency would be not only extremely useful, but quite critical in achieving the goal of China's conversion to an inwardly focused, middle-class reliant society. And even that would not guarantee a smooth transition. However, should China really be on a path to a step function in its evolution, the shocks to the system will be massive. Roach puts this diplomatically as follows:
But there is a catch: in shifting to a more consumption-led dynamic, China will reduce its surplus saving and have less left over to fund the ongoing saving deficits of countries like the US. The possibility of such an asymmetrical global rebalancing – with China taking the lead and the developed world dragging its feet – could be the key unintended consequence of China’s 12th Five-Year Plan.
A less diplomatic version implies that the relationship between China and the US would suffer a seismic shift in which the game theoretical model of Mutual Assured Destruction, and symbiotic monetary and fiscal policies, would no longer exist, allowing China to pursue its fate completely independent of any economic shocks that the increasingly distressed United States may be going through.
And confirming that the PBoC announcement is far more serious than the amount of airtime allotted to it by the mainstream media, is the just released article in Spiegel "China Attacked the Dollar" (google translated):
The Chinese central bank surprised with a spectacular announcement: The would-be superpower wants to handle their entire future foreign trade in yuan, not in dollars. Beijing shakes America's claim to represent the key currency - with serious consequences for the U.S..
The announcement was inconspicuous , but it has the potential, to permanently change the balance of power on the world currency market: China strengthens the international role of the yuan. All exporters and importers will, this year, be allowed to settle their business with their foreign partners in Yuan, the central bank said on Wednesday in Beijing.
This will respond to the growing importance of the yuan as a global reserve currency. "The market demand for cross-border use of the yuan rises," said the central bank. The PBoC had previously tested this plan by allowing 67 000 enterprises in 20 provinces to run their business abroad in yuan. The trade volume amounted to the equivalent of €56 billion.
Now the amount of yuan to be extended, it should be handled much more business in Chinese currency - and less in the U.S. Chinese companies trade at present often in dollars, they are thus dependent on the decisions of the U.S. Federal Reserve to pay on it in a rising oil price and will have pay higher transaction fees than necessary. That should change now.
Currently, the People's Republic can hardly take yuan out of the country and even that is monitored within the boundary of all legitimate capital flows. Chinese exporters have to change a large part of their euro, yen or dollars at a fixed rate revenue in yuan. Foreign companies wishing to do business in China must do so in Yuan, they can exchange their money in the People's Republic. Tourists are allowed a maximum of 20,000 yuan and exporting. Yuan an international market can not occur - and not on supply and demand-based exchange rate.
Needless to say, should the yuan be seen increasingly as a reserve currency, all of this, and virtually everything else is about to change.
The only question is whether or not the Yuan will cement its status at the top of the currency pyramid by allowing the backing of the currency with individual or a basket of commodities. If that were to happen, it would be the last nail in the coffin of the already terminally ill dollar.