On the eve of U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to China, a major Chinese official has criticized U.S. monetary policy in unusually harsh language. Liu Mingkang, China Banking Regulatory Commission chairman said the zero interest rate policy of the U.S. Federal Reserve posed a “new systemic risk.”
Liu, using language reminiscent of warnings by NYU economist Nouriel Roubini and speaking at a financial forum in China’s capital Beijing, said:
This situation has already encouraged a huge dollar carry trade and had a massive impact on global asset prices… It is boosting speculative investment in stock and property markets and will pose new, insurmountable risks to the global recovery and, particularly, to the recovery in emerging markets.
In my view, this is pure political posturing by the Chinese in order to defuse any U.S. criticisms of Beijing’s currency peg. Call it a pre-emptive strike. The U.S. has seen the unemployment rate rise to 10.2% and the trade deficit rise quite dramatically as well. Many are blaming the Chinese and their currency peg to the U.S. dollar.
When Barack Obama visits China this week, the Chinese expect him to focus on the yuan dollar peg. His administration will find it increasingly difficult to hold protectionist pressures at bay given the yuan’s firm peg to the U.S. dollar even while the dollar has plummeted. To prevent the U.S. from successfully painting the Chinese peg as the sole major risk to the global economic recovery, the Chinese must therefore point to the destabilizing effects from measures taken by the U.S. to reflate its domestic economy.
The Chinese have shown success thus far. Last week, Tim Geithner penned an Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal along with the Finance Ministers of Indonesia and Singapore which pointed a critical finger at China by asking for “market-oriented exchange rates.” Yet when the APEC (Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation) summit in Singapore ended that same language was cut from the final commiunique.
On the other hand, there has been little change in the prospects of a revaluation of the yuan peg.
Chinese Vice Commerce Minister Chen Jian on Sunday played down talk of a shift in the central bank’s currency policy as well as mounting expectations of a rise in the yuan’s exchange rate.
Speculation that China might let the yuan resume its climb after a 16-month pause swirled after a change last Wednesday in the long-standing wording used by the People’s Bank of China to describe its currency stance.
In its third quarter monetary policy report, the central bank failed to refer to keeping the yuan "basically stable at a reasonable and balanced level" when discussing the outlook for the exchange rate.
Asked whether the PBOC was heralding a return to the gradual appreciation of the yuan against the dollar seen from July 2005-July 2008, Chen told Reuters: "I don’t think the central bank meant to say that."
And all indications suggest that we are now returning to the same unbalanced pre-crisis growth model – but with the global economy in a considerably more fragile state. In this climate, the issues of the yuan currency peg and low interest rates in the U.S. will continue to be front and center for some time to come.