Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Is China really opening the capital account?

Martin Wolf tells us in a recent column that China is opening up its capital account, according to a report from the People’s Bank of China, and that it is taking a gradual approach. Reform will be in three steps:
"The first, to occur over the next three years, would clear the path for more Chinese investment abroad as ‘the shrinkage of western banks and companies has vacated space for Chinese investments’ and so presented a ‘strategic opportunity’. The second phase, in between three and five years, would accelerate foreign lending of the renminbi. In the longer term, over five to 10 years, foreigners could invest in Chinese stocks, bonds and property. Free convertibility of the renminbi would be the ‘last step’, to be taken at an unspecified time."
Wait what? What this says is that they are going to lend more in yuan, given the retreat of American and European banks, and will eventually allow some amount of foreign ownership of assets denominated in yuan. This, by the way, is just trying to expand the international role of the yuan, something aptly called the yuan diplomacy by Kevin Gallagher, who notes that already: "China became the largest source of finance for Latin American governments."

Yet, only the last step, the one to be taken at an unspecified time, would constitute opening the capital account. So basically they announced that they want to increase the international use of the yuan, getting more developing countries to borrow in their currency, while maintaining a strict control of the supply of their currency. In fact, The Economist tells us that Sheng Songcheng, head of the central bank’s research department and the lead author of the study cited by Wolf said that: "If you wait for the exchange rate and interest rates to be fully liberalized ...  you may wait forever." I guess then never is when the capital account will be fully open. That's slow enough, and is a capital account liberalization I would recommend too.

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