China's top banker proposes new world currency

Stephen C. Webster
Published: Monday March 23, 2009

UPDATE (at bottom): Moscow supports IMF super-currency

In an essay published Monday, the head of China's central bank proposed a plan to displace the American dollar as the world's standard and replace it with a global reserve currency operated from the International Monetary Fund.

"Zhou Xiaochuan, governor of the People’s Bank of China, argued that what he called a super-sovereign reserve currency would not only eliminate the risks inherent in currencies such as the dollar, which are backed only by the credit of the issuing country and not by gold or silver, but would also make it possible to manage global liquidity," reported the Times Online.

"But that's unlikely to happen, says Robert Scott, senior international economist with the Economic Policy Institute," reported Forbes. "'It's partly posturing, it's partly buyer's remorse,' he said, noting China, at some point, is going to have to let its yuan currency rise in value relative to the dollar's current price – likely by upwards of 30.0%. That means China's investments in U.S. dollars, via Treasuries, would lose a third of their value in yuan terms.

"'hey're getting hammered,' Scott said. Chinese leaders' heavy investment in the U.S. economy has exposed them to domestic criticism."

"Zhou made his call in an essay that appeared on the website of People's Bank of China, China's central bank, on Monday," reported the Washington Post. "It was clearly timed to make a splash in the run-up to the G20 meeting that starts in London on April 2.

"Calling the use of the dollar as the world's benchmark currency 'a rare special case in history,' Zhou urged the 'creative reform of the existing international monetary system towards an international reserve currency.' Zhou said the reserve currency, managed by the IMF, should be 'disconnected from individual nations and is able to remain stable in the long run.'"

The IMF would operate such a currency via its "Special Drawing Right," created in 1969 with "the potential to act as a super-sovereign reserve currency," reported Times Online.

"The role of the SDR has not been put into full play due to limitations on its allocation and the scope of its uses. However, it serves as the light in the tunnel for the reform of the international monetary system," Zhou wrote in his essay.

He also emphasized his hope for the IMF currency's supremacy over other dominant world benchmarks, such as the euro and the yen.

The technical and political hurdles to implementing the proposal are enormous, so even if backed by other nations, the proposal is unlikely to change the dollar's role in the short term.

"'The re-establishment of a new and widely accepted reserve currency with a stable valuation benchmark may take a long time,' Mr. Zhou said" in a report by the Wall St. Journal. "In remarks earlier Monday, one of Mr. Zhou's deputies, Hu Xiaolian, also said that the dollar's dominant position in international trade and investment is unlikely to change in the near future. Ms. Hu is in charge of reserve management as the head of China's State Administration of Foreign Exchange.

"A spokeswoman for the U.S. Treasury declined to comment on Mr. Zhou's views."

UPDATE: Moscow supports IMF currency

In a little-circulated March 16 statement, the Kremlin said it will propose the IMF-based currency at April's G20 meeting in London.

"The International Monetary Fund should investigate the possible creation of a new reserve currency, widening the list of reserve currencies or using its already existing Special Drawing Rights, or SDRs, as a 'superreserve currency accepted by the whole of the international community,' the Kremlin said in a statement issued on its web site," reported the Moscow Times.

"Russia also called for countries whose currencies currently have reserve status to adopt international rules on fiscal and macroeconomic discipline," noted Reuters.