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The de-dollarization in China

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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The US dollar is so important in today’s economy for three main reasons: the huge amount of petrodollars; the use of the dollar as the world’s reserve currency and the decision taken by US President Nixon in 1971 to end the dollar convertibility into gold.

The US currency is still a large part of the Special Drawing Rights (SDR), the IMF’s “paper money”.

A share ranging between 41% and 46% depending on the periods.

Petrodollarsemerged when Henry Kissinger dealt with King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, after “Black September” in Jordan.

The agreement was simple. Saudi Arabia had to accept only dollars as payments for the oil it sold, but was forced to invest that huge amount of US currency only in the US financial channels while, in return, the United States placed Saudi Arabia and the other OPEC neighbouring countries under its own military protection.

Hence the turning of the dollar into a world currency, considering the importance and extent of the oil market. Not to mention that this large amount of dollars circulating in the world definitely marginalized gold and later convinced the FED that the demand for dollars in the world washuge and unstoppable.

An unlimited amount of liquidity that kept various US industrial sectors alive but, above all, guaranteed huge financial markets such as the derivatives – markets based on the structural surplus of US liquidity.

After the Soviet Union’s collapse, the United States always thought about world’s hegemony and, above all, imagined to oppose the already active Eurasian union between China, Iran and Russia – the worst nightmare for US decision-makers – both at military and financial levels.

As early as those years, following Brzezinsky’s policy line, the US analysts warned against the unification of Eurasia – to be absolutely prevented – and against the subsequent reunification of Eurasia with the Eurasian peninsula, to be avoided even with a war.

At that time, the three aforementioned Statesstill conducted their business in dollars: China wanted to keep on becoming the “world factory”; Russia had run out of steam and wasnear breaking point; Iran had to inevitably adapt to the rest of Sunni OPEC.

With Putin’s rise to power, Russia’s de-dollarization began immediately.

The share of dollar reserves declinedyear after year, while Putin proposed new oil contracts.

Since last year, for example, dollars cannot be used in ports.

In the case of Iran, the sanction regime – in particular – has favoured the discovery of means other than the dollar for international settlements.

The operations and signs of the de-dollarization continued.

The war in Iraq against Saddam Hussein was also a fight against the Rais who wanted to start selling his oil barrels in euros, while the war in Afghanistan wasviewed by China as part of the ongoing overall encirclement of its territory.

Hence the importance of the Belt and Road Initiative. Also the war in Afghanistan was an attempt to stop the Eurasian project of economic and commercial (as well as political) union between Russia, Iran and China.

As further sanction, the EU required EU designated Iranian banks to be removed from the SWIFT network, which is also a private company.

Iran, however, has immediately joined the Chinese CIPS, a recent network, similar to SWIFT, with which it is already fully connected.

Basically China’s idea is to create an international currency based on the IMF’s Special Drawing Rights and freely expendable on world markets, in lieu of the US dollar, so as to avoid “the dangerous fluctuations stemming from the US  currency and the uncertainties on its real value “- just to quote the Governor of the Chinese central bank, Zhou Xiaochuan, who will soon be replaced by Yi Gang.

In the meantime, Russia and China are acquiring significant amounts of gold.

In recent years China has bought gold to the tune of at least 1842.6 tons, but the international index could be distorted, as many transactions on the Shanghai Gold Exchange are Over the Counter (OTC) and hence are not reported.

Again according to official data, so far Russia is supposed to have reached 1857.7 tons.

Both countries have so far bought 10% of the gold available in the world.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has already accepted payments in yuan for the oil sold to China, which is its largest customer. This is a turning point. If Saudi Arabia gives in, sooner or later all OPEC countries will follow suit.

In many cases, India and Russia have already traded with Iran by accepting oil in exchange for primary goods and commodities.

China has also opened a credit line with Iran amounting to as many as 10 billion euros, with a view to gettingaround sanctions.

It is also assumed that North Korea uses cryptocurrencies to buy oil from China.

As devastated as its economy is, Venezuela no longer sells its oil in dollars – and it is worth recalling it can boast the largest world reserves known to date.

Furthermore, China will buy gas and oil from Russia in yuan, with Russia being able to convert yuan into gold directly on the Shanghai International Energy Exchange.

Keynes’ “tribal residue” takes its revenge.

So far the agreements for trade in their respective currencies were signed between China and Kazakhstan (on December 14, 2014),between China and South Africa (on April 10, 2015) and between Russia and India (on May 26, 2015) while, at the end of November 2015, the Russian central bank included the yuan into the list of currencies that can be accepted as reserves. On November 3, 2016 an agreement was signed between Turkey and Russia for the exchange of their currencies and in October 2017 a similar agreement was reached between Turkey and Iran.

For financial institutions, the de-dollarization continued with the establishment of the BRICS Fund worth 100 billion dollars (on July 16, 2014) and with the establishment – on January 16, 2016 – of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), made up of 57 member countries, including Italy, which automatically caused the US anger.

In May 2015 the Russian-Chinese Investment Bank was created, followed in July 2015 by the opening of the new bank for the development of BRICS, based in Shanghai. In November 2015, however, Iran approved the establishment of a bank together with Russia.

It is worth underlining that in April 2015 the Russian national credit card system was opened, dealing also with small currency transfers.

It is also worth recalling the Duma law on de-offshorization of November 18, 2014, i.e. the legislation obliging the Russian companiesresident abroad to pay taxes directly to the Russian Treasury.

The above mentioned Chinese CIPS started operating in October 2015, while in March 2017 Russia implemented a system similar to SWIFT (interacting with the Chinese one).

The issue is complex because with fracking, the United States has become the first oil producer – hence there is less need to keep the huge amount of petrodollars. This happens while a natural oil and gas shale deposit has just been discovered, off the coast of Bahrain, with reserves of 80 billion oil barrels and 4 trillion cubic meters of gas.

The United States does no longer buy oil and gas because it does not need them, but China is increasingly the best global buyer.

Apart from the stability of gas and oil prices, which should be guaranteed in the coming years, China and its allies should be ever more able to select between the supply and, certainly, between the countries which accept the non-oil bilateral exchange with China and payments in yuan or gold.

Still today, the US GDP accounts for 22% of world’s GDP, while 80% of international payments are made in dollars.

Hence the United States receives goods from abroad always at comparatively very low prices, while the massive demand for dollars from the rest of the world allows to refinance the US public debt at very low costs.

This is the economic and political core of the issue.

In fact, the Russian government held a specific meeting on de-dollarization in spring 2014.

This is another fact to be highlighted. It is a political operation that appears to be a financial one, often in contrast with the “volatility” of current markets, but its core is strategic and geopolitical.

In theory, the de-dollarization regards three specific issues: payments, the real economy issue and ultimately the financial issue, namely the financial contracts denominated in dollars.

In the first case, China will tend to eliminate every transaction denominated in US dollars by third countries and to removesettlement mechanisms involving the dollar and operating in its neighbouring areas.

In the second case, the dollar transactions will be – and are already – largely prohibited for individuals.

In the third case, the share of foreign contracts denominated in yuan is now equal to 40% and strong acceleration will be recorded in 2018.

The oil futures denominated in yuan are now booming. The first attempt was made in 1993, when China opened its stock exchanges in Beijing and Shanghai.

China itself closed operations two years later, due to market instability and to the yuan weakness.

Two other things have changed since then: in 2016 the yuan was admitted as a currency making up the IMF Special Drawing Rights and in 2017 China overtook the United States as the world’s largest oil importer.

Hence, thanks to the oil futures denominated in yuan, China is reducing its dependence on the dollar and, in the meantime, it is supporting its oil imports, as well as promoting the use of the yuan globally and expanding its presence in the world.

Russia has done the same.

Therefore the United States is about to be ousted as world’s currency due to its continuous series of wars and military failures (former President Cossiga always told me: “The United States is always on the warpath and up in arms, but then it is not able to get out of it”) and, like everyone else, it shall pay for its public debt, which is huge and will be ever more its problem, not ours.

Here it is worth recalling what the US Treasury Secretary,John Connally, said to his European counterparts during a meeting in 1971: “The dollar is our currency, but your problem”.

Obviously, in relation to all these issues which also concern primarily the euro, the European Union is silent and sleepy.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs "La Centrale Finanziaria Generale Spa", he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group and member of the Ayan-Holding Board. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d'Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: "A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title of "Honorable" of the Académie des Sciences de l'Institut de France

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East Asia

Balance of Power by Asia

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The recent report by the Congressional Committee on National Defense Strategy has indicated that the US might be losing its military superiority, especially in case of a conflict with China and Russia. This is the first time in almost three decades that US military power has seriously come under scrutiny at home and abroad. The US spends around $700 Billion annually on its military, which is more than what the Asian powers spend combined. If such a massive budget is not enough then one must conclude that the fault lies in the American approach to address issues. Since the emergence of Arab Spring and the destabilization of the Middle East, Asian powers have been wary of US influence in Asia. Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran all have opposed the US prolonged stay in Afghanistan, even India a close ally of the US, views US policy towards it with suspicion. The US unilateral sanctions on Iran have also forced the Asian powers to rethink the balance of power in Asia. The balancing act of Asia can ensure long-term prosperity and stability in the world.

Unipolar to Multipolar World

The report drafted by the National Defense Strategy Commission has accepted the dwindling US military influence on the global scale. US Secretary of Defense was quoted during his comments on the strategy that the US military keeps the “Great Power Competition” at the heart of its strategy. As a result of colonialism, the European powers emerged as global decision makers. Historically speaking, powers have emerged out of global conflicts. The European powers emerged out of long European wars and colonialism. The end of two world wars gave birth to two new superpowers and these two Super Powers dominated the world.

The emergence of Great Power is yet a new kind of phenomena in which whoever emerges as a victor would enjoy global hegemony in all global affairs. This Great power could be a single country or a group of countries allied together through virtue of mutual interests. Looking at the current scenario, one can easily notice that a China-Russia duo could be a potential competitor in this Great Power struggle. The grave question here to be asked is, would the world have to undergo another great loss of human life and property for a nation to claim victory. I would personally disagree. The Great Powers would emerge as a result of competition, competition in economic, military, lifestyle and alliance making terms. In the struggle of Super Powers in the previous century, sanity had prevailed and any direct confrontation between the two superpowers was avoided. The same would happen between the new competitors. China with its Belt and Road Initiative offers massive infrastructure projects and lucrative trade deals to partner countries. China has touted its rise through peaceful means but the US a follower of offensive realism shall not accept China’s rise, even through peaceful means. For any country wishing to develop, greater connectivity and trade are a prerequisite. Since the US has imposed a trade war on China, it had to look around it to continue its globalization drive. China’s, BRI is a framework to achieve the Chinese Dream by creating a community of countries that have tied their economic destiny to that of China. If China keeps doing well, so will everyone else in that community. Hence the BRI could be a major shift in the global economic system and Asia could be the center of the world economy.

Where is America losing ground?

In an academic conference held in the US this year, the audience asked a visiting senior Chinese economist, till what time China’s economic growth would continue. He smiled and answered, “as long as the US continues its misadventures around the world, China would continue to grow”.

America is losing because of its own mistakes, or perhaps it’s at the natural end of its superpower cycle.  Economically, the US, the global promoter of free trade and economic liberalism is acting as a trade protectionist state. It withdrew from various trade agreements like the TPP and has threatened to withdraw from the WTO and NAFTA which further positions it as an isolationist state. The US the global voice on Human Rights issues is no longer a part of the Human Rights Commission of the UN. The US has also shown a non-willingness to cooperate in environmental issues which the US championed for, like the Paris Climate Accord. These steps have greatly affected the moral leadership it enjoyed around the world. The US has withdrawn from various agreements which ensured peace in the world, like the JCPOA. This again has put the US standing in the world under increased scrutiny. Friends and foes alike have a trust deficit with the US. This has led to countries taking matters in their own hands, like France and Germany talking about a “European Army” and other nations looking for alternate and reliable partners for security and trade in their regions. China is moving swiftly to fill out this global leadership vacuum. On one hand, It has initiated the BRI project offering connectivity and trade to partner countries and on the other side, it has increased bilateral trade in local currencies, hence reducing its and its partners’ dependency on dollar trade.

The current US attitude could be a temporary phenomenon but it has cast huge doubts on the US being able to lead the world into the era of globalization. It is said that the 21st century would be the age of The Asian Renaissance, where Asia would emerge as the global leader. But for that Asia has to enhance cooperation, consultation, and communication from within and the outside world.

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East Asia

How China is helping Iran skirt US sanctions

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Shortly after the Trump administration reimposed sweeping sanctions on Iran, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said eight countries, most notable China, would be exempted from the draconian sanctions on buying Iranian crude oil.

Shortly after the Trump administration reimposed sweeping sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an important announcement. It was a calculated move to avoid a major embarrassment. The hawks in the power corridors of Washington had anticipated the backlash of sanctions on US foreign policy with many global powers rebuffing Trump’s foolhardy move.

Pompeo said eight countries would be exempted from the draconian sanctions on buying Iranian crude oil due to special circumstances. The countries included China, India, Italy, Greece, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Turkey.

Many of these countries had quite clearly indicated that they would not be cutting oil imports from Iran under the US pressure, most importantly China, Turkey, and India – three of Iran’s largest oil customers.

While India has its own strategic interests in maintaining good relations with Tehran, for instance, the Chabahar port project in Sistan-Baluchistan, Turkey’s relations with Washington have hit a new low following sanctions and trade tariffs imposed by the US.

China, which has emerged as a viable counterweight to US hegemony in the world and a protagonist of new international economic policy, has unambiguously reaffirmed its commitment to keep alive the Iran nuclear deal and stand by the Islamic Republic of Iran.

On November 5, when the petroleum-related sanctions came into effect, Chinese foreign ministry said it will continue to “hold a fair, objective and responsible attitude” and “resolutely safeguard its legitimate rights”, while reiterating its opposition to the unilateral US sanctions.

“China feels sorry for the US’ decision and we noticed that the international world as a whole opposes the practice of such unilateral sanctions,” foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said at a press briefing.

She said Iran has been seriously fulfilling its obligations under the JCPOA and its efforts have been recognized by the International Atomic Energy Agency dozen times. She also affirmed that China will firmly safeguard its lawful rights while continuing to adhere to JCPOA and urged relevant parties to stand on the “right side of history”.

China has maintained that implementing the Iranian nuclear deal is akin to safeguarding the authority of UN Security Council, basic norms of international law, international non-proliferation treaty and peace and stability in the Middle East.

As one of the remaining signatories of the JCPOA, along with European Union countries who are exploring options to circumvent the US sanctions, Beijing wants to keep the deal alive. China, believe experts, is in a better position compared to other Asian countries as it is not subservient to US interests and is already embroiled in a bitter trade war with Washington.

For all parties of the JCPOA, Iranian crude oil is the main commodity of interest, particularly for Beijing. In 2017, one-third of Iran’s oil was supplied to China, which underlines the significance of oil trade between the two countries. China’s commitment to continue importing oil from Iran is very likely to deal a body blow to US ploy of reducing Iranian oil imports to zero and ‘starving’ the Iranian nation.

Hu Xijin, chief editor of the influential Chinese daily Global Times, told Tehran Times that there was no possibility of Washington reducing the Iranian oil exports to zero, “because Washington lacks righteousness to do so, therefore it can’t have the full support of the international community”.

To continue oil trade in different currencies other than dollar, Iran has been in talks with key allies, including China. On September 29, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said Tehran would circumvent sanctions by conducting trade in all currencies to avoid using the US dollar. “You can use your own currency. Sell stuff in your own currency, buy stuff in the other country’s currency, and at the end of a specific period, balance it out in a non-dollar currency. It’s quite possible and may even be profitable,”

China, which is the largest oil importer in the world with around nine million barrels imports every day, has been making concerted efforts to reshape the global oil market with increased usage of its currency in oil trading. If Chinese currency manages to replace the US dollar, it will be a masterstroke.

US has been rendered friendless and isolated in its quest to tear up the Iran deal and force countries to cut oil imports from Iran. European Union has already refused to back down on the Iran deal, exploring ways to develop payment channels to facilitate payments related to Iran’s exports. The goal, according to a statement issued by EU, “is to protect the freedom of other economic operators to pursue legitimate business with Iran”.

Beijing has expressed its full support to the EU’s proposal to set up a “special payments system” to facilitate trade with Iran and safeguard the Iranian nuclear deal, which experts believe will significantly reduce reliance on the US dollar in the global oil trade. That will be a game-changer.

First published in our partner MNA

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East Asia

The Implication of China’s Diplomacy in APEC and ASEAN

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It is truly unusual that the Chinese President Xi Jinping and its Premier Li Keqiang are visiting the same area during nearly the same time: Xi’s visit to APEC from15th to 21st November and Li’s visit to ASEAN on 15th November. Yet, if we look into China’s foreign policy towards this area over the past years since President Xi took power, it is not difficult to understand both Xi’s and Li’s official visits to the “larger Pacific” and the meaning beyond.

As we know, President Xi has reiterated that the Pacific is large enough for the countries involved to share the prosperity with each other. In order to achieve the inclusive rather than exclusive benefits for all, China’s diplomacy aims to reject any kind of unilateralism, trade protectionism and anti-globalization. Given this, Xi’s at APEC and Li’s at AEASN is defined as a signal of China’s diplomacy to further reform and bold openness.

As a rising great country, China is surely eager to expand its investment and trade with the south Pacific area, and Papua New Guinea (PNG) is the first country visited by Chinese president. What is more, PNG joined the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) early 2018 and then became the first state of Pacific islands to sign the MoU on “The Belt and Road Initiative” construction. As the theme “Harnessing Inclusive Opportunities, Embracing the Digital Future,” the APEC summit will focus on Regional economic integration, digital economy, connectivity, sustainable and inclusive growth and so forth.

Also during Premier Li’s visit to the ASEAN, he highlighted the necessity of the collaboration and mutual benefit among the countries involved on the 21st China-ASEAN leaders meeting. This is also the 21st ASEAN Plus Three Summit (10+3) and the 13th East Asia Summit (EAS).

Quite understandable, since the 1960s, the center of world economy has shifted from North Atlantic to Asia-Pacific, its dynamic growth in the region create countless jobs and push the development of world economy. This is the reason that Asia-Pacific region has the most trade agreements and the most complicated economic architecture around world. APEC and ASEAN, as two institutions that possess most member states, are the very pillars of the tumbledown regional economic architecture. APEC was launched by Australia and later included 21 member states in the region, amongst are United States, China, Japan, the economic giant three of the world economy. ASEAN is an institution that consist of ten small and middle states. Though they are not strong enough to meet the challenges from the power politics alone, ASEAN is a core force that firmly facilitate the economic integration of the whole region of East Asia and the Pacific. No matter what the way they embrace, they are the de facto basic regionalism of Asia-Pacific. The withdrawing of United States from Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and hard-achieved Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) once brought the regional economic architecture a fig leave and strengthened the impact of APEC and ASEAN.

As a result, the two visits of Chinese top leaders to the same region at the same time definitely attract worldwide attention, because they not only represent China’s recent diplomatic focus but also mark the fact that Asia-Pacific region has become one of the vital fields where China’s diplomacy will be actively conducting in terms of the Belt and Road Initiative, and carry on the good-neighbor policy. Since China has argued for creating a peaceful development milieu, to enhance economic transformation and upgrading oversea markets and partners in Asia-Pacific region.

Consider these facets, China, as the second largest economy, aims to promote its well-articulated stance on multilateralism and inclusiveness and globalization. As both President Xi and Premier Li have strongly said that China is ready to work with Pacific island countries to endeavor together and sail for a better future for bilateral relations. For the sake of that goal, China always believes that as long as all the countries involved have firm confidence in each other’s development, cooperation and the future of East Asia, and work closely together and forge ahead, all sides would achieve more and reach a higher level in the next 15 years.

For sure, China belongs to the part of a larger Asia-Pacific family, and the Chinese government defines its goal as the shared prosperity of this region. Therefore, China will continue to work hard and constructively to promote the overall development of impoverished but promising Pacific island countries under the Belt and Road Initiative.

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