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Geographical Significance and Natural Reserves in the South China Sea

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South China Sea has vital significance in the region as well as indo-pacific geopolitics. South China Sea is one of the world largest and semi enclosed sea. It stretches around 3.5 million square kilometers (1.4 million square miles) (Jennings, 2017). The average depth of sea is 4,000 feet with its continental shelf. This is a warm sea with high salt content. It is full of living and non-living resources with one of world busiest trade route, linking Pacific Ocean to India Ocean (Kaplan, 2016).  South China Sea is widened from Singapore Strait to Taiwan Strait with a group of countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippine, Brunei, Thailand, Cambodia, Singapore, Vietnam, the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China (Taiwan) (Perkins, 2013).  The SCS is the combinations of the thousands of the islands, reef, islets, corals, shoals and atolls spread 900 km from east to west and 1800 km from north to south and covering geo-political and geo-strategic interests of the region (Nair, 2012). There are many rivers which fall in SCS, those are, Mekong River (It flows from China, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia and Thailand), Pahang River (West Malaysia), Kiulong River (Myanmar), Pasig River (Philippine), Rajang River (Malaysia), Min River (China), Red River (China and Vietnam), Pearl River (China and Vietnam) etc. (Mustajib, 2016). All the four disputed islands (the Paracel Island, the Spratly Island, the Macclesfield bank and the Pratas islands) are the part of this sea. China has sovereignty claims over all these described archipelagos (Storey & Cheng Yi, 2016).

The Spratly archipelago is the biggest group of islands in this sea and the most controversial among all the claimants. It consist of islands, reef, banks and shoals with area about 409,000 sq. km. It is located between Vietnam and Philippines near Malaysia (Pletcher, 2016). The Spratly archipelago is known in Chinese as Nansha islands, Truong Sa islands in Vietnam and Kalaya’an archipelago in Philippine. This place is full of sea birds, fish and turtles (Muir, 2012). These archipelagoes are 560 miles wide from east to west and 500 miles from north to south. These islands consist of 14 sandy islands, 21 shoals, 113 reefs and 6 bank and 113 submerged banks. According to a western researcher Spratly Islands enclosed 170 features and only 36 islands of tiny quantity are above sea level (Keyuan, 2011).

Paracel Island is important group of the islands because of its important geo-strategic location and natural resources. It is disputed between China and Vietnam. China got possession of these archipelagoes in 1974 during a conflict with South Vietnam (Ngo, 2017). Paracel Island stretch 122,648,000 square nautical miles and second largest group after Spratly Island. These archipelagoes situated in South China Sea with 165 km away from south and eastward of Chinese Hainan island and 185 east side of Vietnamese coasts (Bouchat, 2014). Paracel Island consist of 30 islands, islet and reef stretch 16,000 square kilo meters (Nguyen, 2012).

Pratas islands (Dongsha Quandao) consist in one island and two banks. These are North Vereker and South Vereker Bank and Dongsha. Only Dongsha above from sea level and North and South Vereker are entirely submerged. This archipelago is situated south east of the Hong Kong. These are under the sovereignty of the Taiwan and China has claim over it (Guo, 2007, p. 99).

The Macclesfield bank is disputed between China and Philippine. It consist of 25 reefs and considered as the biggest atoll in the world and the Scarborough Shoal is located in the west of Philippines and disputed between China and Philippine. Both archipelagoes are now under the control of China (Lee B. , 2014).

Wu Shicun (2013) describes the importance of the SCS in his book “Solving Disputes for Regional Cooperation and Development on the South China Sea: A Chinese Perspective” with the reference of France navigation officer. He writes that the Vice Chairman of the France Navigation Committee described the importance of the Spratly and the Paracel Island in 1930s in these words that it is impossible to ignore importance of both islands and the occupation of both islands by powerful foreign country would cause a great threat to the security of the Indo-China during war. These words show the importance of the SCS and its important geostrategic position. Due to this importance, the US and China are involved in getting strong position in the SCS region. It is reality that if any country gets control over SCS, it can control the whole East Asia region as a regional hegemon. This is the reason that this area got attention of regional stack holders as well as world super power, the US. According to the president of the China’s National Institute for South China Sea studies Wu Shicun, there are four major stack holders who were involved in this dispute, these are China, Vietnam, Philippines and the US. The importance of this sea can be described in two ways. First as full of natural resources, second, economic activities and passage of trade, third, it’s geo-strategic position.

South China Sea is full of natural resources like Gas, Oil, Coral Lime, high Silicate, Sand, quality Gem, natural pearls, fish, birds and sea slugs. For cultivation, there were many trees in the Spratly Islands like bread fruit, coconut and tung-oil trees (Hao, 2013). Analysts declared South China Sea is the hub of the resources (Fabinyi, 2015). There are many other mineral for industrial use placed in SCS, those are Zircon, Ilmenite, Cassiterite, Arenaceous quartz, Monazite etc. There are many salt mines in South China Sea. It is estimated that the SCS gives 604,000 ton annual output of the salt (Mustajib, 2016). These natural resources increased the importance of South China Sea. These resources are the big reason of the stimulation of the neighboring countries for the occupation of South China Sea. Basically dispute over the South China Sea and its islands initiated during 1970s. Due to oil shortage, world realize the importance of the oil and every country started effort for oil. This was the time when first time Philippines claimed for the Spratly Islands due to the oil reservoirs. It is possibility of existence of large hydrocarbon resources with other minerals like tin, copper and manganese. Surveys in the 1960s and 1970s strongly indicated the presence of these resources in islands of the SCS (Dosch, 2015).

Oil and gas resources have special attraction for the claimants of the Paracel and Spratly Island. Geo-physical surveys which were conducted by Philippine, Malaysia and Brunei during 1960s and 1970s broadly got the attention of the whole world to this region. These surveys showed the oil and gas resources in SCS. Oil rising prices increased the importance of the Spratly Island. Philippines initiated the first commercial field in Palawan Island at Reed Bank with Swedish and Philippines companies on March 1976. Chinese and Vietnamese interests increased in Spratly Islands due to the oil exploration and the Philippine’s initiative (Buszynski, 2015, p, 10). Due to precious resources many experts say the SCS as “second Persian Gulf” (Amry, 2015). Chinese agency, the Ministry of Geological Resources and Mining estimated that there is more than seventeen billion barrels crude oil in South China Sea which can be compared with Kuwait crude oil of 13 billion tons (Shaohua, 2006).

Natural Resources in SCS (Lee B. , 2014)

According to the US energy information agency, the SCS contains eleven billion barrel oil which is equal to total oil resources of Mexico. The SCS also contains 190 trillion cubic feet natural gas resources (Miller, 2017). An Indian navy captain reported that South China Sea has 7 billion barrel oil reserves and 900 trillion cubic feet natural gas reserves (Nair, 2012, p. 65). The US geological survey gave a report in which they estimated that there is additional 12 billion barrel oil and 160 trillion cubic feet oil in South China Sea which is still undiscovered (Metelitsa & Kupfer, 2014). Paracel Island is a home of natural resources and minerals. The US Energy Information Administration (USEIA) published a report in 2013 and estimated that Paracel Island contains 1 trillion cubic feet natural gas (Bouchat, 2014).

Fish is an important part of human nutrition. It provides healthy and hygienic proteins. South China Sea region is very rich in fishing resources. Twelve per cent fishing of the globe is produced annually in this region (Murray, 2016). The Spratly Islands is one of the world’s dense and richest fishing grounds with up to 7.5 ton of fish per sq. km (Shicun, 2013). Role of fish in surrounding countries like China, Vietnam and Philippines boost the fishing industry of these countries and participate its role in the economy of these countries (Mustajib, 2016). Paracel Island provide China and Vietnam closest point of fishing. Paracel Island are the hub of fishing and world’s fourth productive fishing zones in earth. It contributes world’s 10 percent fishing on annual basis. Fishes of Paracel Island made China as world’s largest consumer and exporter country and Vietnam achieved second foreign exchange and earned 7 percent of its GDP (Bouchat, 2014, p. 6). In this way fishing contributes a vital role in the economy of China and Vietnam.

China has commenced bundle of oil explorations in South China Sea to fulfill its energy needs. Following are the details about the Chinese oil exploration adventures which certainly cause the displeasures of the other stack holders especially Vietnam and Philippine. China signed an agreement with the US oil-gas exploration company on May 1992 for exploration of oil and gas. In 1994 China and Vietnam engaged foreign companies in Spratly Islands and Gulf of Tonkin (Shicun, 2013, p. 112-113). The People’s Republic of China announced its oil exploration in deep sea near the Spratly Islands on 3 May 2014 and Chinese state owned China National Off Shore Oil Corporation begun its work in the deep sea. This was the disputed territory between China and Vietnam. Vietnam protested in this Chinese act (Dicke & Holbig, 2014).

Chinese national oil company China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) has increased the relations with international companies for oil exploration in SCS. China as the second largest economy and first largest energy consumer needs to exploit the energy resource. This is the reason that China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) is working with coordination of British Petroleum BP, Petro-Canada, Australian BHP Billiton, Brazil’s Petrobras, and Hong Kong-owned and Canada-based Husky Energy (Bouchat, 2014).

Oil, gas and other natural resources are the part of interests of Vietnam to maintain its claim and control in SCS. These resources and geo-strategic importance of the SCS has made Vietnam an imperative country of the region. There are many exploration activities of Vietnam performed for tapping gas and natural resources in SCS.

Vietnam entered a contract with Norwegian company for a seismic survey in 1992. In 1994 China and Vietnam engaged foreign companies in Spratly Islands and Gulf of Tonkin. A dispute started between China and Vietnam due to petro-Vietnam contract with the US Company for explorations. During 2007 to 2008, Vietnam started to make deal with international oil companies like Exxon Mobile and BP Conoco to work in Spratly Island. This deal triggered the anger of China and strongly protested over it. Vietnam’s exploration of resources near Vanguard Bank in 2011 again triggered the tension between the two countries (Shicun, 2013, p. 112-113).

The SCS has vital importance for Philippines due to its strategic locations and its natural resources. These natural resources are the bone of the Philippines economy and a huge number of populations are engaged in fishing and getting benefits from natural resources like oil, gas and other sea and land resources. Spratly Islands is the most important group of islands near Philippines Palawan province. Philippines is the nearest country closer to the Spratly Islands then China and Vietnam. Government engaged the foreign oil companies for the exploration of the oil in this group of islands. Spratly Islands and its surrounding water are full of fishing resources. Due to dense area of the Spratly Islands for fishing, it involved the big population of the fishermen in this area. Almost 1.61 million Philippine’s are involved in fishing which is 15 percent of the Philippines population. Fishing is the focal point of Philippines economy and contributes 4.3 per cent of its GDP (Shicun, 2013, p. 127).   

South China Sea is one of the busiest trade routes in the world. It links the Pacific Ocean with the Indian Ocean. The SCS has great importance in the world trade routes. It joins the Pacific Ocean to Indian Ocean. The SCS partakes the 50% of the global trade shipping and marine passage (Dosch, 2015). The SCS is the passage of five trillion dollars trade every year (Murray, 2016). There are two major ports in this area; Singapore port in the south of the South China Sea and Hong Kong port in its north (McKinnon, 2011). South China Sea links the Asia, America and Europe through these ports. Spratly Islands stretches about 1,000 km and all shipping and air traffic in SCS, passes near these islands (Shicun, 2013). Only 270 merchant ships had been passing from Spratly Islands during 1980s but the strength has increased magically with the passage of time (General Assembly Fourth Committee, 2016).

It is estimated that approximately 5 trillion dollars commercial goods pass through this route. Big industrial powers of this region like the People’s Republic of China, South Korea and Japan rely upon the Middle East’s oil which is 25% of the South China Sea Traffic. East Asian countries, exporting finished goods from West, also rely on this route. The oil which is imported from Middle East reached Malacca strait through Indian Ocean and entered the South China Sea. This is the reason; the passes of the SCS have great importance in this sea route. In comparison to sea traffic, the SCS routes have three times heavy sea traffic rout than Suez Canal and five times than Panama Canal. South China Sea is the passage of energy, finished goods and raw material. It is the passage of two third energy supply of South Korea, 80 per cent of crude oil of China and 60 per cent energy of Taiwan and Japan (Kaplan, 2016). In this way, South China Sea has vital importance for the regional economic powers. South China Sea is also the one of the biggest maritime route of the Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG).

Most of the East Asian countries export LNG form Qatar, Australia, Malaysia and Indonesia. It is estimated that about 6 trillion cubic feet LNG which is the half of the global LNG passed through SCS. LNG is exported by regional countries like Japan, South Korea, China, Taiwan and rest of the Asian countries. The growing demands of the LNG in East Asia are making this region much important for LNG export. China’s increasing demand for LNG is bringing China towards Middle East and Africa for the export of the LNG and the quantity of the LNG passing through South China Sea will increase during coming year (Metelitsa & Kupfer, 2014, p. 6). China is the second largest economy of the world and it has trade relations with every country of the world. China is the first and second largest trading partner of the 78 countries of the world. It is estimated that China is the first, second and third largest trading partner of every country on the Earth (Auslin, 2017). 80% of the oil is transported to Japan, South Korea and Taiwan via this rout (Dosch, 2015). Chinese trade goods are almost dependent in this sea. On the other hand, Japan as the third largest economy is heavily dependent in South China Sea (Cronin & Lee, March 2017).

Wu Shicun (2013) says that it is presumed that the control of the Spratly Islands is basically direct or indirect control of the transits from Singapore to Hong Kong and from Japan to straits of Malacca and from Guangzhou to Manila. He says that the SCS covers half of the world trade passage. Approximately, a grand quantity of oil is transported from Middle East and Africa to China, South Korea and Japan from the SCS passage. The SCS also links China with world. China’s 90 % trade and 50% transaction accrued through the SCS. Vietnamese and Philippines exports and imports depend upon SCS.

South China Sea has geo-strategic, geo-politic and geo-economic importance due to half of the world trade passage and presence of precious resources of oil and gas. The SCS is passage of half of the world trade. Almost all the East Asian countries are dependent on this sea. The SCS is also the home of precious natural resources like oil and natural gas. These reasons enhance the importance of this place. This is the reason that China, Vietnam, Philippines and other regional and extra-regional countries are interested to control it. China is taking interest in the place and involved in constructing military bases and building artificial islands in the SCS. On the other hand, the US is providing its assistance to Philippines and Vietnam in every respect. The US has also initiated the patrolling in South China Sea with the name of Freedom of Navigation in international sea. Philippines has numerous military agreements with the US and gave its military bases to the US. The US has lifted the arm embargo in Vietnam for empowering Vietnam against China in SCS (Glaser & Vitello, 2014, p. 2).

Expansion of China in the South China Sea

South China Sea is important for China on the basis of its geo-strategic, geo-economic, geo-politics. Sovereignty over the whole South China means the establishment of Chinese hegemony in this region and China will have upper hand in this region. This region will also serve China to secure its trade route and provide China natural resources like oil and gas etc. One of Chinese agency has estimated that there is more than seventeen billion barrels crude oil available at South China Sea (Shaohua, 2006). Tom Miller (2017) wrote in his book “China’s Asia Dream” that the US energy information agency presented its survey reports which described that the SCS contains eleven billion barrel oil and 190 trillion cubic feet natural gas resources. These resources stimulate China to control this place.

Chinese control of the South China Sea is the biggest threat for Japan and the US. Chinese control over South China Sea means that China can occupy the oil lifeline of the South Korea and Japan. It will provide strong position of China over the US and other regional countries. Chinese administration announced to build new infrastructure in Woody islands and created new Sansha administrative district which would cover Chinese claimed territories (Sutter & Huang, 2013). Woody Island is the largest military Chinese Liberation Army Air Force first time launched H-6K strategic bomber on Woody Island in order increase its power in South China Sea (Panda, 2018). China can use the SCS as a proactive Bastian for its JL-2 missile carrying submarine and can target the US bases in East Asia. Chinese control over the SCS can also bring in danger the American oil companies working in the SCS (Buszynski, 2015, p. 16).  China is developing military bases in South China Sea with manmade islands on Spratly Island. These islands contain full military bases and launching pads. The basic purpose of developing the artificial islands is to enhance military power in South China Sea and in case of emergency bring more troops through rapid air services (BBC, 2017). In this way, China is establishing its hegemony in South China Sea region. A power game has commenced among the countries of the region and other stack-holders. The U.S has interests in the region and it is also vital for its hegemony. This is the reason that U.S wants to contain China to preserve its hegemony in the region.

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Rebalancing Act: China’s 2022 Outlook

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Authors: Ibrahim Chowdhury, Ekaterine T. Vashakmadze and Li Yusha

After a strong rebound last year, the world economy is entering a challenging 2022. The advanced economies have recovered rapidly thanks to big stimulus packages and rapid progress with vaccination, but many developing countries continue to struggle.

The spread of new variants amid large inequalities in vaccination rates, elevated food and commodity prices, volatile asset markets, the prospect of policy tightening in the United States and other advanced economies, and continued geopolitical tensions provide a challenging backdrop for developing countries, as the World Bank’s Global Economic Prospects report published today highlights.

The global context will also weigh on China’s outlook in 2022, by dampening export performance, a key growth driver last year. Following a strong 8 percent cyclical rebound in 2021, the World Bank expects growth in China to slow to 5.1 percent in 2022, closer to its potential — the sustainable growth rate of output at full capacity.

Indeed, growth in the second half of 2021 was below this level, and so our forecast assumes a modest amount of policy loosening. Although we expect momentum to pick up, our outlook is subject to domestic in addition to global downside risks. Renewed domestic COVID-19 outbreaks, including the new Omicron variant and other highly transmittable variants, could require more broad-based and longer-lasting restrictions, leading to larger disruptions in economic activity. A severe and prolonged downturn in the real estate sector could have significant economy-wide reverberations.

In the face of these headwinds, China’s policymakers should nonetheless keep a steady hand. Our latest China Economic Update argues that the old playbook of boosting domestic demand through investment-led stimulus will merely exacerbate risks in the real estate sector and reap increasingly lower returns as China’s stock of public infrastructure approaches its saturation point.

Instead, to achieve sustained growth, China needs to stick to the challenging path of rebalancing its economy along three dimensions: first, the shift from external demand to domestic demand and from investment and industry-led growth to greater reliance on consumption and services; second, a greater role for markets and the private sector in driving innovation and the allocation of capital and talent; and third, the transition from a high to a low-carbon economy.

None of these rebalancing acts are easy. However, as the China Economic Update points out, structural reforms could help reduce the trade-offs involved in transitioning to a new path of high-quality growth.

First, fiscal reforms could aim to create a more progressive tax system while boosting social safety nets and spending on health and education. This would help lower precautionary household savings and thereby support the rebalancing toward domestic consumption, while also reducing income inequality among households.

Second, following tightening anti-monopoly provisions aimed at digital platforms, and a range of restrictions imposed on online consumer services, the authorities could consider shifting their attention to remaining barriers to market competition more broadly to spur innovation and productivity growth.

A further opening-up of the protected services sector, for example, could improve access to high-quality services and support the rebalancing toward high-value service jobs (a special focus of the World Bank report). Eliminating remaining restrictions on labor mobility by abolishing the hukou, China’s system of household registration, for all urban areas would equally support the growth of vibrant service economies in China’s largest cities.

Third, the wider use of carbon pricing, for example, through an expansion of the scope and tightening of the emissions trading system rules, as well power sector reforms to encourage the penetration and nationwide trade and dispatch of renewables, would not only generate environmental benefits but also contribute to China’s economic transformation to a more sustainable and innovation-based growth model.

In addition, a more robust corporate and bank resolution framework would contribute to mitigating moral hazards, thereby reducing the trade-offs between monetary policy easing and financial risk management. Addressing distortions in the access to credit — reflected in persistent spreads between private and State borrowers — could support the shift to more innovation-driven, private sector-led growth.

Productivity growth in China during the past four decades of reform and opening-up has been private-sector led. The scope for future productivity gains through the diffusion of modern technologies and practices among smaller private companies remains large. Realizing these gains will require a level playing field with State-owned enterprises.

While the latter have played an instrumental role during the pandemic to stabilize employment, deliver key services and, in some cases, close local government budget gaps, their ability to drive the next phase of growth is questionable given lower profits and productivity growth rates in the past.

In 2022, the authorities will face a significantly more challenging policy environment. They will need to remain vigilant and ready to recalibrate financial and monetary policies to ensure the difficulties in the real estate sector don’t spill over into broader economic distress. Recent policy loosening suggests the policymakers are well aware of these risks.

However, in aiming to keep growth on a steady path close to potential, they will need to be similarly alert to the risk of accumulating ever greater levels of corporate and local government debt. The transition to high-quality growth will require economic rebalancing toward consumption, services, and green investments. If the past is any guide to the future, the reliance on markets and private sector initiative is China’s best bet to achieve the required structural change swiftly and at minimum cost.

First published on China Daily, via World Bank

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The US Economic Uncertainty: Bitcoin Faces a Test of Resilience?

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Is inflation harmful? Is inflation here to stay? And are people really at a loss? These and countless other questions along the same lines dominated the first half of 2021. Many looked for alternative investments in the national bourse, while others adopted unorthodox streams. Yes, I’m talking about bitcoin. The crypto giant hit records after records since the pandemic made us question the fundamentals of our conventional economic policies. And while inflation was never far behind in registering its own mark in history, the volatility in the crypto stream was hard to deny: swiping billions of dollars in mere days in April 2021. The surge came again, however. And it will keep on coming; I have no doubt. But whether it is the end of the pandemic or the early hues of a new shade, the tumultuous relationship between traditional economic metrics and the championed cryptocurrency is about to get more interesting.

The job market is at the most confusing crossroads in recent times. The hiring rate in the US has slowed down in the past two months, with employers adding only 199,000 jobs in December. The numbers reveal that this is the second month of depressing job additions compared to an average of more than 500,000 jobs added each month throughout 2021. More concerning is that economists had predicted an estimated 400,000 jobs additions last month. Nonetheless, according to the US Bureau of Labour Statistics, the unemployment rate has ticked down to 3.9% – the first time since the pre-pandemic level of 3.5% reported in February 2020. Analytically speaking, US employment has returned to pre-pandemic levels, yet businesses are still looking for more employees. The leverage, therefore, lies with the labor: reportedly (on average) every two employees have three positions available.

The ‘Great Resignation,’ a coinage for the new phenomenon, underscores this unique leverage of job selection. Sectors with low-wage positions like retail and hospitality face a labor shortage as people are better-positioned to bargain for higher wages. Thus, while wages are rising, quitting rates are record high simultaneously. According to recent job reports, an estimated 4.5 million workers quit their jobs in November alone. Given that this data got collected before the surge of the Omicron variant, the picture is about to worsen.

While wages are rising, employment is no longer in the dumps. People are quitting but not to invest stimulus cheques. Instead, they are resigning to negotiate better-paying jobs: forcing the businesses to hike prices and fueling inflation. Thus, despite high earnings, the budget for consumption [represented by the Consumer Price Index (CPI)] is rising at a rate of 6.8% (reported in November 2021). Naturally, bitcoin investment is not likely to bloom at levels rivaling the last two years. However, a downfall is imminent if inflation persists.

The US Federal Reserve sweats caution about searing gains in prices and soaring wage figures. And it appears that the fed is weighing its options to wind up its asset purchase program and hike interest rates. In March 2020, the fed started buying $40 billion worth of Mortgage-backed securities and $80 billion worth of government bonds (T-bills). However, a 19% increase in average house prices and a four-decade-high level of inflation is more than they bargained. Thus, the fed officials have been rooting for an expedited normalization of the monetary policy: further bolstered by the job reports indicating falling unemployment and rising wages. In recent months, the fed purview has dramatically shifted from its dovish sentiments: expecting no rate hike till 2023 to taper talks alongside three rate hikes in 2022.

Bitcoin now faces a volatile passage in the forthcoming months. While the disappointing job data and Omicron concerns could nudge the ball in its favor, the chances are that a depressive phase is yet to ensue. According to crypto-analysts, the bitcoin is technically oversold i.e. mostly devoid of impulsive investors and dominated by long-term holders. Since November, the bitcoin has dropped from the record high of $69,000 by almost 40%: moving in the $40,000-$41,000 range. Analysts believe that since bitcoin acts as a proxy for liquidity, any liquidity shortage could push the market into a mass sellout. Mr. Alex Krüger, the founder of Aike Capital, a New York-based asset management firm, stated: “Crypto assets are at the furthest end of the risk curve.” He further added: “[Therefore] since they had benefited from the Fed’s “extraordinarily lax monetary policy,” it should suffice to say that they would [also] suffer as an “unexpectedly tighter” policy shifts money into safer asset classes.” In simpler terms, a loose monetary policy and a deluge of stimulus payments cushioned the meteoric rise in bitcoin valuation as a hedge against inflation. That mechanism would also plummet the market with a sudden hawkish shift.

The situation is dire for most industries. Job participation levels are still low as workers are on the sidelines either because of the Omicron concern or lack of child support. In case of a rate hike, businesses would be forced to push against the wages to accommodate affordability in consumer prices. For bitcoin, the investment would stay dormant. However, any inflationary surprises could bring about an early tightening of the policy: spelling doom for the crypto market. The market now expects the job data to worsen while inflation to rise at 7.1% through December in the US inflation data (to be reported on Wednesday). Any higher than the forecasted figure alongside uncertainty imbued by the new variant could spark a downward spiral in bitcoin – probably pushing the asset below the $25000 mark.

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Platform Modernisation: What the US Treasury Sanctions Review Is All About

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Image source: home.treasury.gov

The US Treasury has released an overview of its sanctions policy. It outlines key principles for making the restrictive US measures more effective. The revision of the sanctions policy was announced at the beginning of Joe Biden’s presidential term. The new review can be considered one of the results of this work. At the same time, it is difficult to find signs of qualitative changes in the US administration’s approach to sanctions in the document. Rather, it is about upgrading an existing platform.

Sanctions are understood as economic and financial restrictions that make it possible to harm the enemies of the United States, prevent or hinder their actions, and send them a clear political signal. The text reproduces the usual “behavioural” understanding of sanctions. They are viewed as a means of influencing the behaviour of foreign players whose actions threaten the security or contradict the national interests of the United States. The review also defines the institutional structure of the sanctions policy. According to the document, it includes the Treasury, the State Department, and the National Security Council. The Treasury plays the role of the leading executor of the sanctions policy, and the State Department and the NSS determine the political direction of their application, despite the fact that the State Department itself is also responsible for the implementation of a number of sanctions programmes. This line also includes the Department of Justice, which uses coercive measures against violators of the US sanctions regime.

Interestingly, the Department of Commerce is not mentioned among the institutions. The review focuses only on a specific segment of the sanctions policy that is implemented by the Treasury. However, it is the Treasury that is currently at the forefront of the application of restrictive measures. A significant part of the executive orders of the President of the United States and sanctions laws imply blocking financial sanctions in the form of an asset freeze and a ban on transactions with individuals and organisations. Decrees and laws assign the application of such measures to the Treasury in cooperation with the Department of State and the Attorney General. Therefore, the institutional link mentioned in the review reflects the spirit and letter of a significant array of US regulations concerning sanctions. The Department of Commerce and its Bureau of Industry and Security are responsible for a different segment of the sanctions policy, which does not diminish its importance. Export controls can cause a lot of trouble for individual countries and companies.

Another notable part of the review concerns possible obstacles to the effective implementation of US sanctions. These include, among other things, the efforts of the opponents of the United States to change the global financial architecture, reducing the share of the dollar in the national settlements of both opponents and some allies of the United States.

Indeed, such major powers as Russia and China have seriously considered the risks of being involved in a global American-centric financial system.

The course towards the sovereignty of national financial systems and settlements with foreign countries is largely justified by the risk of sanctions.

Russia, for example, is vigorously pursuing the development of a National Payment System, as well as a Financial Messaging System. There has been a cautious but consistent policy of reducing the share of the dollar in external settlements. China, which has much greater economic potential, is building systems of “internal and external circulation”. Even the European Union has embarked on an increase in the role of the euro, taking into account the risk of secondary sanctions from “third countries”, which are often understood between the lines as the United States.

Digital currencies and new payment technologies also pose a threat to the effectiveness of sanctions. Moreover, here the players can be both large powers and many other states and non-state structures. It is interesting that digital currencies at a certain stage may present a common challenge to the United States, Russia, China, the EU and a number of other countries. After all, they can be used not only to circumvent sanctions, but also, for example, to finance terrorism or in money laundering. However, the review does not mention such common interests.

The text does propose measures to modernise the sanctions policy. The first one is to build sanctions into the broader context of US foreign policy. Sanctions are not important in and of themselves, but as part of a broader palette of policy instruments. The second measure is to strengthen interdepartmental coordination in the application of sanctions in parallel with increased coordination of US sanctions with the actions of American allies. The third measure is a more accurate calibration of sanctions in order to avoid humanitarian damage, as well as damage to American business. The fourth measure is to improve the enforceability and clarity of the sanctions policy. Here we can talk about both the legal uncertainty of some decrees and laws, and about an adequate understanding of the sanctions programmes on the part of business. Finally, fifth is the improvement and development of the Treasury-based sanctions apparatus, including investments in technology, staff training and infrastructure.

All these measures can hardly be called new. Experts have long recommended the use of sanctions in combination with other instruments, as well as improved inter-agency coordination. The coordination of sanctions with allies has escalated due to a number of unilateral steps taken by the Trump Administration, including withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear deal or sanctions against Nord Stream 2. However, the very importance of such coordination has not been questioned in the past and has even been reflected in American legislation (Iran). The need for a clearer understanding of sanctions policy has also been long overdue. Its relevance is illustrated, among other things, by the large number of unintentional violations of the US sanctions regime by American and foreign businesses. The problem of overcompliance is also relevant, when companies refuse transactions even when they are allowed. The reason is the fear of possible coercive measures by the US authorities. Finally, improving the sanctioning apparatus is also a long-standing topic. In particular, expanding the resources of the Administration in the application of sanctions was recommended by the US Audit Office in a 2019 report.

The US Treasury review suggests that no signs of an easing are foreseen for the key targets of US sanctions. At the same time, American business and its many foreign counterparties can benefit from the modernisation of the US sanctions policy. Legal certainty can reduce excess compliance as well as help avoid associated losses.

From our partner RIAC

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It is fair to say that no country like China has so seriously connected its national rejuvenation to the Olympic...

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Metaverse Leading the Gaming Revolution: Are NFTs Truly the Future of the Industry?

Some call it the new tech boom, while others are wary of long-term implications. Regardless, the metaverse is quickly shaping...

Development8 hours ago

Naftali Bennett Highlights Tech and Trade, Bridge-Building and Climate Change

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett of Israel used his address to the Davos Agenda 2022 to highlight the role of digital...

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The Meeting Point between Pandemic and Environmental

Humans in the Anthropocene Humans are born from history, on the other hand, history is born from human life. Currently,...

Africa Today16 hours ago

Lithuanians Pave Way for EU’s Legal Migration Initiatives with Sub-Saharan Africa

The European Union is facing a shortage of specialists. The reality of demographic characteristics and the labour market dictate that...

Reports18 hours ago

Nearly half of City GDP at Risk of Disruption from Nature Loss

Cities contribute 80% to global GDP – but they also account for 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Integrating nature-positive...

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Americas20 hours ago

Sino-American confrontation and the Re-binarized world

Americans performed three very different policies on the People’s Republic: From a total negation (and the Mao-time mutual annihilation assurances),...

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