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中国的美元狂想

来源:天星 更新日期:2009-07-14 点击:

中国提出加强国际货币基金组织(IMF)的特别提款权(SDRs),希望借此削弱美元地位和美国的政治金融主导权,但这真的符合中国的长远利益吗?

The People's Bank of China recently reiterated the need for a global currency to rival the US dollar – through a vastly expanded role for the Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) of the IMF. The issue was highlighted at the recent summit of Brics – the group comprising Brazil, Russia, India and China – and is likely to come up again at this week's G8 meeting.

China is right in thinking that the global meltdown is due partly to abuse of the dollar's reserve currency status by the United States. But this has been aided and abetted by China's own mercantilist policies that have created huge current account surpluses and excess liquidity. China's search for an alternative international reserve currency is touched with irony: the drug pusher is pushing the addict to reform itself.

But is the proposal in China's self-interest? That may seem an odd question, given that the proposal is seen widely as serving two Chinese purposes. The first is to warn the US to avoid policies that would lead to a crash of the dollar, and so inflict huge valuation losses on the dollar component – estimated at $ 1.2 trillion – of China's foreign exchange reserves. Having created a dollar hoard through its mercantilist policies, China seeks to preserve the value of its hoard.

The second and more important purpose is political. By calling for a greater role for SDRs at the expense of the dollar, China seeks to reduce the political and financial power of the US. For much the same reason, China's move has been backed by Russia, Brazil, India and other developing countries that have long chafed at the de facto dollar standard. These countries are far from being admirers of the IMF, but think they would be better off having some say in an IMF-backed currency than none at all in the US currency.

China must know that the creation of a totally new and powerful international currency is a pipe-dream. The dollar is strong because the US had a huge domestic economy and the ability to tax its citizens to honour its obligations. The IMF has no GDP and no tax capacity. But China feels that an expanded SDR role could be a half-way house that could dilute the US's dominance.

The dollar's dominance will be reduced only when some other country emerges with a large enough GDP and tax capacity to compete with the US in providing a reserve currency. That country is obviously China itself. Right now China is still a developing country, but in perhaps little more than a decade it will become a high income country, and its GDP will begin approaching that of the US. Its total GDP already exceeds that of Germany. In terms of fiscal management, it has outperformed both the US and Europe. As China becomes wealthier, its economic focus will shift from exports to domestic consumption. At some point it will find it better to stop micro-managing its exchange rate, and instead float its currency, like all major economic powers.

Historically, countries have moved from having "soft" currencies to "hard" (international traded) currencies after running current account surpluses for a significant period, and hence emerging as creditor countries. The UK achieved creditor status in the 1800s and the US in the early 1900s, and the markets rewarded them with hard-currency status. They retained that status even when they later ran deficits.

China has now achieved creditor status. And, consciously or otherwise, its latest moves are pushing it towards a hard currency. It seeks to make Shanghai an international financial center. It has entered into yuan swap arrangements with several countries, including Brazil and Argentina. And it seeks the strengthening of the Chiang Mai initiative to create a regional Asian pool of swappable foreign exchange reserves. These three moves constitute unilateral, bilateral and regional moves in the direction of a hard currency. If China admits to itself where this road is leading, its attitude towards SDRs will change. Once it becomes a hard-currency country, it will find no advantages — and see clear disadvantages — in reducing the role of hard currencies and expanding that of SDRs. It will be where the US is today.

China's current SDR gambit is myopic. In trying to check US influence today, it might unwittingly be building a straitjacket for itself tomorrow. Of course, China could strive right now for a major role for the SDR, and repudiate that in the future when the yuan moves towards becoming a reserve currency. But that would be crassly expedient. Instead, why not prepare for the day when the US and Europe call for international fiat money to reduce the dominance of the Chinese yuan?

中国人民银行近期再次提出,需要有一种能与美元相抗衡的国际货币,这可以通过进一步扩大国际货币基金组织的特别提款权(SDRs)的作用来实现。这一问题在近期的金砖四国(译注:Brics,包括巴西、俄罗斯、印度和中国,由四国英文首字母拼成)峰会上受到关注,并有可能在本周的G8会谈中再次被提出。

中国认为全球金融风暴部分归因于美国对美元国际储备货币地位的滥用是对的。但这正是受到了中国自身重商主义政策的协助和鼓励,这一政策造成了巨额的经常账目盈余和流动性过剩。中国对一种替代性国际储备货币的追求颇具讽刺意味:贩毒的倒敦促起吸毒的来了,要其洗心革面。

但这一提议真的是对中国有利吗?鉴于这一提议被普遍视作是为中国的两大目标服务的,这个问题可能看上去很怪。其第一个目标是警告美国不要采取可能会导致美元暴跌的政策,以免中国外汇储备中的美元部分(据估计高达1万2千亿美元)遭受巨额估值亏损。在通过重商主义政策积累了大量美元储备后,中国力求维持其价值。

第二个也是更重要的目标则是政治上的。通过牺牲美元、呼吁加大特别提款权的作用,中国在寻求削弱美国的政治和金融力量。出于同样的理由,中国的举动得到了俄罗斯、巴西、印度和其他发展中国家的支持,这些国家早已对事实上的美元标准恼火不已。他们远非国际货币基金组织的拥趸,但他们认为,能对国际货币基金组织支持的货币有点发言权,无论如何都会比无法对美元指指点点要好。

中国必须认识到,创造一种全新的、强有力的国际货币无异于白日做梦。美元的强硬在于美国有着庞大的国民经济并可以通过向其国民征税来履行其义务。国际货币基金组织既没有GDP也没有税收。但中国认为加大特别提款权的作用,是一种能够削弱美国主导地位的过渡方案。

只有在某一个国家显露出庞大的国民经济和税收能力、能提供一种能与美国竞争的储备货币时,美元的主导地位才有可能被削弱。而这样的国家明显正是中国。现在中国还是一个发展中国家,但或许在不到十年的时间里它就可以成为一个高收入国家,其GDP将逐渐接近美国。现在其GDP总量已经超过德国;在财政管理方面,它的表现优于美国和欧洲。由于中国正在变得更加富裕,其经济重心将从出口转移到国内消费。将来它会发现,停止对汇率的微观管理将更为有利,并代之以浮动汇率,就像所有主要经济体那样。

历史上,从拥有“软通货”转到(国际贸易中的)“硬通货”的国家,都经历了经常账目盈余的重要时期,并因此成为债权国。英国在19世纪获得债权国地位,美国则是在20世纪早期,而市场则报以硬通货地位。它们保留了这一地位,即使后来它们的财政出现赤字。

中国现在已经成为债权国。并且,自觉或不自觉的,它最近的举动都将它推向硬通货:它寻求将上海建设成为国际金融中心;它与多个国家(包括巴西和阿根廷)达成了人民币兑换协议;它还寻求强化“清迈倡议”,以建立亚洲范围内可交易外汇储备的储备库。这三项举措构成了向硬通货地位靠拢的单边、双边和区域步骤。如果中国能够看清这一趋势,那么它对特别提款权的态度就将改变。一旦中国成为拥有硬通货的国家,它就会发现,削弱硬通货的作用而加强特别提款权毫无益处——而且有着显著的不利因素。它将处于今日美国所处的境地。

中国目前的特别提款权策略是短视的。借由今天试图削弱美国影响的措施,它可能正在无意识地为将来的自己创造束缚。诚然,中国现在可以为争取特别提款权的主导作用而奋斗,然后在将来人民币逐渐成为储备货币的时候推翻这一切。但那将是一个愚蠢的权宜之计。与其如此,为什么不作好准备,面对将来美国和欧洲呼吁国际间的法定货币来削弱人民币主导地位的那一天呢?

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