For most of the last century the default currency for international settlements has been the US dollar. This has given America ultimate power over international trade. In recent months, the US wielded this power against Iran, making life extremely difficult for all Iranians. Importantly it has interrupted oil trade with India, China and Japan. Furthermore Swift, the Belgian-based international banking settlement agency, has halted all Iranian interbank transfers.
The sharp lesson for nations in Asia is that their own trade security is best served by having an alternative settlement medium to the dollar and other Western currencies. This function historically belongs to gold, but that is a last resort for central banks, and besides, many Asian central banks are gold-poor. This plays into China’s hands.
China is increasingly keen to provide her own currency for trade settlement purposes. She sees the dollar-monopoly as an important security threat, which is why she has in the past sought alternatives. She is now cautiously promoting her own currency for this role and is developing an offshore renminbi capital market in Hong Kong. At the same time she is evolving from manufacturing consumer goods towards capital goods, for which Hong Kong is the natural financing center.
Her targeted growth-markets are other rapidly developing economies, as well as the whole Asian continent, and no longer the US and Europe. One of her key strategies through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization is to build a pan-Asian security and trade bloc in partnership with Russia, and the last element of this 10-year old plan is to settle cross-border trade without using the West’s financial system. China expects to play a major part with her currency, which explains why she is adding to her gold reserves. The relevance of gold is that China will have to show to the people of Asia that her currency has better long-term prospects than the dollar, which goes some way to explaining why so many of the countries associated with the SCO are now also accumulating the metal. This analysis is confirmed by a leaked cable from the US Embassy in Beijing as long ago as April 2009 that can be seen in GATA’s database. As Iran and India also have SCO Observer status they are part of China’s grand strategy, and they have also been buying gold.
At some stage China will need to restate her gold reserves, and given this has to be credible rather that actual, she will probably release a suitable figure showing her to be the second largest holder behind the US. However, she is treading carefully, because she has to extricate herself from monetary relationships with the West, which ideally should be a gradual process: a sudden withdrawal could lead to a global systemic collapse and undermine her own dollar investments.
The question now arises as to whether an escalation of US pressure on Iran and her oil-trading partners will provoke an announcement from China about her gold. In any event there is bound to be a growing realization of why gold is central to the economic futures of China, Russia and the whole of Asia. China’s financial and economic objectives will completely wrong-foot the major central banks that are committed to the demonetization of gold.
Alasdair Macleod will give an investor master class on Tuesday, May 15, during the New York Hard Assets Investment Conference.
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