Cutting Treasury debt must remain option for China

By Hu Weijia Source:Global Times Published: 2019/7/18 21:38:42

The US-China trade war has generated heated debate over whether China will weaponize its holdings of US Treasury debt by dumping these securities into the market.

Efforts are needed to avoid this "nuclear option," but that doesn't mean China won't pare back its Treasury debt portfolio. According to official data, the country has trimmed its ownership of US Treasury debt to a two-year low. 

China steadily accumulated US Treasury debt for many years, but the time is ripe for Beijing to reduce its purchases of US government bonds. The US-China trade war has made this move more important.

CNN reported on Wednesday that the US debt load is about to hit a record amid the trade war. A decade-long economic expansion and bull market in stocks have obscured risks building up in the nation's financial sector, but the recent slowdown experienced by the US economy makes people aware that near-record liabilities in the US can be dangerous. 

Risks from a US debt build-up have been a major factor threatening global economic growth.

China, the largest holder of US Treasury debt, would be among the first countries to feel the pain if the US fails to contain its debt risks. At the very least, China has no obligation to indulge the US, which is relying on more debt to boost growth. The trade war is forcing China to rethink its strategies for its foreign exchange reserves and holdings of US Treasury debt.

China has the largest foreign currency reserves in the world, thanks to its export-based economy. The country must constantly optimize its investment portfolio to manage risks and maximize profits. But too high a proportion of the nation's foreign currency reserves is locked up in US debt. Suggestions that China should reduce the proportion aren't new, but the trade war makes it an increasingly urgent task.

Official data showed China increased its gold reserves for the seventh month in June, at a time when uncertainty weighed on the world economy. Further, China's exchange rate regime has undergone gradual reform while Beijing pushed forward the internationalization of the yuan. 

Such reforms are prompting China to consider a fundamental change in its strategy related to its holdings of US Treasury debt.

Some observers think China dare not dump US debt as a means of retaliation amid the trade war, but they are wrong - moves to reduce the proportion of US Treasury debt in China's reserves are in line with efforts to optimize the country's foreign reserves. 

China has not yet pursued the nuclear option because Beijing so far has been relatively restrained in retaliation, but the country has no reason to leave this choice out of its tool box.

The author is a reporter with the Global Times.


blog comments powered by Disqus