China's renminbi goes global
Authorities have given tentative support to the idea of establishing the
renminbi as an international currency, but the debate continues over how to
achieve such a task.
Guo Shuqing, a deputy governor of China's central
bank and the chairman of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE),
told local media in March that the government supports the increasing
"internationalization'' of the renminbi.
But it is impossible for the
renminbi to become a world currency by international agreements, as the US
dollar has done.
It would also be difficult for the renminbi to establish
itself, as the Japanese yen has done, through strong international
The prospects of the renminbi becoming an international currency
are limited at present because it has not realized its full
And the Chinese Government, under pressure from the
International Monetary Fund (IMF) to quicken reform, still has no timetable for
the currency's full convertibility.
As a result, the settlement role of
yuan in border trade may be an efficient way to boost its international status
in the interim.
China's trade with countries on its borders has been
developing fast in recent years.
There is also growing use of the
renminbi in areas bordering China that increasingly rely on cross-border
China's border trade reached more than US$26 billion last
The renminbi is the principle trading currency in Laos, Myanmar,
Cambodia and Viet Nam.
In Myanmar and Laos, the Chinese currency
substitutes for weak local currencies like the Myanmar kyat and Laotian
Along the Thai banks of the Mekong River, Chinese traders from
Yunnan do business without necessary to convert their renminbi into Thai baht.
According to official statistics, there are 99.5 million yuan (US$11.9
million) in outstanding renminbi banknotes in Russia and 3.5 billion yuan
(US$422.9 million) in Viet Nam.
In Thailand, a total of 4.4 billion yuan
(US$531.6 million) is circulating.
The fact that the renminbi is being
increasingly used as a settlement currency in border trade reflects its
reputation and the recognition of its strength.
It is one step towards
the maturation and internationalization of the renminbi.
If in another 10
years, the renminbi is also accepted in Europe and America, then it will be
truly an international currency.
But it will take a long time for the
renminbi to achieve such a status through border trade alone.
rapid growth, border trade remains a small part of China's total foreign
And the volume of border trade settled by renminbi is smaller
Only when border trade settled by renminbi reaches a sizeable
volume can it gradually become an international currency.
renminbi faces many unanswered questions along the way:
"What currency should
banks in both countries choose for settlement? How do we prevent exchange rate
risks? Should renminbi bills beyond the border be diverted back?''
the renminbi for border trade payments reduces China's foreign exchange spending
and facilitates trade, but may complicate China's money supply policies as part
of the cash is flowing outside the system.
Although quantity of external
renminbi cash is still tiny given the trillions in China's broad money supply,
precautions are necessary.
As the volume grows, the government should
consider the trend's implications for monetary policy.
The SAFE has
recently completed reports on the macro-economic implications of the renminbi's
outflow and its increasing role in border trade settlement.
authorities are considering how to set up a system to monitor renminbi
circulation in border areas.
The underground settlement of the renminbi
in neighbouring countries also increases the financial risks to the
The growing circulation of external renminbi has benefitted
unauthorized money changers on the border.
In Viet Nam, such money
changers, dubbed "ditan'' or stand banks in Chinese, a Vietnamese woman often
sits on a mat behind a big iron box, in which bunches of bills in both the
Vietnamese dong and renminbi are neatly placed.
Some say 90 per cent of
border trade in many regions is settled at stand banks.
It is difficult for
the government to supervise the renminbi that circulates outside the banking
It is also hard for them to calculate the true amount of renminbi
circulating outside the country.
The authorities should work out how to
make renminbi settlement easier in the banking system and monitor its
The yuan's growing role in trade settlement has
prompted action from the Chinese authorities.
At the end of September,
the government issued a circular urging Chinese commercial banks to forge ties
with their counterparts in neighbouring countries to facilitate border trade
Meanwhile, commercial banks in six border provinces and
autonomous regions were also allowed to provide yuan exchange rates against the
currencies in neighbouring countries.
The moves aimed to provide
convenient foreign exchange services to gradually replace stand
But banks have not been as decisive, weighing up the exchange rate
risks of holding more unstable foreign currencies and the costs of declaring war
on illegitimate money changers.
Only a meagre 4 to 5 per cent of
Industrial and Commercial Bank of China's foreign exchange business currently
comes from border trade.