Posts tagged: Currency Manipulation

Clinton on U.S-China Relations – A Changed Approach

By , January 17, 2011

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivers the Richard Holbrooke Inaugural Lecture

The Obama Administration has a new China policy, or at the very least has gotten better at articulating it. In preparation for President Hu Jintao’s January 19 State visit, key officials in the Obama Administration outlined their goals for the U.S.-China relationship through a series of speeches last week. 

While Secretaries Tim Geithner and Gary Locke each focused on specifics (currency, market access, intellectual property), Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s speech on Friday (click here for speech transcript) provided a new framework by which to view the U.S.-China relationship. Rest assured this isn’t the same soft China policy that accompanied President Obama on his visit to China in November 2009. 

In her speech, Clinton acknowledged the importance of the U.S.-China relationship to each country and the world at large. But while it values its relationship with China, the United States still has choices and the U.S. would “firmly and decisively” address its differences with China. Friday’s speech, which was also the inaugural Richard C. Holbrooke Annual Lecture, in honor of former State Department official and an important peace envoy (key player in the Dayton Peace Accords and envoy to Afghanistan), has already received criticism from China’s leadership.  

Clinton Announces a New Paradigm By Which to View China’s Rise

Perhaps the greatest obstacles in the relationship – at least for the U.S. – have been China’s currency manipulation and China’s protection of domestic industries at the expense of international trade rules and norms.  What the U.S. asks of China – to stop pegging its currency to the U.S. dollar and to open its markets to foreign competition in accordance with international standards – inevitably means that in the short-term, Chinese domestic companies will suffer.  By allowing its currency to float, Chinese exports will become more expensive, hurting the manufacturing backbone of its economy.  Opening its markets to more competition from foreign companies and products – particularly the government procurement market – could impair the development of many of China’s nascent industries. 

Needless to say, it has been difficult to find a convincing argument to make Chian’s leaders willing suffer short-term hurt. In the past, U.S. officials have repeatedly discussed how in the long-run these changes will eventually better promote China’s economic growth and power. But this appear disingenuous since in the short-term, it is the U.S. that will most greatly benefit from changes to Beijing’s current policies.  Additionally, telling Beijing what’s good for it in the long-run is sort of like parents telling their kids what is best. 

But Clinton’s speech took on a decidedly different approach and offers a more convincing, even slightly threatening argument.  Clinton did not bother with a “what is best for China” argument to try to convince the Chinese government; instead Clinton provided an entire new way by which to view China’s rise.  Clinton acknowledged the hard work of China’s people and the far-sightedness of its leaders in creating the world’s second largest economy in just over 30 years.  But Clinton also stressed the important role the United States played in China’s rise; without the United States, which guaranteed military security in Asia and equitable rules to govern the global economy, China’s current success would have been impossible.  

By tying China’s rise to the stability the United States provided in the region for the past 30 years, Clinton makes a much stronger argument as to why China’s leaders should make some changes on currency and market access – basically, these are the rules of the game that allowed you to succeed and now you think you can just change them? 

No rest for Robert Gates

The United States Will Remain a Pacific Power

But if logic isn’t enough to better protect U.S.’ interests, Clinton put China on warning that it is not the only fish in the sea.  Repudiating any notion of a G-2 relationship, Clinton gave a shout out to the other countries in the region, stating that the United States intends to remain a Pacific military power, strengthen its bonds with its allies in the region (e.g. Japan, South Korea, Philippines) and deepen its ties with developing Asian countries (e.g. India, Vietnam, Indonesia).

On some level, this should not come as a surprise to China.  This past summer, the United States involved itself in a long-running dispute between China and Vietnam over the control of a group of rock islands, stating that the U.S. has a national interest in mediating the dispute.  Additionally, recent bellicose developments on the Korean peninsula and China’s ambivalent response to the North’s unprovoked attack on South Korea, makes it apparent that the United States must maintain a strong military presence in the region.  China’s response shows that it is not yet ready to take on the responsibility of maintaining peace in the Pacific region since its loyalties to North Korea still dominate. 

Finally, Clinton noted that China’s non-transparent military build-up leaves one wondering what exactly are China’s intentions.  Military-to-military ties between the

China launches its Stealth fighter jet during Robert Gates visit to Beijing

 United States and China are at all-time low, mostly at the fault of China.  China’s military continues to shroud itself in secrecy and the recent visit of Secretary Robert Gates to China was a complete debacle.  While Gates visited with President Hu Jintao in Beijing, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) tested – in a very public way – its own stealth fighter jet.  Hu’s admission that he was unaware of the PLA’s planned test fight, is not particularly reassuring.  Not only does the PLA continue its secrative military build-up, but it’s even a secret to China’s own President, making one wonder, what power does Hu still have?  If history is a guide, whoever is in charge of the Chinese military is in charge of China.  If not Hu, then who?

Getting Serious About Human Rights

Clinton was surprisingly blunt when it came to China’s human rights record and didn’t just portray human rights as a peculiar aspect of the American culture (see President Obama’s talk to Shanghai students in November 2009 for this approach).  Instead, Clinton emphasized the universality of certain human rights and highlighted the fact that China is a signatory to many United Nations human rights treaties.  The United States is not interfering with China’s domestic politics; instead the United States is merely requesting that China fulfill its human rights obligations, obligations it voluntary agreed to. 

But Clinton went further and mentioned specific dissidents, including the recent Nobel Peace Prize winner, Liu Xiaobo who is currently languishing in a Chinese prison; rights defending attorney Chen Guangcheng who since his release from prison has been subject to repeat police harassment; and missing rights defending attorney Gao Zhisheng.   Clinton stressed that as long as people like these three continue to advocate peacefully within the confines of the law, China should not persecute them.  Clinton poetically commented that the empty seat for Liu Xiaobo at last month’s Nobel Peace Prize ceremony symbolizes China’s unrealized potential.  Clinton stressed that these human rights are necessary to China’s success; freedom of speech is essential to fostering free thought that leads to technological and scientific advancement and a vibrant civil society addresses social-economic problems that are currently one the regime’s biggest fears. 

The Obama Administration has a new policy on China – it’s tougher, more logical and stresses the importance of human rights.  The Chinese government has already responded.  President Hu Jintao, in an interview with the Washington Post, commented that the United States should not interfere with the internal affairs of China. 

Wednesday’s meeting between Presidents Hu and Obama should prove to be perhaps some of the most important conversations in the U.S.-China relationship since Kissinger secretly visited Beijing in 1971 in preparation for President Nixon’s visit.

Will China Float its Currency?

By , April 16, 2010
Will China allow its currency to float?

Will China allow its currency to float?

As Marcy Nicks Moody pointed out in her article, “A Dusty Springfield Approach to the Chinese Exchange Rate,” the Treasury Department was to release its report on international economic and exchange rate policies on April 15.  But last week, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner announced that he would delay the release of the report  noting that key meetings with world leaders in the upcoming months necessitated the delay.  Many saw this as a sign that the U.S. was in dialogue with the Chinese about the exchange rate with the real possibility that China would give its currency some freedom.

But in today’s New York Times, Michael Wines reports that perhaps we shouldn’t be so sure.  Domestic fiscal and monetary policy issues are pushing Chinese leaders not to float the yuan, Chinese currency (a.k.a. the renminbi or RMB).  Interestingly, the online version of this article has the title “China’s Recovery Keeps Focus on Interest Rates and Currency” while the title in today’s paper version is the more explosive “China Move on Currency Not at Hand.”

So will China succumb to foreign pressure or will it remain focused on its own recovery and not look to change its currency policy just yet?  You decide.  Take our poll on this issue listed on the left hand side of the website.  Results will be posted next Friday, April 23.

A Dusty Springfield Approach to the Chinese Exchange Rate?

By , March 21, 2010

Not a day goes by without mention of China and its currency: “China’s manipulating its currency, injuring the U.S.” “No it’s not, and if it were, it only hurts the Chinese people.”  Guest blogger Marcy Nicks Moody tries to make sense of it all and examines the mechanics underlying the Treasury Department’s pending decision to either designate China a currency manipulator or not.

A Dusty Springfield Approach to the Chinese Exchange Rate?

Will China allow its currency to float?

Will China allow its currency to float?

By Marcy Nicks Moody

Last week, in a discussion about the administration’s approach to China’s exchange rate policy, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs remarked that President Obama “mentioned just a few days ago that he wished and hoped that China approached their currency using a more market-based interpretation.”

If only wishing and hoping were the ne plus ultra of sound policy-making. Unfortunately, they’re not. And Mr. Gibbs’ comment was more revealing of his administration’s approach to the Chinese exchange rate than he may have hoped. Or wished.

On a more or less biannual basis, chatter over China’s undervalued currency increases, coinciding with a report that the Treasury Department must submit to Congress on international economic and exchange rate policies. This is the document in which a country is formally designated a currency manipulator or, in the case of China or any other country since 1994, is not.

Does China manipulate its currency? Yes. This fact is well-known and rarely questioned. The gargantuan scale of its global trade and current account surpluses and rate at which China is intervening and accumulating foreign exchange reserves to keep the renminbi (“RMB”) from appreciating make it all but impossible to argue otherwise.

But does China intend to manipulate its currency in order to gain an unfair trade advantage? Well yes, but this is part of the legal metric by which China must be judged in the foreign exchange report, and it remains the technical basis on which the Treasury sidesteps formally designating China a manipulator of its currency. The arguments for so doing do not include any serious contention that China does not intend to manipulate its currency, but rather that engagement works better than saber-rattling.

That is one possibility. Another is that there is no saber. What if China were designated a currency manipulator in a Treasury report to Congress? Would the administration huff and puff and hold its breath until all of Washington turned blue? That might be the best option, for nothing necessarily follows from the findings in these reports, other than expedited negotiations, which are fancy words with few teeth. And demonstration of ineffectiveness on an important issue is something the Treasury might understandably like to avoid. Naming China a currency manipulator would strain relations further but in itself provide no foreseeable gain. And besides, the whole world knows it anyway – it’s not like the report would be telling us anything we didn’t already know.

The U.S. Treasury - preparing its April 15 report

The U.S. Treasury - preparing its April 15 report

Though the Treasury Department’s stance is far from principled, it does have some weight. But the exceptionalist tone of this stance—which suggests that China is exempt from Treasury censure because of some special status it holds—may well damage U.S.-China relations in the longer term. For years, the United States has encouraged China to act as a responsible stakeholder in the global economic and financial system, playing by the rules China increasingly helps to write. Allowing China to escape criticism for undervaluing its currency simply because ‘it is China’ runs counter to the notion of that stakeholder. Given the belligerent tone Beijing has recently taken on a range of foreign policy issues from Copenhagen to the Dalai Lama’s recent U.S. visit to exchange rate policy itself, the United States would do well to move away from this more recent G2-style exceptionalism and towards responsible stakeholdership in its rhetoric and substantive discussions with China.

Moreover, American concern about undervaluation of the RMB dates to at least 2003. Modest appreciation notwithstanding, engaging and talking softly behind closed doors have not worked. That Chinese surpluses cost Americans jobs should be an abomination to Washington, especially now, as unemployment remains unacceptably high. China is unlikely to move on its exchange rate unless it perceives that doing so would be in its own interest, and for better or for worse, it is up to Washington to create that incentive.

Might a Treasury report designating China a currency manipulator encourage China to move on its exchange rate? Let’s be clear: This is only a document submitted by one branch of the federal government to another, and by itself, the report does little. But might a Treasury report designating China a currency manipulator trigger other events that could encourage China to move on its exchange rate? Congress may be emboldened to pass legislation mandating countervailing duties on goods from countries with misaligned currencies. Indeed, even without the Treasury’s report, which isn’t due until April 15, Congress has already started to move forward on the issue. There is currently a bill with unusual bipartisan support in the Senate that would give Treasury less flexibility in determining whether a country manipulates its currency. Further, the Chinese exchange rate is not solely a U.S. problem. If Washington did, for example, undertake trade sanctions, the frustrated international community would likely follow suit. And this would create a strong incentive for China to allow the RMB to appreciate.

A Treasury report designating China a currency manipulator is unlikely, by itself, to produce any results vis-à-vis the RMB. And it might not even trigger events that would compel China to allow the RMB to appreciate. But it might. The current state of affairs is unacceptable, and as even Dusty Springfield knows, wishin’ and hopin’ and dreamin’ and prayin’ are not enough.

Marcy writes about China. In 2007-08, she was a Fulbright Scholar in China, where she was also a Research Fellow with the U.S.-Asia Law Institute. She received an M.A. in East Asian Studies from Columbia University and graduated from Brown University.

Administration’s Debreifing of Hu Jintao & Barack Obama Meeting

By , September 23, 2009

Subsequent to Presidents Barack Obama and Hu Jintao’s meeting, Administration officials met with the press to answer questions regarding what was discussed between the two. Below is a transcript of that Q&A session. Stayed tuned to China Law & Policy as we delve deeper into some of the issues raised during the two Presidents’ meeting.

THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
________________________________________________________________
For Immediate Release September 22, 2009
BACKGROUND BRIEFING BY
A SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL
ON THE PRESIDENT’S MEETING WITH PRESIDENT HU OF CHINAPress Filing Center
Waldorf Astoria

New York, New York
6:00 P.M. EDT

MR. HAMMER: Good late afternoon. We’re going to do one more readout for today, and I know there’s a conference call beginning in about 15 minutes. So that’s the window that we have. We have a senior administration official who will brief on the President’s just concluded meeting with the Chinese President Hu.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Good afternoon. The President had an hour-and-a-half meeting with President Hu. It had been scheduled for an hour. The meeting I would describe as friendly, warm. It’s the second time the two have met. They’ve spoken often on the phone. It reflects the fact they’ve had many conversations and they’ve now become easy and comfortable with each other. It was a conversation; it was not simply a presentation of talking points on the two sides.

The emphasis was upon common interests, how far we’ve come in building the relationship, opportunities that we have to build the relationship further, discussion about how the President’s trip to China later this year could fit in with that objective, candid discussion of differences.

The principal topics that were discussed were North Korea, Iran, climate change, and global economic recovery and bilateral — the bilateral economic and trade relationship. I think I’ll leave it there and open it up to questions.

Continue reading 'Administration’s Debreifing of Hu Jintao & Barack Obama Meeting'»

What Came Out of the Strategic & Economic Dialogue?

By , July 31, 2009

This past Monday and Tuesday marked the sixth Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) between the U.S. and China.  Formerly just the “Strategic Economic Dialogue” and before under the sole supervision of the U.S. Treasury

Secretary Hillary Clinton & State Councilor Dai Bingguo with the Strategic Track delegation, July 28, 2009 (White House Photo/Public Domain)

Secretary Hillary Clinton & State Councilor Dai Bingguo with the Strategic Track delegation, July 28, 2009 (White House Photo/Public Domain)

Department, the inclusion of  the conjunction “and” to the title brings non-economic issues to the table as well as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

On day one of the two-day conference, President Obama spoke to the delegation, stressing the need for the U.S. and China to continue cooperation to guarantee a lasting economic recovery, to lessen the impact of climate change and promote “a clean, secure and prosperous energy future,” and to stop the spread of nuclear weapons in places like North Korea and Iran (these three issues were also the main thrust of an op-ed written by Secretary Clinton and Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner  in Monday’s Wall Street Journal) .

Was the S&ED successful?  Did it produce more than just mere rhetoric?  At first glance, no.  But in the relationship between the U.S. and China, sometimes even rhetoric is a step forward.  See below for a review of the issues in greater detail.

(1) Climate Change

There was definitely paper success here.  The U.S. and China signed a Memorandum of Understanding  to Enhance Cooperation on Climate Change, Energy and the Environment (MOU), but the MOU just puts on paper existing relationships and does little to further climate change cooperation.  Both governments promise to continue with the Ten Year Cooperation Framework on Energy and Environment signed just last year and both promise to promote cooperation on a variety of vague steps, including capacity building and cooperation “between cities, universities, provinces and states of the two countries.”  Perhaps this shows a greater understanding on the part of U.S. policy makers that “capacity” is something that China sincerely needs assistance with (see The U.S. in Copenhagen: Preventing Another Toothless Tiger).  Also, in a nod to the Chinese delegation’s claim of differing responsibilities between developed and developing countries, the MOU states “Consistent with equity and their common but differentiated responsibilities, and respective capabilities, the United States and China recognize they have a very important role in combating climate change” (emphasis added)  Only time will tell if any of this rhetoric becomes a reality and whether the U.S. and China can reach an agreement in time for Copenhagen, an increasingly less likely proposition.

(2) Economic Recovery

Discussion regarding economic recovery was perhaps the most public, and most interesting, of all the talks.  Showing the changing dynamic of the U.S.-China relations, Xie Xuren, the Chinese finance minister, called the U.S. to task and requested that it reduce its budget deficit.  Holding an estimated $1.5 trillion in U.S. Treasuries, the Chinese government is concerned that an increased deficit could weaken the dollar, lowering the value of their Treasuries.  At the same time, for the U.S. to decrease deficit it would need to buy less goods, further decreasing demand on China’s manufacturing sector (an unfortunate Catch-22 here for China).  While Secretary Geithner promised the Chinese delegation that the U.S. would lower its deficit once recovery has begun, he also called upon the Chinese to increase

Who's got the ball?  Vice Premier Wang Qishan with Pres. Obama at the Oval Office, July 28, 2009 (White House Photo/Public Domain)

Who's got the ball? Vice Premier Wang Qishan with Pres. Obama at the Oval Office, July 28, 2009 (White House Photo/Public Domain)

domestic demand and lower the astronomically high savings rate of its people (estimated at 50%) in an attempt to rebalance the U.S.’ trade deficit with China.

(3) Currency

Always a thorny issue, the U.S.’ repeated request that China allow its currency to strengthen was most likely discussed during the S&ED.  However, nothing about currency was mentioned publically.

(4) North Korea

China has taken a much more foreceful approach to North Korea.  In May, when North Korea first began its saber-rattling, China spoke a hard-line against its neighbor, agreeing to abide by U.N. Security Council sanctions.  Less clear is what actions China actually undertook to promote these sanctions.  And although North Korea was a main point in President Obama’s speech before the S&ED, publically, neither the U.S. nor China made any statements on how they will cooperate to contain the country.   Such silence is par for the course since North Korea is a very sensitive issue for China but at the same time, their assistance in dealing with the North Koreans is essential.

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