The Covid-19 crisis and, more recently, the war in Ukraine have led to some re-thinking of financial globalization. In particular, large emerging countries are showing growing discontent against the Western USD-centered framework. The rise of the Chinese economy (and its geopolitical assertiveness) seems to make the CNY a natural challenger.
We find that since 2009, the CNY’s role in the global financial system has nearly doubled, just surpassing the JPY and GBP. Getting on par with the USD is likely to take much longer, if it is even possible at all. Our analysis is based on a cross-country comparison of the economic size of the country issuing the currency, the credibility of the currency as well as its internationalization level, convertibility and reserve currency status.
The next phase of financial globalization could be a polarized system. The rise of the CNY is not only a topic of financial development and diversification, but also geopolitically charged. In an optimistic scenario, global finance could be heading towards a multipolar system where economic agents use both the USD and CNY seamlessly. In a pessimistic scenario, two spheres of influence could form (US and USD vs. China and CNY), with little exchanges. The reality could lie between these two extremes as going forward geopolitics is likely to guide economic trends much more than in the past.
A polarized financial system
However, the path towards a polarized financial system is not straightforward. While progress in China’s reforms towards capital account liberalization had been fast in the 2000s and early 2010s, there have been some roadblocks. Stronger capital controls were put in place in 2015-2016 to contain the strong depreciation of the CNY and some bold Belt and Road Initiative investments did not always prove sustainable. Sweeping regulations in 2021 also raised concerns regarding political risks. While Chinese leaders likely still aim to raise the global role of the CNY, a rising number of issues in China could risk slowing down the pace of further reforms and the opening of the financial system.
Technological developments as a way to leapfrog? China has plans to combine its widely used central bank digital currency (CBDC) with blockchain technology – once efficiency and reliability gains are proven. This could accelerate the CNY’s role in the global financial system.
Re-thinking of globalization
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