Thursday, January 10, 2008

China: the new driver with the 1.4 trillion dollar car

In this month's Atlantic James Fallows writes about China's 1.4 trillion US dollar financial reserves. The management of those reserves played a key role in his 2005 warning of American disaster.

It's a timely review, though he might have mentioned the parallels to Saudi Arabia's foreign reserve accumulations 1970s. The part that caught my attention came towards the end
The $1.4 Trillion Question

....The fair reason for concern is, again, the transparency problem. Twice in the past year, China has in nonfinancial ways demonstrated the ripples that a nontransparent policy creates. Last January, its military intentionally shot down one of its own satellites, filling orbital paths with debris. The exercise greatly alarmed the U.S. military, because of what seemed to be an implied threat to America’s crucial space sensors. For several days, the Chinese government said nothing at all about the test, and nearly a year later, foreign analysts still debate whether it was a deliberate provocation, the result of a misunderstanding, or a freelance effort by the military. In November, China denied a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, the Kitty Hawk, routine permission to dock in Hong Kong for Thanksgiving, even though many Navy families had gone there for a reunion. In each case, the most ominous aspect is that outsiders could not really be sure what the Chinese leadership had in mind. Were these deliberate taunts or shows of strength? The results of factional feuding within the leadership? Simple miscalculations? In the absence of clear official explanations no one really knew, and many assumed the worst...
Bush's America has not been a paragon of reasoned action. It's reasonable to assume that China, now newly in command of vast financial power, might be similarly impulsive and unpredictable.

No wonder Moody's, a disgraced financial rating agency, whines about the difficulty of assessing risk in the new world. They have a point, even though they're trying to distract attention from their internal corruption.

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