The Beijing Consensus

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Back in March, I flagged up the significance of a proposal from Zhou Xiaochuan, China’s central bank governor, for the dollar to be replaced as the world’s reserve currency with a new, more multilateral system based on Special Drawing Rights – and noted that his proposal harked back explicitly to discussions at the Bretton Woods summit in 1944.

As Ngaire Woods points out over at the GEG blog, this is just one component of a Chinese strategy for pursuing power shift in the international monetary order.  Another is the increasingly emphatic Chinese tone on the need for IMF reform – with Wen Jiabao making clear back in March that much-needed additional Chinese contributions to the IMF would be contingent on more voice for developing countries.

Now, another important plank of their reform drive has been unveiled: a new $120 billion emergency currency pool based on the existing Chiang Mai initiative.  Details according to the WSJ:

The initiative aims to create a network of bilateral currency-swap arrangements among Asean and the three East Asian countries. Asean includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Japan, South Korea and China will provide 80% of the $120 billion currency pool and Asean members the remaining 20%. Japan will contribute $38.4 billion, while China, including Hong Kong, will also offer $38.4 billion. South Korea will provide $19.2 billion. Under terms of the program, smaller Asian economies will be able to borrow larger amounts in proportion to their contributions than the more-developed economies.

As Ngaire observes, proposals in the late 1990s for a new Asian Monetary Fund were publicly torpedoed by the US, but it’s the bilateral swap arrangements that Asian nations started to agree then that have grown into the initiative announced yesterday.  And, she stresses,

It is worth highlighting that while China is politely offering something to the IMF (it announced a contribution of $40 billion), it has just announced an almost equivalent contribution ($38.4 billion) to the Asian pool.

All this creates useful independence from the IMF, she continues:

…the ASEAN+3 countries have created for themselves an alternative to borrowing from the IMF. Their arrangements actually use the IMF as a monitor, but crucially guard control (within the region) over their shared reserves. It has emerged in no small part because countries in the region see the IMF as a useful but American instrument of economic coordination.