China to the Rescue in Africa, Asia and Europe

Physical map of Africa

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China is adeptly using its $3.2 trillion of foreign currency reserves to extend its influence slowly but surely to all parts of the world. In our recent post on the subject, we noted that two Chinese policy banks lent more to emerging markets in 2009 and 2010 than the World Bank. The impact of the capital support being provided by China is having a visible impact on the economies of dozens of countries, starting with those in Africa.

Once again, Paul Tierney, my good friend, legendary private equity and emerging markets investor, and an Adjunct Professor at the Columbia Business School, has invited me to be a guest lecturer at his emerging markets finance course. Paul received a B.A. in philosophy from the University of Notre Dame and an MBA from the Harvard Business School where he was designated a Baker Scholar. Having served as a Peace Corps volunteer after graduation from Notre Dame, Paul has a particular interest in the economies of developing countries, such as those in Latin America and Africa. He has found that his course would not be complete without an in-depth discussion of China’s economic influence in emerging markets such as Africa, which is what he has asked me to address this time around.

While I’ll be talking about China’s activities in Africa to Paul’s class next Monday, recent news reports indicate that China may be stepping up its support to two other areas of the world—Southeast Asia and Europe.

On Thursday, it was reported that China is considering a proposal to set up a regional bank to help its small and medium enterprises invest in Southeast Asian neighbors and fund infrastructure projects in an effort to buy goodwill in the region. The bank will also settle China-ASEAN trade in yuan, a step in China’s long campaign to make the yuan a regional currency. China has already reached such an agreement with respect to its growing trade with Russia.

On Friday, reports surfaced that China may also be gearing up to play a greater financial role  in Europe. Based on interviews with two senior advisers to the Chinese government, The Financial Times reported that China is very likely to contribute to the Eurozone’s bail-out fund, with the scope of its involvement dependent upon European leaders satisfying some key conditions. In addition to giving strong guarantees on the safety of its investment, Beijing might also ask European leaders to refrain from criticizing China’s currency policy, a frequent source of tension with trade partners. China might also insist that its contribution be at least partly denominated in renminbi, which would protect its investment against currency fluctuations.

As one of China’s largest trading partners, it should come as no surprise that China might want to play a role in bringing financial stability to the eurozone. We predicted as much in our September post when we said: “Look for China to play an increasingly greater role in solving the European financial crisis in the months ahead.”

In fact, China has already been providing unofficial, informal support by propping up the Euro. Given all of the uncertainty surrounding Europe, there is no reason why the Euro should have appreciated by 18 percent against the dollar over the past 15 months, other than purchases by China. The recent statements coming out of Beijing are merely a continuation of a policy that China has been pursuing since the crisis began.

Whether it’s Africa, Southeast Asia or Europe, China is using its economic might to reshape global economics in a way that is most favorable to the country’s economic policies. This includes ultimate acceptance of the renminbi as one of the world’s major trading currencies.

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