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China’s Currency Conundrum

PALO ALTO – The People’s Bank of China (PBOC), it seems, cannot win. In late February, the gradual appreciation of the renminbi was interrupted by a 1% depreciation (to $1:¥6.12). Though insignificant in overall trade terms, especially when compared with the volatility of floating exchange-rate regimes, the renminbi’s unexpected weakening sparked a global furor.

The uproar was not surprising. After all, China has been under constant pressure from foreign governments to revalue, in the mistaken belief that a stronger currency would reduce China’s large trade surplus. And, since July 2008, when the exchange rate was $1:¥8.28 (and had been held constant for ten years), the PBOC has more or less complied, with appreciations approximating 3% per year through 2012.