People's Bank of China building Zhang Peng/Getty Images

中国资产账户自由化为何停止

北京—2012年初,中国人民银行利用其认定的“战略性机会”,加快了始自2009年的资本账户自由化步伐。人们预计人民币将在2015年底实现“基本”可兑换,在2020年底实现完全可兑换。但情况并没有像人们预料的那样展开。

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问题始于2014年,当时,自20世纪90年代一直处于盈余状态的中国资本账户转为赤字。到下一年年底,赤字变得非常巨大,导致中国国际收支余额(BOP)也由正转负,虽然中国经常项目仍保持3,000亿美元以上的盈余。去年,中国资本项目赤字达到了约2,000亿美元。

为了捍卫人民币,中国人民银行进行了大量干预——这个过程让它付出了沉重的代价。在不到两年的时间里,中国外汇储备从2014年年中4万亿美元的峰值下降到了略低于3万亿。

一开始,许多人对损失无动于衷。甚至有人指出,根本就没有损失,只不过是资源配置发生了积极的转变,官方储备变成了私人持有的外汇资产。他们指出,毕竟,在中国外汇储备从2014年二季度到2016年年底减少了1万亿美元的同时,私人部门持有的外国资产也增加了9,000亿美元。

但这一观点没有认识到同一时期中国累计经常项目盈余为7,500亿美元。根据定义,一国的经常项目盈余应该等于该国净外国资产。因此,真正发生的情况是8,500亿美元的中国外汇储备灰飞烟灭。

而事实上,这一过程早就开始了。从2011年一季度到2016年三季度,中国累计经常项目盈余为1.28万亿美元,而净外国资产下降了124亿美元。换句话说,中国外国资产蒸发了大约1.3万亿美元。察觉到这一危险趋势的中国人民银行立刻在去年给资本账户自由化踩了刹车,收紧了资本管制力度,程度之大为20世纪90年代末亚洲金融危机以来所未见。

一国经常账户变化与其净外国资产头寸之间的差额部分反映了BOP计算中的“净误差和省略”。当资本流出一国时,交易理应体现在BOP表格中。但在中国这样的国家,资本外逃是非法行为,而投资者试图规避资本管制,因此交易可能根本不会被记录。相反,它们会体现在净误差和省略项中,最近几年,中国BOP的该项目已经变为巨大的赤字,在我看来,原因就在于资本外逃加速

一些中国人认为,误差和省略项的负趋势只不过是统计错误的结果。但在缺口高达1.3万亿美元的情况下,这样的观点根本站不住脚。也无法解释这个事实:在过去六年中,中国的净误差和省略项一直在同向变动,导致了BOP赤字。

尽管中国的净误差和省略项肯定与资本外逃有关,但数字未必需要严丝合缝地对上;净误差和省略项可以大于也可以小于实际数字。中国的情况可能是小于,原因很简单:资本外逃也可以记录为不影响误差和省略项的普通资本外流。

比如,在寻求海外并购的过程中,一些中国公司合法地将大量资本输出国外。但没人知道这些外流的资本是否会转化为中国居民所持有的净外国头寸。因此,要确定资本外逃的规模,你还必须考虑年底投资头寸,即“金融交易”和“头寸的其他变化”之差的变动。

这样的计算让真相大白。2012年以来,特别是2014年后,中国经历了大规模资本外逃。如果政府不在2016年采取行动阻止或者延缓资本账户自由化进程,结果将是真正的灾难。

在过去,中国面临的关键挑战是停止输入“暗物质”(dark matter):作为世界最大债权人之一,中国必须阻止投资收益赤字。今天的挑战是避免“物质湮灭”(matter annihilation):中国必须阻止净外国资产消失。

2013年年初,当资本账户自由化开展得如火如荼时,我写道,“中国既然弄体系太脆弱,经不起外部冲击,而全球经济仍陷在一片混乱之中,在这样的情况下,中国人民银行下注于其迅速实现资本账户自由化的能力来建立更健康、更稳健的金融体系是不明智的。”事实上,我继续写道,“考虑到中国的全面改革日程,进一步开放资本账户可以等一等;而从自由化收益不明但风险巨大的情况看,也应该等一等。”四年后,这一建议仍值得重温。

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