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The Irresistible Rise of the Renminbi

SEOUL – By the end of this year, the International Monetary Fund will decide whether the Chinese renminbi will join the euro, the Japanese yen, the British pound, and the US dollar in the basket of currencies that determines the value of its international reserve asset, the Special Drawing Right (SDR). China is pushing hard for the renminbi’s inclusion. Should it be admitted?

The IMF created the SDR in 1969 to supplement existing reserve currencies, thereby providing the global financial system with additional liquidity. As it stands, the SDR’s role remains largely limited to IMF operations; its share in global financial markets and central banks’ international reserves is negligible. Nonetheless, adding the renminbi to the SDR basket would be symbolically important, implying recognition of China’s growing global stature. The renminbi is already a major currency for world trade and investment, and accounts for a growing share of international financial transactions and reserve holdings.

To qualify for inclusion, the Chinese government has eased its capital controls and liberalized its financial markets considerably. Inclusion in the SDR basket would require continuing this process, which, together with the renminbi’s emergence as a globally investable currency, would benefit the entire world economy.

The IMF’s largest shareholders – the United States, Europe, and Japan – should thus welcome the renminbi’s addition to the SDR basket. Yet opinions on the matter have been divided, with the US, in particular, reluctant to welcome China into the fold.