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Locking China Out of the Dollar System

By broadening the nexus between economic interest and national security, Trump is encouraging the decoupling of the world’s two largest economies and the emergence of a bipolar world order led by rival hegemons. Beyond fragmenting the trade and financial system that has underpinned the global economy for decades, the stage would be set for a devastating conflict.

LONDON – The recently announced “phase one” agreement between the United States and China has been touted as an important step toward a comprehensive deal that ends the trade war that has raged for over a year. But if you think that US President Donald Trump is ready to abandon his antagonistic China policy, think again. In fact, the Trump administration is already moving to launch another, closely related war with China, this time over financial flows.

In a highly integrated world economy, trade and finance are two sides of the same coin. Cross-border trade transactions depend on a well-functioning international payments system and a robust network of financial institutions that are willing and able to issue credit. This financial infrastructure has been built around the US dollar – the most liquid and exchangeable international currency.

The dollar’s position as the leading global reserve currency has long afforded the US what Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, then France’s finance minister, dubbed an “exorbitant privilege”: America can print money at negligible cost and use it to purchase goods and services globally. But, with the opening up of global capital markets, the US has also gained exorbitant leverage over the rest of the world.

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