China has overtaken the US as the world’s largest oil importer and goods trading nation. Over the next five years, it will surpass the rest of the world combined in its consumption of base metals.
Given the scale of the country’s consumption of fossil fuels and raw materials, it is only a matter of time before the renminbi replaces the dollar as the primary currency for trading commodities and resources such as crude oil and iron ore.
The debt ceiling farce in Washington and China’s growing reluctance to continue underwriting the US economy by buying up its bonds and adding to America’s near $17 trillion (£10.5 trillion) debt mountain suggests that this tectonic shift in the global trade system could be just around the corner.
Chinese state media are already calling for a “de-Americanised world”. Some experts say that China is plotting to usurp the greenback’s place in global commodities trade. Beijing’s strategy hinges on quietly encouraging traders to bypass New York through the creation of a network of interlinked commodity markets based in the global financial hubs of Hong Kong and London.
“There can be little doubt from these actions that China is preparing herself for the demise of the dollar, at least as the world’s reserve currency,” writes Alastair Macleod, head of research at GoldMoney. A further signal that policymakers are beginning to warm to the renminbi playing a greater role in the global economy came last week when Chancellor George Osborne unveiled a historic deal to allow British investors direct access to China’s markets and allow Chinese banks to expand operations in the UK.