King dollar in dethrone mode

Editorial | Mary Ma 30 Jul 2020

Former Hong Kong Monetary Authority chief Joseph Yam Chi-kwong is one of the few financial heavyweights in the government backyard and it's obvious that his public remarks over the past few days were part of a concerted effort to assure a city nervous about probable American sanctions as Sino-US conflicts intensify.

His reassurance largely consisted of two points.

First, people could rest assured that Hong Kong's role as a world financial center will not be affected.

Second, a collapse in the US dollar was probable and, should the greenback continue to weaken, the chance would rise for the renminbi to become a reserve currency.

Yam's remarks were very upbeat. Given his credentials as the HKMA's former head, his assurance rang louder than any similar statements by Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po, even though the latter officially oversees the HKMA.

Advance economic data published by the government yesterday was chilling. While the mainland was able to achieve more than 3 percent growth in the second quarter despite the trade war, mounting unemployment, serious flooding and the pandemic, the SAR's GDP for the second quarter shrank 9 percent year on year.

Did that amount to an unbelievable contrast?

Yam's warning that a third financial crisis was brewing must be heeded by all.

Quantitative easing is a pain-killer that does not cure. So when governments around the world - from the US to the European Union in the West and China to Japan in the East - pressed ahead with QEs or de-facto QEs, it remains highly questionable whether such drastic actions can actually rescue the economy and save companies. With the QEs during the last financial crisis, it was a near certainty that the excessive liquidity would concentrate in the hands of the "haves," leaving the "have nots" to share the trickles.

Systemically, Hong Kong's monetary structure, banking system and financial market are robust and should be able to withstand sanctions imposed by the US.

Yesterday, as Yam went from his interview with the Hong Kong Academy of Finance to an economic forum to air his views, he raised the prospect that the US might weaponize finance in its confrontation with Beijing.

This is a prospect that policymakers here must not underestimate.

As time runs short for US President Donald Trump to boost his popularity at home ahead of the presidential election in November, it's more likely than not that his anti-Beijing team will maximize the pressure on China.

In addition to the South China Sea, where a substantial buildup of warships including aircraft carriers has been underway, the SAR is bound to be part of the battlefield between the two major powers.

As I commented in this column before, the greenback has weakened against most major currencies, and even the pound - which has been reeling from Brexit effects and the pandemic - has regained some strength against the US dollar.

Yam was upbeat about the renminbi. However, while it is probable it could eventually become an alternative to the US dollar, it will not happen overnight.

It's going to be a marathon race and the renminbi must first be freely convertible.

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