China wants to play in the game. Yes, it would like to dominate the game, but that is for another time. For the present, China wants to be a player. I have written this constantly throughout my blogging career and I see no reason to change my opinion at this point.
China wants to play in the game and to do so its leaders realize that it must be a part of the game and not absent from it. But, remember two things: first, China will not do anything that it thinks might be harmful to itself in the long run; and second, China will always move in a way that “saves face.” Given these two conditions, China will be “in the game.”
The weekend news about China’s move on its currency is a case in point. The move was taken at China’s initiative and it seemed to catch the rest of the world by surprise. The move followed weeks of discussion about the possibility that China would not change the value of its currency in the near term.
China timed its move according to its dictates and not those of other nations.
Furthermore, the move pre-empts any discussion or actions by members of the G-20 at its June 26-27 meeting to highlight China’s unwillingness to play ball with the other major nations that will be in attendance. Now, the rest of the G-20 must re-boot their strategies relative to the agenda of the upcoming meeting.
China must see this as beneficial to itself and believe that moving at this time “saves face” because the news was done on its terms and not those of other countries in the world. It is keeping itself in the game.
However, China does not want events to get ahead of its plans. Although the announcement came on Saturday, when the market opened on Monday the value of the yuan was approximately 6.83 yuan to the dollar, roughly the same as it closed on Friday. By Monday afternoon, however, the yuan was trading around 6.8015 to the dollar, the highest level it has been in the modern era.
The point here is that China wants any appreciation in the value of the yuan to be incremental and not discrete. That is, movements in the yuan will tend to be more like a slow crawl and not like a discrete jump or leap. The leaders in China do not want to encourage speculators or huge currency inflows.
The signal to investors is that the value of the yuan may change but don’t expect wide swings. This is just not the way the Chinese do business.
But, I think, there is a bigger story going on here. The bigger story includes Russia and India... so we have three of the four BRIC nations as a part of what is going on. President Obama and his administration are making a concerted effort to be a part of the trajectory taking these countries into a prominent position in the world. All three of these countries are engaging each other, and talking with each other, visiting each other, and doing things with each other.
Chinese leaders have come to America and American leaders have gone to China.
New contacts with Russia show promise. Last year, President Obama called for a reset in relations with Russia. The countries have now signed a nuclear arms reduction treaty, agreed to increased cooperation in Afghanistan, and Russia has supported the United States' sanctions against Iran. This week President Medvedev comes to Washington to discuss business and then will visit Silicon Valley to meet with leaders in the technology field. Medvedev would like to encourage technology areas similar to Silicon Valley in Russia.
Leaders in India also are responding to invitations from the Obama administration to engage in dialogue and improved communications between India and the United States. Of these three BRIC nations, India has the longest solid ties with the United States and the greatest personal bond to see that these ties become stronger.
Not only are these three countries becoming relatively stronger in the world pecking order, but are the important reason why discussions about world business and foreign trade need to work in the larger Group of 20 nations rather than in the smaller groups that have been so prominent in the past.
Add on top of this the economic weaknesses experienced in the United States and Europe which have allowed these three -- China, Russia and India -- to gain relative to “the West” faster than they would have if the financial collapse in these former areas had not occurred. These three nations are not going to back off their ascent in the world power scramble just because the United States and Europe are facing some “uncomfortable” economic weaknesses.
Furthermore, Europe has its own internal contradictions to deal with. Leadership in Europe is close to zero and the political problems that must be resolved there are almost overwhelming. And, while Europe attempts to get its house in order... the rest of the world moves on.
Brazil, the other BRIC, seems to be laying bricks lately. The current president, Luiz Inảcio Lula da Silva seems more interested in playing around with the leaders of countries at odds with the United States rather than entering into more mature relationships with the rest of the emerging world. Enough said.
What is vitally important for world trade and finance is to have these major countries talking with one another and learning about how they can work together to create a world in which all can prosper. World trade will not exist if it just benefits one or two countries.
The emerging nations are doing just that... emerging. These countries must be an important part of the world of the future. Keeping these nations down and causing resentments in a world where there are no channels for communication is not the way to build a richer and more vibrant world to live in.
The crucial thing is learning how to deal with each other. As I mentioned above, the Chinese will not make moves that will harm themselves in the long run and when they move they will do so in a way that does not make them look bad. Can we in the United States accept these two behavioral traits that seem so important to the Chinese or will we become so impatient and try and impose our self-importance on them?
Certainly, leaders in the United States cannot become “doormats” that others can just walk over. But, the time seems right for talking, for keeping channels open, for cooperation within the competitive framework, and for learning how to work with each other, accepting the quirks and psychological needs of others.
China will not always internally do the things we in the United States think that they should do... especially in areas like human rights. We should not be silent on these things. But I believe the world still has more to gain by building cooperation over the longer run than it does by breaking off ties. I believe that the recent economic moves by China confirm this. I believe that the leaders of China truly want to be in the game and will act accordingly.