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Zhou Xiaochuan 周小川, "Reform the International Monetary System," March 23, 2009

Zhou Xiaochuan is the governor of the People's Bank of China and chairs the Bank's monetary policy committee. This paper, dated March 23, 2009, was published on the People's Bank of China website and stimulated much discussion as it coincided with other Chinese government expressions of concern about the security of the vast pool of funds the government has invested in American debt.
March 23, 2009

Click here to see an interactive charts showing this increasing investment. Zhou has headed the bank since December 2002. He previously headed China's Securities and Exchange Commission and the Construction Bank of China. He was born in 1948 and holds a doctorate from Tsinghua University.

The outbreak of the current crisis and its spillover in the world have confronted us with a long-existing but still unanswered question,i.e., what kind of international reserve currency do we need to secure global financial stability and facilitate world economic growth, which was one of the purposes for establishing the IMF? There were various institutional arrangements in an attempt to find a solution, including the Silver Standard, the Gold Standard, the Gold Exchange Standard and the Bretton Woods system. The above question, however, as the ongoing financial crisis demonstrates, is far from being solved, and has become even more severe due to the inherent weaknesses of the current international monetary system.

Theoretically, an international reserve currency should first be anchored to a stable benchmark and issued according to a clear set of rules, therefore to ensure orderly supply; second, its supply should be flexible enough to allow timely adjustment according to the changing demand; third, such adjustments should be disconnected from economic conditions and sovereign interests of any single country. The acceptance of credit-based national currencies as major international reserve currencies, as is the case in the current system, is a rare special case in history. The crisis again calls for creative reform of the existing international monetary system towards an international reserve currency with a stable value, rule-based issuance and manageable supply, so as to achieve the objective of safeguarding global economic and financial stability.

I. The outbreak of the crisis and its spillover to the entire world reflect the inherent vulnerabilities and systemic risks in the existing international monetary system.

Issuing countries of reserve currencies are constantly confronted with the dilemma between achieving their domestic monetary policy goals and meeting other countries' demand for reserve currencies. On the one hand,the monetary authorities cannot simply focus on domestic goals without carrying out their international responsibilities -- on the other hand,they cannot pursue different domestic and international objectives at the same time. They may either fail to adequately meet the demand of a growing global economy for liquidity as they try to ease inflation pressures at home, or create excess liquidity in the global markets by overly stimulating domestic demand. The Triffin Dilemma, i.e., the issuing countries of reserve currencies cannot maintain the value of the reserve currencies while providing liquidity to the world, still exists.

When a national currency is used in pricing primary commodities, trade settlements and is adopted as a reserve currency globally, efforts of the monetary authority issuing such a currency to address its economic imbalances by adjusting exchange rate would be made in vain, as its currency serves as a benchmark for many other currencies. While benefiting from a widely accepted reserve currency, the globalization also suffers from the flaws of such a system. The frequency and increasing intensity of financial crises following the collapse of the Bretton Woods system suggests the costs of such a system to the world may have exceeded its benefits. The price is becoming increasingly higher, not only for the users, but also for the issuers of the reserve currencies. Although crisis may not necessarily be an intended result of the issuing authorities, it is an inevitable outcome of the institutional flaws.

II. The desirable goal of reforming the international monetary system, therefore, is to create an international reserve currency that is disconnected from individual nations and is able to remain stable in the long run, thus removing the inherent deficiencies caused by using credit-based national currencies.

1. Though the super-sovereign reserve currency has long since been proposed, yet no substantive progress has been achieved to date. Back in the 1940s, Keynes had already proposed to introduce an international currency unit named "Bancor", based on the value of 30 representative commodities. Unfortunately, the proposal was not accepted. The collapse of the Bretton Woods system, which was based on the White approach, indicates that the Keynesian approach may have been more farsighted. The IMF also created the SDR in 1969, when the defects of the Bretton Woods system initially emerged, to mitigate the inherent risks sovereign reserve currencies caused. Yet, the role of the SDR has not been put into full play due to limitations on its allocation and the scope of its uses. However, it serves as the light in the tunnel for the reform of the international monetary system.

2. A super-sovereign reserve currency not only eliminates the inherent risks of credit-based sovereign currency, but also makes it possible to manage global liquidity. A super-sovereign reserve currency managed by a global institution could be used to both create and control the global liquidity. And when a country's currency is no longer used as the yardstick for global trade and as the benchmark for other currencies, the exchange rate policy of the country would be far more effective in adjusting economic imbalances. This will significantly reduce the risks of a future crisis and enhance crisis management capability.

III. The reform should be guided by a grand vision and begin with specific deliverables. It should be a gradual process that yields win-win results for all

The reestablishment of a new and widely accepted reserve currency with a stable valuation benchmark may take a long time. The creation of an international currency unit, based on the Keynesian proposal, is a bold initiative that requires extraordinary political vision and courage. In the short run, the international community, particularly the IMF, should at least recognize and face up to the risks resulting from the existing system, conduct regular monitoring and assessment and issue timely early warnings.

Special consideration should be given to giving the SDR a greater role. The SDR has the features and potential to act as a super-sovereign reserve currency. Moreover, an increase in SDR allocation would help the Fund address its resources problem and the difficulties in the voice and representation reform. Therefore, efforts should be made to push forward a SDR allocation. This will require political cooperation among member countries. Specifically, the Fourth Amendment to the Articles of Agreement and relevant resolution on SDR allocation proposed in 1997 should be approved as soon as possible so that members joined the Fund after 1981 could also share the benefits of the SDR. On the basis of this, considerations could be given to further increase SDR allocation.

The scope of using the SDR should be broadened, so as to enable it to fully satisfy the member countries' demand for a reserve currency.

Set up a settlement system between the SDR and other currencies. Therefore, the SDR, which is now only used between governments and international institutions, could become a widely accepted means of payment in international trade and financial transactions.

Actively promote the use of the SDR in international trade, commodities pricing, investment and corporate book-keeping. This will help enhance the role of the SDR, and will effectively reduce the fluctuation of prices of assets denominated in national currencies and related risks.

Create financial assets denominated in the SDR to increase its appeal. The introduction of SDR-denominated securities, which is being studied by the IMF, will be a good start.

Further improve the valuation and allocation of the SDR. The basket of currencies forming the basis for SDR valuation should be expanded to include currencies of all major economies, and the GDP may also be included as a weight. The allocation of the SDR can be shifted from a purely calculation-based system to a system backed by real assets, such as a reserve pool, to further boost market confidence in its value.

IV. Entrusting part of the member countries' reserve to the centralized management of the IMF will not only enhance the international community's ability to address the crisis and maintain the stability of the international monetary and financial system, but also significantly strengthen the role of the SDR.

1. Compared with separate management of reserves by individual countries, the centralized management of part of the global reserve by a trustworthy international institution with a reasonable return to encourage participation will be more effective in deterring speculation and stabilizing financial markets. The participating countries can also save some reserve for domestic development and economic growth. With its universal membership, its unique mandate of maintaining monetary and financial stability, and as an international "supervisor" on the macroeconomic policies of its member countries, the IMF, equipped with its expertise, is endowed with a natural advantage to act as the manager of its member countries' reserves.

2. The centralized management of its member countries' reserves by the Fund will be an effective measure to promote a greater role of the SDR as a reserve currency. To achieve this, the IMF can set up an open-ended SDR-denominated fund based on the market practice, allowing subscription and redemption in the existing reserve currencies by various investors as desired. This arrangement will not only promote the development of SDR-denominated assets, but will also partially allow management of the liquidity in the form of the existing reserve currencies. It can even lay a foundation for increasing SDR allocation to gradually replace existing reserve currencies with the SDR.




理 论上讲,国际储备货币的币值首先应有一个稳定的基准和明确的发行规则以保证供给的有序;其次,其供给总量还可及时、灵活地根据需求的变化进行增减调节;第 三,这种调节必须是超脱于任何一国的经济状况和利益。当前以主权信用货币作为主要国际储备货币是历史上少有的特例。此次危机再次警示我们,必须创造性地改 革和完善现行国际货币体系,推动国际储备货币向着币值稳定、供应有序、总量可调的方向完善,才能从根本上维护全球经济金融稳定。


对 于储备货币发行国而言,国内货币政策目标与各国对储备货币的要求经常产生矛盾。货币当局既不能忽视本国货币的国际职能而单纯考虑国内目标,又无法同时兼顾 国内外的不同目标。既可能因抑制本国通胀的需要而无法充分满足全球经济不断增长的需求,也可能因过分刺激国内需求而导致全球流动性泛滥。理论上特里芬难题 仍然存在,即储备货币发行国无法在为世界提供流动性的同时确保币值的稳定。

当 一国货币成为全世界初级产品定价货币、贸易结算货币和储备货币后,该国对经济失衡的汇率调整是无效的,因为多数国家货币都以该国货币为参照。经济全球化既 受益于一种被普遍接受的储备货币,又为发行这种货币的制度缺陷所害。从布雷顿森林体系解体后金融危机屡屡发生且愈演愈烈来看,全世界为现行货币体系付出的 代价可能会超出从中的收益。不仅储备货币的使用国要付出沉重的代价,发行国也在付出日益增大的代价。危机未必是储备货币发行当局的故意,但却是制度性缺陷 的必然。


1、 超主权储备货币的主张虽然由来以久,但至今没有实质性进展。上世纪四十年代凯恩斯就曾提出采用30种有代表性的商品作为定值基础建立国际货币单位 “Bancor”的设想,遗憾的是未能实施,而其后以怀特方案为基础的布雷顿森林体系的崩溃显示凯恩斯的方案可能更有远见。早在布雷顿森林体系的缺陷暴露 之初,基金组织就于1969年创设了特别提款权(下称SDR),以缓解主权货币作为储备货币的内在风险。遗憾的是由于分配机制和使用范围上的限制,SDR 的作用至今没有能够得到充分发挥。但SDR的存在为国际货币体系改革提供了一线希望。

2、 超主权储备货币不仅克服了主权信用货币的内在风险,也为调节全球流动性提供了可能。由一个全球性机构管理的国际储备货币将使全球流动性的创造和调控成为可 能,当一国主权货币不再做为全球贸易的尺度和参照基准时,该国汇率政策对失衡的调节效果会大大增强。这些能极大地降低未来危机发生的风险、增强危机处理的 能力。


重 建具有稳定的定值基准并为各国所接受的新储备货币可能是个长期内才能实现的目标。建立凯恩斯设想的国际货币单位更是人类的大胆设想,并需要各国政治家拿出 超凡的远见和勇气。而在短期内,国际社会特别是基金组织至少应当承认并正视现行体制所造成的风险,对其不断监测、评估并及时预警。

同时还应特别考虑充分发挥SDR 的作用。SDR具有超主权储备货币的特征和潜力。同时它的扩大发行有利于基金组织克服在经费、话语权和代表权改革方面所面临的困难。因此,应当着力推动 SDR的分配。这需要各成员国政治上的积极配合,特别是应尽快通过1997年第四次章程修订及相应的SDR分配决议,以使1981年后加入的成员国也能享 受到SDR的好处。在此基础上考虑进一步扩大SDR的发行。







1、 由一个值得信任的国际机构将全球储备资金的一部分集中起来管理,并提供合理的回报率吸引各国参与,将比各国的分散使用、各自为战更能有效地发挥储备资金的 作用,对投机和市场恐慌起到更强的威慑与稳定效果。对于参与各国而言,也有利于减少所需的储备,节省资金用于发展和增长。基金组织成员众多,同时也是全球 唯一以维护货币和金融稳定为职责,并能对成员国宏观经济政策实施监督的国际机构,具备相应的专业特长,由其管理成员国储备具有天然的优势。

2、 基金组织集中管理成员国储备,也将是推动SDR作为储备货币发挥更大作用的有力手段。基金组织可考虑按市场化模式形成开放式基金,将成员国以现有储备货币 积累的储备集中管理,设定以SDR计值的基金单位,允许各投资者使用现有储备货币自由认购,需要时再赎回所需的储备货币,既推动了SDR 计值资产的发展,也部分实现了对现有储备货币全球流动性的调控,甚至可以作为增加SDR发行、逐步替换现有储备货币的基础。