China does not want to politicise purchases of US Treasury bonds and continues to buy them “every day”, according to the official in charge of managing Beijing’s $2,400bn of foreign exchange reserves.
Chinese investments in US Treasuries are “market investment behaviour and we don’t wish to politicise them”, Yi Gang, director of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange, said on Tuesday. “We are a responsible investor and in the process of these investments we can definitely achieve a mutually beneficial result.”
China is the biggest foreign holder of US Treasury bonds and its leaders have voiced fears that US policies would see the value of the dollar fall. The composition of China’s reserves is a state secret but data showing an apparent decline in its direct holdings of US Treasuries led to speculation that Beijing might be deliberately cutting its holdings to signal political displeasure with Washington. The US and China have clashed over issues including arms sales to Taiwan , climate change, Tibetand criticism of Beijing’s internet controls.
Analysts said monthly Treasury data showing a dip in Chinese holdings did not capture the extent of Safe’s purchases through international banks and financial centres such as London and Hong Kong.
The data, once revised at the end of the second quarter, are likely to show China continued to buy US Treasuries, although it might have allowed some short-term debt to mature as it bought longer-term US government securities. Analysts said if China had been dumping dollars, there would be more volatility in US bond markets, with big sell-offs matched by corresponding purchases of other foreign assets. No market outside the US and eurozone government bond market is big enough to absorb a large-scale diversification of Chinese reserves without volatility.
“The US Treasury market is the biggest bond market in the world and our foreign exchange reserves are relatively large, so as you can imagine the US Treasury market is an important one for us,” Mr Yi said in Beijing. “Buying and selling US government bonds is something our investment team does every day and is completely normal.”
About two-thirds of China’s reserves are invested in US dollar-denominated assets, according to analysts and people who work closely with Safe.
In spite of the financial crisis and Safe’s poorly timed 2008 diversification into global equities Mr Yi said his agency had achieved “relatively good” returns.
In a sign of how closely China’s reserve management is watched around the world the price of gold fell $3 in an hour after Mr Yi said Beijing would be “cautious” about adding more of the metal to its reserves and that bullion would never be a big part of Safe’s portfolio. He pointed out that any large gold purchases by China would quickly push up prices in international markets.
China is the world’s biggest gold producer and Safe has been adding to its holdings of the metal by buying from state-owned domestic producers, raising its total from 600 tonnes in 2003 to 1,054 tonnes by the middle of last year.
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