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Money Managers for Mankind? China in the Age of Global Governance, Part III

Money Managers for Mankind? China in the Age of Global Governance, Part III

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

3 March 2016

Originally posted at Occupy.com on 9 February 2016

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This is the third article in a three-part series looking at China’s transformed role on the world financial stage. Read the first and second articles here.

In pursuing the strategy toward China of “integrate, but hedge,” the United States and its G-7 allies attempted to manage China’s global financial role, giving the world’s second largest economy a greater stake in the existing system while attempting to prevent alternative or antagonistic emerging market economies from gaining power.

However, due to the slow pace of reforms and their often disappointing results – case in point: the five-year delay of International Monetary Fund (IMF) reforms that would give China and other emerging economies greater influence in the Fund and World Bank – China has turned to creating its own development bank, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). And while China was developing the AIIB over the course of 2015, China was not only hedging its own bets – it was also advancing a strategy of “integration” on the monetary front. In the world of currencies, central banks and the global monetary order, China had an important year.

The main issue has been the inclusion of the Chinese currency – the yuan, or renminbi – in the elite basket of currencies managed by the IMF known as Special Drawing Rights (SDRs). Consisting of four of the world’s most traded currencies (the U.S. dollar, the euro, Japanese yen and British pound), the SDR is a currency unit whose value is weighted among those four currencies and used in IMF transactions between nations and central banks. But the real importance of the SDR basket is that it is a symbolic grouping of the few select currencies (and countries) that dominate the global monetary system. They are the most traded, saved and important currencies in the world, giving the countries and institutions that control them inordinate power in the global monetary and economic system.

China has lobbied for years to be included in the SDR basket, as both a sign of its global economic status and as a recognition of its new geopolitical power. But for China to be included, it needed to meet a number of criteria related to how easily tradable the currency is, how many central banks use the currency as a reserve asset, and whether or not interest rates are determined by market forces. Eswar Prasad, an economics professor at Cornell University who was previously the China country director at the IMF, commented that “this is ultimately going to be decided on political rather than economic merits.”

In laying the groundwork for inclusion, the IMF announced late last May that the renminbi was no longer considered to be “undervalued” – a long-held complaint of the IMF, United States and other G-7 nations that felt for such a large economy to maintain such a cheap currency gave it an overwhelming trade advantage, keeping its products cheaper and thus more competitive in international markets. Thus, the IMF’s declaration paved the way for consideration of the Chinese currency to be included in the SDR.

When the G-7 finance ministers and central bank governors met in Berlin in late May, they discussed the potential inclusion of the renminbi in the SDR basket. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble said that “it is desirable in principle” but “the technical conditions must be examined.” The G-7 countries continued to push China to reform its capital markets in order to increase its potential for inclusion. This pressured China to implement further market reforms to “liberalize” its financial markets, allowing for private financial institutions to play a larger role in managing the country’s economy (as opposed to being more state-directed and managed).

Earlier that same month, the People’s Bank of China (PBoC), China’s central bank, approved roughly 30 foreign financial institutions to invest its domestic bond market, giving banks like HSBC, BNP Paribas, Société Générale, ING and Morgan Stanley greater access to the world’s third largest bond market (following the U.S. and Japan). China made moves over subsequent months to increase the access of foreign central banks and sovereign wealth funds to its bond market, as the country continued reforms that liberalized its economy. However, China still remained hesitant to adapt market forces too quickly or too fully that might have the effect of destabilizing the economy.

In August, the IMF recommended that while the renminbi should be added to the SDR basket, with a final decision to be made in November, the currency’s actual addition to the basket should not take place until September of 2016. This was in order to allow the country to implement further financial reforms and give banks, central banks and asset managers enough time to adjust their currency holdings to a slightly reformed monetary order. Some G-7 countries, such as Germany, France, Britain and Italy, favored a quick inclusion of the renminbi to the SDR, but Japan and the U.S. favored a more cautious approach.

Then, partway into August, China shocked global financial markets with a rapid currency devaluation – done partly to provide a boost to its own slowing economy – raising criticism from several countries that China was engaging in a currency war to lower the value of the renminbi in order to boost exports at the expense of other nations. However, because China’s currency is so closely tied to the U.S. dollar, as the dollar has risen in value over the past year or so, China’s currency has risen with it. This has put further strain on China’s economy and decreased its competitiveness relative to other global currencies whose value has declined relative to the rise of the dollar. That’s why, when China devalued in August, it explained the move as an attempt to move more towards a market oriented value for its exchange rate.

China was accused of currency manipulation due to its sudden devaluation, though it was in fact more accurately a response to the pressures from the manipulated changes in the value of the big currencies (U.S. dollar, Japanese yen and euro), which fluctuated in response to the winding down or ramping up of their respective Quantitative Easing (QE) programs. China managed to mute some harsher criticisms of its move by quickly announcing further market-oriented reforms to its financial and interest rate markets.

At a meeting of G-20 finance ministers and central bank governors in early September, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew pressured his Chinese counterparts to continue the process of implementing market reforms, and specifically allowing markets a larger say in determining the value of the Chinese currency.

In mid-November, the IMF officially recommended that China be included in the SDR basket, which would “turn its currency into one of the pillars of international finance,” noted the New York Times. However, the final decision was to be made by the IMF’s Executive Board at the end of the month, where the G-7 countries have the power to pass or block any final moves. Following the IMF staff recommendation, China’s central bank announced that it would be implementing further reforms to allow markets more of a say in setting interest rates. And in late November, the IMF Executive Board voted in agreement to let the renminbi be included in the SDR basket, effective October 1, 2016.

Then, partway into December, China announced that it would begin to measure the value of its currency against a basket of 13 currencies instead of just the U.S. dollar. This would give the currency more room to fall in value relative to the U.S. dollar’s rise, and would give the country more “monetary independence” from the decisions and actions of the U.S. Federal Reserve. The announcement came just as the Fed was set to raise interest rates for the first time in nearly a decade, a move that would drive the U.S. currency even higher and put even more pressure on China as its economy continues to slow. In response, the Chinese currency hit a new four-year low against the U.S. dollar, increasing the country’s trade competitiveness.

The rise of China is one of the most important economic stories of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, and will continue to remain so. While the United States and the G-7 seek to “integrate, but hedge” their bets in bringing China into the structures of global economic governance, such as through inclusion into the SDR basket, China continues to pressure for greater political power commensurate with its economic weight, “hiding its brightness, biding its time.” But the time is increasingly present, visible with China’s founding of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), as a potential rival to the World Bank.

The integration of China into the structures and systems of global economic governance will have lasting ramifications. Not simply because it represents a shift from the dominance that the G-7 nations held over the global economy for the past four decades, but because the Chinese model of state-run totalitarian capitalism itself presents an alternative approach to constructing a market economy. As China increasingly becomes a part of the governing structure of the world economy, its model will gain increased influence. Indeed, if war and hostilities between the other great powers are to be avoided, the future of global capitalism may well rely on a combination of Western markets and institutions backed up by totalitarian institutions like the regime in Beijing.

Given that the capitalist system is experiencing a crisis in its legitimacy – with warnings from the head of the Bank of England, the IMF, and influential financial dynasties that the system is increasingly under threat due to its excesses – democracy may no longer be compatiblewith capitalism. And totalitarian state structures may be the only way to save capitalism from itself.

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When Fat Cats Meet In Munich: Welcoming the International Monetary Conference

When Fat Cats Meet In Munich: Welcoming the International Monetary Conference

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

Originally posted at Occupy.com

2 June 2014

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In Part 1 of this series, I examined the history and early evolution of the annual meeting that takes place among world bankers and financial and monetary officials at the International Monetary Conference. Part 2 looked at the role of the IMC in the lead-up to the 1980s debt crisis.Part 3 examined the influence of the IMC throughout that decade’s debt crisis. This last installment – published just as the IMC prepares for its June 1-3 meeting at Hotel Bayerischer Hof in Munich, Germany – looks at what the IMC has done since the 1990s to maintain its status among the world’s most highly influential bodies in economic, financial and monetary affairs. Included is a rundown of bankers who run the IMC along with leaked documents from the 2013 meeting in Shanghai.

At the 1992 International Monetary Conference in Toronto, there was a general consensus among private bankers and public officials that, as a result of enormous over-lending to Latin America and developing countries throughout the previous debt-crisis decade, the task of financing “the transformation of the former Soviet Union to a market economy” could not be left to bank loans alone. Hilmar Kopper, the CEO of Deutsche Bank, told the conference attendees that commercial banks would only engage in large-scale financing if there were “government-guaranteed credits” and “an agreement on the old debt,” implying that the banks would essentially need the guarantee of a government bailout scheme if things got bad. Japan’s former vice minister of finance, Toyoo Gyohten, told the attendees that “public-sector agencies must cooperate with private banks, with the willingness to share the unavoidable risk.”

Canada’s finance minister, Don Mazankowski, told the bankers that “we are prepared to help” the former Soviet bloc countries so long as “they help themselves and get on the path to economic growth and prosperity.” His words implied that the Soviet countries must undertake similar austerity and structural adjustment packages imposed upon other countries through the 1980s debt crisis. The bankers stressed the same point, noting that “it would be difficult for governments to be generous with Russia until it established an economic recovery program approved by the International Monetary Fund.”

Throughout the 1990s, the IMC continued to be a significant forum for discussion among bankers and finance officials. Remarks made by Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan and Hans Tietmeyer, the president of Germany’s Bundesbank (the Central Bank of Germany), at the 1995 meeting of the IMC led to a strengthening of the U.S. dollar and a weakening of the German mark in international currency markets.

IMC Influence in More Recent Years

In the early 21st century, the International Monetary Conference has remained relevant, as admitted during a 2001 press conference with the president of the European Central Bank, Willem F. Duisenberg. Duisenberg had been criticized by European media for not attending a recent Eurogroup meeting of finance ministers and central bankers from euro-currency countries, which had gathered in Brussels.

Duisenberg commented:

“I would like to point out that it has been a tradition since 1954 that the highlight of the annual International Monetary Conference, which is held in a different place every year, is the so-called Central Bankers’ Panel in which the central banks, or central bankers, of the three main currencies in the world participate. And I did so. It would have drawn more attention had I not been there, than had I been in Brussels… I can tell you that the next meeting of the International Monetary Conference will be … in Montreal [in 2002], and the year after it will be … in Berlin. On both occasions you can be sure, if it happens to coincide with the meeting of the Eurogroup, that the ECB will be represented in the Eurogroup by the Vice-President.

Indeed, as recently as the IMC’s 2013 meeting in Shanghai, we can see that the importance and relevance of the annual meeting has not diminished. Though the IMC has no publicly-accessible website, I managed to compile a rough list of leading officials and board members of the International Monetary Conference, drawing information from references on their official CVs and publicly-available biographies, as well as from leaked documents including a program overview of the 2013 conference.

Names to Know

The president and chairman of the International Monetary Conference is Baudouin Prot. Formerly CEO of BNP Paribas, one of France’s largest global banks, Prot is currently chairman of that bank as well as a current board member of Kering, Veolia Environment, Lafarge, Erbé SA and Pargesa Holding SA. He is a member of the International Advisory panel to the Monetary Authority of Singapore, the International Business Leaders’ Advisory Council to the Major of Shanghai, the European Financial Services Round Table, and is chairman of the European Banking Group.

The executive vice president of the IMC is Frank Keating, President and CEO of the American Bankers Association and former president and CEO of the American Council of Life Insurers (2003-2011). Keating is also the former governor of Oklahoma (1995-2003), a former official in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and a former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury. Additionally he is a member of the board of directors of the National Archives Foundation, the Bipartisan Policy Center, the Jamestown Foundation, and he was a member of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Debt Reduction Task Force in 2010.

Confirmed board members of the International Monetary Conference include: Gordon Nixon, President and CEO of Royal Bank of Canada; William Downe, CEO of BMO Financial Group; Axel Weber, Chairman of UBS; Francisco Gonzalez, Chairman and CEO of BBVA; Robert E. Setubal, President and CEO of Itau Unibanco Banco SA; Richard Waugh, President and CEO of Scotiabank; Chanda Kochhar, Managing Director and CEO of ICICI Bank; Jacko Maree, senior banker at Standard Chartered; Andreas Triechl, Chairman and CEO of Erste Group Bank; and Walter B. Kielholz, the Chairman of Swiss Re.

Interestingly, there are no major American banks or bankers listed as current board members of the IMC, which is dominated by European and Canadian bankers. Further, there were three bankers whose CVs listed them as “members” of the IMC, but when I attempted to contact the IMC and the American Bankers Association to confirm whether they were board members – the IMC has roughly 15 board members, and I had only confirmed 12 of them – neither the ABA nor IMC replied to my multiple inquiries. The three bankers who were listed as “members” – and possible, though unconfirmed, board members – are Federico Ghizzoni, the CEO of UniCredit; Douglas Flint, the Chairman of HSBC (also chairman of the Institute of International Finance), and Ibrahim S. Dabdoub, the CEO of the National Bank of Kuwait.

Compiling the CVs of the 12 confirmed board members of the International Monetary Conference, we can see what other institutions are most represented among the membership:

Four members of the IMC board are also members of the Institute of International Finance, the leading global banking lobby group; four IMC board members are also members of the International Business Council of the World Economic Forum and the European Financial Services Round Table (EFR), a group of leading European bankers. And three IMC board members are also represented in the European Banking Group, created to advise the European Union on financial market “regulations,” as well as the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE), the leading corporate interest group in Canada.

Other organizations sharing leadership with two members of the IMC board are the International Advisory Panel of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, the International Business Leaders’ Advisory Council to the Major of Shanghai, and the International Advisory Committee of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

If we include the three bankers whose CVs listed them as “members” of the IMC, the cross-over representation of leadership in these institutions increases: the European Financial Services Round Table increases representation from four to six members of the IMC board, the European Banking Group from three to five members, the Institute of International Finance from four to five, and the International Business Leaders’ Advisory Council to the Mayor of Shanghai increases from two to three.

Leaked Details from Shanghai

Leaked documents from the 2013 IMC meeting in Shanghai show the planned program for the four-day conference held at the Four Seasons Hotel Shanghai in early June of 2013. Welcoming remarks were presented by the President and CEO of the American Bankers Association, Frank Keating, followed by opening remarks from the BNP Paribas chairman and president of the IMC, Baudouin Prot.

On Monday, June 3, speakers at the IMC included Han Zheng, a member of the Political Bureau of the CPC (Communist Party of China) Central Committee; Mario Draghi, President of the European Central Bank; Douglas Flint, Chairman of HSBC and Chairman of the Institute of International Finance (unconfirmed board member of the IMC); Jaime Caruana, General Manager of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS); Lord Adair Turner, former chairman of the Financial Services Authority in the UK and a Senior Fellow of the Institute for New Economic Thinking; and Janet Yellen, Vice Chair and Governor (now current Chair) of the Federal Reserve Board.

Other speakers at the 2013 International Monetary Conference included Axel A. Weber, Chairman of UBS; Niall Ferguson, the Lawrence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University; Jacob A. Frenkel, Chairman of JPMorgan Chase International and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Group of Thirty (G30); Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance in the Government of Singapore; Zhou Xiaochuan, Governor of the People’s Bank of China (China’s Central Bank); Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase; Jurgen Fitschen, co-Chairman of Deutsche Bank; John G. Strumpf, Chairman, President and CEO of Wells Fargo; Francisco Gonzalez, Chairman and CEO of BBVA; Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP; and Victor Yuan, Chairman and President of Horizon Research Consultancy Group.

Additional speakers at the conference included Jiang Jianqing, Chairman of the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC); Stephen Bird, CEO for Asia Pacific at Citibank in Hong Kong; Michael Pettis, Professor of International Finance at the Guanghua School of Management at Peking University in Beijing; Peter Sands, Chief Executive of Standard Chartered; Shang Fulin, Chairman of the China Banking Regulatory Commission; Tian Guoli, Chairman of the Bank of China; and Andrew Sheng, President of the Fung Global Institute in Hong Kong.

The fact alone that this group of global financiers met with China’s leading bankers and top government officials within China points to the continuing relevance of the International Monetary Conference. What’s more, Janet Yellen, then a contender for the position of Chair of the Federal Reserve Board, attended the IMC meeting while sitting as Vice Chair of the Federal Reserve, and outlined her views on “what more should be done” to “make the global financial system more resilient.”

One of the key issues Yellen discussed in her speech to hundreds of global bankers assembled at the 2013 IMC was the concept of “too-big-to-fail” banks, what the regulatory agencies (and, notably, central banks) refer to as “systemically-important financial institutions,” or SIFIs. Yellen noted that there have been proposals for a “sweeping restructuring of the banking system,” including the possibility of the “resurrection of Glass-Steagall-style separation of commercial banking from investment banking and imposition of bank size limits.” However, Yellen reassured the financiers, “I am not persuaded that such blunt approaches would be the most efficient ways to address the too-big-to-fail problem.”

Indeed, systemic problems of the global monetary, financial and economic system will likely remain unresolved so long as forums like the International Monetary Conference are permitted to take place outside public scrutiny. Such meetings, where central bankers, regulators and leading financial policy makers meet in private with the world’s most influential bankers, only encourage consensus, closer cooperation and, ultimately, collusion between our so-called public officials and the bankers who profited off the financial and economic destruction which they themselves caused.

Andrew Gavin Marshall is a researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is project manager of The People’s Book Project, chair of the geopolitics division of The Hampton Institute, research director for Occupy.com’s Global Power Project and the World of Resistance (WoR) Report, and hosts a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.

EXCLUSIVE: Leaked Documents from Secretive Meeting of Global Bankers at the 2013 International Monetary Conference (IMC)

EXCLUSIVE: Leaked Documents from Secretive Meeting of Global Bankers at the 2013 International Monetary Conference (IMC)

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

6 March 2014

The International Monetary Conference (IMC) is an annual gathering of roughly 200 of the world’s most influential bankers who meet in private with some of the leading finance ministers, regulators and central bankers of the industrial world. The meetings have been ongoing from 1954 until present-day, and have been influential forums for discussion, establishment of consensus, and the articulation and formation of policy related to global economic, financial and monetary issues.

The following document which I obtained is the program for the 2013 IMC meeting which took place in Shanghai, including the list of events and speakers at the annual gathering. Among the participants and speakers at the June 2013 International Monetary Conference (IMC) are some of the world’s most influential private bankers, including: Baudouin Prot (Chairman of BNP Paribas), Douglas Flint (Chairman of HSBC), Axel Weber (Chairman of UBS), Jacob A. Frenkel (Chairman of JPMorgan Chase International), Jamie Dimon (Chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase), Jürgen Fitschen (Co-Chairman of Deutsche Bank), John G. Stumpf (Chairman and CEO of Wells Fargo), Francisco Gonzalez (Chairman and CEO of BBVA), and Peter Sands (Chief Executive of Standard Chatered.

Since the IMC took place in Shanghai, it also drew some notable names from the elite within China, including: Hen Zheng (Member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China – CPC – Central Committee and Secretary of the CPC Shanghai Municipal Committee), Jiang Jianqing (Chairman of the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China), Shang Fulin (Chairman of the China Banking Regulatory Commission), Tian Guoli (Chairman of the Bank of China), and Zhou Xiaochuan (Governor of the People’s Bank of China, China’s central bank).

Zhao Xiaochuan was not the only central banker present at the meeting, however. Also present were: Mario Draghi (President of the European Central Bank), Jaime Caruana (General Manager of the Bank for International Settlements), and Janet Yellen, who was then the Vice Chair of the Federal Reserve Board, now the Chair of the Federal Reserve System.

Download the full program here: International Monetary Conference 2013 Program