The Chinese Yuan's Progress in Becoming a Global Currency Amidst the War in Ukraine

Category Business

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China has been attempting to make the yuan a global force for years, and the war in Ukraine, combined with the US Dollar's appreciation rate in 2022, has only sped up the yuan's rise on the global currency trade market. As of June 2023, China's digital yuan is one of the world's first Central Bank Digital Currencies, and the yuan is the fifth-most-actively used currency for global payments.

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The Chinese economy’s sheer size and rapid growth are impressive. China maintained one of the highest economic growth rates in the world for more than a quarter of a century, helping lift over 800 million people out of poverty in just a few decades. The country is the largest exporter in the world and the most important trading partner of Japan, Germany, Brazil and many other countries. It has the second-largest economy after the U.S., based on the market exchange rate, and the largest based on purchasing power.

As of June 2023, China's digital yuan is one of the world's first Central Bank Digital Currencies.

And yet the yuan still lags as a major global currency. The war in Ukraine, which started in February 2022, may change that.

As a professor of finance and expert on international finance, I understand how this geopolitical conflict may put China’s currency on the next phase of its path to becoming a global currency – and prompt the onset of the decline of the U.S. dollar from its current dominance.

In April 2023, the Chinese Yuan is the fifth-most-actively used currency for global payments.

Chinese yuan’s slow progress .

China has long wanted to make the yuan a global force and has mounted significant efforts to do so in recent years.

For example, the Chinese government launched the Cross-Border Interbank Payments System, or CIPS, in 2015 to facilitate cross-border payments in yuan. Three years later, in 2018, it launched the world’s first yuan-denominated crude oil futures contracts to allow exporters to sell oil in yuan.

In December 2022, the share of the Chinese Yuan as part of the world Foreign Exchange Reserves was less than 3%.

China has also emerged perhaps as the world’s largest creditor, with the government and state-controlled enterprises extending loans to dozens of developing countries. And China is developing a digital yuan as one of the world’s first central bank digital currencies. Even the trading hours for the yuan were recently extended on the mainland.

Thanks to these efforts, the yuan is now the fifth-most-traded currency in the world. That is a phenomenal rise from its 35th place in 2001. The yuan is also the fifth-most-actively used currency for global payments as of April 2023, up from 30th place in early 2011.

The U.S. Dollar appreciated significantly against other currencies in 2022 due to the Federal Reserve increasing interest rates.

Rankings can be misleading, though. The yuan’s average trading volume is still less than a 10th of the U.S. dollar’s. Moreover, almost all trading was against the U.S. dollar, with little trading against other currencies.

And when it comes to global payments, the actual share of the yuan is a mere 2.3%, compared with 42.7% for the dollar and 31.7% for the euro. The yuan also constituted less than 3% of the world foreign exchange reserves at the end of 2022, compared with 58% for the dollar and 20% for the euro.

The Cross-Border Interbank Payments System (CIPS) was launched as early as 2015 to facilitate cross-border payments in Yuan.

US dollar’s dominance questioned .

The U.S. dollar has reigned supreme as the dominant global currency for decades – and concern about how that benefits the U.S. and potentially hurts emerging markets is not new.

The value of the U.S. dollar appreciated significantly against most other currencies in 2022 as the Federal Reserve hiked interest rates. This had negative consequences for residents of almost any country that borrows in dollars, pays for imports in dollars, or buys wheat, oil or other commodities priced in dollars, as these transactions became more expensive.

The world's first Yuan-denominated Crude Oil Futures Contracts were launched in 2018 to allow for exporters to sell oil in Yuan.

After Russia invaded Ukraine in early 2022, the U.S. and its Western allies put sanctions on Russia, which they believed may force Moscow to de-escalate the conflict. This caused the Russian ruble to plunge on the foreign exchange markets, provoking a global sell-off of emerging market currencies.

The war in Ukraine, in addition to causing upheaval in the country, has brought into question the U.S. dollar's dominance as a global currency. Since China's currency, the yuan, has been rapidly gaining more importance with China's implementation of the Cross-Border Interbank Paymens System (CIPS), the world's first yuan-denominated crude oil futures contracts, and the eventual integration of a digital yuan, it is likely that the yuan will challenge the US Dollar for the top spot.

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