Get your fiscal house in order: China warns US as Asia expresses concern for $1.3tn of investments

'Clock is ticking', says Chinese minister, as US fails to break deadlock over government shutdown and fast-approaching ‘debt ceiling’ deadline

Economics Editor

China, the biggest foreign creditor of the United States, has waded into the American budget crisis, warning Congress that it must resolve the political impasse over the debt ceiling without further delay.

The Chinese Vice Foreign Minister, Zhu Guangyao, told America’s deadlocked politicians on Monday that “the clock is ticking” and called on them to approve an extension of the national borrowing limit before the federal government is projected to run out of cash on 17 October.

“We ask that the United States earnestly takes steps to resolve in a timely way the political issues around the debt ceiling and prevent a US debt default to ensure the safety of Chinese investments in the United States,”  Mr Zhu told reporters in Beijing. “This is the United States’ responsibility,” he added.

The American government entered its seventh day of shutdown on Monday, following the failure of Congress to approve the national budget a week ago. And there was little sign of progress on the still more crucial issue of the fast-approaching “debt ceiling”  deadline. Yet rather than indicating  a willingness to negotiate, the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, stated on Sunday that it was “time for us to stand and fight” over the budget. He added that a default was “the path we’re on”. American stock markets opened down in response to the belligerent comments yesterday, with the S&P 500 Index of leading shares shedding 0.5 per cent.

In September 2008 China eclipsed Japan to become the biggest single foreign creditor of the US federal government. The US administration estimates that the China government holds at least $1.3 trillion of its bonds. The total could be higher because Beijing is known to hold American debt through intermediaries. And, in total, the Beijing authorities have $3.5trn of dollar-denominated assets, which would also be hit hard in the event of a default.

These vast foreign exchange holdings are a by-product of China’s closed financial system and persistent current account surplus, which means that most foreign currency that enters the country accumulates with the central bank. The central bank then invests the money in normally “safe” dollar assets. The vast dollar reserves are also a legacy of China’s policy in recent decades of artificially holding down the value of its currency, the renminbi, in order to boost the overseas sales of its politically influential export industry.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhu Guangyao has waded into the US budget crisis Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhu Guangyao has waded into the US budget crisis However, economists have criticised the popular idea that China could exert political or economic leverage over Washington by threatening to sell its dollar investments, since such a drastic shift would ultimately serve to undermine the paper value of Beijing’s own vast investment portfolio. Nevertheless, China’s creditor position and its status as the world’s second largest economy gives its voice some authority in Washington and Mr Zhu made it clear that private representations had already been made. “The US is clearly aware of China’s concerns about the financial stalemate and China’s request for the US to ensure the safety of Chinese investments,” he said yesterday.

Since the global financial crisis, which led to a sharp depreciation in the value of the dollar against the renminbi, the authorities in Beijing have been concerned about the fact that so much of their national reserves are held in the form of the American currency. China has been promoting the idea of a new reserve currency to replace the greenback, with some analysts suggesting that the renminbi could one day take its place.

Mr Zhu stressed that it was vital, not only for China but the wider global economy, for America to resolve its budget impasse. “Safeguarding the debt is of vital importance to the economy of the US and the world,” he said. Referring to a similar deadlock in 2011, which led to a downgrade of the US AAA credit rating by the Standard & Poor’s agency, Mr Zhu said: “We hope the United States fully understands the lessons of history.”

The concerns over the stability of the dollar come at a time of geo-political flux. Barack Obama has sought to “pivot” his foreign policy to Asia to counter China’s growing military influence. But the shutdown has forced the US President to cancel his visit to Asia this week to attend a summit.

Static states: Federal workers protest at the shutdown, at the Capitol Static states: Federal workers protest at the shutdown, at the Capitol  

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Sport
tennisLive: Follow all the updates from Melbourne as Murray faces Czech Tomas Berdych in the semi-final
News
Sir David Attenborough
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Young girl and bowl of cereal
food + drink
News
Comic miserablist Larry David in 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'
peopleDirector of new documentary Misery Loves Comedy reveals how he got them to open up
Sport
football
News
i100
Life and Style
Virtual reality headset: 'Essentially a cinema screen that you strap to your face'
techHow virtual reality is thrusting viewers into frontline of global events and putting film-goers at the heart of the action
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Life and Style
David Bowie by Duffy
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
News
advertisingVideo: The company that brought you the 'Bud' 'Weis' 'Er' frogs and 'Wasssssup' ads, has something up its sleeve for Sunday's big match
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
i100
Environment
Dame Vivienne Westwood speaking at a fracking protest outside Parliament on Monday (AP)
environment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Front End Web Interface Developer - HTML, CSS, JS

£17000 - £23750 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Liverpool based international...

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness