China has launched trading in its currency in the U.S. for the first time, an explicit endorsement by Beijing of the fast-growing market in the yuan and a significant step in the country's plan to foster global trading in its currency.
The state-controlled Bank of China Ltd. is allowing customers to trade the yuan, also known as the renminbi, in the U.S., expanding the nascent offshore market for the currency which began last year in Hong Kong.
The decision is the latest move by China to allow the yuan, whose value is still tightly controlled by the government, to become an international currency that can be used for trade and investment.
"We're preparing for the day when renminbi becomes fully convertible," Li Xiaojing, general manager of Bank of China's New York branch, told The Wall Street Journal. He said the bank's goal is to become "the renminbi clearing center in America."
Until the middle of last year, the buying and selling of yuan had largely been confined to mainland China by the country's strict capital controls. But in July, it opened the currency to trading in Hong Kong. Daily trading has since ballooned from zero to $400 million.
Bank of China's move comes at a time of U.S. pressure on China to let its currency rise in value. America has blamed an unfairly valued yuan for exacerbating the U.S. trade deficit with China. But the preparations for convertibility are also a sign of Chinese strength, as China, now the world's second-largest national economy, recognizes that as a global power it must have a global currency. In time, a globally traded yuan could emerge as a store of value on par with the dollar, euro and yen.
The decision comes ahead of next week's visit to Washington by Chinese President Hu Jintao, when China's exchange-rate policies are expected to once again be in the spotlight.
While businesses and individuals in the U.S. can already trade yuan through Western banks such as HSBC Holdings PLC, the move by a Chinese-owned bank marks a stamp of approval by China on the expansion in yuan trading. Bank of China, which is 70%-owned by the government, now allows companies and individuals to buy and sell the Chinese currency through accounts with its U.S. branches.
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