Monday morning quarterback: The Yuan float.

No one wants  to throw cold water on the warm, glowing embers of global harmony – and it is certain that my insights into where the RMB-USD will trade in a year are no clearer than anyone else’s…  But let’s all catch our breath for a moment and look objectively at what is happening in the run-up to this week’s G20 meet  in Toronto.

  1. Western commentators are once again connecting unnumbered Chinese dots to form the picture that they want to see.  The PBOC statement on Yuan flexibility says nothing about timing, direction –  or anything of substance having to do with the new RMB currency regime.  It may be the harbinger of a new Grand International Coalition, or it may be Orwellian doublespeak justifying anything Beijing wants to do.
  2. The west is expected to take forex off the table forevermore in exchange for a vague non-promise of flexibility.  How does this change the situation on the ground?  Western financial leaders have once again been pressed into service against their own Main Streets.  If the rmb appreciates by less than 10% over the next year, Geithner & Co are going to look a lot like Jack trading the cow for magic beans.
  3. The Chinese side is controlling not only the substance of the argument, but also the timing and the scope. This is classic Chinese negotiation tactics.

Still, the chundits (China pundits) and globalists are thanking Beijing and congratulating themselves for averting a crisis.  Well, it’s certainly nice to think so.  But as we prep for the Toronto G20, how does this announcement change the negotiating environment?

First, China gets to maintain the status quo until it sees fit to change.   Even more significantly, the global recovery debate has been shifted away from artificial exchange rates and structural trade imbalances to western debt levels (which are still very much on the G20 table).  China once again trades smoke and mirrors for concrete western concessions.

This time, however, Beijing may be outsmarting itself.  This is the second doublespeak manifesto to come out in 2 weeks – following close on the heels of the Internet White Paper  released on June 8.  Beijing is displaying a new tendency to spell out in black and white just how gray and subjective its standards are.  Chinese tacticians have always exalted ‘formlessness’ and misdirection, but after a while it becomes possible to benchmark deception.  A pattern is emerging – Beijing enacts a policy (the currency peg or the Great Firewall), calmly waits for international debate to die down, and then finally releases an official definition of terms.  These pronouncements are fait accompli that protect China’s complete range of motion – but are couched in legalistic terms that sound objective.

In the bad old days when capitalism was the enemy and secrecy the rule, China-watchers used to count  coal cars on trains heading into Beijing to gauge the level of economic activity.  With this new set of documents — the Internet Manifesto and the Yuan de-peg paper — we have a new metric by which we can understand Beijing’s true intent.  This time, however, we will be judging the hardness of the NO by the conviction with which we’re told MAYBE SOMEDAY.

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