Inter-Imperialist Rivalry: China Is Cutting its U.S. Treasury Bond Holdings

On financial consequences of the political and economic decline of the U.S. as a hegemonic power

By Michael Pröbsting, Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 12 May 2023, www.thecommunists.net

 

According to the latest data published by the U.S. Administration, foreign states are increasingly reducing their holdings of U.S. Treasury bonds since the beginning of the Ukraine War. [1] In total, foreign holdings declined from $7703.6 billion (February 2022) to $7343.6 billion (February 2023), i.e. by minus 4.7%. (See the Table in the Appendix)

It is particularly remarkable, that the two largest foreign holders of U.S. Treasury bonds – Japan and China which held a combined 30.3% of all U.S. Treasury bonds by February 2022 – reduced their share even more. Japan cut its holdings from $1303 to $1081.8bn (-17.0%) and China from $1028.7 to $848.8bn (-17.5%). Britain, the third-largest foreign state which currently has a share of 8.8% of all foreign holdings, slightly increased its holdings in the same period from $627 to $643bn.

It does not need special emphasis that China’s and Japan’s reduction of foreign holdings of U.S. Treasury bonds by nearly 1/5 within only 12 months is an extraordinary development. Basically, it reflects two main tendencies in global economy and politics which are related with each other but not identical.

In general, such a development shows the decline of the hegemonial position of U.S. imperialism and, as a result, of its financial instruments like the Dollar or its Treasury bonds. This is a long-term process which has accelerated since 2008 when the Great Recession opened a new historic period of capitalist decay. As we did discuss in a recently published article in detail, the share of the dollar in global trade declined from 73% in 2001 to 55% in 2021. However, since the beginning of the Ukraine War in February 2022, this process has drastically accelerated, and the share of U.S. Dollar further declined to 47% within only 12 months! [2]

This is, as the RCIT explained in other works, a reflection of the general economic and political decline of the U.S. as a hegemonic power. In production of capitalist value, top global corporations, in world politics etc., the U.S. is no longer an unchallenged dominator but faces powerful rivals – most importantly China. [3]

 

Loss of confidence in the U.S. market

 

Such a weakened position of the U.S. results in a decline of confidence of other states in Washington’s financial instruments. The current crisis US debt-ceiling crisis and, in general, the slump of the capitalist world economy, could accelerate this process even more. [4] For such reasons, even imperialist powers like Japan, who are politically allied with the U.S., are reducing their holdings of Treasury bonds.

For the same reason, we note in passing, it not only foreign states but also domestic investors who are losing confidence America’s economic strength. All US creditors combined offloaded a total of $425.9 billion worth of US Treasury securities in 2022. [5]

At the same time, the decline of the U.S. has accelerated the inter-imperialist rivalry. On one hand, the rising imperialist powers – China and Russia – feel increasingly confident to challenge the old hegemon. On the other hand, Washington deploys an aggressive foreign policy in order to contain the Eastern challengers. This is the background for the unprecedented policy of economic and financial sanctions against Beijing and Moscow as well as the rapid armament. [6]

Hence, China considers its financial exposure to the U.S. market as increasingly risky not only from a business point of view but also for political reasons. The freezing of $300 billion in foreign reserves belonging to the Central Bank of Russia by Western governments after the beginning of the Ukraine War has been a warning signal for Beijing. [7]

The Middle Kingdom is therefore eager to reduce its holdings of U.S. Treasury bonds not only for economic but also for political reasons. In fact, its holdings have dropped by now to the lowest level in nearly 13 years. China's Treasury holdings peaked at over $1.3 trillion in fall 2013, with the country as the largest creditor to the U.S.

Nikkei, a prestigious newspaper based in Japan, quotes a strategist at a U.S. asset manager saying: “Since the Russian invasion [of Ukraine], a move away from Treasurys ... would be an understandable reaction to the political developments," adding that he sees the Chinese motivation as "wanting to maintain their independence and not be at risk." [8]

 

Multi-polar imperialist chaos

 

The decline of the U.S. as the long-term hegemon, the process of de-dollarization, the reduction of foreign holdings in U.S. Treasury bonds – all this has provoked discussions if China will replace the U.S. as the leading Great Power. As we explained somewhere else, we think that such a conclusion is completely wrong.

China – or any other imperialist power – can not replace the U.S. as hegemon for the foreseeable future. China is not strong enough to replace the U.S. at the throne of the imperialist world order. But it has been strong enough to topple Washington from its throne! Hence, it is rather accelerated inter-imperialist rivalry and crisis which is “replacing” the U.S. as a hegemon. [9]

The end of the “(U.S.) rule-based order” will not open a new order in any meaningful sense. Many Stalinists and Bolivarians advocate for some time the concept of a “multi-polar world order” as the alternative to U.S. hegemony. However, it is pure illusion to imagine that such a “world order” could have a stable character and allow a peaceful co-existence of several Great Powers. No, the “multi-polar world order” can not but be an “order” of imperialist chaos and a prelude to another World War between the Great Powers – if the international working class does not overthrow the ruling class before.

As we said somewhere else: “In conclusion, it is clear that a “multi-polar world order” can not and does not mean any peaceful or progressive global system – it rather means, and can only mean, multi-imperialism, i.e. a world dominated by several rivalling Great Powers. Such a concept does not contain an inch of progressiveness! Marxists never opposed the “unipolar” imperialist world order because it was “unipolar” but because it was imperialist! We don’t choose between an “unipolar” or a “multi-polar” imperialist order – we oppose both equally! Neither, to give an analogy, do we have a preference between Apple or Microsoft or between Facebook, Weibo or VK! All imperialists and all capitalists “are worse”, as the saying goes.[10]

We reiterate that the task of socialists in such a period is to oppose all Great Powers (U.S., China, Russia, Western Europe and Japan) on the basis of the program of revolutionary defeatism. In any conflict between imperialist states, all of them are the “greater evil”. Socialists should work towards utilizing such inter-imperialist conflicts to weaken the ruling class and to advance the class struggle for their overthrow. [11]

Hence, the RCIT rejects all ideologies which claim that this or that imperialist state would be a kind of “lesser evil” than the U.S. or that a “multi-polar world order” could provide a way out of imperialist militarism. We call all authentic socialists who agree with such an approach to join ranks and to fight for a consistent internationalist and anti-imperialist program!

 

 

Appendix

Table. Foreign Holders of U.S. Treasury Securities, February 2022 – February 2023

      February 2022                   February 2023                    Change

          (in Billions of Dollars)                                       (in %)

Japan                                                    1303                                  1081.8                               -17.0%

China (Mainland)                               1028.7                               848.8                                 -17.5%

Total Foreign Holders                       7703.6                               7343.6                               -4.7%

 

 



[1] U.S. Department of the Treasury: Major Foreign Holders of Treasuries, https://ticdata.treasury.gov/resource-center/data-chart-center/tic/Documents/slt_table5.html (accessed on 11 May 2023). All figures in this article are from this table if not indicated otherwise.

[2] See on this Michael Pröbsting: Inter-imperialist rivalry and the specter of de-dollarization. On the decline of the US Dollar since the start of the Ukraine War, 12 May 2023, https://links.org.au/inter-imperialist-rivalry-and-specter-de-dollarization-decline-us-dollar-start-ukraine-war

[3] For our analysis of capitalism in China and its transformation into a Great Power see e.g. the book by Michael Pröbsting: Anti-Imperialism in the Age of Great Power Rivalry. The Factors behind the Accelerating Rivalry between the U.S., China, Russia, EU and Japan. A Critique of the Left’s Analysis and an Outline of the Marxist Perspective, RCIT Books, Vienna 2019, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/anti-imperialism-in-the-age-of-great-power-rivalry/; see also by the same author: “Chinese Imperialism and the World Economy”, an essay published in the second edition of The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Imperialism and Anti-Imperialism (edited by Immanuel Ness and Zak Cope), Palgrave Macmillan, Cham, 2020, https://link.springer.com/referenceworkentry/10.1007%2F978-3-319-91206-6_179-1; China: An Imperialist Power … Or Not Yet? A Theoretical Question with Very Practical Consequences! Continuing the Debate with Esteban Mercatante and the PTS/FT on China’s class character and consequences for the revolutionary strategy, 22 January 2022, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/china-imperialist-power-or-not-yet/; China‘s transformation into an imperialist power. A study of the economic, political and military aspects of China as a Great Power (2012), in: Revolutionary Communism No. 4, http://www.thecommunists.net/publications/revcom-number-4; How is it possible that some Marxists still Doubt that China has Become Capitalist? (A Critique of the PTS/FT), An analysis of the capitalist character of China’s State-Owned Enterprises and its political consequences, 18 September 2020, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/pts-ft-and-chinese-imperialism-2/; Unable to See the Wood for the Trees (PTS/FT and China). Eclectic empiricism and the failure of the PTS/FT to recognize the imperialist character of China, 13 August 2020, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/pts-ft-and-chinese-imperialism/; China’s Emergence as an Imperialist Power (Article in the US journal 'New Politics'), in: “New Politics”, Summer 2014 (Vol:XV-1, Whole #: 57). See many more RCIT documents at a special sub-page on the RCIT’s website: https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/china-russia-as-imperialist-powers/.

[4] See on this e.g. Michael Pröbsting: “Markets are wild“: Banks and Stock Markets Teeter on the Brink. Some notes on the nature of the crisis and its political and economic consequences, 15 March 2023, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/banks-and-stock-markets-teeter-on-the-brink/

[5] Chu Daye: China’s US Treasury holdings fall to a 12-year low in 2022 as crackdown fuels impetus to diversify away from dollar-backed assets, Global Times, 16 February 2023, https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202302/1285581.shtml; see also: Ralph Jennings and Amanda Lee: US debt ceiling crisis gives China more cause to cut Treasury bond exposure, promote yuan as world currency, South China Morning Post, 3 May 2023, https://www.scmp.com/economy/economic-indicators/article/3219271/us-debt-ceiling-crisis-gives-china-more-cause-cut-treasury-bond-exposure-promote-yuan-world-currency

[6] The RCIT has dealt on numerous occasions with the inter-imperialist rivalry of the Great Powers. See e.g. RCIT: World Perspectives 2021-22: Entering a Pre-Revolutionary Global Situation, 22 August 2021, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/world-perspectives-2021-22/; see also our book by Michael Pröbsting: Anti-Imperialism in the Age of Great Power Rivalry. The Factors behind the Accelerating Rivalry between the U.S., China, Russia, EU and Japan. A Critique of the Left’s Analysis and an Outline of the Marxist Perspective, RCIT Books, Vienna 2019, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/anti-imperialism-in-the-age-of-great-power-rivalry/; see also the following works by the same author: “A Really Good Quarrel”. US-China Alaska Meeting: The Inter-Imperialist Cold War Continues, 23 March 2021, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/us-china-alaska-meeting-shows-continuation-of-inter-imperialist-cold-war/; Servants of Two Masters. Stalinism and the New Cold War between Imperialist Great Powers in East and West, 10 July 2021, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/servants-of-two-masters-stalinism-and-new-cold-war/; for more works on this issue see these sub-pages: https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/china-russia-as-imperialist-powers/ and https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/collection-of-articles-on-the-global-trade-war/.

[7] See on this e.g. Michael Pröbsting: Where is Russia hiding its money? Why EU authorities claim they can not find most of Russia’s foreign assets, https://links.org.au/where-russia-hiding-its-money-why-eu-authorities-claim-they-can-not-find-most-russias-foreign

[8] Quoted in: Yuta Saito and Iori Kawate: China's U.S. Treasury holdings hit 12-year low on rate hikes, tensions, Nikkei Asia, 17 February 2023, https://asia.nikkei.com/Business/Markets/Bonds/China-s-U.S.-Treasury-holdings-hit-12-year-low-on-rate-hikes-tensions

[9] See on this Michael Pröbsting: “Can China Replace the U.S. as Hegemon?” - A Misleading Question! On the discussion about the perspectives of the Great Power rivalry, 28 April 2023, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/can-china-replace-the-u-s-as-hegemon-a-misleading-question/

[10] See on this e.g. Michael Pröbsting: “Multi-Polar World Order” = Multi-Imperialism. A Marxist Critique of a concept advocated by Putin, Xi, Stalinism and the “Progressive International” (Lula, Sanders, Varoufakis), 24 February 2023, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/multi-polar-world-order-is-multi-imperialism/

[11] On the program of revolutionary defeatism see, in addition to the above-mentioned book Anti-Imperialism in the Age of Great Power Rivalry, RCIT: Theses on Revolutionary Defeatism in Imperialist States, 8 September 2018, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/theses-on-revolutionary-defeatism-in-imperialist-states/.

제국주의 간 패권경쟁: 중국이 미국 국채 보유량을 줄이고 있다

- 패권 지위의 쇠퇴가 가져온 제국주의 금융상품의 퇴조

미하엘 프뢰브스팅, 혁명적 공산주의인터내셔널 동맹 (RCIT) 국제서기, 2023 5 12, www.thecommunists.net

 

 

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정부가 최근 발표한 자료에 의하면, 미국 국채를 보유한 국가들이 우크라이나 전쟁 시작 이후 국채 보유량을 계속 줄이고 있다.[1] 외국인 보유액은 77036 달러(2022 2)에서 73436 달러(2023 2) 4.7% 감소했다. ( 하단의 참조)

특히 주목할 점은 2022 2 기준 전체 미국 국채의 30.3% 보유한 양대 외국인 보유자인 일본·중국이 가장 많이 줄였다는 점이다. 일본은 13030 달러에서 1818 달러로 (-17.0%), 중국은 1287 달러에서 8488 달러로 (-17.5%) 보유액을 줄였다. 현재 전체 외국인 보유액 가운데 8.8% 차지하는 3 국가인 영국은 같은 기간 보유 지분을 6270 달러에서 6430 달러로 소폭 늘렸다.

중국과 일본이 불과 12개월 만에 미국 국채 보유량을 1/5 가까이 줄인 것은 확실히 이례적인 사건이다. 기본적으로, 그것은 세계 경제·정치에서 진행되고 있는 가지 주요 동향을 반영한다. 하나는 제국주의 패권 지위의 쇠퇴이고, 다른 하나는 결과로서 달러나 국채와 같은 제국주의 금융상품의 쇠퇴다.

추세 모두 자본주의 쇠퇴의 역사 시기를 2008 대불황 이후 가속화되어온 장기 과정이다. 세계 무역에서 달러가 차지하는 비중은 2001 73%에서 2021 55% 감소했다. 그러나 2022 2 우크라이나 전쟁 시작 이후 과정은 급격히 가속화되어 12개월 만에 달러 비중은 47% 하락했다![2]

이것은 패권국 미국의 전반적인 경제적·정치적 쇠퇴를 보여주는 것이다. 자본주의 가치 생산, 선도 글로벌 기업, 세계정치 등에서 이상 미국은 도전자 없는 부동의 강자가 아니라 강력한 경쟁자 특히 중국 맞고 있다.[3]

 

미국 시장에 대해 신뢰를 거두다

미국의 이러한 약화된 입지는 미국 금융상품에 대한 다른 국가들의 신뢰 저하를 초래한다. 미국 부채한도 위기는 그리고 일반적으로 자본주의 세계경제 불황도 이러한 신뢰도 하락 과정을 더욱 가속화할 있다.[4] 이런 이유로 일본과 같은 서방 제국주의 열강들도 국채 보유량을 줄이고 있는 것이다.

같은 이유로, 미국 국내 투자자들도 미국의 경제력에 대한 신뢰를 거두고 있다. 모든 국내 채권자들이 2022년에 처분한 미국 국채 총액이 4,259 달러에 달한다.[5]

동시에, 미국의 쇠퇴는 제국주의 상호 패권경쟁을 가속화해왔다. 한편으로, 신흥 제국주의 열강 중국·러시아는 패권 도전에 대한 자신감을 더욱 키우고 있다. 다른 한편으로, 미국은 도전자들을 견제하기 위해 공격적인 대외정책을 배치한다. 이것이 ·러에 대한 전례 없는 경제·금융 제재 정책과 급속한 군비증강의 배경이다.[6]

중국도 금융 위험노출이 미국 시장에서 커져가고 있는 것을 예의 주시하고 있다. 비즈니스 관점에서뿐만 아니라 정치적인 이유로도 점점 위험 부담을 크게 보고 있는 것이다. 우크라이나 전쟁 발발 서방 정부들이 러시아 중앙은행의 외환보유액 3천억 달러를 동결한 것을 중국이다. 당연히 경계신호가 발동했다.[7] 경제적 이유뿐만 아니라 정치적 이유로도 미국 국채 보유량을 줄이는 열심인 이유다. 실제로 현재 중국의 국채 보유량은 13 만에 최저 수준으로 떨어졌다. 2013 가을에 1 3천억 달러를 넘어 정점을 찍었을 당시 중국은 미국의 최대 채권국이었다.

일본의 니혼게이자이 신문은 미국 자산운용사의 전략가의 말을 인용하고 있다. "러시아의 우크라이나 침공 이후 일어나고 있는 국채 처분 움직임은 정치 정세에 대한 이해할 있는 반응이다. 당연히 중국도 독자성을 유지하여 리스크에 처하지 않기를 바라는 입장일 것이다."[8]

 

다극 제국주의 무질서

미국의 절대패권 종식과 쇠퇴/ 탈달러화 과정/ 미국 국채에 대한 외국인 보유량 감소 모든 것이 다시 질문과 토론을 촉발시켰다. 중국이 미국을 대체하여 선도 강대국으로 등극할 것인가? 우리가 앞서의 기사들에서 설명했듯이, 같은 문제설정 자체가 틀렸다.

중국은 또는 다른 제국주의 열강이든 가까운 미래에 미국을 대체하여 패권국이 없다. 미국을 대체하여 제국주의 세계질서의 왕좌에 오를 만큼 중국은 강하지 않다. 그러나 미국을 왕좌에서 끌어내릴 만큼은 강하다! 따라서 패권국 미국을 "대체"해서 자리에 들어서는 것은 중국이나 어느 다른 제국주의 국가가 아니다. “대체자 가속화된 제국주의 상호간 패권경쟁과 전쟁몰이 위기다.[9]

"(미국 주도) 규칙기반 질서" 종식은 결코 새로운 질서 열지 못할 것이다. 각종 스탈린주의자들과 볼리바르주의자들이 얼마 전부터 패권에 대한 대안으로 "다극 세계질서" 개념을 내걸고 있다. 그러나 그러한 세계질서 안정적인 성격을 가질 있고 강대국들의 평화공존을 허락할 것이라고 상상하는 것은 착각이다. "다극 세계질서" 제국주의 카오스의 "질서"이자 강대국들 차례 세계대전의 서막일 수밖에 없다. 노동자계급이 그보다 먼저 지배계급을 타도하지 않는다면 말이다.

지난 논설에서 밝힌 내용을 다시 천명한다. “결론적으로, ‘다극 세계질서 평화적이거나 진보적인 글로벌 체제를 의미할 없고 의미하지도 않는다. 보다는 멀티()제국주의 경쟁하는 복수의 강대국들이 지배하는 세계 의미하며, 오직 그것만을 의미할 있을 뿐이다. 그런 개념은 털끝만치의 진보도 담고 있지 않다! 맑스주의자들이 일극 제국주의 세계질서에 반대한 것은 그것이 일극이어서가 아니라 제국주의여서 반대한 것이다! 우리는 일극 제국주의 질서든 다극 제국주의 질서든 어느 하나를 선택하지 않는다. 우리는 질서 똑같이 반대한다! 비유하자면, 우리는 또한 애플 (