Keith Bradsher
International Herald Tribune
January 8, 2009

HONG KONG: China has bought more than $1 trillion in American debt, but as the global downturn has intensified, Beijing is starting to keep more of its money at home – a shift that could pose some challenges to the U.S. government in the near future but eventually may even produce salutary effects on the world economy.

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At first glance, the declining Chinese appetite for U.S. debt – apparent in a series of hints from Chinese policy makers over the past two weeks, with official statistics due for release in the next few days – comes at an inopportune time. On Tuesday, the U.S. president-elect, Barack Obama, said Americans should get used to the prospect of “trillion-dollar deficits for years to come” as he seeks to finance an $800 billion economic stimulus package.

Normally, China would be the most avid taker of the debt required to pay for those deficits, mainly short-term Treasury securities. In the past five years, China has spent as much as one-seventh of its entire economic output on the purchase of foreign debt – largely U.S. Treasury bonds and American mortgage-backed securities.

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