Page last updated at 09:49 GMT, Tuesday, 24 March 2009

China suggests switch from dollar

Yuan and dollar notes
Reform of the financial system is on top of the agenda at the G20 summit

China's central bank has called for a new global reserve currency run by the International Monetary Fund to replace the US dollar.

Central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan did not explicitly mention the dollar, but said the crisis showed the dangers of relying on one currency.

With the world's largest currency reserves of $2tn, China is the biggest holder of dollar assets.

Its leaders have often complained about the dollar's volatility.

China has long been uneasy about relying on the dollar for trade and to store its reserves and recently expressed concerns that Washington's efforts to rescue the US economy could erode the value of the currency.

His speech was, unusually, published in both Chinese and English, signalling it was intended for an international audience.

Foreign currency held by a government or a central bank
Used to pay foreign debt obligations or influence exchange rates
The dollar is viewed as the world's reserve currency as the vast majority of reserves are held in the US currency
Smaller amounts are held in euros, pounds and yen

"The outbreak of the crisis and its spillover to the entire world reflected the inherent vulnerabilities and systemic risks in the existing international monetary system," said Mr Zhou in an essay on the People's Bank of China website.

Mr Zhou said the primacy of the US currency in the financial system had led to increasingly frequent crises since the collapse in the early 1970s of the system of fixed exchange rates.

On Tuesday, the dollar weakened against most major currencies following the announcement of a US plan to buy up toxic debt.

'Light in tunnel'

Mr Zhou said the dollar could eventually be replaced as the world's main reserve currency by the Special Drawing Right (SDR), which was created as a unit of account by the IMF in 1969.

"The role of the SDR has not been put into full play, due to limitations on its allocation and the scope of its uses," he said.

"However, it serves as the light in the tunnel for the reform of the international monetary system."

The essay comes before the G20 summit in London on 2 April, at which reform of the international financial system is top of the agenda.

"This confirms that China intends to play fully its role of global economic and political power at the next G20 summit," said Sebastien Barbe, an analyst at French financial service firm Calyon in Hong Kong.

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