China continues to pursue its ambitious plan to make its currency—the yuan—more international.
The world’s top crude oil importer and key oil demand growth driver is now determined to get as many oil exporters as possible on board with accepting yuan payments for their oil.
China is now trying to persuade OPEC’s kingpin and biggest exporter, Saudi Arabia, to start accepting yuan for its crude oil. If the Chinese succeed, other oil exporters could follow suit and abandon the U.S. dollar as the world’s reserve currency. Pulling oil trade out of U.S. dollars would lead to decreased demand for U.S. securities across the board, Carl Weinberg, chief economist and managing director at High Frequency Economics, tells CNBC. Weinberg believes that the Chinese will “compel” the Saudis to accept to trade oil in yuan.
Other analysts warn that the true test of China’s push for a yuan oil trade will be if the Saudis are willing to risk the anger of the U.S. by accepting yuan payments.
The other option isn’t much better for the Saudis—if they continue to resist trading in yuan, they risk losing further market share of the world’s top crude oil importer and possibly the snub of Chinese investors for the much-hyped IPO of Saudi Aramco next year. Chinese sovereign wealth funds and major state companies have deeper pockets than major institutional investors in the West. For China, an Aramco investment could increase Beijing’s bargaining power to convince Aramco to accept yuan payments. Although there’s no indication yet that Aramco would want yuan for its oil, the Saudis say they’re willing to consider issuing yuan-denominated bonds, in what could be a break from the practice to issue debt only in U.S. dollars.
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