Thursday, January 20, 2011

What is Plan B if China Dumps its U.S. debt?

With the Chinese President's visit to the White House, some experts have begun wondering if government officials have a Plan B in case Beijing decides to dump its holdings of U.S. treasuries.


    China is officially the United States' biggest foreign creditor, with roughly $900 billion in Treasury holdings -- or over $1 trillion with Hong Kong's holdings included.

    That means it could do severe damage to U.S. debt markets if it suddenly started selling large amounts.

    Most experts say if there were signs of this happening, the U.S. government would go for a combination of persuading Americans to buy more U.S. debt, the same way they did in World War II, and finding friendly foreign governments to make additional purchases.

    Banks could be called on to increase their holdings of treasuries, and as a last resort, the Federal Reserve could also be called on to fill the gap, though this could risk turning any dollar weakness into a slump.

    "The U.S. government should have and maybe still could call on the people of the U.S. to invest in U.S. debt," said David Walker, a former U.S. comptroller general who heads an advocacy group calling on the government to curb the U.S. budget deficit and borrowings.

    To be sure, the idea that China would suddenly sell its U.S. debt holdings is almost unimaginable to some.

    After all, any weakening in the U.S. debt markets and the resulting global markets turmoil, including likely weakness in the dollar, would bounce back on China and could hurt its economy badly, especially as the United States is such a huge Chinese export market.

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