Historically, China used the fixed exchange rate for their currency Yuan over almost 50 years. Of course, China has discontinued its inflexible practice from the start of July of 2005. Instead of the fixed exchange rate, they employed a flexible exchange rate system. However, it wasn’t 100% flexible or floating because of the Chinese government’s intervention in the currency exchange market. What the government would do is that they would use their reserves of currencies to ‘manipulate’ or manage the currency exchange rate to be at a certain level. Exchange rate is a ratio between the value of two currencies and it is a method to translate the value of one currency into another.
China armed with undervalued currency and its huge industrial factories and infrastructures, it gains enormous amount of surplus in current account against United States. The surplus in current account means that the country is exporting more than it is importing. Therefore, China is gaining lots of US dollars from the trade. If you look this at the American point of view, US is losing in terms of current account against China. US is importing more than it is exporting. The imbalance in the current account in both cases (surplus and deficit) could create some problems. For deficit in current account, the country will experience in large amounts of payments losing to the foreign country. So US will be losing lots of its payments and interests to China. For surplus in current account, it is considered ‘desirable’ compared to the deficit in current account, however, it could mean that the country is not experiencing the highest possible standards of living. Also, it could be seen as economy’s under-performing. Also, it exerts pressure on the exchange rate to appreciate the currency of the country.
As you could see, the fixed exchange rate could cause a problem of shortage in the currency supply. This would generally push the exchange rate upwards, but the fixed rate block this. Therefore, the shortage in the supply of the currency occurs.
What would have happen if the Yuan got stronger and appreciated? It would decrease the exports of China dramatically. Conversely, it would increase the imported goods to China. This will ‘fix’ the imbalance and lower the surplus in current account against United States. In the point of view of Americans, this will increase their exports to China and decrease the imports due to increase in the price. This would be beneficial for both countries’ balance of payment, however, China refuses to appreciate their currency. It is because the weak Yuan stimulates exports to US and this is the key engine for China’s enormous economic growth. They think that the surplus in the current account is a good thing, however, as it was mentioned there are problems with it also.
In conclusion, China’s currency policy is creating an imbalance in the trade between United States and China. Also, it is creating the imbalance in the balance of payment. It would be idealistic if China gave up their under-evaluation policy. However, it will increase the unemployment rate in China as the exports decrease and the number of workplaces in China decreases. Conversely, this will be beneficial for United States for it will lower the unemployment rate by the increase in exports and increase in the number of workplaces.
Graph from Triple AAA Reading – Fixed Exchange Rate