The Development of the New Chinese Banking System: Domestic Modernization or Global Financial Manipulation?

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Working Paper

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People's Republic of China, privatization, financial crisis, reform


Over the last two decades the Chinese government has conducted an unprecedented and rapid transformation of its banking system. These changes are especially noteworthy because they are emerging against a backdrop of great global, as well as internal, financial turmoil. Moreover, the Chinese banking transformation is picking up steam at the very time China is increasingly flexing its political muscle on the global stage. These remarks argue that the current internal transformation of the Chinese banking system is inextricably intertwined with China’s rise in the global financial arena. They further argue that China’s unique banking structure and recent experiences can provide many insights into how future financial crises may be averted. Furthermore, in addition to being fascinating in its own right, the manner in which China is utilizing its new banking structure to parlay itself into a position of greater political power constitutes one of the largely untold stories of the current global financial crisis.

This banking transformation is also particularly significant in light of its distinctive structure among contemporary financial powers. One unique aspect of the Chinese banking system is the way it straddles the lines between the private and public spheres in ways unfamiliar to western banking systems. As the recent financial crisis has demonstrated, these tensions between public and private in the financial realm are also manifesting in traditionally market-based regimes. China, however, is charting the opposite path from most western regimes—China is moving away from a largely public banking model to a more privatized model, albeit one with “Chinese Characteristics”. The development of the modern Chinese banking system, and specifically the emergence of its current mixed public/private banking structure, has received altogether too little attention in the West. The successes and failures of the internal Chinese transition thus offers important lessons to other countries and policymakers as the current global banking crisis deepens.

The Chinese banking transformation also has larger, more long-term global implications. While China is ostensibly just modernizing its banking system, purportedly conducting its own brand of market reform, in reality China has taken advantage of the robustness of its banking system to strengthen its own financial power, both subtly and explicitly, as banking structures in other countries struggle and weaken. In particular, China is attempting to use its financial might to extract financial and political concessions from other countries. Several recent financial developments highlight China’s growing power and their broader implications for the global financial arena.

Finally, in an era where many countries, scholars, and key financial and political players are proposing a myriad of “solutions” to financial problems and crises, a broader dialogue is required over the range of potential solutions to systems such as China’s, where such solutions may ultimately emerge. We all must be concerned with the question set forth in the tile of these remarks—are China’s banking reforms aimed simply at domestic modernization or are they an integral part of China’s bid for global political and financial power?


Banking and Finance Law | International Law

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