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The Role of Digital Assets In A Trade War With China

· Trade War,Economic Policy,Triffin Paradox,Trade Deficit,China

One might’ve seen Jack Ma’s recent engagement at the China Conference in Kuala Lumpur in which he vehemently asserted that the US will suffer more in the current Trade War between China and the US. His impassioned speech might’ve been an aberration from his usual upbeat, philosophical and oftentimes, witty persona and one could even extrapolate that Mr. Ma seemed rather troubled or upset.

China Morning Post Conference in Kuala Lumpur: Jack Ma says US will suffer more in Trade War. However, the role of digital assets and adoption of the Interledger Protocol (ILP) could provide relief to both nations, lessening any ill effects.

In his interview, Mr. Ma also asserted that it was due to the trade deficit that the US was able to grow its economy, and to an extent, that has been theorised to be true. Known as the Triffin Paradox or the Triffin Dilemma (named after a Belgian-American economist), it is representative of a situation in which the US Dollar has become a global reserve currency (after WWII) which essentially means that all foreign nations are willing to hold the reserve currency in order to give the currency legitimacy and power but that because extra supply of this currency is given to foreign nations that those long-term international objectives are in direct conflict with domestic objectives, due to the exacerbation of a trade deficit, in which American citizens are directly affected through inflation and taxation.

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In the 1770s, paper currency in the United States was backed by Gold and this was the case until 1971, when President Nixon eradicated the gold standard.

To give a little background on this particular situation, when the United States first became a nation in the 1700s, paper currency was backed by gold, and because investors were exchanging their paper currency for gold, which culminated in the stock market crash of 1929, the US govt feared that gold would soon run out, and as a preventative measure passed an executive order called the Gold Reserve Act in 1934 in which only the US govt could hold gold, and not US citizens (ie, US citizens could only hold gold in the form of jewellery and not gold bullions and had to sell their gold assets to the govt). In this way, the US govt was now able to control the price of gold, hence stabilise its paper currency.

After WWII, global nations (the United States, Canada, Western Europe, Australia, and Japan) established the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank through the Bretton Woods Agreement in order to establish rules for commercial and financial agreement by using the US Dollar and Gold, therefore, launching the USD as an international reserve currency. However, in 1971, President Nixon decided that gold would no longer back its paper currency or the US dollar, therefore eliminating the gold standard.

Now, the problem with the US Dollar as a reserve currency without gold backing is the problem of liquidity. As a fiat currency, the US Dollar is backed only by the US Govt, which presents a burden on the American people. In the Triffin Paradox, the US Dollar as an international reserve currency has allowed the US economy to greatly expand into the 20th and 21st centuries, but it has caused a situation in which the US has had to also increase its Trade Deficit as a consequence, which has negatively impacted American citizens.

In the current Trade War, President Trump is attempting to relieve Americans of this burden by reducing the trade deficits via tariffs on those nations with huge trading surpluses such as China. What Mr. Ma is saying in the video interview is that it is specifically the trade deficit that has greatly expanded US economic power via the Triffin Paradox, but he is also making a quiet implication that reducing the trade deficit will decrease the overall US economy.

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Trade deficits with US partners. The US imports more goods from other nations than vice versa.

As such because the USD is a fiat currency, there had previously been no easy way for liquidation until the launch of cryptocurrencies. This is because in an international transaction, significant assets must be held by financial institutions in the form of nostro accounts in order to stabilise international transactions. It has been extrapolated that there are $5 trillion sitting in these nostro accounts around the world that are currently tied up. Cryptocurrencies or digital assets could become an intermediary currency in order to expedite international transactions and find liquidity by transferring value into other currencies. If we examine the Ripple Interledger Protocol, it has already begun to be integrated into SWIFT cross border payment systems.

The Interledger Protocol (ILP) is an ideal in use cases of cross-border international payments because it bypasses the need to be on the same system, in which transfers are cumbersome, slow and might take several days, whereas in ILP, the transaction is immediate and eliminates the need for financial institutions to have significant amount of assets sitting in a nostro account. Ripple’s ILP can allow the USD to remain strong whilst also allowing liquidity into other markets, and hence also potentially addressing the Triffin Paradox. 

What does this mean for China?

It could mean that China’s economy might be in flux for the next 5 years, but ultimately, the Trade War does not mean economic collapse, but simply a gradual change to a new system. As Ripple’s ILP becomes adopted by more financial institutions, it will become a standard for processing international payments and creating liquidity without replacing the USD as the reserve currency. In this way, the US is currently not on the verge of any economic collapse, but a period of strong growth. In a parallel way, China could enhance its own position by adoption of ILP transactions and further its One Belt One Road Initiatives.

This also means that China cannot continue to devalue its own currency in order to raise its GDP without countermeasures from the US Govt, in which President Trump is raising tariffs on China’s $500 bln annual exports as a tit-for-tat measure. Raising tariffs on China’s exports will inevitably have a negative effect on eCommerce giants such as Alibaba, in which the US could strategically move towards Vietnam, Indonesia, India or even Mexico to replace China as the source of inexpensive imports. Adoption of the ILP could also have an impact on international payment platforms such as PayPal and Alipay in potentially either a positive or negative way, depending on how these payment platforms will be the first to dominate a market in adoption of this new protocol or else become replaced entirely by existing financial institutions that can bypass them to make international transactions via ILP.

What could China do in the meantime?

China has always been an innovative nation, filled with scholars, philosophers, scientists, women in leadership positions, and a source of great literature and art.

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Empress Dowager Cixi. She came into power on Nov 11, 1861 until her death on Nov 15, 1908. Although she had been painted as a ruthless tyrant by Communist China and American historians in the 1950s, recent scholars who have studied her writings and her work have portrayed her as a leader who had opened up China to the West, stopped the Boxer Rebellion against foreigners during the time and created diplomatic reforms in order to attempt to transition China into a constitutional democracy. A prolific writer and progressive thinker, she had invested in technology, and started the first telegraph, the first electric light, and developed the first modern navy in China.

Investment in clean water and energy projects, in addition to continuation with China’s One Belt One Road Initiative as America did after WWII with the Marshall Plan will enhance China's position as a global superpower. By focusing on becoming the global world’s source in energy and clean water is a strategy that should gradually move China away from a nation that has been known in our generation as a source of cheap labour to one that provides energy and clean water to the rest of the world. Instead of isolating nations such as South and North Korea, and India, China has the opportunity to integrate surrounding nations into its One Belt One Road Initiative.

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Clean water will be the most valuable resource in the 22nd Century, according to many academics, which will become more valuable than oil.

The assimilation of global financial institutions’ adoption of the Interledger Protocol (IPL) is inevitable. China’s forward thinking leaders, such as Jack Ma, should ease this transition so as to calm the initial upheaval and to prevent a long-term downtrend in the Chinese Stock Markets.

Jack Ma has said once that as a billionaire that, “the money doesn’t belong to me, but that people have entrusted me with that money in order to build a better society”, and I think that looking long-term into China’s global role is that it will become a superpower that builds bridges between nations, and eradicate poverty in emerging nations by providing a diversified production of energy and clean water sources and no longer known as the post-Industrial Communist nation of sweatshops and 12-hour long workdays behind barbed wires.