By East Asia Forum (EAF) and East Asian Bureau of Economic Research (EABER), Crawford School of Economics and Government, Australian National University
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Extra resources for East Asia Forum Quarterly, October-December 2010
Singapore’s net saving (current account) surpluses have been persistently the world’s largest for many years. To prevent hot-money flows it essentially nationalises the internal flow of saving by requiring all Singaporeans to deposit into the Singapore Provident Fund, a state-run defined-contribution pension scheme. Then Provident Fund capital is lent to two giant sovereign wealth funds: the Government Overseas Investment Corporation (GIC), which invests in fairly liquid overseas assets, and Temasek, which is more of a risk-taker in foreign equities and real estate.
It is impossible for the PBOC to simply let the ‘market’ decide what the rate should be when at the same time it has a huge surplus. Many well-meaning commentators believe market-determined exchange flexibility is warranted. US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s speeches indicate he believes so, albeit using a much more measured and careful tone than other Americans who are involved in ‘China-bashing’. His moderate and seemingly reasonable approach—let the yuan/dollar rate reflect ‘market forces’—is still not feasible.
It can also coordinate the timing of the structural reforms in respective countries, since the reduction of a surplus in one country inevitably leads to, or has to be accommodated by, the reduction of a deficit in another country. Take the example of China. The large Chinese current account surplus derives mainly from distortions in factor markets, which repress costs of production and artificially improve the competitiveness of China’s manufacturing exports. Exchange rate misalignment is only a part of the picture of distortions.