Beijing unlikely to target financial firms in China-US trade war

Pedestrians walk along Broadway near the New York Stock Exchange.

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Technology, rare earth minerals and the education sector have been dragged into the scuffle between China and the U.S., but as Beijing considers more countermeasures, experts said America’s financial sector is unlikely to be a target.

There’s just too much at stake for China in that area, they told CNBC this week, pointing to an ongoing drive in the country to open up the Chinese financial sector to global investors.

“We believe that the financial regulators (in China) … are looking at ways to really reform, make it more liquid, bring more transparency. We haven’t seen any shift in that attitude yet,” Douglas Peterson, president and chief executive at financial services and ratings giant S&P Global, told CNBC on Friday.

Speaking at the Institute of International Finance meeting in Tokyo, he said that any move to target financial services would be “unusual,” because the Chinese “need access to global financial markets.”

On Thursday, Tim Adams, who is president and chief executive of the IIF, a trade association, also expressed that sentiment.

“The Chinese government wants U.S. and European financial institutions — they are opening up the market. What I heard from Chinese authorities is … ‘we want the financial community to be here,'” he told CNBC.

Peterson said that the Chinese yuan, or the renminbi (RMB), would likely be a casualty of any move to clamp down on the financial sector.

“Clearly, one of their long term goals is to make their currency a larger, more dominant position in trade. They would like to have things like oil or certain types of commodities or goods priced in RMB,” he said. “In order to do that, they have to have a more active financial market, (to be) more engaged in the global financial market.”

Increasing overseas participation in yuan-denominated assets would help Beijing toward its goal of boosting international acceptance and use of the Chinese currency.

Increasingly, China’s markets have been opened up to global investors. Last year, Chinese A-shares — yuan-denominated stocks traded on the mainland — were included in the MSCI Emerging Markets Index.

This year, Chinese bonds were included in the widely followed Bloomberg Barclays index.

Those inclusions also bring billions of dollars into China’s markets. Analysts estimate that the full inclusion in the Bloomberg Barclays index will attract around $150 billion of foreign inflows into China’s roughly $13 trillion bond market, while the MSCI inclusion will also attract billions worth of inflows.

“There’s also very high demand from foreign investors for Chinese assets,” Peterson said. “So shutting down access to financial markets — I really don’t think it’s one of the measures they’re probably looking at very seriously.”

So far, other sectors have been implicated in trade skirmishes between the world’s two largest economies.

The U.S. put Chinese tech giant Huawei on a list that essentially prevents it from conducting business with American companies, while Chinese media warned that Beijing could cut off industrially significant rare earth minerals as a retaliatory measure in the escalating economic battle.

On Tuesday, China issued a warning to its citizens about working, studying and traveling in America, noting that the U.S. has recently placed certain restrictions on some Chinese student visas.

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