The Economist January 18, 2020 pp62-64 Briefing American financial hegemony “Dethroning the dollar” “As America weaponizes its currency and financial system, other countries are seeking alternatives to the greenback”.
Global trade requires systems enabling cross-border charges and payments in a rapid, safe and fair way. The dollar-based systems enabling international transactions were developed incrementally over many decades in part by U.S. regulation and in part by engineering. The system because it is backed by the dollar has proved safe even in times of international and economic crisis. Given the size and complexity of the system, nearly all transactions in some way flow through a portion of the tightly-controlled network. Having control is essential for the reliability of the financial system but having control also renders the ability to exert control at will. American economic sanctions leverage this ability to control all financial transactions flowing through any part of the dollar-based system.
Generally preferred over military conflict, economic sanctions can severely constrain bad-actor countries and companies-e.g. Russia, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, BNP Paribas and most recently Huawei. Recently the number sanctions has increased to 30 active programs restricting the primary target country and even secondary countries that are aiding them. Because the American system for international transactions has been "weaponized" large players like Russia, China and the Eurozone are seeking alternatives. “We aren’t aiming to ditch the dollar” Mr. Putin has said. “The dollar is ditching us” as sanctions were put in place after the 2014 Russian invasion of Crimea. Countries are reacting by “de-dollarising" in various ways including; cutting the fraction of dollars in their foreign reserves, bypassing the American apparatus by having direct transactions between China and Russia, energy trading with Euros and Rubles rather than involving dollars and by listing large companies in their own stock markets. Alibaba is now listed in New York and Hong Kong. The benefits are substantial and other Chinese companies will follow this path. Finally, China is hoping to leapfrog American in cybercurrency and initially use newly developed systems with other “BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa). For details see the article.
Figure provides a glimpse of the complexity involved in global trade.