There is a special irony to China’s adamance on the subject that successor governments are responsible for their predecessors’ sovereign debts. After all, American and other investors are estimated to be holding Chinese sovereign bonds issued by pre-Communist regimes worth roughly $260 billion – bonds the PRC has, to date, refused to honor. While British holders of such Chinese bonds were given a discriminatory settlement back in 1987, their American counterparts have been left holding the bag.
Now, though, U.S. legislators are considering a resolution that could induce China to be more forthcoming. House Concurrent Resolution 160, introduced last month by Rep. Lincoln Davis, Democrat of Tennessee and others on both sides of the aisle, would deny the PRC access to the U.S. capital markets until such time as, among other things, Communist China “fully honors repayment of its outstanding defaulted public debts owed to United States citizens.”
Such a penalty for China’s effective default would be a first. Until now, there have been no material costs to China for reneging on these debts. Its bond ratings were not affected. Neither has there been any impediment to the PRC’s ability to bring to American and other international exchanges various “bad actors” – often state-owned companies, like CNPC, Petrochina and Sinopec, engaged in activities inimical to vital U.S. security, economic and/or human rights interests.
In the absence of any serious, let alone sustained, effort by the Executive Branch and the Congress to resolve this corrosive bilateral problem, is it any wonder that there has been no satisfactory resolution to other financial abuses by China? These include: Beijing’s manipulation of its currency; its underwriting of the genocidal regime in Sudan; and China’s worrisome financial (and other) ties with Iran, Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela and North Korea, etc.
The adoption by both houses of Congress of legislation like H. Con. Res. 160 should be but the first of several steps taken to induce the PRC to clean up its sovereign debt. For example, as legislative and other measures are developed to counter China’s currency manipulation, provisions should be included requiring Beijing to make good on its defaulted sovereign bonds.
The Securities and Exchange Commission and other credit-rating agencies should be required to take into account China’s defaulted bonds in their ratings and disclosure requirements. And targeted financial sanctions against the PRC should be promulgated in the event China continues to ignore its long-standing financial commitments.
Last, but not least, American and other vendors should be encouraged to settle accounts with China by using the legal tender of Chinese sovereign bonds. In this fashion, Beijing can be held accountable for its debts, with minimal impact on trade and other relations.
If China can use sovereign debt owed it – even debt incurred by previous governments as despicable as that of Saddam Hussein – to euchre freedom-aspiring Iraqis into making strategically momentous concessions, the least the United States can do is ensure that the Communist Chinese are held to no lesser standard. Sauce for the goose, after all, must be sauce for the Beijing duck.
Frank Gaffney Jr. is the founder and president of the Center for Security Policy and author of War Footing: 10 Steps America Must Take to Prevail in the War for the Free World .
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