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By PAUL KRUGMAN New York Times
April 3, 2009, 8:26PM
Back in the early stages of the financial crisis, wags joked that our trade with China had turned out to be fair and balanced after all: They sold us poison toys and tainted seafood; we sold them fraudulent securities.
But these days, both sides of that deal are breaking down. On one side, the world’s appetite for Chinese goods has fallen off sharply. China’s exports have plunged in recent months and are now down 26 percent from a year ago. On the other side, the Chinese are evidently getting anxious about those securities.
But China still seems to have unrealistic expectations. And that’s a problem for all of us.
The big news last week was a speech by Zhou Xiaochuan, the governor of China’s central bank, calling for a new “super-sovereign reserve currency.”
The paranoid wing of the Republican Party promptly warned of a dastardly plot to make America give up the dollar. But Zhou’s speech was actually an admission of weakness. In effect, he was saying that China had driven itself into a dollar trap, and that it can neither get itself out nor change the policies that put it in that trap in the first place.
Some background: In the early years of this decade, China began running large trade surpluses and also began attracting substantial inflows of foreign capital. If China had had a floating exchange rate — like, say, Canada — this would have led to a rise in the value of its currency, which, in turn, would have slowed the growth of China’s exports.