It is often called the nuclear option.
它通常被称为“核选项”。
In the trade war between the United States and China, economists and investors have long tried to game out how both sides might use their clout. In virtually all the predictions, at least until recently, they revolved around a tit-for-tat tariff war.
在美中之间的贸易战中,经济学家和投资者长期以来一直试图弄清双方可能会如何利用自己的影响力。至少直到最近,几乎所有预测都是围绕着针锋相对的关税战。
Even in the gloomiest of doomsday scenarios, there is one weapon that has long been considered unthinkable: the Chinese, the biggest holder of United States foreign debt with more than $1 trillion, publicly taking a step back from buying United States Treasuries — or worse, dumping what they own in the open market.
即使在最悲观的末世局面设想之中,也有一种武器一直被认为是不可想象的:中国是美国外债的最大持有者,持有量超过1万亿美元,它可以公开退出购买美国国债——或者更糟糕的是,在公开市场倾销他们手上持有的国债。
The very idea is typically dismissed as a waste of time to even consider, and the reason is a sort of mutually assured destruction. It would be wildly irrational in economic terms, the thinking goes. China selling Treasuries would send interest rates up and hurt the United States, but it would simultaneously severely damage the value of China’s own Treasury holdings. As the industrialist J. Paul Getty famously said, “If you owe the bank $100, that’s your problem; if you owe the bank $100 million, that’s the bank’s problem.” In the United States-China relationship, China is very clearly the bank.
人们通常觉得这个念头想一想都是浪费时间,理由是某种相互毁灭保证。人们觉得,这在经济方面是非常不合理的。中国抛售美国国债会导致利率上升,并损害美国,但它同时会严重损害中国自己的国债持有。正如工业家J·保罗·盖蒂(J. Paul Getty)所说,“如果你欠银行100美元,那是你的问题;如果你欠银行1亿美元,那就是银行的麻烦了。”在美中关系中,中国显然相当于银行。
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But the conventional wisdom about what China might — or might not — be prepared to do could be wrong. China has lately reduced its holdings of United States government debt, and a growing number of financiers, economists and geopolitical analysts are quietly raising the prospect that China may look to its ability to influence interest rates as its ultimate Trump card.
但是关于中国可能会——或可能不会——做什么的常规思维也许有误。中国最近减持了美国政府债券,越来越多的金融学家、经济学家和地缘政治分析家正悄悄提出这样一种前景:中国可能将其影响利率的能力作为向特朗普打出的最后一张牌。
After all, China doesn’t have any American imports left to tariff and it is already taking aim at deals, so what’s left?
毕竟,中国没有更多美国进口商品可以征收关税了,它已经在把目标瞄准美国企业的交易,所以还剩下什么呢?
If China were to undertake such a maneuver, it would do so at a delicate time for the United States economy: The rising deficit has increased the Treasury’s borrowing needs. There is more debt to be purchased, and the Federal Reserve is raising interest rates, making that debt more expensive. It’s not clear how much China could drive up rates by shedding Treasuries, but it would certainly add to the momentum already present.
如果中国采取这样的策略,它将在美国经济的微妙时刻这样做:赤字上升增加了财政部的借贷需求。需要购买的债务更多,而美联储正在提高利率,导致债务更加昂贵。目前尚不清楚中国可以通过减少国债来提高多少利率,但它肯定会促进已经存在的势头。
And it is worth remembering that Beijing’s endgame is not necessarily to ensure the financial health of its country this year or the next. If China were to suffer short-term pain to gain a real and lasting advantage over the United States — or at least not lose any advantages it does have — it might be willing to struggle a bit today.
值得记住的是,北京在最后阶段并不一定要确保中国在今年或明年的财政健康。如果中国遭受短期痛苦就可以获得对美国持久的真正优势——或者至少不会失去它已拥有的任何优势——它可能愿意在今天承受点煎熬。
“The negotiation between the two great powers isn’t about how many soybeans or Boeing airplanes they buy by the end of the year,” said Kevin Warsh, a former governor of the Federal Reserve. “We are at a pivotal moment in history. The actions of the U.S. and Chinese governments in the next 12 months will set the course for the relationship of the two great powers of the 21st century.”
“这两个大国之间的谈判不是关于他们在今年年底前购买多少大豆或波音飞机,”美联储的一位前主管凯文·沃什(Kevin Warsh)说。“我们正处于历史的关键时刻。美国和中国政府在未来12个月的行动,将为21世纪两个大国的关系奠定基础。”
And the war of words is only getting sharper. Last week, Vice President Mike Pence accused China of using “political, economic and military tools, as well as propaganda, to advance its influence and benefit its interests in the United States.” And on Monday, China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, admonished the Trump administration for “ceaselessly elevating” trade tensions and “casting a shadow” over relations between the two countries as he sat directly across from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
而言语之战只会越来越尖锐。上周,副总统迈克·彭斯(Mike Pence)指责中国利用“政治、经济和军事手段以及宣传手段提升其影响力,促进其在美国的利益。”周一在与国务卿迈克·庞皮欧(Mike Pompeo)直接会谈时,中国外交部长王毅指责特朗普政府“不断升级”贸易紧张局势,给两国关系“蒙上了阴影”。
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Still, critics who dismiss the possibility of China trying to upend the United States Treasury market say that China’s own economy is too fragile to risk doing anything that would cause instability.
然而,对中国试图颠覆美国国债市场的可能性不以为然的批评人士表示,中国自己的经济太过脆弱,不能冒风险做出任何会引发不稳定的事情。
Stability has long been a watchword in China. Over the weekend, China’s central bank, clearly nervous about a slowdown, pumped $175 billion into the economy by lowering the amount of money that some lenders are required to hold in reserve, allowing that money to circulate freely instead.
稳定一直是中国的一个口号。周末,明显对经济放缓感到不安的中国央行通过下调贷方需要储备的资金,允许这些资金自由流通,向经济注入1750亿美元。
Supporters of the Trump administration’s tough stance on tariffs with China take actions like that as a sign that the United States holds the negotiating leverage. And it remains an open question whether China could inflict real damage by selling Treasuries.
特朗普政府对华强硬关税的支持者将这样的做法视为美国手握谈判筹码的迹象。中国是否能通过出售国债造成真正的伤害,仍是一个有待解答的问题。
“Treasuries sales in a sense are easy to counter, as the Fed is very comfortable buying and selling Treasuries for its own account,” wrote Brad W. Setser, a senior fellow for international economics at the Council on Foreign Relations. “I have often said that the U.S. ultimately holds the high cards here: The Fed is the one actor in the world that can buy more than China can ever sell.”
“从某种意义上来说,抛售国债很容易应对,因为美联储完全可以自行购买和出售国债,”美国外交关系委员会(Council on Foreign Relations)国际经济高级研究员布拉德·W·塞策(Brad W. Setser)写道。“我常常说,大牌终归是在美国手上:美联储是世界上唯一一个有能力买入比中国卖出量更多国债的一方。”
Even so, the market dynamics are unpredictable. Chances are, over the past two decades, there have been Treasury auctions at which the Chinese haven’t been bidders. But whether they were active bidders or not, the other bidders have always had to assume they were.
即便如此,市场变幻仍难以预测。过去20年很可能存在中国人没有在国债拍卖上竞拍的情况。但无论中国人是否竞拍,其他竞拍者得一直假定他们参与其中。
It is one thing to show up at Sotheby’s and not raise your paddle. It would be quite another to send out a news release saying you’re never going to Sotheby’s again.
出现在苏富比却不举起竞拍牌是一回事。发一篇新闻稿,说你再也不会去苏富比,那就是完全另外一回事了。
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The problem is that China would have to find something to do with that money — and, in this case, the auction house is always offering the best deals in town.
问题在于,中国得给这笔钱找到去处——在这种情况下,拍卖行往往给出了市面上最好的条件。
“Even if it could sell its more than a trillion dollars of Treasurys without pushing the market against it, where would it park the funds?” Marc Chandler, global head of currency strategy for Brown Brothers Harriman, wrote in a note to investors. “It will not be able to secure the liquidity, safety and returns that are available in the U.S.”
“即便是中国能抛售出手中超过一万亿美元的美国国债,而又做到不让市场对自己不利,它要把这些钱投在哪里?”布朗兄弟哈里曼(Brown Brothers Harriman)全球货币战略负责人马克·钱德勒(Marc Chandler)在写给投资者的一封信中表示。“中国将会无法保证这笔资金在美国能获得的流动性、安全性和回报。”
But brinkmanship does not breed rational thought. The escalation of hostilities, even economic ones, raises both stakes and tempers alike, which is a dangerous combination.
但边缘政策不会带来理性思考。双方敌意不断升级——即使只是经济方面的敌意,这既会引发风险,也会带来怒气等情绪,而这两者是一个危险的组合。
And in this case, there is no proving ground. There is no predictable math, no scale model.
并且,在这种情况里是不存在试验场的。没有可以预测的计算结果,也没有比例模型。
If China were to use its nuclear option and the markets didn’t react, it would lose influence in stark fashion. If it worked — but was more effective than expected — China could inflict unintended damage on its own economy.
如果中国要使用“核选项”,市场不作出反应,中国将在众目睽睽之下失去影响力。如果成功了——但效果超过预期——中国将给本国经济带来并非有意的伤害。
And even a perfectly executed strike that left China unharmed would be perilous: A targeted attack on the United States economy would have unknowable repercussions. If the fallout cloud settled over Europe or emerging markets, would China be ready for that fight, too?
而且,即使是一次对中国无害的、完美执行的打击,也将十分危险:以美国经济为目标的攻击将带来不可知的后果。如果这件事带来的阴云笼罩欧洲或新兴市场,中国也能为这种对抗做好准备吗?
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Since the end of the Cold War and the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the world has embraced a policy of strategic stability: reducing the incentive for rival nations to unleash unimaginable destruction.
自冷战结束、核武扩散以来,全世界已经接纳了一个维护战略性稳定的政策:减少会刺激敌对国家释放不可想像的破坏力的因素。
That is probably good economic policy, too.
这可能也是一个不错的经济政策。