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Here's why experts say Russia and China's attempts to 'de-dollarize' global markets are going nowhere

Vladimir Putin Xi Jinping
Russia and China have deepened ties since the invasion of Ukraine.

  • Plans by Russia and China to challenge the dollar on the world stage are going nowhere, experts say.
  • Russia's fragile economy and China's capital controls make both their currencies less appealing. 
  • It'll take a long time for any significant challenge to be mounted against the US dollar, sources told Insider. 

Russia's attempts to combat the supremacy of the US dollar are unlikely to work, experts say, even as the country cozies up to China in a move to to challenge the greenback with an alternative reserve currency.

After being targeted by western sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine, Russia has vowed to "de-dollarize" its economy, with measures including shunning currencies from "unfriendly" countries and planning to create a new reserve currency with China to challenge the dollar's position as the leading currency of global trade. 

Last year, Russia announced that it would work with other BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) to develop an alternative reserve currency. However, those efforts to topple the greenback from its perch atop international markets are futile, experts say, and neither Russia's ruble nor any move to promote a new reserve currency with China will mount a significant challenge.

According to Jay Zagorsky, an economist from Boston University, one of Russia's chief problems is that its economy is inherently tied to the dollar through its oil trade. Crude oil is one of Moscow's main revenue sources, and transactions are widely denominated in the US currency.

Zagorsky is skeptical that Russia's plans for a reserve currency with China and other nations would see much demand. Past attempts to create a common reserve currency, such as recent plans between Brazil and Argentina, have typically failed, especially when partner nations are on uneven economic footing.

"Russia is a fragile economy and they're heavily sanctioned. They've got a tremendous amount of economic difficulty," according to Bob Stark, the head of market strategy at Kyriba. "Would Russia love to topple to US dollar? I'm sure, but that's not really the conversation." 

The yuan is rising but challenges remain

The bigger player in all of this is China, which has struck a number of partnerships with other countries to boost the presence of its yuan on the world stage. Russia joining those efforts was simply a method of survival, a way to keep its economy afloat and keep trade flowing after being upended by western sanctions.

"It's less of Russia trying to challenge dollar dominance more than China rising as a supereconomic power in the world. It's part of a larger China strategy," Stark said. He pointed to warnings from"Dr. Doom" economist Nouriel Roubini, who said a bipolar currency system could emerge over the next decade, wherein the yuan will rival the dollar in global trade.

But while Stark thinks a yuan-vs-dollar regime is possible, he said that scenario is only a distant possibility. It takes a long time for a currency to be trusted and widely used in trade, and it'll take a long time to topple the greenback ,which has accounted for 96% of world trade in recent decades, according to data from the Federal Reserve. Meanwhile, the yuan accounted for just 2% of global trade in the first half of 2022.

Zagorsky rebuffed the notion that the dollar would be displaced by the yuan at all, due to China's capital controls on its currency, such as limiting the amount of yuan that can be taken out of the country. As long as those rules are in place, that makes the yuan less liquid than currencies like the US dollar, and therefore less attractive.

"International investors and traders do not want to use a currency when they are worried their money will get trapped inside a country and they will be unable to move it out," he added. 

A report from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace claimed that the yuan wasn't a threat to the greenback, as the yuan's internationalization requires dollar reserves to keep it stable. Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman added that he didn't fear the US dollar losing its dominant position, and even if it did, it would be "hardly earth-shattering" for the US economy. 

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