Chinese banks urged to switch away from SWIFT

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China should prepare for potential US sanctions by increasing the use of its own financial messaging network for cross-border transactions in the mainland, Hong Kong and Macau, according to a report from the investment banking unit of Bank of China.

Greater use of the Cross-Border Interbank Payment System instead of the Belgium-based SWIFT system would also reduce exposure of China’s global payments data to the United States, BOC International said in the report, which was co-authored by a former foreign exchange regulator.

The bank’s chief economist Guan Tao is a former director of the international payments department of State Administration of Foreign Exchange.

The report looked at potential measures the United States could take against Chinese banks, including cutting off their access to the SWIFT financial messaging service, a primary network used by banks globally to make financial transactions.

“A good punch to the enemy will save yourself from hundreds of punches from your enemies,” the report said, amid deteriorating relating between the world’s two largest economies. “We need to get prepared in advance, mentally and practically.”

China launched the CIPS clearing and settlement services system in 2015 to help internationalize the use of the yuan. CIPS said it processed 135.7 billion yuan (US$19.4 billion) a day in 2019, with participation from 96 countries and regions.

The report said that if the United States were to take the extreme action of cutting off some Chinese banks’ access to dollar settlements, China should also consider stopping using the US dollar as the anchor currency for its foreign exchange controls.

It also recommended that China develop legislation similar to the European Union’s Blocking Statute, which allowed the EU to sustain trade and economic relations with Iran, a country targeted by US sanctions.

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