China poised to issue sovereign debt in renminbi in London

James Kynge
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China is set to issue government debt in renminbi in London, picking the city as the first overseas financial centre in which to open a sovereign debt market as it ramps up efforts to popularise its currency, officials familiar with the issue said.

The plan is to issue Chinese Treasury bonds in renminbi in London after laying the foundations with launches of short-term debt by the People's Bank of China, the central bank, the officials said.

The scheme is likely to be a key announcement in the visit of Xi Jinping, the president, to the UK next week, they added. It will be hailed as a breakthrough by Mr Xi's British hosts, who are preparing to give the communist party leader a five-star welcome in an effort to gain an edge over the European rivals in attracting Chinese investment.

"London has been chosen ahead of other financial centres in Europe and the US," said one official familiar with Mr Xi's visit. "This shows that Beijing has decided that London is the preferred location in which to build an offshore centre for renminbi exchange and investment in a non-Chinese timezone."

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Jinny Yan, an economist at Standard Chartered Bank in London, said: "These will be the first China renminbi government bond issues outside China. The purpose is not so much to raise funds as to open up an offshore renminbi debt market for the first time."

China is keen to promote the renminbi as an international currency that is representative of Beijing's growing economic and diplomatic clout in the world. It wants the currency to be used not only as a means of payment but also as an investment currency, allowing its government and companies smooth access to raise funds overseas.

The details of the London issues remain sketchy, but officials said that a few billion renminbi in short-term PBoC notes were likely to be the first move in London. Once such issues have prepared the market and won a reputation among investors, Beijing's first offshore Treasury bonds are set to be queued for launch, they added.

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The securities will not be the first renminbi debt issues seen in London. The China Development Bank, a state-owned policy bank, has issued Rmb 2 billion of renminbi bonds in the city. The UK government also issued a Rmb 3 billion sovereign bond in renminbi last year, making London the first western country to do so.

To emphasise China's selection of London as its preferred offshore renminbi financial centre in a non-Chinese timezone, Beijing is also planning a second tranche of renminbi bonds to be issued in London by the China Development Bank, the leading source of finance for overseas investment projects.

The UK is preparing to grant Mr Xi a red-carpet welcome next week, including an address to some 600 members of both houses of parliament, dinners at Buckingham Palace and a ride in a royal carriage. The rhetoric around the visit is also being ramped up, with officials on both sides referring to a "golden era" or a "golden decade" in UK-China ties.

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The UK is hoping to push forward efforts to attract Chinese investment into infrastructure, including a nuclear power station at Hinkley Point and a high-speed railway to a city in the northern part of the country. An air link from Manchester to Beijing is also set to be announced during Mr Xi's visit.