The U.S.'s ambivalence was highlighted earlier this year when European countries led by the U.K. and Switzerland rushed to join the China-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, while the U.S. refused to participate.
Officially, Washington's stance stemmed from concerns about the fledgling organization's standards of governance and its environmental and societal safeguards. Unofficially, U.S. officials were thought to be worried about sacrificing clout in Asia to China, as well as piqued by criticism of slow reforms and an imbalance of power in the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
Holmes said the U.S.'s refusal to join seemed "a bit churlish"—but perhaps the real question is whether the U.S. can afford not to play ball with China.
Despite five years of economic slowdown and the recent burst of sharp market volatility, Standard Chartered still forecasts the China will average economic growth of 6.8 percent between 2010 and 2020.
The bank — which launched in 1853 to handle trade flows between the U.K. and China — also sees the remninbi becoming the second-most traded currency in the world behind the U.S. dollar, trumping the euro, sterling and the Japanese yen.
Apart from the expertise of banks like Standard Chartered, the U.K. may have another charm to woo China — the personal interest of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
"George has a genuine passion for China," Holmes told journalists on Wednesday. "His wife speaks Mandarin, his kid is learning Mandarin, he backpacked there as a student… he seems to have a personal and emotional connection with China."