The next crisis could be triggered by the US-China trade war, interest rates: Sovereign wealth chief

  • Economic problems in emerging markets and the ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China could increase the risk of the next financial crisis, according to Heenam Choi, CEO of the Korea Investment Corporation.
  • The trade spat between the two largest economies in the world won't be easy to resolve, Choi told CNBC.
  • Choi explained that, if the trade dispute escalates and Chinese exports are severely affected by U.S. tariffs, then that would ultimately affect South Korea's own economy.

Economic troubles in emerging markets and the ongoing trade war between the United States and China could potentially increase the risk of the next financial crisis, according to the chief executive officer at South Korea's sovereign wealth fund.

As the global economy continues to grow, the U.S. Federal Reserve and other central banks are looking to tighten their monetary policies, which could lead to a sudden "liquidity squeeze" in some emerging markets, Heenam Choi, CEO of the Korea Investment Corporation (KIC), told CNBC at the annual Singapore Summit.

A so-called liquidity squeeze is essentially when economic conditions in a country become too tight, and borrowing becomes more difficult, driving down consumption and investments, and ultimately hitting economic growth.

As of the end of last year, KIC managed around $134.1 billion in assets. That portfolio means the sovereign wealth fund's management team needs to closely watch the health of the global economy.

Already, U.S. interest rates are moving higher and central banks around the world are moving away from some of the easy policies that were adopted during and after the financial crisis about a decade ago.

"In additional to (tighter economic conditions), there are non-economic factors: I mean trade war, trade dispute, geopolitical risk might be (a) potential list of factors to affect the global economy," Choi said, adding that solving the trade spat between the U.S. and China will not be easy.

"On that issue, I'm a little bit negative," he said of the spiraling tariffs between the world's two largest economies.

China is South Korea's largest trading partner and most of the exported products are intermediate goods that are refined and sold by Beijing to the rest of the world.

Choi said that if the trade dispute escalates and Chinese exports are severely affected by U.S. tariffs, then that would ultimately affect South Korea's own exports.

Indeed, in July, South Korea's finance minister warned that the trade war could have "serious downward risks" to the country's export-reliant economy if the impact spread to the global market. But the trade ministry said that the dispute could have both positive and negative effects on South Korea because certain Chinese goods that are slapped with tariffs can be replaced by Korean exports, Reuters reported.

Washington and Beijing have already applied tariffs to $50 billion of each other's goods. The U.S. is also considering additional tariffs for which China warned it would retaliate.

Still, a decade after the global financial crisis, Choi said that the world economy is generally safer than before, and that countries are better prepared to tackle the next downturn. According to Choi, that's particularly true for the emerging markets that have spent most of the last decade conducting structural reforms to make their economies stronger.

"Even though there are few countries suffering from external shock ... emerging markets are very prepared in terms of (having a) safety net," he said.