By Koos Jansen, BullionStar
The other day I bumped into a small but potentially important news item on the website of the Shanghai Gold Exchange. The article was published in Mandarin, of course, as the Chinese (authorities) hardly ever publish valuable information in English – most articles published in English have been intentionally written to communicate what the State Council wants the West to hear. In the article it’s described a financial delegation from Kazakhstan visited the Shanghai Gold Exchange (SGE) to discuss cooperation in gold trading along One Belt, One Road (OBOR), also referred to as the new Silk Road, that reaches over the whole Eurasian continent. From the SGE (exclusively translated by BullionStar):
A group led by Kairat Kelimbetov, the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Kazakhstan International Financial Center, visited the Exchange
At noon on 26 February 2016 a group led by Kairat Kelimbetov, President of the Astana International Financial Center and former President of the National Bank of Kazakhstan, visited the Shanghai Gold Exchange and held talks with President Jiao Jinpu. Both parties reached consensus on strengthening cooperation and seeking development in the gold market under the “One Belt One Road” project. Zuo Qihan, Kazakhstan consulate general in Shanghai, Shen Gang, Vice General Manager of the Exchange and Zhuang Xiao, CTO, attended the meeting.
Although the article lacks any detail, we can discover its potential impact if we study the financial and political backdrop.
Kelimbetov has an impressive track record. Previously he served as the Minister of the National Economy, Deputy Prime Minister and Governor of the National Bank of Kazakhstan. Currently, he’s the head of the brand new Astana International Financial Center (AIFC) that was officially launched in January 2016, aimed to become one of the top 10 financial centers in Asia and one of the top 30 financial centers in the world by 2020. The government of Kazakhstan contributes full support to the AIFC .
The main language spoken at the AIFC is English and the center includes an independent court for financial and investment disputes using English law. Kenneth Rogoff, Professor at Harvard University and former chief economist at the IMF, has said with English law at the basis the AIFC will be a game changer.
The AIFC decree signed in May 2015 at the Astana Economic Forum (AEF) by the President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, commands the National Bank of Kazakhstan and the Kazakhstan Stock Exchange to relocate from the city of Almaty to Astana. The AIFC will be installed on the premises of the EXPO 2017 starting from 1 January 2018.
At the AEF Nazarbayev stated the financial crisis that broke out in 2008 is systemic and will only end when the key cause is eliminated: the profound accumulated imbalances in the currency markets. He added that these hidden, latent roots of the crisis have spawned currency wars and economic wars in the form of sanctions hurting many countries. Nazarbayev said, “This is what generates an increase in confrontation between East and West, the U.S. and NATO against Russia and China, … deep reforms are needed for sustained economic growth.”
Nazarbayev has always been a vocal critic of US supremacy and an advocate of gold. Under his guidance, in 2011 the National Bank of Kazakhstan has taken the pre-emptive right to buy all domestic gold mine output to strengthen its international reserves and develop the local gold industry. In 2012 a (third) large gold refinery, Tau-Ken Altyn, was erected as one of the key projects of the Astana Industrial Park, to ensure all domestic mine output can be refined in Kazakhstan.
President Nazarbayev paid a visit to the Tau-Ken Altyn refinery in December 2013, as can be seen in the video below starting at 1:13. Tau-Ken Altyn can produce 12.5 Kg investment bars for the central bank, as well as 100 gram and 1 Kg bars for personal investment.
Although official documentation is lacking, from the news item at the SGE website I assume the AIFC has included the Shanghai International Gold Exchange (SGEI) for servicing gold trading in renminbi – supporting the internationalization of the renminbi.
It’s unclear if the AIFC has exclusively attracted the SGEI platform for gold trading. On 11 March 2016 Kelimbetov visited London where he held a meeting with the heads of UK government institutions, large investment banks (Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, UBS) and international financial organizations to discuss the AIFC’s progress. Though, Kazakhstan is likely to prefer cooperating with its Chinese partner in gold business, as both nations share a common interests of making a fist against US dollar domination.
The central banks of Kazakhstan and China are among the most aggressive gold buyers in the world. Since 2010 the official gold reserves of Kazakhstan have grown from 67 metric to 222 tonnes. In turn, over the same time horizon China has increased its official gold reserves from 1,054 tonnes to 1,762 tonnes, according to official statistics – it’s thought China’s central bank has significantly more gold than it publicly discloses.
The central banks of numerous other countries in (central) Asia are buying gold as well, in example Russia, Belarus, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan, sharing an objective to diversify foreign exchange reserves and unwind the US dollar hegemony.
But increasing their official gold reserves is not all these countries do, it’s part of something bigger. In recent years a vast movement of economic collaborations between countries in Eurasia has unfolded. One of these collaborations is the Silk Road economic project (/OBOR) that was launched in 2013. Partially funded by China’s foreign exchange reserves the project focuses on connectivity and cooperation among countries in Asia, Europe and Africa. Aside from its independent activities OBOR also provides the structure to connect other collaborations, of which the most relevant ones are:
- The Shanghai Corporation Organization (SCO). The SCO is a political, economic and military alliance, comprising the member states Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, that was launched in 1996.
- The Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). Launched in 2014 the EEU members Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan now form a space that is modeled on the European Economic Community.
- The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). The AIIB is an international financial institution, erected to support the building of infrastructure in the Asia-Pacific region, launched in 2015 counting 57 prospective founding members. Most Asian (except Japan) and European countries participate in the AIIB.
If we look closely we can observe that China is slowly pushing for more integration of the clubs mentioned above with OBOR. For example, in May 2015 Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin signed a decree on cooperation in tying the development of the EEU with OBOR and in December 2015 the first discussions were held to integrate the SCO with OBOR. (Chinese state press agency Xinhua has a dedicated Silk Road web page that covers developments regarding OBOR and the SCO, EEU and AIIB.)
Kazakhstan recently opened a logistics terminal in Lianyungang, China, and completed the construction of its Zhezkazgan-Beineu railway to create a better connection for China through Kazakhstan to the Caspian seaports. “All these projects are aimed at increasing the transit potential of both our country and the whole of the Eurasian Economic Union,” said Nazarbayev at the AEF on 22 May 2015. “This is the new Silk Road. Forty countries have showed an interest in free trade with the Eurasian Economic Union. But we must not stop there. I propose to create a new … Eurasian transcontinental corridor.”
Coincidentally, also on 22 May 2015 the Silk Road Gold Fund was launched at a conference in Xi’an, China, with the subject of “Serve the New Strategy of the Silk Road, Lead the New Development of Gold”. From iFeng we can read (exclusively translated by BullionStar):
Representatives from gold and financial institutions talked freely about bringing gold’s superiority into full play, seizing the historic and strategic opportunity of One Belt One Road [OBOR], strengthening bank-enterprise cooperation and financial-industrial combination, and leading the transformation and upgrading of the gold industry under the economic background of the new normal.
Time will tell to what extent the cooperation between the SGEI and the AIFC will execute what this quote describes. Namely, increasing gold business in the economies along the Silk Road.
A few days later in May 2015 China unveiled the Silk Road Gold Fund to the English-speaking world. From Xinhua:
The fund, led by Shanghai Gold Exchange, is expected to raise an estimated 100 billion yuan in three phases.
…Among the 65 countries along the routes of the Silk Road economic belt … there are numerous Asian countries identified as important reserve bases and consumers of gold.
…About 60 countries have invested in the fund, which will in turn facilitate gold purchase for the central banks of member states to increase their holdings of the precious metal, …
I’m not sure if the National Bank of Kazakhstan will buy its gold through the SGEI anytime soon, more likely some of Kazakhstan’s gold production will be sold through the Chinese exchange.
From all information presented above the intentions of China and numerous Asian countries with respect to gold and the Silk Road are clear. Through OBOR China will not only use its foreign exchange reserves for infrastructure in Eurasia to boost growth and strengthen economic ties and in the region, additionally, gold business is developed and gold is promoted as a key reserve currency.