ASIA - UNITED STATES
U.S. debt approaches insolvency; Chinese currency reserves at risk
by Maurizio d'Orlando
In a few months, America's public debt has grown to more than 100% of GDP. Fear of a valuation crisis for the dollar, with tremendous consequences for Asian countries, major exporters to the United States.
Milan (AsiaNews) - In the United States, the danger of debt insolvency is growing, putting at risk the currency reserves of foreign countries, China chief among them. According to new figures published by Bloomberg in recent days (Nov. 25, 2008 ), the American government has employed a total of 8.549 trillion dollars to stop the financial crisis. This means a total of about 24-25.4 trillion dollars of direct or indirect public debt weighing on American taxpayers. The complete tally must also include the debt - about 5-6 trillion dollars - of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which are now quasi-public companies, because 79.9% of their capital is controlled by a public entity, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which manages them as a public conservatorship.
In 2007, public debt in the United States was 10.6 trillion dollars, compared to a GDP (gross domestic product) of 13.811 trillion dollars. Public debt in 2007 was therefore 76.75% of GDP. In just one year, direct and indirect public debt have grown to more than 100% of GDP, reaching 176.9% to 184.2%. These percentages exclude the debt guaranteed by policies underwritten by AIG, also nationalized, and liabilities for health spending (Medicaid and Medicare) and pensions (Social Security). By way of comparison, the Maastricht accords require member states of the European Union (EU) to reduce their public debt to no more than 60% of GDP. Again by way of comparison, in one of the EU countries with the largest public debt, Italy, public debt in 2007 was equal to 104% of GDP.
In 2007, 61.82%  of America's public debt was held by foreign investors, most of them Asian. So the U.S. public debt held by nonresident foreigners is equal to about 109.39% (113.86%) of GDP. According to a study by the International Monetary Fund, countries with more than 60% of their public debt held by nonresident foreigners run a high risk of currency crisis and insolvency, or debt default. On the historical level, there are no recent examples of countries with currencies valued at reserve status that have lapsed into public debt insolvency. There are also few or no precedents of such a vast and rapid expansion of public debt.
The United States also runs large deficits in its public balance sheet and balance of trade. Families and businesses are also deeply in debt: in 2007, American private debt was equal to a little more than 100% of GDP. At the moment, it is not clear how much of America's private debt has been "nationalized" with the recent bailouts.
In the early months of next year, when the official data are published, the United States will run a serious risk of insolvency. This would involve, in the first place, a valuation crisis for the dollar. After this, the United States could face a social crisis like that in Argentina in 2001. A crisis in U.S. public debt would likely have a severe impact on the Asian countries that are the main exporters to the United States, China first among them. Chinese monetary authorities, thanks to a steeply undervalued artificial exchange rate, by about 55%, have limited imports (including food) and have achieved an export surplus. This has allowed them to accumulate a large stockpile of dollar reserves. In a currency crisis, China risks losing much of the value of its accumulated currency reserves. At the same time, pressure on imports (wheat, other grains, and meat) have led to inflation in the prices of food, the most important expenditure for more than 900 million Chinese. This is nothing more than a small confirmation of the recent statements of the pope, in his message for the World Day for Peace, where the pontiff calls the current financial system and its methods "based upon very short-term thinking," without depth and breadth (nos. 10-12), preoccupied with creating wealth from nothing and leading the planet to its current disaster. 
 See Bloomberg, 2008, 11-25 16:35:48.130 GMT "U.S. Pledges Top $8.5 Trillion to Ease Frozen Credit (Table)"
 In this case, exluding AIG policies, one arrives at a total equal to 429.37 of GDP.
 Cf. Economic crisis: US, China and the coming monetary storm
 Cf. AsiaNews.it 11/2/2008 Message for Peace 2009: the poor, wealth of the world; Global solidarity to fight poverty and build peace, says Pope