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In the Market: In Asia, people ask, how do I derisk from America?



A European private wealth manager in Hong Kong shared with me last week that he recently secured a Taiwanese billionaire’s account, thanks to geopolitics.

The billionaire had narrowed down his choices to two major wealth managers—UBS and JPMorgan Chase—after the collapse of Credit Suisse last year. He wanted to add a third bank but was wary of increasing his exposure to American institutions.

The Taiwanese tycoon’s concern, the banker explained, arose from the uncertainty caused by China-U.S. tensions. He worried about the possibility of the Americans turning against people like him or U.S. banks facing pressure to reduce their operations in the region.

In recent years, as Sino-U.S. tensions have escalated, I’ve heard from numerous sources in the United States about companies and investors de-risking from China. They’re building resilience in their supply chains, reducing exposure, and placing a higher risk premium on doing business there. While China remains too significant a market to ignore, they feel the need for a ‘China plus one’ strategy.

Conversations with more than a dozen senior bankers, officials, and investors in Hong Kong and Singapore over the past few days reveal that similar de-risking is happening on the other side of the world with equal urgency. People are now contemplating their ‘America plus one’ strategy.

Wealthy individuals like the Taiwanese billionaire are diversifying their assets away from the United States. Companies are seeking additional funding sources from regions like the Middle East and are building factories in Southeast Asia. They are also considering how to reduce their dependence on the U.S. dollar. The sources requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the topic.

These discussions shed light on how geopolitics is influencing investment decisions in the East. As these concerns translate into actions, they highlight the risks of further fragmentation of the global economy, which could lead to inflationary pressures.

However, it’s clear that any decoupling will be gradual and unlikely to be complete, given the dollar’s dominant position. One top banker in the region noted that companies and investors in Asia still seek access to the United States, the world’s deepest and most liquid market.

There is, however, a growing urgency in these discussions as tensions escalate with measures such as tariffs and sanctions. A Singapore-based banker noted that while people previously talked about replacing the U.S. dollar over 20-30 years, they now speak of a 10-15 year timeline.

U.S. sanctions following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have underscored the risk that Western authorities could seize assets during a conflict. This, coupled with concerns over the sustainability of U.S. debt levels and the impact on the dollar, has prompted people to question, “Why do I have to hold U.S. dollar assets?”

This dilemma is evident in the data. The U.S. dollar still accounts for nearly 60% of forex reserves, though there has been a gradual diversification away from it, according to the International Monetary Fund. SWIFT data shows the dollar dominating trade finance with an 84% share, but last year the yuan became the most widely used currency for cross-border transactions in China for the first time.

In Asia, efforts to reduce reliance on the U.S. dollar are increasing. For example, the central banks of China, Hong Kong, Thailand, and the United Arab Emirates are developing a cross-border settlement system allowing participating banks to settle transactions in local currencies. More central banks are expected to join as the system develops further.

The search for alternatives to the United States is also evident among some companies. For example, Chinese firms are seeking funding from the Middle East. A China-focused investment banker at a global lender cited electric vehicle maker Nio’s $2.2 billion deal with an Abu Dhabi investor, noting, “This would have gone to the U.S. in the past.”

A top banking executive said companies still aspire to enter the U.S. market, but firms like fast fashion retailer Shein—forced to consider an initial public offering in London after facing obstacles in New York—are being pushed away.

Geopolitical tensions are making everyone ponder whether they need an alternative, the banker said, adding that this has “propelled people to make conscious choices.” While there’s little that can be done about it in the near term, the banker noted that looking a decade ahead, people are beginning to ask, “How much do I rely on the dollar?”

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