This may be some of the most recent data:
The SAFE Releases Data on Chinas External Debt at the End of September 2010
Excerpt: “At the end of September 2010, China’s outstanding external debt (excluding that of Hong Kong SAR, Macao SAR, and Taiwan Province) reached USD546.449 billion. Specifically, the outstanding registered external debt reached USD326.549 billion and the balance of trade credit totaled USD219.9 billion. ”
Then Mktwatch reported this end Dec 2010:
Escerpt: “HONG KONG (MarketWatch) — China’s external debt was $548.938 billion at the end of 2010, compared to $546 billion owed at the end of the third quarter, according to newswire reports Thursday that cited figures released by the State Administration of Foreign Exchange. Of that total, China’s short-term debt was $375.7 billion, or equivalent to 13.2% of China’s foreign exchange reserves, the agency said”
CAUTION,THIS IS ALL VERY PRELIMINARY AND COULD PROVE TO BE ENTIRELY WRONG
I got this response, and I’m looking further into it.
I don’t think this includes dollar debt of state banks and state owned enterprises.
What it means is that China’s net reserves aren’t as high as generally believed, and that they are being ‘spent/lent’ by borrowing dollars and then spending, leaving the gross, headline reserve number intact, rather than spending the reserves directly.
They could even be buying their own currency to drive it higher to fight inflation.
This would be an interesting, quasi desperation move, as it would mean they are willing to risk export markets to try to keep prices in check.
It would also help explain the downward drift in the dollar over the last 6 months or so.
And currency support under these circumstances is also, in general, unsustainable. If the trade flows have turned against them due to inflation, they will burn through all their reserves trying to support their currency without a lot more fiscal tightening at all levels, and a very hard landing as well. And even that might not be enough, depending on how institutionalized the inflation is.
All speculation on my part at this point.