It was an unnerving piece of data for investors last week, buried halfway down an esoteric spreadsheet released by the US government that tracks how many US treasuries foreign investors buy and sell. China, the largest foreign creditor to the US government with total treasury holdings in excess of $1.2-trillion, sold $20bn of securities with a maturity exceeding one year in March, according to US government data. The sales amounted to China’s largest retreat from the market in more than two years. The move came shortly before tensions over trade between Beijing and Washington heated up again, with the US slapping additional tariffs on the country’s imports and Chinese officials retaliating with measures of their own. What is more, the sales could not be explained away by the typical ebb and flow of China’s treasury holdings that result from managing its large reserves to keep the currency stable. The data re-ignited fears that Beijing may weaponise its holdings as part of the trade ...

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