FEW banks can match the quaint serenity of Banco Delta Asia’s headquarters in Macau. Housed in a pastel-yellow colonial building opposite a 16th-century church, its entrance is flanked by tall vases, depicting sampan gliding between karst hills. In the tiled square outside, men laze under a banyan tree and an elderly woman peels a boiled egg for lunch.
But in 2005 this backwater bank incurred the wrath and might of the world’s financial hegemon. America’s Treasury accused it of laundering money for North Korea, prompting depositors to panic, other banks to keep their distance and the Macau government to step in. The Treasury subsequently barred American financial institutions from holding a correspondent account for the bank, excluding it from the American financial system.
Macau is over 8,000 miles from Washington, DC. But it is hard to escape the long arm of the dollar. Its dominance reflects what economists call network externalities: the more people use it, the more useful it…Continue reading