International currencies

Redback on track

China has a cunning plan to make the yuan a central-bank favourite

BETWEEN 2004 AND 2012 BNP Paribas helped funnel $30bn into Sudan, Cuba and Iran, all then under American sanctions. It hid its tracks using a network of “satellite” banks and by stripping payment messages of incriminating references. Whistleblowers tipped off American prosecutors. The bank pleaded guilty, expecting to pay €1.1bn ($1.2bn). It was fined $8.9bn by American authorities in 2014, and the case escalated to a diplomatic row.

BNP immediately fell into line. It moved the division overseeing the security of its dollar transactions from Europe to America, the first foreign bank to do so. A dozen staff lost their jobs and its compliance team was revamped. There was relief at the bank. It had avoided being permanently banned from clearing dollars, the closest thing to commercial death for international lenders. “Banks create money, and money is a sovereign good,” says Jean Lemierre, BNP’s chairman. “States decide what we can do with it.”

America wields more clout than other states because its money is so central to the system. On international currencies’ three roles—unit of account, medium of exchange and…