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How much money does China own the US?

China owns over $1 trillion in U.S. debt, which is more than any other foreign country. This gives China a lot of influence over the U.S. economy and has led to concerns that China could use its holdings as leverage. However, the situation is complex and opinions differ on how much power this actually gives China.

Key Facts and Figures

  • As of August 2022, China owns $1.05 trillion of U.S. debt.
  • This amounts to about 4% of all U.S. debt held by the public.
  • China owns more U.S. debt than any other foreign country.
  • The amount China owns has declined in recent years from a peak of $1.32 trillion in 2013.
  • Most U.S. debt is still owned by U.S. citizens and entities like the Federal Reserve.

Does China Own the Most U.S. Debt?

China owns more U.S. debt than any other foreign country, but China does not own most of the U.S. debt. As of August 2022, about 77% of U.S. debt is owned by U.S. citizens, entities, and the Federal Reserve. Only around 23% is owned by foreign entities.

Of the foreign-owned portion, China owns the largest share at around 4% of all U.S. debt. Japan is second, owning around 3% of U.S. debt. Other major foreign owners include the United Kingdom and Brazil.

So while China owns the most of any foreign country, it still only owns a small fraction of total U.S. debt. Most U.S. debt remains in the hands of Americans.

China’s Holdings of U.S. Debt Over Time

China has significantly increased its holdings of U.S. debt over the past two decades. In 2000, China owned just $60 billion of U.S. debt. This grew rapidly through the 2000s and early 2010s.

China’s holdings peaked at around $1.32 trillion in 2013, when China owned nearly 10% of publicly-held U.S. debt. Since then, China’s holdings have declined modestly and stabilized in the $1 to $1.1 trillion range.

The increase in China’s holdings followed its rapid economic growth and need for dollar reserves. The more recent decline has come amid slower growth in China and shifting reserve priorities.

Year China’s Holdings of U.S. Debt (billions)
2000 $60
2005 $310
2010 $1,160
2015 $1,270
2020 $1,060
2022 $1,050

Why Does China Own So Much U.S. Debt?

There are several reasons why China accumulated such large holdings of U.S. debt:

  • China buys U.S. debt as a way to influence currency exchange rates. China’s central bank buys U.S. debt using yuan. This helps lower the value of the yuan relative to the dollar, which helps keep Chinese exports affordable for the U.S. consumers buying them.
  • Buying U.S. debt is a safe way for China to invest its foreign exchange reserves. U.S. Treasury bonds are considered some of the safest investments in the world.
  • China’s accumulation of U.S. debt reflects its huge trade surplus with the U.S. China exports far more goods to the U.S. than it imports, bringing in a large surplus of U.S. dollars that China then invests back into the U.S.

In essence, China buys up U.S. debt as a way of recycling the dollars it earns through trade back into the U.S. financial system. This helps keep the price of Chinese products low and benefits China’s export-driven economy.

Does This Give China Leverage Over the U.S.?

Some analysts worry that China’s large holdings of U.S. debt could potentially give it leverage over the United States. The concern is that China could threaten to sell off its Treasury holdings to destabilize U.S. finances.

However, there are strong counterarguments that China does not have as much power as it might appear:

  • Any sell-off would hurt China significantly too, as it would depress prices for its own remaining U.S. assets.
  • Such a move could strengthen China’s currency and hurt its key export sector, going against its own economic interests.
  • The U.S. still has fundamental economic strengths that make its debt attractive worldwide, limiting China’s ability to disrupt the market.
  • The U.S. Federal Reserve could take steps to counteract Chinese actions and reassure investors.

U.S. debt remains in high worldwide demand

Experts widely agree China could not drive significant, lasting damage to U.S. finances without also doing major damage to its own interests. The U.S. still benefits from the dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency, meaning dollar-denominated debt remains in high demand worldwide. This high global demand limits how much China’s actions could unilaterally influence the market.


In summary, China owns over $1 trillion in U.S. debt, giving it greater financial influence over the U.S. than any other foreign nation. However, China’s holdings still only account for a small fraction of total U.S. debt. Most U.S. debt remains owned domestically.

While China’s position raises understandable concerns, most experts agree its debt holdings do not give China significant leverage over the stable finances and resilient economy of the United States. The situation does bear monitoring for any future shifts, but the U.S. remains well insulated by the strong worldwide demand for its debt.