China consumed 175.2 tons of gold in the fourth-quarter of 2010, bringing its grand total for the year to 579.5 tons, or 18.5 million ounces, according to the World Gold Council.
That's a lot of gold. The U.S., in comparison, consumed 233.3 tons in 2010.
It's unknown how much of that gold was consumed by citizens or its central bank, but the question still remains -- What will China do with all that gold?There is a controversial theory percolating in the gold community that China wants the yuan to become the world's reserve currency and is buying gold and silver in order to do it. A Chinese gold standard? The idea is staggering and not to mention fraught with difficulties. China's central bank currently holds 1,054 tons of gold, about 1.8% of its total reserves.
China holds $2.85 trillion in foreign reserves, which means the country would need to buy roughly 66,000 tons of gold to fully back its currency. Even if the country upped the ante to just 3%, the country would need to buy 1,000 tons. Technically, a full gold standard isn't an option. Under the IMF's first amendment to Article IV of Agreement, ratified in 1978, participating countries are not allowed to peg their currency to gold. But that doesn't mean that China won't try to legitimize its currency by ramping up its gold holdings. The U.S., which sports the current world reserve currency, holds more than 8,000 tons of gold, more than 8 times the size of the SPDR Gold Shares (GLD). Not only has China been furiously buying gold, but local gold producers have been looking outside the country to find more gold. State-controlled China National Gold Corp bought half of Coeur d'Alene Mines (CDE - Get Report)' gold concentrates from its Kensington gold mine in Alaska. China has also been telling its citizens to buy gold, promoting different gold funds, giving investors access to overseas products and launching a global gold contract based in yuan by Chinese Gold & Silver Exchange. The ICBC and World Gold Council recently teamed up for the creation of the Only Gold Gift Bar in China, where a customer can buy gold as a gift complete with engraving and can sell it back to the ICBC for cash. "Private citizens have bought more gold in the last 30 months than the People's Bank of China owns altogether," says Adrian Ash, head of research for BullionVault.com. There are also no individual property rights in China, so all the gold citizens own really belongs to China, whether the country would confiscate it is a different story.