Who owns America? Hint: It's not China
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July 21st, 2011
04:30 PM ET

Who owns America? Hint: It's not China

Editor's Note: The following piece comes from Global Post, which provides excellent coverage of world news – importantmoving and odd.

By Tom Mucha, Global Post

Truth is elusive.  But it's a good thing we have math.

Our friends at Business Insider know this, and put those two principles to work today in this excellent and highly informative little slideshow, made even more timely by the ongoing talks in Washington, D.C. aimed at staving off a U.S. debt default.

Here's the big idea:

Many people — politicians and pundits alike — prattle on that China and, to a lesser extent Japan, own most of America's $14.3 trillion in government debt.

But there's one little problem with that conventional wisdom: it's just not true. While the Chinese, Japanese and plenty of other foreigners own substantial amounts, it's really Americans who hold most of America's debt.

Here's a quick and fascinating breakdown by total amount held and percentage of total U.S. debt, according to Business Insider:


  • Hong Kong: $121.9 billion (0.9 percent)
  • Caribbean banking centers: $148.3 (1 percent)
  • Taiwan: $153.4 billion (1.1 percent)
  • Brazil: $211.4 billion (1.5 percent)
  • Oil exporting countries: $229.8 billion (1.6 percent)
  • Mutual funds: $300.5 billion (2 percent)
  • Commercial banks: $301.8 billion (2.1 percent)
  • State, local and federal retirement funds: $320.9 billion (2.2 percent)
  • Money market mutual funds: $337.7 billion (2.4 percent)
  • United Kingdom: $346.5 billion (2.4 percent)
  • Private pension funds: $504.7 billion (3.5 percent)
  • State and local governments: $506.1 billion (3.5 percent)
  • Japan: $912.4 billion (6.4 percent)
  • U.S. households: $959.4 billion (6.6 percent)
  • China: $1.16 trillion (8 percent)
  • The U.S. Treasury: $1.63 trillion (11.3 percent)
  • Social Security trust fund: $2.67 trillion (19 percent)

So America owes foreigners about $4.5 trillion in debt. But America owes America $9.8 trillion.

For a smart take on how President Obama and House Republicans should end gridlock over debt and deficits, see our new GlobalPost series The Negotiator, which features Wharton's negotiation guru Stuart Diamond.

And to bone up on China's debt — another potentially big global economic headache — check out this interview with brainy-yet-coherent Northwestern University economist Victor Shih, who spoke with GlobalPost's David Case.

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Topics: China • Economy • United States

soundoff (1,257 Responses)
  1. Calulator

    Anyone else noticed that the list only accounts for around 70% of the debt...... who owns the rest?

    August 13, 2011 at 6:17 pm | Reply
  2. Isabelle Idler

    Trade our debt anyone? http://www.insuranceadjustertraining.net

    August 14, 2011 at 1:14 am | Reply
  3. Rick D.

    Great take from Fareed and keen insiight to the realities of our overall debt and what China truly represents as part of our debt. I Love Fareed's take as he always calls it straight down the line as it is... no slants, no political spins... the realities just as it is. I'm wondering... as Fareed stated if China began to sell off massive amounts of it's U.S. held treasuries it would cause calamity in it's own as well as global economies & markets. But what would be the result if the U.S. began to wisely buy back it's own treasuries (lets say perhaps 1.5 to 2 trillion of the roughly 2.4 trillion owed China) in a wise, very stategic measured way. Would the U.S. buying back it's own treasuries crete the same global havoc? Logic would say not? Logic would also say that the U.S. credit worthiness and dollar would strenghten and attract even more foreign investor's? I'm wondering... what would Farreed say to this?

    August 14, 2011 at 1:52 pm | Reply
  4. somedude.....

    hey guys you keep on fighting for who is better ..china or america..but all you are wrong coz.....if you live in both these country then you ll find out.....in america....nobody says but people are too raciest ill mannered....and in china you dont have freedom on anything...you cant even open facebook website.........america is going thru market loss so as china..there FDI came down to 6.5 % from 10% now the biggest loser will be china ...you ll see

    August 14, 2011 at 4:49 pm | Reply
  5. Ras Gregory

    I can see the US selling some Libyan oil for a profit, under a Republican president
    The US would be doing well if it had bought alot of silver at $7/per oz
    oh well

    August 14, 2011 at 4:51 pm | Reply
  6. Ras Gregory

    every time i see chinese money i want some

    August 14, 2011 at 4:57 pm | Reply
  7. Matt P

    You know who owns most of America's debt. Me

    August 14, 2011 at 5:08 pm | Reply
  8. Lost Generation

    Greed... Greed... Greed....

    August 14, 2011 at 7:03 pm | Reply
  9. chris

    The FIRST and largest debt-holder that should be paid back is Social Security! Is this some kind of joke? Borrowing/stealing from Social Security and then saying it is underfunded? Really, is this some kind of joke???

    August 14, 2011 at 10:58 pm | Reply
    • Vernon hamilton

      yes, we have Ronald Reagan to thank for pillaging social security replacing it with a filing cabinet full of IOUs

      August 21, 2011 at 4:18 am | Reply
  10. rocstar811

    The dollars and percentages don't line up. If you add the the dollars up, the respective percentages do not work out. All of the percentages listed here only add up to about 75%. Ergo there must be an "Other" category with about 3.61 trillion dollars in it (about 25% of the total) not listed here.

    August 14, 2011 at 11:17 pm | Reply
  11. Jon

    wow, its like der sturmer on here....way to go CNN...way to go Fareed. let all the jew hating ron paulers on here to have their 2 cents....what morons....

    btw, you see how absolutely nuts paul looked at the debate the other night? wow....what a freakin nutjob that dude is.

    August 14, 2011 at 11:19 pm | Reply
  12. TODAY

    If India and China are superpowers...What a hell are you all doing here?....Never mind....JUST learn HOW TO DRIVE and learn some English people can understand

    August 15, 2011 at 12:35 am | Reply
  13. Jeff

    Well heck... if it's indeed that "America owes America $9.8 trillion", I say we should just let us slide. We can get us back next time.

    August 15, 2011 at 12:39 am | Reply
  14. jurgis

    How can US have credit on it's self? It's like I am lending to me money – so this is creating money from nothing?

    August 15, 2011 at 5:26 am | Reply
  15. worbobby

    Why don't the % totals in this article add up to 100%??

    August 15, 2011 at 5:32 am | Reply
  16. tiger

    Hey ALL, Can we get back to the discussion on India?

    August 15, 2011 at 5:52 am | Reply
    • worbobby

      By all means discuss India but some of us are concerned that the figures in the article don't add up – a pretty fundamental issue I'm sure you'd agree.

      August 15, 2011 at 6:12 am | Reply
      • jurgis

        Pff it's just 24,5% missing – don't think about – go out for some beer and don't ask questions you don't have to think about.

        August 15, 2011 at 8:38 am |
  17. jack

    If it were not for India, we would not have been blessed by " Slum Dog Millionaire " LOL

    August 15, 2011 at 9:05 am | Reply
  18. NotFromIndiaNorFromChinaNorFromPakistan

    That was it! Mystery solved. 24.5% is owed to India.

    It's entertaining reading all the comments. They're somehow shallow, at times stupid, but you can tell they're from educated people.

    Keep it up!

    August 15, 2011 at 2:56 pm | Reply
  19. Darla

    This does not add up to 100%. Who owns the other 24%?

    August 16, 2011 at 12:00 pm | Reply
  20. TXJack

    Does no one know geography.

    Where is Hong Kong located? China
    – Hong Kong: $121.9 billion (0.9 percent)

    Where is Taiwan located? China
    – Taiwan: $153.4 billion (1.1 percent)

    China: $1.16 trillion (8 percent)

    All that added together is 10 percent.

    No to mention the Commercial banks and Mutal Funds that China has been slowly been buying.

    August 16, 2011 at 12:05 pm | Reply
    • Stan

      You also don't know politics as Taiwan has nothing to do with mainland China except for the fact China wants to own it. Hong Kong is given special provisions and freedoms as the Hong Kongese were recently released from British control and are not exactly zealous about being under China's thumb. So no these are different places entirely.

      August 25, 2011 at 6:42 pm | Reply
  21. cavalier

    But America owes America 9.8 trillion? Ok.. I hope your not saying that the federal reserve, IRS and The U.S. Treasury is a part of America? Because from my understanding their foreign services..

    August 16, 2011 at 2:28 pm | Reply
  22. ValBrooker

    What about the 24.5% not mentioned. The list you have produced amounts to 75.5%. Why should anyone believe someone about finances when they can't even use simple arithmatic ?

    August 16, 2011 at 2:45 pm | Reply
  23. jdhartlv

    where's the Defense budget? How far back did he go for these figures, did he include all money that has gone out to Country's as loan's that has never been repaid?

    August 16, 2011 at 2:48 pm | Reply
  24. Snyder

    You all are stupid!!!!!!!!!!!
    Pakistan Owes America w/ all the so called "War On Terror" just minting money to Pakistan.
    Shame on us to elect such leaders!!!!!!!

    August 16, 2011 at 3:40 pm | Reply
  25. Pritesh

    Nothing is great about India when talking about technology and skillful people.

    August 16, 2011 at 4:08 pm | Reply
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