Nor is any other currency available to take on the dollar's role. Neither the Japanese yen nor the Swiss franc, two other traditional safe-haven currencies, is as deep as the dollar. And Europe's fiscal crisis dampens enthusiasm for its government debt.
The lack of options has rendered Beijing's promises to diversify its holdings largely empty. Efforts to internationalize the yuan and diminish the role of the dollar are nascent at best.
Li, who advocates a free-floating yuan, said a major revaluation upward of the Chinese currency wouldn't signal a crisis for exporters. He believes any loss to profit margins would be more than offset by cheaper costs for labor and raw materials. Yet that argument has little sway over others tied to China's powerful manufacturing sector.
Despite the codependence with the U.S., state-run media have painted China as a maltreated lender, subject to the whims of a reckless Washington government that continues to drive down the value of the dollar to the detriment of its largest foreign creditor.
The messy fight in Washington — and the ensuing S&P downgrade — have likely emboldened China's authoritarian rulers, and also provided fresh grist for ordinary Chinese to criticize what they see as America's failed capitalistic model.
Over the weekend, China blamed "shortsighted political wrangling in Washington" for problems threatening to upend the global economy.
"It's symbolic of a newfound confidence" that says " 'Look at where your system got you…We can do better than that,' " said Oded Shenkar, a China specialist at Ohio State University who's been in Beijing this past week and has been following the discussion.
At the same time, the credit downgrading also has raised fresh questions and criticisms within China about the communist government's fiscal stewardship.
Beijing's dollar reserves are seen by many ordinary Chinese as a symbol of the nation's toil over three decades of economic reforms. As one micro-blogger named Lin Junghua put it: "China's reserves are the fortune accumulated through 30 years of hard work by the Chinese people."
As such, an undercurrent of pessimism — and resentment — exists that those riches have been slowly squandered.
"Americans got cheap products, the Chinese government got U.S. dollars and Chinese people only got devalued [yuan] and worthless personal assets," wrote another micro-blogger.
Pierson reported from Beijing and Lee from Washington