As China pushes to make its yuan currency a global competitor to the U.S. dollar, the country could stockpile bullion to bolster its reserves, potentially lifting gold prices and related exchange traded funds.

Year-to-date, the SPDR Gold Shares (NYSEArca: GLD) rose 1.8%, iShares Gold Trust (NYSEArca: IAU) added 1.8% and ETFS Physical Swiss Gold Shares (NYSEArca: SGOL) returned 1.7%.

While gold has been faltering lately, the market could pick up if China begins to hoard the precious metal. Speculators believe the Chinese government could be stockpiling gold as part of a plan to diversify $3.7 trillion in foreign-exchange reserves, Bloomberg reports.

Beijing is trying to obtain a Special Drawing Rights status for its currency from the International Monetary Fund to see the yuan join the greenback, euro, yen and British pound as the world’s fifth reserve currency.

As a way to help strengthen its currency’s status, the government is backing its reserves with gold. According to Bloomberg Intelligence, the People’s Bank of China may have tripled bullion holdings to 3,510 metric tons since it last updated them in April 2009. To put China’s stockpiles in perspective, the U.S. holds 8,133.5 tons of gold.

“If you want to set yourself up as a reserve currency, you may want to have assets on your balance sheet other than other fiat currencies,” Bart Melek, head of commodity strategy at TD Securities, said in the Bloomberg article. Gold is “certainly viewed as a viable store of value for an up-and-coming global power.”

When China last updated its gold holdings in 2009, the precious metal accounted for just 1% of its foreign-exchange reserves, which have expanded more than fivefold in a decade and are now the largest in the world, with mostly U.S. dollars in storage.

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