China waits for clarity on EU bailout fund
(BEIJING) - China said Friday it would seek more clarity before investing in an EU bailout fund, as the head of the scheme held talks in Beijing to try to win the help of the world's second-largest economy.
Expectations for a strong commitment from Beijing over Europe's debt crisis had been high ahead of Klaus Regling's visit, with the Financial Times quoting a source saying China could inject more than $100 billion (70.5 billion euros).
But publicly, Beijing has been noncommittal and Chinese state media said Europe must take responsibility for the crisis and not rely on "good Samaritans" to save the continent from its fiscal woes.
Regling said Europe was trying to come up with new mechanisms for investment in the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) in a bid to restore market confidence in the debt-laden region.
But China's vice finance minister said his country would wait for more details before committing to invest in the fund.
"We need to wait for the technicalities to be clear and also to carry out serious studies before we can decide on investment," Zhu Guangyao told reporters.
There have been calls from Europe for China and other developing economies to invest in the bailout fund, with intense speculation that Beijing will agree to deploy some of its huge foreign-exchange reserves.
But bailing out developed European countries would be a hard sell for the Communist leaders of a country where soaring housing and food costs are hurting millions of poor households and many exporters are struggling.
Hours after Thursday's deal was struck, French President Nicolas Sarkozy telephoned China's President Hu Jintao, later giving a television interview in which he defended the idea of asking China to bail out Europe.
"If the Chinese, who have 60 percent of global reserves, decide to invest in the euro instead of the dollar, why refuse?" said the French president.
Regling, in China a day after Europe reached a last-ditch agreement to tackle the region's worst crisis in decades, said there was no prospect of reaching a deal during his talks with the central bank and finance ministry.
But he said the EFSF was looking at new ways to secure additional investment, speaking after EU leaders announced measures including quadrupling the firepower of the fund to one trillion euros ($1.4 trillion) from 440 billion euros.
Regling said he would discuss with China and other investors how to structure a special purpose investment vehicle and explore the possibility of linking it to the International Monetary Fund.
China, which has $3.2 trillion in foreign exchange reserves, was "interested in finding attractive, solid, safe investment opportunities," he told a media briefing.
But some analysts played down the prospect of China making a substantial investment.
"China's economy is slowing and they may well want a war chest to support their own economy," Julian Jessop, chief global economist at London research house Capital Economics, told AFP.
The fund was set up in May 2010 and is designed to provide financial assistance to European economies at risk of default, such as Greece, Ireland and Portugal.
Regling will travel at the weekend to Japan, which on Friday offered vague promises that it will help Europe, but left itself a week to decide what it might do to expand its already hefty contribution to the EU's bailout fund.
China has already invested significant sums in European bonds and has repeatedly called on Europe to address its debt crisis, saying a failure to act risks dragging the world back into recession.
On Thursday, Beijing cautiously welcomed the European deal and reiterated China's "faith in the EU and the eurozone economy".
But a commentary in an influential Chinese newspaper Friday said that although the deal eased market concerns -- setting off a rally on global bourses -- it did not address the root cause of the problem.
IHS Global Insight analyst Ren Xianfang said China was likely to attach a number of conditions to any investment, such as greater market access in Europe and silence on the strength of the yuan, which critics argue is undervalued.
But Capital Economics' Jessop said the European deal with private sector creditors to accept a 50 percent loss on their holdings of Greek debt would alarm Beijing and make investing in the bailout fund "an extremely hard sell".
Text and Picture Copyright 2011 AFP. All other Copyright 2011 EUbusiness Ltd. All rights reserved. This material is intended solely for personal use. Any other reproduction, publication or redistribution of this material without the written agreement of the copyright owner is strictly forbidden and any breach of copyright will be considered actionable.