Changing China

Giant on the move

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How big a gamble will China take on Europe?

By Scott Boyd
The views expressed are his own.

As news broke this month suggesting it was more likely than ever that Greece was headed for default, China extended an offer of assistance that beleaguered European governments may find difficult to refuse. Premier Wen Jiabao announced that China was willing to increase its holdings of European sovereign debt at a time when several Eurozone countries are struggling to raise capital.

In return, China seeks little–simply an assurance that profligate governments promise to get their financial affairs in order, and perhaps some other small favor that, in the words of Premier Wen Jiabao, “would reflect our friendship.” The Premier even suggested that a good way to demonstrate this new-found goodwill would be to support China’s bid to be reclassified as a “market economy” by the World Trade Organization.

Currently, anti-dumping tariffs are applied against products shipped from China that are deemed to be sold at below the true market cost. This is an attempt to counter the subsidies and other incentives the Chinese government provides to many manufacturers to ensure their competitiveness; a change in designation would remove most of these tariffs.

While lower costs may be good news for consumers, for European manufacturers, it could prove disastrous. Disadvantaging European manufacturers already facing weak domestic demand could lead to wider job losses and a further slowing of the economy. Eurozone officials would be well advised to consider carefully the potential impact on domestic manufacturers before agreeing to easing China’s access to the European markets.

from Reuters Investigates:

China’s U.S. debt holdings make it a powerful negotiator

Worrying about the power China has over the U.S. as America’s largest foreign creditor has become a national pastime. It’s a bipartisan issue in Congress and a favorite subject among pundits lamenting the decline in U.S. influence around the world. But could China really use its Treasury purchases to shape U.S. policy? Diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks and obtained by Reuters suggest that has already happened.

Emily Flitter’s special report outlines a diplomatic flare-up between the two superpowers following the U.S. financial crisis. Chinese officials said they were worried about the safety of their U.S. investments. U.S. diplomats worked hard to ease the tensions, but the conflict ultimately led to the request of a personal favor by a top Chinese money manager in a meeting with U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.