'Forceful measures' needed to avoid global recession: central bank chief
WASHINGTON - China urged Europe to get to grips with its debt crisis before it risks causing bank runs and pushing the global economy into recession.
"The sovereign debt crisis must be resolved promptly to stabilize market confidence, and forceful and credible fiscal consolidation measures are needed in relevant economies to alleviate sovereign debt stress," central bank chief Zhou Xiaochuan said in a speech on Saturday at the International Monetary Fund.
He was attending the semi-annual gathering of the IMF and World Bank dominated by concerns about the risk that Europe now poses to the rest of the world. As European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet put it on Friday: "We (the eurozone) are the epicenter of this global crisis."
World financial markets have been wracked by fears the Greek debt crisis could overwhelm other eurozone countries and their banks.
"A key element of cooperation is for each country to take matters in their own hands, take well-targeted measures and put their domestic house in order," Zhou told the IMF's steering body in a closed-door meeting.
Chinese officials and experts are showing discretion regarding just what China can do to help ease the European crisis.
It's "too early" to determine how emerging economies, including China, can further help the eurozone out of the sovereign debt crisis, Zhou said.
Talk about China's increasing role in bailing out the eurozone has been on the rise, especially after the media reported that Italy has conducted talks with the Chinese government on the possible purchase of Italian bonds.
But Vice-Chairman of China Investment Corp Gao Xiqing said that the national sovereign wealth fund can't be a "savior" of other countries. "We have our own policies and we have our own problems," he said during the IMF meeting.
He urged Europe to rethink its way of spending and living, while change some elements of its system that encourages borrowing money beyond one's means.
Zhou said that the country will strongly support the eurozone's efforts to achieve fiscal consolidation to combat crisis.
The governor was also "relatively optimistic" about prospects concerning the current crisis.
"We believe they are going to overcome the difficulty through reform," he said.
But he urged major advanced economies to adopt a "clear and credible" mid-term strategy, boost market confidence and prevent trade protectionism.
Some economists said China should rescue Europe, while others urged caution in extending a helping hand.
China should help Europe as it will aid efforts to escape the "dollar trap", Zhang Monan, economist with the State Information Center, said.
The chaotic situation in Europe has made investors seek a safe haven in the US by buying bonds and China has to follow suit to ensure the security of its foreign reserves, Zhang said. China's holding of US debt has been higher than $1 trillion for 14 consecutive months.
But loose US monetary policies are expected to lead to a de facto dollar depreciation, causing losses for Chinese investment, analysts said.
Even if China decides to help Europe, it should not do so without preconditions, said Mei Xinyu, researcher with the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation, a think tank of the Ministry of Commerce.
European countries should eliminate discriminatory policies toward China regarding goods, services, capital and labor flow, he said. "They should also reduce trade remedy measures against Chinese exports and revise their protectionism-related policies," Mei said.
China still remains a developing country, and it should base its policies on solving domestic problems instead of rushing to help others, said Dong Xian'an, chief economist and president of the Beijing-based Peking First Advisory.
Despite its near-10 percent annual growth rate, China faces problems such as rising inflation, local government debt and excessive capital inflows.
"The government will balance the relationship between growth, economic reform and inflation management, keep prices stable and prevent big fluctuations in the economy," Zhou Xiaochuan said.