EU searching for savior in financial battle

Updated: 2011-09-23 11:46

By Cai Jing (China Daily)

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China is widely seen to be taking the lead among the so-called BRICS countries, (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) in helping to relieve the pressure on the European Union, which is groaning under the weight of its sovereign debt problems.

Even with its huge foreign exchange reserves of more than $3.2 trillion, it's doubtful if China can be counted on to act as a lone, white knight and slay the eurozone debt dragon. However, repeated displays of confidence in European economies and the eurozone, indicated by increased purchases of European government bonds, have helped instill a degree of calm in the global capital markets and provided much needed stability for the euro.

A Chinese vote of confidence in the European bond market would help matters, according to Carl Weinberg, chief economist at the New York-based High Frequency Economics Ltd. However, China alone cannot pick up the slack if the world decides it isn't buying more euroland paper, he was quoted by Forbes as saying.

The BRICS countries should not be seen as saviors with unlimited resources to bail out those European countries hit by the sovereign debt crisis, according to Wang Weihua of the department of international affairs at Shanghai International Studies University.

That view is shared by many other economists and current affairs experts, both in China and overseas.

In a written reply to questions from China Daily, Dan Steinbock, research director of international business at the India, China and America Institute in the United States, says: "Some European leaders are turning to cash-rich China in the hope that Beijing will make significant purchases of their bonds. But the Chinese people are Beijing's first priority."

Also in a written reply to China Daily, Paola Subacchi, research director at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London, noted that even if the BRICS countries are committed to saving the eurozone, she didn't think "the bond market channel is viable" because "it presents a risk to them (the BRICS)".

Many economists and experts believe that a more realistic course of action for the BRICS countries to lend a hand to troubled Europe would be to increase imports from and investment in the eurozone economies. Over the longer term, "the current euro challenges may support more extensive Sino-European trade and investment, which can boost the economies of the West and East", Steinbock says. "Eurozone countries can provide greater knowledge and capabilities, and the BRICS countries can provide investment and jobs" in Europe, he adds.

Shanghai International's Wang agreed. "I believe that a sharp increase in investment in European assets by the BRICS countries would be more effective than direct investment in euro bonds in lifting confidence and creating jobs," he says.

In this respect, China has already set an example: Earlier this year, it signed agreements with debt-ridden Spain to invest a total of $7.3 billion in projects ranging from energy to banking and oil. What's more, China has agreed to enter into numerous business contracts with Greece, the most severely affected European country.

Indeed, the eurozone is one of China's most important trading partners. Roughly 20 percent of the nation's exports go to the region, and China has become the world's largest market for luxury goods, mainly those from France and Italy. Moreover, some German automakers are selling more vehicles in China than in any of their other overseas markets.

Liu Erfei, head of China operations at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, the corporate and investment banking arm of Bank of America Corp, is reported in the local media to have urged Chinese enterprises to be more active in looking for assets at bargain basement prices in Italy and other eurozone countries.

Yao Ling, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation under the Ministry of Commerce, was quoted in the Chinese press as saying that the investment environment in Europe is ripe for exploitation.

In the past, many Europeans viewed Chinese industrial investments with suspicion and hostility, but now "they want us to be there", Yao says.

Zhang Haizhou in London and Xu Xiaomeng and He Wei in Shanghai contributed to this story.


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