China said yesterday 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 European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) chief executive Klaus Regling’s visit, with the Financial Times quoting a source saying China could inject more than US$100 billion, 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 EFSF in a bid to restore market confidence in the debt-laden region, but Chinese Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao (朱光耀) 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 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 would agree to deploy some of its huge foreign-exchange reserves. However, bailing out European countries would be a hard sell for the leaders of a country where soaring property prices 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 Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), later giving a TV 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 [US] dollar, why refuse?” the French president said.
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, after EU leaders announced measures that included quadrupling the firepower of the fund to 1 trillion euros (US$1.4 trillion) from 440 billion euros.
Regling said he would discuss with China and other investors how to structure an investment vehicle and explore the possibility of linking it to the IMF.
China, which has US$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,” said Julian Jessop, chief global economist at London research house Capital Economics.
The EFSF was set up in May last year and it was designed to provide financial assistance to European economies at risk of default, such as Greece, Ireland and Portugal.
Regling will next travel to Japan, which yesterday offered vague promises that it would help Europe, but left itself a week to decide what it might do to expand its already hefty contribution.