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Why Would China Want to Help Bail Out the Euro Zone?

Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on November 2, 2011


By LEO CENDROWICZ / BRUSSELS

A Chinese paramilitary officer stands in front of the European Union flag outside the office of the E.U. delegation to China in Beijing on Oct. 28, 2011 Ng Han Guan / AP

In years to come, economists and historians might hark back to this week as the moment the balance of world power tipped toward China. The signs have been there for while, but the symbolism is especially potent now, in the few days between yet another euro-zone crisis summit, held in Brussels on Oct. 26, and the Nov. 3-4 G-20 summit in Cannes, France. The reason for choosing this as the watershed is crudely financial: at the Brussels summit, European leaders made a previously unthinkable appeal for China to use its $3.2 trillion currency reserves to help dig the euro out of its debt hole. And while the euro zone is anxiously awaiting an answer, China — inscrutable about its intentions — is milking the moment.

China is being targeted as a potential investor as part of a complicated scheme agreed to at the summit to leverage Europe’s bailout fund up to €1 trillion ($1.4 trillion), along with other potential outsiders like Russia, Brazil, Middle Eastern countries and the International Monetary Fund. On Oct. 27, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is hosting the Cannes G-20 gathering, phoned Chinese President Hu Jintao to seek backing. “If the Chinese, who have 60% of global reserves, decide to invest in the euro instead of the dollar, why refuse?” Sarkozy said after his call. “Why would we not accept that the Chinese have confidence in the euro zone and deposit a part of their surpluses in our funds or in our banks?”(See “Europe’s Debt Crisis Agreement: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly.”)

China can certainly spare the €100 billion ($140 billion) reportedly being discussed among officials. The real question is why China would want to plant it in a low-growth region like the euro zone. The bond-leverage scheme has already 

At Cannes, Chinese leader Hu will doubtless refrain from any early commitment on the euro-bailout scheme, while soaking up the flattery from Europe’s pleading leaders. But he will be aware that as China consolidates its emergence as a world player, any investment risks in the program would be a small price to pay for the wave of European goodwill it would generate.

Is it time to admit the euro has failed?

See 25 people to blame for the financial crisis.

 @TIME

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