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UPDATED: June 18, 2012 NO. 25 JUNE 21, 2012
A Critical Point for Europe
China tries to give a hand as the euro zone struggles on the verge of collapse
By Jiang Shixue

The debt crisis has not only adversely affected the economic development and social stability of Europe, but also held back the recovery of the global economy. The IMF indicated in its latest World Economic Outlook report published in April that the outlook of the world economic recovery is dim given the lingering European debt crisis. Moreover, spillover from the euro-zone crisis has taken a toll on countries that have close economic ties with Europe including China.

Help from China

Soon after the European debt crisis erupted, there was a heated debate on whether China can and should rescue Europe. Some said China has the ability to save Europe because it has become the second largest economy in the world with huge foreign exchange reserves. Furthermore, China and the EU have established a comprehensive strategic partnership. China therefore is obligated to come to the EU's rescue. Others, however, argued China is still a developing country with over 100 million people living below the poverty line. It has neither the duty nor the capability to offer aid to the EU, whose per-capita GDP is several times higher than China's.

In fact, Chinese leaders have a clear and resolute stance on the European debt crisis.

Chinese President Hu Jintao met with European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on the sidelines of the 14th China-EU Summit in Beijing on February 15.

"China is closely watching and supports the measures taken by the EU, the IMF and the European Central Bank to cope with the European debt problem," Hu said. China will continue to increase policy communication and coordination with the EU, enhance cooperation in the areas of economy, trade, investment and finance and engage in supportive action of the international community for Europe and the euro zone, he added.

"I believe that Europe has the capability and wisdom to overcome difficulties and embrace new development," Hu said.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and German Chancellor Angela Merkel held a joint press conference in Beijing on February 3 after their meeting. With respect to the debt crisis in Europe, Wen said, "The related Chinese ministries are conducting studies and assessments on specific ways to contribute to the IMF and be more active in resolving the debt issues in Europe through the European Financial Stability Fund, the European Stability Mechanism and other channels."

Wen pointed out that Europe's own efforts are crucial. Heavily indebted countries need to make determined efforts and implement appropriate fiscal policies in accordance with their national conditions. In addition to emergency relief measures, the EU, as a whole, should continue to promote institutional and structural reforms in fiscal, financial and other aspects and deliver consistent and clear solutions to the international community, he said.

Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang paid a visit to EU countries in May. At a meeting with Barroso in Brussels on May 3, Li said a steady euro and a stable European economy are conducive to steady global economic growth and can benefit China as well. "China firmly supports the integration of Europe, and hopes to see a united, strong and prosperous Europe," he said.

A Greek exit from the euro zone will, of course, have an impact on China. If that happens, the value of Greek bonds that China holds will shrink a lot and China's investment in Greece will face grim challenges. Also, since Greece's exit will add to difficulties in addressing the EU debt crisis, the external environment for China's economic development will worsen.

For example, the crisis-ridden EU is unable to increase its import needs and the yuan will rise sharply against the euro if the debt crisis continues. Also, the EU's trouble will further weaken the recovery of the world economy. All these consequences are detrimental to China.

Nonetheless, the debt crisis provides an opportunity for China and the EU to promote their relations. China can help the EU through various means, such as importing more goods from EU countries, making more investment there, purchasing their government bonds and contributing more funds to the IMF. Certainly, the EU should rein in the spread of the "China threat" rhetoric, refrain from trade protectionism, cut restrictions on Chinese goods and increase technology transfers to China.

Most people in China believe that the EU, the world's largest economy, will unleash vigorousness when it extricates itself from the debt crisis. Besides, the EU's consistent efforts to improve economic governance and implement its fiscal compact will facilitate integration progress. In this sense, the EU will have a promising future. China-EU relations will also have good prospects despite the EU's current difficulties.

The author is deputy director of the Institute of European Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

Email us at: yanwei@bjreview.com

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