China calls on governments to tackle debt

BEIJING (AP) — China is ready to help Europe confront its debt crisis but the United States and other developed countries must “put their own house in order” and tackle their economic problems, Premier Wen Jiabao said Wednesday.

Speaking at a meeting of the Swiss-based World Economic Forum, Wen said China is ready to invest more in Europe, which he called an important economic and strategic partner. He called for closer coordination on managing the global economy.

“We have on many occasions expressed our readiness to extend a helping hand and a readiness to increase our investment in Europe,” Wen said after a speech to the forum in the eastern city of Dalian. He said he repeated that pledge in a recent phone conservation with European Commission President Jose Barroso.

But Wen also struck a stern note with Europe and the United States, telling them to tackle their debt problems and make changes to restore global financial stability and steady economic growth.

“Countries must first put their own house in order,” Wen said.

He called on Washington to protect global investors — a reference to Beijing’s huge stockpile of Treasury and other government debt. Chinese leaders worry U.S. leaders might resort to moves in response to the crisis that might erode the value of the dollar and China’s American assets.

Wen also hinted at possible conditions on Beijing’s help, saying it wants Europe to take “bold steps” including officially declaring China to be a free-market economy.

Western governments are looking to China, which rebounded quickly from the 2008 global crisis and has $3.2 trillion in foreign reserves, for investment as Europe struggles with a debt crisis and Washington tries to revive sluggish growth.

This week, Italy’s government said its finance minister met with officials of China’s sovereign wealth fund amid speculation Rome is hoping Beijing will buy its bonds or invest in its companies. The Italian government declined to give any details of the talks.

Wen promised China will help drive global growth by controlling surging inflation and pushing ahead reforms aimed at boosting domestic consumption and reducing its reliance on exports and investment.

“I am confident that China’s economy will make new contribution to robust, sustainable and balanced growth of the global economy,” Wen said.

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