China says cannot use reserves to save Europe

BEIJING Fri Dec 2, 2011 3:21am EST

BEIJING (Reuters) - Europe cannot expect China to use a big portion of its $3.2 trillion (2.03 trillion pound) foreign exchange reserves to rescue indebted nations, a top Chinese foreign ministry official said on Friday, Beijing's strongest rebuttal yet to suggestions it should bail out the euro zone.

Vice Foreign Minister Fu Ying said at a forum that the argument that China should rescue Europe does not stand and that Europeans may have misunderstood how China manages its reserves.

She did not explicitly rule out using part of China's reserves for more targeted measures, but implied China was not going to ride in with a big chunk of its "savings" and bail out crisis-stricken Europe.

"We cannot use this money domestically to alleviate poverty," Fu said. "We also can't take this money abroad for development support."

Economists estimate that Beijing has already invested a fifth of its reserves in euro assets.

While the size of China's reserves is the largest in the world, analysts say two-thirds of that is locked up in dollar assets that cannot be sold, giving Beijing a more modest portion of about $470 billion to invest each year.

Fu said China's reserves are akin to the country's savings and that the 1997 Asian financial crisis taught Beijing how important reserves are to the nation.

China's Foreign Ministry does not exert direct influence over how the country invests its foreign exchange reserves but can comment on that policy.

Fu said Beijing's refusal to use its reserves to ease Europe's debt woes does not count as a lack of support for the region, which is also China's biggest export market.

"I say the idea that China should save Europe does not stand. What I mean is the money cannot be used this way," Fu said.

"China has never been absent from any international efforts to help Europe. We have always been an active participant, and a healthy participant as well."

As the owner of the world's largest foreign exchange reserves, China is one of the few governments with pockets deep enough to buy a sizeable portion of European government debt and help pull the region from its economic malaise.

Proponents of this argument say China helps itself when it helps the euro zone as it allows Beijing to diversify its reserves from the dollar, and foster economic growth in China's biggest export market.

But China has been cool to such propositions and has not committed publicly to contributing to Europe's bailout fund, despite being courted by the fund's chief last month.

(Reporting by Michael Martina; Writing by Koh Gui Qing; Editing by Ken Wills)

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