Barack Obama

China open on rebalancing, to a degree: researchers

BEIJING (Reuters) - China will probably be open to a U.S. proposal for more coordination among Group of 20 countries on tackling global imbalances as long as its currency is not a focal point, a pair of government economists said on Tuesday.

The United States will urge world leaders this week to launch a framework of “mutual assessment” whereby the International Monetary Fund (IMF) would make policy recommendations on rebalancing to the G20 every six months, according to a U.S. document obtained by Reuters.

The United States should boost savings, while exporters such as China, Germany and Japan should increase consumption, according to the document, outlining Washington’s position ahead of the September 24-25 G20 summit in Pittsburgh.

In the past, outside pressure on Beijing to rebalance its economy has focused largely on getting it to let the yuan strengthen -- something it has repeatedly demonstrated it will do only on its own terms.

“Do not waste time on the exchange rate. I strongly suggest the IMF cannot do this. This would have no positive contribution to making changes,” said Zhang Bin, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), a top government think-tank.

Instead, it would be useful if such a framework were used to give specific suggestions and apply pressure for other much-needed reforms, notably opening the services sector to more private investment and increasing welfare spending, Zhang said.

By reducing the economy’s reliance on export-linked manufacturing, a more competitive services sector would pave the way for yuan appreciation down the road, he explained.

Shifting government spending away from infrastructure projects and more toward social spending would provide the basic underpinnings of a more consumer-orientated economy, he added.

“This could be useful. To push for domestic reform in this area -- China needs some kind of external views,” Zhang said.

“Many reforms occur under some kind of pressure, including domestic and external.”

To be sure, Beijing is already taking steps to stoke domestic consumption by starting to reform the medical system, scrapping some school fees and implementing pilot social welfare reforms.

But many economists and international agencies say efforts to improve the social safety net are proceeding too slowly, and caution that the recent focus on stimulus may have set the clock back further.

Wu Zhifeng, a senior economist with the China Development Bank, a state policy lender, said Beijing would welcome the proposal by U.S. President Barack Obama.

“China always hopes the IMF can have a big role in supervising the international financial system, and Obama’s proposal has moved a little toward that goal,” Wu said.

He said regular reviews of national policies by the IMF would also be helpful for the world as a whole to realize more balanced growth, and that China is likely to support the idea of creating a new framework to tackle global economic rebalance.

“It does not run counter to China’s own interests,” he said.

Reporting by Jason Subler and Zhou Xin; Editing by Alan Wheatley