October 23, 2008 / 11:43 AM / 11 years ago

EU presses China to show leadership in crisis

BEIJING (Reuters) - The European Union on Thursday urged more say for Beijing in international financial bodies but said China in return had to play its part in helping to resolve the current global economic crisis.

The comments by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso set the stage for a two-day summit in Beijing of the 27 EU member states and 16 Asian countries covering the global downturn, climate change and international security.

“We need a coordinated global response to reform the global financial system. We are living in unprecedented times, and we need unprecedented levels of global coordination,” Barroso said.

“It’s very simple: we sink together or we swim together,” he told reporters.

U.S. President George W. Bush has invited the Group of 20 nations, which includes major industrial states and big emerging economies such as China, India and Brazil, to meet in the United States on November 15 to discuss global financial reforms.

Diplomats said the commission, the EU’s executive arm, and France, which currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency, hope to win a commitment from China in particular to use its clout to help shape the reforms and tackle the economic imbalances at the root of the current meltdown.

“I very much hope that China gives an important contribution to the solution of this financial crisis,” Barroso said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for China to show a sense of responsibility.”

Later, Barroso dangled the carrot of greater influence for Beijing on the world financial stage.

China this year won a modest increase in its voting power at the International Monetary Fund but argues that it is still not being allowed to punch its weight as the world’s fourth-largest economy and the one that is growing fastest.

“We think China could and should have a greater voice in international financial institutions,” Barroso said in a speech at a school for civil servants.

HUMAN RIGHTS

The purpose of the biennial Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), launched 12 years ago, is to narrow the diplomatic distance between two continents accounting for 60 percent of global output and two thirds of world trade.

But a decision on Thursday by the European Parliament to give its top human rights prize to Chinese activist Hu Jia risks straining ties with summit host Beijing.

“By awarding the Sakharov Prize to Hu Jia, the European Parliament is sending out a signal of clear support to all those who defend human rights in China,” the assembly’s president, Hans-Gert Poettering, told EU lawmakers in Strasbourg.

The award to Hu, who was jailed for subversion after testifying to the EU parliament last year, seemed certain to enrage China.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said beforehand that giving Hu the prize would be “an interference in both China’s internal affairs and judicial sovereignty.”

Barroso, who said human rights would be raised at the ASEM talks, was not alone in urging closer cooperation between the two blocs.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said after meeting Premier Wen Jiabao that working together was the key to overcoming the present financial crisis, the deepest in more than 70 years.

Among a spate of other meetings on the sidelines of ASEM, Southeast Asian leaders were due later on Thursday to discuss a Thai proposal to develop an emergency financial fund for the region.

Thailand also wants countries around Asia to pool part of their vast holdings of foreign exchange reserves to facilitate trade, investment and tourism in the region.

South Korea, Japan and China — which will meet the leaders of ASEAN on Friday — were likely to endorse the urgency of beefing up an existing web of central bank credit lines totaling $80 billion by the first half of 2009, diplomats said.

But they said the three North Asian neighbors, which have the biggest holdings of currency reserves in Asia, were opposed to putting part of their currency hoards into a common pot.

ASEAN comprises Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, Philippines, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar and Brunei. Thailand currently chairs the group.

Additional reporting by Simon Rabinovitch; Writing by Alan Wheatley; Editing by Jeremy Laurence

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