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China Daily Website

China 'should prepare' on euro

Updated: 2012-05-25 09:24
By Fu Jing in Brussels and Wei Tian in Beijing ( China Daily)

Although there is only "a slight" chance that Greece will leave the eurozone, China should take steps to guard against the possible effects of this worst-case scenario, experts said.

After the yuan's exchange rate plunged below 8 per euro on Wednesday, it reached 7.97 against the euro on Thursday, the strongest level since June 2002.

Analysts said political conflicts over austerity and growth options and deepening uncertainties in Greece may continue to weaken the euro, making the yuan relatively stronger.

At a gathering on Thursday, European leaders urged Greek politicians and citizens to choose to stay within the eurozone while respecting their commitments to austerity.

Duncan Freeman, research fellow at the Brussels Institute of Contemporary China Studies, said the euro will remain fragile until there is a real resolution of the crisis, not only in Greece, but also more broadly in the eurozone.

"There is no sign that this will happen anytime soon," said Freeman.

Freeman said some Greeks are sending signals to the rest of the eurozone that a Greek exit will be a disaster for the region.

Meanwhile, there are politicians in other eurozone countries saying that an exit will be a disaster for Greece but the euro will survive and the contagion will be limited.

"Each side is trying to scare the other into doing what it wants," said Freeman.

Freeman's comments were echoed by Chinese analysts.

"If the European countries are really making plans for Greece's exit, they should do it quietly in private, not through public discussion," said Liu Mingli, a researcher with the Institute of European Studies at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations.

"It was like the debate over raising the US debt ceiling last year. A final agreement will be reached at the last minute, but each party is trying to get as much interest in the game before the final moment approaches," Liu said.

However, "although the possibility (of a Greek exit) is trivial, it is not zero, and the result (of Greece's exit) will not be small," he said.

Peng Wensheng, chief economist at China International Capital Co, said global GDP growth may tumble to only half of what it was during the 2009 global crisis, resulting in China's growth rate slowing to 6.5 percent, not taking into consideration policy adjustments.

"If China were to make its own plans, it should lessen its exposure to euro assets in the short term, which are likely to depreciate as there will be capital outflows from the eurozone on a large scale following Greece's exit," Liu said.

"In the long term, China should reduce its dependence on exports to Europe, explore more opportunities in emerging markets and boost domestic demand, as the European market will remain depressed for years," he said.

Liu said China's investment, such as in Greek harbors, remains promising in the long term. But in the short term, China should make wider use of derivatives to offset fluctuations in exchange rates.

"A weakening euro will add direct pressure on China's exports to the European market, which are already flagging because of sluggish demand amid the debt crisis," said Zhang Lihua, professor and researcher with the Center for European Studies at Tsinghua University.

"On the other hand, it may be bullish news for European exporters to China and will draw more attention from Chinese investors," Zhang said.

According to Zhang, Europe's exports to China still face a lot of limitations, as more than 150 documents on export policies related to China have been issued since 2004, most of which were restrictions.

"The initiative is in the hands of European countries on whether or not to remove these restrictions on exports of high-tech and military products.

"But that is not likely to happen, considering the complex decision-making process among European countries," she said.

Pierre Defraigne, executive director of the MadariagaCollege of Europe Foundation, compared Europe as it faces the ongoing crisis to a gruyere - a cheese full of holes.

By that, he means deficits in the governance of the eurozone, especially the lack of overall common policies.

"There is no leadership at the European level. It is just national leaders who are attempting to execute the collective leadership in Europe. And that is the work of the European Council," said Defraigne.

Despite multiple European summits coordinating actions of member states, he said European leaders are not able to put Europe's wellbeing above that of their individual countries.

"There is a contrast between Europe and China. The Chinese method is, of course, for China itself.

"However, we still have to take note of two key forces of Chinese leadership: the capacity to implement reforms and the continuity."

Defraigne said that he is neither optimistic nor pessimistic about the current situation in the eurozone. He said that "the real price to pay" with the end of the euro is the inevitable weakening of Europe, which will harm multi-lateralism.

"That is the real risk." he said.

At the debut of the gathering, French President Francois Hollande sought to convince eurozone nations to issue eurobonds, despite resistance from Germany.

As the 27-nation bloc to make decisions on growth at an end-June summit, Hollande said eurobonds will enable countries "to access financing more easily on (money) markets".

As the biggest creditor, Germany has been focused on cutting spending in debt-ridden countries such as Greece, Spain and Portugal, which have weakened their potential for further growth.

European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said it is obvious that presenting "deficit reduction" as the opposite of "growth" is a false debate.

"They are two sides of the same coin. Without sound public finances there can be no sustainable growth; but without sustainable growth, measures to bring our debt levels under control will be done in vain," said Van Rompuy.

Van Rompuy said the EU will ensure that European structural funds and instruments are mobilized to bring Greece on a path toward growth and job creation.

"Continuing the vital reforms to restore debt sustainability, foster private investment and reinforce its institutions is the best guarantee for a more prosperous future in the euro area," said Van Rompuy. "We expect that after the elections, the new Greek government will make that choice."

Frank Schwalba-Hoth, former member of the European Parliament, said that after elections on June 17, or at the latest in autumn, Greece will leave the eurozone because the new government will strongly rejects austerity measures.

Schwalba-Hoth said Greece certainly is on the agenda and the Growth Pact as well will be discussed by the leaders.

He has expressed confidence in the future of the euro.

"The euro needs a crisis to come out stronger," he said.

Tan Xuan contributed to this story.

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