EU bailout fund chief holds talks in China

Updated: 2011-10-28 20:20


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BEIJING - The head of the European bailout fund visited Beijing on Friday amid speculation that debt-stricken Europe is seeking help from the world's second-largest economy.

Klaus Regling, chief executive of the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), arrived only a day after European leaders reached a deal at a Brussels summit to tackle the ongoing debt crisis in Europe, which many fear may spark another global recession.

The relief plan involves increasing the bailout fund's size from 440 billion euros to 1 trillion euros by raising more money from cash-rich investors, such as China.

The fund, set up last year, has been used to provide financial aid to Portugal, Ireland and Greece.

Regling said at a media briefing in Beijing that 40 percent of the bonds issued by EFSF have been bought by Asian investors, but he declined to disclose who bought the bonds and how much they purchased.

"We all know China has a particular need to invest surpluses," he said, adding that China, with the world's largest foreign exchange reserves of $3.2 trillion, is "interested in finding attractive, solid and safe investment opportunities."

He said that his agenda in China included meetings with officials from the Finance Ministry and the People's Bank of China, the country's central bank.

But the meetings were "regular consultations" instead of negotiations with potential investors and he did not expect to reach any concrete agreements with China during the visit, he said.

Regling will travel to Japan over the weekend, where he will continue discussing how the bailout fund should be structured to make the bonds it sells an attractive investment.

"I think the EFSF can offer a good product that is commercially interesting," and bonds issued by the fund are guaranteed by the 17 member states of the eurozone and have a triple-A rating, he said.

There has been widespread speculation that China may give a hand to Europe by investing part of its foreign exchange reserves in the fund. But Chinese authorities have not made any public commitments to do so thus far.

The latest official response came from Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao, who said Friday after meeting with Regling that China welcomes the consensus that European leaders have reached, but has not decided if it will invest in the fund.

"Regling talked about the common consensus on the policy to improve the effectiveness of the EFSF and their consideration of detailed policies in the future at the European Union Summit," Zhu said.

France and some other EU members believe that the EFSF should increase its leverage by up to five times, but the instrument requires professional design and a full consideration of investors' demands, he said.

"Europe needs to listen to opinions in designing the new policy instrument, and it will take some time for a technical framework to form," he said. "That's why Regling rushed to China and other countries to get professional and technical preparations."

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said Thursday that China is willing to make joint efforts with the international community to stabilize the global financial market and expand cooperation with Europe in the areas of investment, trade, finance and technology.

"If the Chinese, who have 60 percent of the world's reserves, decide to invest in the euro instead of the dollar, why refuse?" French President Nicolas Sarkozy said in a television interview on Thursday.

President Hu Jintao has voiced a hope that the measures will "help Europe stabilize its financial markets, overcome current difficulties and promote economic recovery and growth."

When asked whether China will press Europe for political and trade concessions as a potential investor, Regling said he has not been confronted with the issue and he is "not talking on behalf of the European Union," so he is the "wrong person" to discuss it.