The Greek debt crisis and China

Updated: 2011-07-07 14:17

By John Ross (

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It is another sign of the growing international impact of China that its economic strength has become part of the discussion on how to resolve Greece's debt crisis. It was also for this reason that Wen Jiabao's recent European visit received even more extensive than usual coverage in the continent's media.

The visit, in overall impact and in two of its three destinations, appears to have been mostly successful. In Germany, contracts worth $15 billion were signed. In Hungary, China's announcement that it would include that country in its international bond purchases was described by its government as "a decision of historic significance."

In Britain, there was a sour note when David Cameron wasted time trying to lecture China on human rights - which came rather ridiculously from the government of a country that participated in invading Iraq, resulting in the deaths of several hundred thousand people. But even in the UK, $2 billion in trade agreements were signed - although David Cameron did jeopardize British citizens' jobs and incomes because, as the Financial Times reported: "a senior Chinese official told the... FT that the UK 'is losing its standing in Europe as far as China is concerned and that Britain is now viewed less favorably in Beijing than Germany, France, Italy and Spain.'"

There are clearly two aspects to the aftermath of the visit. The first is overall economic relations between China and Europe. The second is the specific problems of China's exposure to the Greek debt crisis.

The overall success of the trip, and of economic relations between China and Europe, were well summed up in an editorial on July 2 in The Economist - Europe's most influential business magazine: "Investment bankers there [in Europe] are now sure to dial Chinese clients if they hear that a firm is a possible bid target. China's banks are rapidly increasing their presence in Europe... Chinese direct investment abroad has increased faster in Europe than in any other region.

"The Europeans get more than just money. A Chinese partner is a good way for a European brand to gain access to the world's soon-to-be-biggest economy. Ask France's Club Med, which now has a big Chinese shareholder and recently opened its first holiday resort in the country. Or CIFA, an Italian construction equipment maker whose products are now marketed as a premium brand by its Chinese owner. Or Sweden's Volvo, which was bought by Geely, a Chinese carmaker, in 2010 and now calls China its second home market." The magazine concluded its editorial: "In welcoming China, Europe is swimming with the tide of history. America is struggling against it."

The Greek debt crisis is, however, a specific issue that needs to be carefully analyzed. Greece's debt next year is projected to reach 159 percent of GDP, its interest rates are 15 percent above German equivalents, and its balance of payments deficit is 5.5 percent of GDP. This combination is totally unsustainable. A starting point has to be that the present bailout packages are not going to work and in the end Greece will have to partially default on its debt - to the disadvantage of its creditors.

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