Face up to debt woes

Updated: 2011-08-09 07:46

(China Daily)

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What a pity that merely three years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers the world has once again been brought back to the same place, but this time with less choices.

The shock of the unprecedented downgrade of long-term United States government debt and the worsening European debt crisis were clearly and painfully felt in major Asian stock markets that plummeted on Monday.

Policymakers in those debt-laden Western countries should definitely be galvanized into emergency action to calm the fear and panic that gripped investors at home and broad.

An assurance from G7 finance ministers that they were "ready to take action to ensure stability and liquidity in markets" is a minimal first step to prevent their debt crisis from getting out of control.

However, it would be far more disastrous if global leaders, especially those from debt-laden rich countries, fail again to make use of the current sense of urgency to put in place serious and long-term solutions to their debt troubles.

Three years ago when the worst global financial crisis in more than half a century hit the world economy, it sparked an all-in-the-same-boat-together spirit in the international community to deal with the challenge.

Emerging market economies like China rolled out massive stimulus packages to sustain their economic growth to keep the world economy moving forward. Meanwhile, developed countries used huge amounts of public funds to save their banks to stabilize the global financial systems.

All these measures were ostensibly meant to create a window of opportunity to allow the world economy to grow its way out of the crisis.

Unfortunately, except for those initial expensive bailouts, debt-laden rich countries had since been reluctant to undergo the painful financial and economic overhaul necessary to start sustainable growth. By piling up public debts, these countries have tried in vain to seek easy answers to their fundamental social, economic and political problems.

The present convulsion of global stock markets represents not only a vote of no confidence in debt-laden rich countries, which just focus on tinkering with their fiscal and economic problems to reap the low-hanging fruits as long as possible.

It also raises the alarm that a double-dip recession, which was once widely deemed unlikely among global policymakers, could hit the world economy sooner and harder than expected if the debt-laden rich countries keep messing around with their debt problems.

Policymakers in both the US and European Union should no longer indulge themselves in the delusion that the debt crisis under their watch has any chance of being fixed without their making difficult choices.

As the largest foreign holder of US debt, China surely has a huge stake in the safety of its foreign exchange reserves as well as the global recovery that is essential to its own economic growth. Thus, it has good reason to be on alert.

(China Daily 08/09/2011 page8)