Back in September we noted that "Wen Jiabao Says China Willing To Extend Help To Europe... For A Price" the price in question being that, among other things, the EU should recognize China's market economy status, and to split Europe with the US on the topic of Chinese currency manipulation. Naturally, being the biggest import partner for China's goods, the topic of providing vendor financing to Europe has always been a critical one. Well, as was made clear overnight a key part of the European rescue effort is to get China on the same page, and to have it allocate capital to the EFSF. As the FT reports this may have happened, although with more or less the same conditions that China delineated 6 weeks ago. Only this time China has all the leverage. According to the FT: "China is very likely to contribute to the eurozone’s bail-out fund but the scope of its involvement will depend on European leaders satisfying some key conditions, two senior advisers to the Chinese government have told the Financial Times." So what are the conditions: "Any Chinese support would depend on contributions from other countries and Beijing must be given strong guarantees on the safety of its investment, according to Li Daokui, an academic member of China’s central bank monetary policy committee, and Yu Yongding, a former member of that committee." Obviously, Europe will promise the latter. As for the former it could be a tad problematic because as observed previously Brazil has voiced against rescuing Europe in the form of non-IMF participation. But there are more conditions: "It is in China’s long-term and intrinsic interest to help Europe because they are our biggest trading partner but the chief concern of the Chinese government is how to explain this decision to our own people,” said Professor Li. “The last thing China wants is to throw away the country’s wealth and be seen as just a source of dumb money.” Alas, that is precisely how the entire world sees China. As for the final condition: "He added that Beijing might also ask European leaders to refrain from criticising China’s currency policy, a frequent source of tension with trade partners." And this is how you declare political check mate and shut up all voices that threaten to protest against mercantilist policies. And since it is only a matter of time before China will have to rescue the US, we hope Senate enjoys the time remaining in which it can debate whether or not China manipulates the CNY. That time is about to end.
Klaus Regling, head of the EFSF, was due to arrive in Beijing late on Thursday for discussions with senior Chinese leaders on whether and how much China might contribute. Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, telephoned his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao a few hours
after the summit ended to discuss the rescue plan but there was no immediate announcement on any Chinese involvement.
European leaders agreed that the EFSF would explore two plans to increase its remaining firepower from about €250bn to €1,000bn. One would be to offer investors insurance on selected government debt while the other would create a special fund in which the International Monetary Fund or countries such as China could invest.
With $3,200bn in foreign exchange reserves, roughly a quarter of which are believed to be held in euros, China could be willing to contribute between $50bn and $100bn from the reserves to the EFSF or a new fund set up under its auspices in collaboration with the IMF, according to one person familiar with the thinking of the Chinese leadership.
“If conditions are right then something a bit above $100bn is not inconceivable,” this person said.
And here is how China gets one step closer to internationalizing its currency:
One condition China might ask for is that its contribution be at least partly denominated in renminbi, which would protect its investment against currency fluctuations. China would buy euro-denominated bonds but repayments would compensate for any changes in the value of the renminbi, which has appreciated nearly 20 per cent against the euro in the past three years.
Needless to say, Europe is not too happy with the economic give for political take...
Reflecting the unease in Europe, the head of Germany’s industry association, said he feared Chinese help could “come at a political cost”. Hans-Peter Keitel told the FT: “Asking a non-eurozone nation to help the euro would the the other nation the power to decide the fate of the single currency.”
This is spot on, and at this point, Europe has absolutely no trump cards left. It is entirely at the mercy of China. Or so the market thinks.
What is ironic is that when the next European bail out has to happen, and China is indeed seen as an actual source of dumb money, political tensions will finally shift over from the developed world to "surplus positive" one:
"Any mis-steps in helping Europe could cause problems with domestic public opinion – the Chinese people will watch very carefully what their own government does,” Prof Yu said. “European leaders also must have a clear plan of what to do and they must show China they have the political will as well as the support of their own people; if we see protests and chaos all the time, then China won’t have confidence in Europe’s political ability.”
And so China enters the wacky and wonderful world in which Europe will promise the moon and the stars with the only backstop strategy that one of hope, more hope and nothing else.
We are confident this will all end the way good money chasing after bad always does. But for now, the surge continues.