Monday, December 8, 2008

Yuan Watch : China holds more cards

By Indira A.R. Lakshmanan
Dec. 9 (Bloomberg) --
The current administration “has handled the U.S.-China relationship perhaps better than any bilateral relationship of the last seven years,” says Ken Lieberthal, a former national security adviser on Asia under President Bill Clinton who advised Hillary Clinton, 61, and then Obama, 47, during the presidential campaign.

Even so, “mutual distrust about both sides’ intentions has grown,” says Lieberthal, 65, a visiting scholar at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

On a recent trip to Beijing, he says he discovered that many Chinese -- officials and ordinary citizens -- believe the U.S. purposely triggered a global financial crisis to thwart China’s growth. Likewise, many Americans assume a stronger China would marginalize the U.S.

“Each side hedges against what they fear the other might try to do,” Lieberthal says.

As economic conditions worsen, both countries are under pressure at home to protect their domestic markets. Obama spoke out during the campaign against what he called unfair trade practices and currency manipulation, which has left Chinese policy makers nervous about his intentions. China, meanwhile, is shielding its own economy by slowing the appreciation of the yuan against the U.S. dollar and giving Chinese exporters a larger tax rebate.

With the U.S. now officially in a recession, China holds more cards than it did even a few months ago. Washington is more reliant on Beijing -- the largest holder of U.S. Treasuries -- to buy more government securities to finance deficit spending.

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