A Chinese government economist said on Monday that the U.S. decision to delay a contentious currency report did not mean Beijing will change the value of its currency any time soon.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on Saturday postponed a report due out on April 15 that could have branded China a currency manipulator, which in turn would ratchet up U.S. pressure for a big appreciation in the yuan's value, which critics says is distorting trade flows.
There was no official reaction from China where Monday was a public holiday.
I believe this is a positive signal. At least the U.S. side has created some room for further consultations and negotiations, said Huo Jianguo, head of the Commerce Ministry's think-thank, of the U.S. decision.
But I don't think there will be a yuan adjustment in the near-term. We need to see whether China's export recovery will be sustained and need to see whether companies can cope with a stronger yuan.
The U.S. decision followed Thursday's announcement that Chinese President Hu Jintao will attend a nuclear security summit meeting in Washington April 12-13 and seems to be a move to keep tensions over currency in check.
Geithner said he would use meetings of the Group of 20 and a U.S.-China strategic dialogue in Beijing in May to urge China to budge on the yuan, which President Barack Obama, many U.S. lawmakers and several economists say is kept artificially low, undercutting U.S. competitiveness.
Analysts have said Beijing may feel freer to nudge up the yuan if Washington dims its spotlight on public demands. But it is too early for China to change its currency policy, a Chinese government economist said on Monday.
China's yuan barely reacted in offshore forward Asian markets on Monday, apparently reflecting investor sentiment that the U.S. decision will not shift of the value of the yuan a year hence.
One-year NDFs moved from 6.645 per dollar to 6.639, which still implied an appreciation of about 2.8 percent in a year's time. But markets in Hong Kong and Shanghai, the main centers for yuan trading, were closed for holidays.
An official Chinese newspaper also stressed that Beijing may not be ready to flag swift currency concessions.
Several Chinese economists quoted in the overseas edition of the People's Daily, the official newspaper of China's ruling Communist Party, maintained that the yuan was not to blame for the U.S. trade deficit. The economists appeared to have commented before Washington announced the postponement of the report.
Trade deficits and surpluses are not created by exchange rates, and the renminbi is not undervalued, said the paper.
Li Daokui, a member of the central bank's monetary policy committee, said China could nonetheless buy more goods from U.S. states struggling with recession to ease pressure from the White House and Congress.
On the one hand, China needs to maintain the initiative in issuing information (about the yuan), so that there is no misunderstanding of China by the United States, the paper quoted Li as saying.
On the other hand, China should take the initiative to communicate with the United States, added Li, a professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing.
China can increase purchases from (U.S.) states facing mass unemployment because of recession in the manufacturing sector, said Li, a Harvard-trained economist.
Beijing let the yuan rise 21 percent against the U.S. dollar between July 2005 and July 2008 before effectively repegging the currency, also called the renminbi, near 6.83 to the dollar to help the economy through the financial crisis.
The United States' deficit in trade with China fell to $227 billion in 2009 from a record $268 billion in 2008, but the Obama administration is keen to lift exports and employment.
Wu Xiaoling, a Chinese lawmaker and former central bank vice governor quoted by the People's Daily international edition, said the root of the problem was not a cheap yuan, but the relatively low cost of labor and resources in China.
That people feel the renminbi is undervalued is in fact because many price factors in China, including resources and labor, have not reached international levels, she said.
(Reporting by Kevin Yao and Chris Buckley; Editing by Nick Macfie)