China is worried about challenges that the European Union faces in the next two months and urged the bloc as well as the United States to hold down government debt, its trade minister said on Friday.
Speaking at a meeting of Southeast Asian trade ministers, Chen Deming called on governments in the United States and Europe, China's top two trading partners, to act responsibly and get their fiscal houses in order.
"We support stabilizing measures taken by relevant countries, but we hope these countries will take measures to control their government debt proportion and take bigger responsibilities," Chen said.
"We are also concerned about new challenges facing European countries in August and September," he said, but did not elaborate.
His remarks echo recent comments from Beijing, which has invested nearly all of its $3.2 trillion foreign exchange reserves, the world's largest, in dollars and euros and would loathe to see the currencies plummet on economic problems.
World financial markets have swung wildly in the past week on fears that Europe cannot contain its debt crisis and after a downgrade of the U.S. sovereign credit rating, which amplified concerns that the U.S. economy may slide back into another recession or a prolonged period of meager growth.
U.S. Deputy Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis, attending the meeting, said the United States was now on a path toward fiscal discipline, following a deal this month to lift its debt ceiling.
He brushed off concerns by trade ministers at the meeting worried about weaker U.S. demand for Asian goods.
"The U.S. is the biggest market in the world and will continue to be a driver of global growth," he told Reuters.
The U.S. Federal Reserve has vowed to maintain interest rates near zero until 2013 to prop up its economy, and Chen said Asian governments should work together to monitor the impact, after funds seeking higher yields have driven up Asian stocks and currencies in the past year.
Chen noted the world was still struggling with the excess cash left behind by the loosening of monetary and fiscal policies during the 2008 financial crisis, which was "like taking medicines that will have a side effect."
"Where would the excessive liquidity flow to? Commodities, stock markets or bond markets? We are not quite sure yet," Chen said.
On the yuan, a controversial issue among China and its trade partners, Chen reiterated Beijing's usual refrain that the currency should only rise gradually and said it will stick to restructuring reforms of the domestic economy.
"We will also stick to gradual and steady currency reform," he told Reuters, adding that yuan volatility would be greater when global markets were jumpy. "But looking from a longer term perspective, the yuan currency policy will not change."
Chen's remarks come amid market talk that China may be about to shift its policy stance on the yuan soon after guiding the currency to a series of record highs.
A flurry of Chinese media reports that predicted speedier gains in the yuan have also fueled speculation.
China keeps the yuan on a tight leash as it worries any sharp gains could hurt its exports and weigh on the world's second-biggest economy.
Its trade partners, however, accuse Beijing of deliberately suppressing the yuan for trade advantage, an allegation that China has always denied.
Indeed, new data from Washington that showed the U.S. trade gap with China grew almost 12 percent in the first six months of 2011 could fuel efforts in Congress to get tough with China's currency practices.
By contrast, export-dependent Southeast Asian countries, whose currencies have risen along with the yuan, would prefer to avoid a rapid rise in the Chinese currency which could curb their export competitiveness.
"That's a problem for everyone," Surin Pitsuwan, the secretary general of regional bloc ASEAN, told Reuters.