U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, aiming to persuade China that its U.S. investments were safe, pledged that the Obama administration was firmly committed to ratcheting down huge deficits as quickly as it can once economic recovery is assured.
No one is going to be more concerned about future deficits than we are, he told reporters while en route to Beijing for two days of meetings Monday and Tuesday with top Chinese officials including President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao.
During the past week, uneasiness in financial markets over soaring U.S. budget deficits has driven interest rates up and added to worry about whether there will be buyers for the flood of U.S. debt securities that are being auctioned to pay for recovery efforts.
China is the largest single purchaser of U.S. Treasury debt and already has shifted investment of some of its reserves to shorter-term maturities, a sign that it may fear the U.S. will be forced to push interest rates up to control inflation when recovery begins.
Higher interest rates could erode the value of China's U.S. dollar-denominated debt and Wen said earlier this year that he was concerned about the security of its debt. I do indeed have some worries, he said in March.
A transcript that the Treasury issued Saturday from an interview Geithner held earlier in the week with Chinese journalists showed the U.S. Treasury chief was prepared to repeat his backing for a strong dollar while on his visit.
I will make it clear that we are committed to a strong dollar, that we are committed to bringing our fiscal deficits down over the medium term, Geithner said.
The Obama administration, and the former Bush administration before it, have collectively put hundreds of billions of dollars into recovery efforts from propping up the U.S. banking system to trying to restructure the auto industry, borrowing the money to do so by selling Treasury securities.
Geithner, making his first trip to China as U.S. Treasury chief, is scheduled to address students at Peking University on Monday ahead of a meeting with Vice Premier Wang Qishan and will have dinner with Finance Minister Xie Xuren Monday night.
He will also visit the Ford Foundation, where his father, Peter Geithner, served as a development specialist. Geithner studied Chinese in Beijing and has lived and worked in Asia.
He told reporters accompanying him that the Obama administration wants to broaden its engagement with China and said there was room for the two countries to cooperate more closely in promoting recovery and fostering sustainable long-term growth.
We are seeing more durable stability in the economy and the financial system is in substantially better shape, Geithner said. But we have a ways to go and we need to keep working in the United States and with the other major economies to restore conditions for a sustainable recovery.
The United States and other major economies are pushing for key international financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund to play a more prominent role monitoring global economic practices.
Geithner said the United States believes China, with one of the most vibrant economies, should have a bigger say in how the IMF is run.
We are committed to reforming the international system and our interests are best served by giving China a stake in the process, Geithner said. We would like to build with China the kind of relationship we had with the G7 (Group of Seven industrial countries) over the last several decades.
Other countries want China to contribute more toward the IMF, which normally would mean its voting share in the lender would also rise. But there is some resistance among current IMF members, especially in Europe, to yielding any of their current share in order to give China a larger stake.
(Reporting by Glenn Somerville, editing by Chris Wilson)