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Last updated: April 16, 2009 1:30 am
The Obama administration on Wednesday rowed back from claims that China is manipulating its currency, declining to cite Beijing in a closely watched report to Congress.
The move avoids a confrontation with Beijing at a moment when world leaders are trying to present a united front against the economic crisis. It implicitly recognises China’s efforts to help stabilise the world economy by avoiding competitive devaluation and boosting domestic demand.
“The Chinese have shown great commitment to playing a stabilising role in the system,” a senior Treasury official told reporters.
Analysts said the decision not to cite China nonetheless represented a retreat by President Barack Obama – who suggested China was a currency manipulator on the campaign trail – and by Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, who reiterated the charge on January 22 during his confirmation process.
Mr Geithner then submitted a written statement to Congress that said: “President Obama - backed by the conclusions of a broad range of economists – believes that China is manipulating its currency.”
In a statement on Wednesday, Mr Geithner said the US still believed China’s yuan was undervalued, but cited four reasons for the decision not to name China as a currency manipulator in the report. China, Mr Geithner said, had “taken steps to enhance exchange rate flexibility.” It allowed its currency to appreciate slightly against the dollar as the crisis intensified and other emerging market currencies fell. It accumulated fewer reserves in the fourth quarter of 2008 and had “enacted a large fiscal stimulus” that would help rebalance demand.
Analysts said these trends were already in train on January 22. At that point, China had allowed its currency to appreciate relative to other emerging economies, had released the figures showing slower fourth-quarter reserve accumulation and had announced its $579bn stimulus.
US officials said developments since January 22 strengthened these trends, with China reaffirming its commitment to currency flexibility, holding to its currency stance, accumulating still fewer reserves in the first quarter of this year and reinforcing its stimulus measures.
Reaction in Congress - where the heat appears to have gone out of the issue - was muted. The Financial Services Forum, a financial sector lobby group, said the decision not to cite China in the report was “the prudent call.”
Several business groups endorsed the decision, though some manufacturing groups complained. Calman Cohen, president of the Emergency Committee for American Trade, a business lobby group, said: ”The Obama administration has time to work on this issue.”
Bill Reinsch, president of the National Foreign Trade Council, said ”the moderate Democrats in Congress came to a conclusion some time ago that it is not in anyone’s interest to rock that particular boat just at the moment.”
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