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China's Wen Is Worried About Dollar, Global Economy

China is deeply concerned about the potential global economic fallout from the U.S. subprime crisis, which could make its job of balancing growth and fighting inflation more challenging, Premier Wen Jiabao said on Tuesday.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao speaks at a press conference after the closing ceremony of the National People's Congress, in Beijing's Great Hall of the People Friday March 16, 2007. (AP Photo/Greg Baker)
Greg Baker
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao speaks at a press conference after the closing ceremony of the National People's Congress, in Beijing's Great Hall of the People Friday March 16, 2007. (AP Photo/Greg Baker)

Although Wen told a news conference it would be difficult to keep inflation this year to within Beijing's 4.8 percent target, he said he was confident the government would succeed at its main task for this year: checking price rises while engineering stable growth.

But he highlighted the increasing uncertainties brought about by the U.S. subprime crisis, which has spawned a fall in the dollar, slammed stock markets worldwide and fed into a surge in oil prices.

"I am closely watching and feel deeply worried about the global economic situation, especially the U.S. economy," Wen told reporters after the closing session of the National People's Congress, or parliament. "What concerns me now is the continuous depreciation of the U.S. dollar and when the dollar will hit bottom."

The dollar is trading near 13-year lows against the yen and record lows against the euro, after the U.S. Federal Reserve has repeatedly cut interest rates and after it took the rare step of cutting its discount rate on Sunday.

Wen said that Beijing would have to take the changing economic landscape into account when deciding on further policy steps, despite its having switched to a "tight" monetary policy at the end of last year to curb excessive growth in investment and credit.

While many other countries are facing a credit crunch in the wake of the collapse of the subprime mortgage market, China is struggling to contain a surge in liquidity stemming from its massive trade surplus.

"Global economic developments cannot but have an impact on China. Therefore, at the same time as pursuing these policies, we must pay close attention to international economic developments and, based on changing trends, be flexible and timely in adopting corresponding countermeasures," he said.

Wen stressed the need to walk a fine line between fighting inflation, which hit a nearly 12-year high pace of 8.7 percent from a year earlier in February, and slamming on the brakes too hard. An abrupt slowdown in output would contradict efforts to create at least 10 million new jobs a year, he said.

He did not specify what role the yuan could play in fighting inflation, but noted that it had strengthened by about 15 percent against the dollar over the last two years, with the pace of appreciation accelerating recently.

The yuan was trading at 7.0853 per dollar on Tuesday, meaning it has strengthened a further 14.5 percent against the dollar since the landmark revaluation in July 2005. Some economists say it needs to strengthen significantly more to help fend off inflows of cash and hence fight inflation.

"Maintaining stable and fairly fast economic growth while curbing inflation is not a target just for this year, but for the next five years," Wen said. "The outcome of these policies must be viewed in the medium to long term. It is very difficult to see them in a short one or two months."