Eurozone's rollercoaster ride unsettles Asia

Europe On The Globe

Frustration at the eurozone's failure to end its rollercoaster ride of recovery and crisis is palpable in Asia.

Leaders from China, Japan and South Korea to Indonesia and the Philippines are desperate for the key eurozone countries to fashion a solution that makes life less traumatic and more conducive to trade.

Asian nations have weathered the global economic crisis better than most, but concerns are growing that a prolonged European recession will start to take its toll, particularly if commodity prices continue to decline.

Japan, which has embarked on a massive reconstruction effort after last year's tsunami, was expected to recover strongly, but European consumers have stopped spendingforcing down Tokyo's growth to 1.4% in the second quarter. China has also recorded a steep decline in demand for its goods, pushing down its usual double-digit growth rate to 7.8%.

Of the two, Japan is more understanding towards Europe, although frustration is palpable when conversation with government officials turns to the question, "what next for the eurozone?".

One explanation for the diplomatic attitude could be found in Japan's application for a free trade deal with Europe. China has one and so does South Korea, but Japan has been slow off the mark. Criticism of European leaders could harm negotiations. Moreover, Japan is not well placed to lecture others about debt, with a debt-to-GDP ratio far worse than Greece, at about 200%.

Chinese officials, on the other hand, have publicly raised concerns about the negative effects of the financial crisis in the west.

Chief among Beijing's complaints is the west's reliance on cheap money printed by central banks. Chinese officials are also aghast at the perceived dithering by their European counterparts.

"The way the eurozone has handled the debt resolution issue has been more problematic," said Jin Liqun, chairman of the supervisory board at the China Investment Corporation. "Too much time has been wasted on debates over the terms and conditions of piecemeal bailouts. Political leaders have been digging in on their own agendas, with their objectives pulling in different directions." He added: "I'm afraid to say that frailty, thy name is leadership".

The European Central Bank has refused to follow the quantitative easing programmes of the US Federal Reserve and the Bank of England, although it has supplied funds to local banks, which in turn have loaned the money to their governments.

The expansion in the money supply has depressed the value of western currencies and raised the value of Asian currencies, China and Japan's among them, making their exports more expensive.

Naohiro Yashiro, an economics professor at the International Christian University in Tokyo, says the Japanese and Chinese governments could easily support the eurozone by selling some of their loans to the US government and buying eurozone debt. "Selling the dollar, and buying the Euro bond should be basically neutral to the exchange rate," he said.

A switch from US Treasury bonds to bonds designed to support indebted countries would bring down borrowing costs and, arguably, give political leaders the confidence they need to reform the currency union and end the crisis. There would be the risk of leaving a safe haven (the US) for a risky project (propping up the euro) but it would be self-fulfilling such is the combined power of China and Japan. It would also prompt a surge in world trade, of which China and Japan would be the chief beneficiares.

Japan's prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, supports plans to buy European bonds and effectively increase loans to the eurozone. Japan was one of the first to buy the rescue bonds launched by Brussels and the European Central Bank, although the $430m it committed is small compared to the size of the problem.

But under the surface, Asia is focusing on the opportunities to be had – after hundreds of years of colonialism, buying Europe on the cheap is an opportunity not to be missed. The Chinese have busied themselves buying Greek, Italian and Portugese ports and utilities at knockdown prices.

The Japanese advertising company Dentsu recently bought the Anglo/French marketing group Aegis for £3.2bn. More takeovers are expected.

Powered by article was written by Phillip Inman in Tokyo, for on Thursday 18th October 2012 08.16 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


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