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25.03.09

China wants influence and has money to buy it

Gordon Brown has made much of wanting to rebuild the IMF at next week’s G20 meeting. It won’t be a quick conversation. China, India, Russia and Brazil want more voting rights over how the IMF spends its money, to reflect their rising share of the world’s economy. How much will they put in? There is a danger in expecting much. From China’s point of view, it may win more influence by investing directly in troubled countries, rather than in one of the creaking institutions built after the Second World War. Two years ago critics of the IMF argued that it had had its day. The World Bank, too, and the satellite organisations, such as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, came under sceptical attack from those who thought they no longer had a role. The opening up of capital markets had made their provision of finance redundant, the argument went. The conditions they used to attach when they offered funds now seemed patronising — an imposition of Western-style capitalism. Meanwhile, the leap that countries in Eastern Europe, Latin America and parts of Asia had taken towards open markets and democracy was some kind of answer to those who thought they needed more lessons.

But the financial crisis has revived these institutions. It’s now clear that the fund’s resources may not be enough to prop up all the countries wanting help. Yesterday the fund’s managing director, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, said that the fund would be much more flexible in lending to well-run emerging economies.

For months Brown has been suggesting that China should plug the gap. It has cash; the fund does not. He has not explained why China should do this. It might win more influence from the deals it has been exploring on its own with troubled countries (for instance, probing opportunities in energy in Iraq and Pakistan). Before the economic turmoil crash, it had bought itself big footholds in the resources of African and Latin American countries. It could do that even more cheaply now.

It will have to be given a reason to work within the IMF, and that price will be more influence. Under the current IMF rules, the EU has 32 per cent of the voting rights and the US, 17 per cent, compared with China’s 3.7 per cent and India’s 1.9 per cent. Those are bound to change — and there will be other demands. A call yesterday by China’s central banker for a new reserve currency for the world — an alternative to the dollar — is symbolic rather than sensible. But it represents China’s determination to make itself heard.

It won’t be the last time.

Source: The Times

Post-Crisis World Institute