China 'seeks bigger voice through new economic summit'

BEIJING • China is approaching global economic organisations, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, to establish an annual meeting that would offer the nation a stronger policy voice on the world economic stage, according to a person familiar with the talks.

The Ministry of Commerce and other agencies are leading discussions under the guidance of the State Council, China's Cabinet, according to the person, who asked not to be identified due to the lack of authorisation to speak publicly.

Officials also are approaching the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the World Federation of Trade Unions, the person said. No decisions have been made.

An annual confab with Chinese leaders and the heads of major international groups would be a first, coming in the wake of increasing global focus on China's policies and their ramifications abroad, and criticism in the past year for officials being less than clear about plans and intentions. Germany's chancellor holds a similar gathering.

IMF managing director Christine Lagarde also attends summits such as the Group of Seven and G-20.

China's State Council Information Office and ministries of Commerce and Foreign Affairs did not respond to requests for comment. IMF and World Bank spokesmen declined to comment. The World Federation of Trade Unions also did not respond to requests for comment. The WTO declined to comment.

If the annual meetings go ahead, it would be a further step for China in raising an international economic profile that up to now has not matched its heft in terms of global trade.

This year, the IMF is set to anoint the yuan as an official reserve currency, and China is hosting the G-20 for the first time since it became a summit-level forum.

Communist Party leaders have sought greater influence in global governance, in part by setting up new international institutions, including the US$100 billion (S$138 billion) Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

President Xi Jinping's "Chinese Dream" of national rejuvenation has also seen the authorities champion Silk Road development initiatives to deepen ties across Eurasia and into Africa, and an expanding security presence in the South China Sea.

For Chinese policymakers advocating greater openness and liberalised markets, annual economic summits could offer a further focal point for building consensus around reforms. For the yuan to qualify for entry to the IMF's unit of account, the government had to loosen some of its controls on information and use of the currency.

A meeting of the G-20 finance chiefs in Shanghai in February served as a venue for Chinese officials to discuss their policies and offer reassurance after developments in China roiled global markets.

Turmoil erupted last year with a surprise devaluation of the yuan in August and a US$5 trillion wipe-out in Chinese equities. Ms Lagarde called for China to communicate more clearly during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January.

Discussions are progressing slowly as they involve coordination spanning multiple government ministries and foreign organisations, but top leaders believe they will be able to reach agreements they can announce by the end of this year, the person said.

China's leadership has pledged to enhance the nation's clout in global economic matters, according to the communique released after the party's fifth plenum last October. Mr Xi expressed as much in November during a Brics ( Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) meeting in Turkey, suggesting that member nations should jointly help strengthen global economic governance.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 04, 2016, with the headline 'China 'seeks bigger voice through new economic summit''. Print Edition | Subscribe