BEIJING – U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on Monday said the United States and China must change strategies for boosting growth as U.S. consumer demand wanes, and he offered strong backing for a bigger Chinese role in setting global economic policy.
"China is already too important to the global economy not to have a full seat at the international table," Geithner said in prepared remarks for delivery to students at Peking University. He said global recession was easing but still "powerful and dangerous" in much of the world.
Geithner, on his first trip to China as U.S. Treasury chief, is holding two days of talks with top Chinese officials but opened his trip at Peking University, where he studied Chinese as a student in the 1980s.
He renewed pledges that the Obama administration will cut its huge fiscal deficits -- a source of worry for China as the top buyer of U.S. Treasury debt -- and promised "very disciplined" future spending, possibly including reintroduction of pay-as-you-go budget rules instead of nonstop borrowing.
As Geithner's visit opened, the Beijing-based Global Times published a survey of Chinese economists who called big holdings of U.S. debt "risky." China's concerns center around the risk that rising U.S. debt levels could push U.S. interest rates up and weaken the value of U.S.-dollar denominated debt.
Geithner briefly touched on the sensitive issue of China's managed exchange rate for its yuan, urging Beijing to let market forces more freely set its rate against other currencies.
Geithner said there were signs of improvement in the global economy but not enough to change an International Monetary Fund prediction that it will shrink this year for the first time in 60 years.
"The global recession seems to be losing force," he said, adding that the U.S. financial system also was healing and that it now seems assured that the world will avoid financial collapse and global deflation.
But he made a pitch for Beijing to alter its export-oriented growth model.
China was in "an enviably strong position," Geithner said, "But in most economies, the recession is still powerful and dangerous."
Credit is likely to be tight for some time and banks and investors may be afraid to take necessary risks even after recovery begins.
Geithner, striking a familiar theme, said the United States and China especially needed to shift their approach to running their economies, a recognition of China's rising might.
"Purchases of U.S. consumers cannot be as dominant a driver of growth as they have been in the past," he said. "In China...growth that is sustainable will require a very substantial shift from external to domestic demand, from an investment and export-intensive growth to growth led by consumption."
Geithner said a more flexible exchange-rate regime for China's yuan, which would almost certainly see its value rise against the dollar, was "particularly important" because it would hasten a shift toward more Chinese demand. A strengthening yuan would make imports cheaper for China and Chinese exports more costly for foreign buyers.
He offered U.S. backing for a higher-profile role for China in running global institutions including the IMF -- an offer likely to draw resistance from Europe since it raises the sensitive issue of adjusting the voting shares in the global lender.
"The United States will fully support having China play a role in the principal cooperative arrangements that help shape the international system, a role that is commensurate with China's importance in the global economy," Geithner said.
In words clearly intended to soothe Chinese concerns that its vibrant export economy might be targeted by U.S. lawmakers who are feeling pressure from soaring American joblessness, Geithner said the Obama administration will resist any such moves.
"As we go through the severe stresses of this crisis, we must not turn our backs on open trade and investment," he said, noting that China has "benefited hugely" from trade. "In return, we expect increased opportunities to export to and invest in the Chinese economy."
Geithner raised the issue of U.S. corporate restructurings, but he did not specifically mention General Motors or Chrysler.
"The plant closures and company restructurings that the recession is causing are painful, and this process is not yet over," Geithner said.
"The fallout from these events has been brutally indiscriminate, affecting those with little or no responsibility for the events that now affect them, as well as some who played key roles in bringing about our troubles."
Geithner was set to meet Vice Premier Wang Qishan and on Tuesday will meet Premier Wen Jiabao and President Hu Jintao for talks, some of which will touch on plans for a meeting of a restructured U.S.-China "strategic and economic dialogue" later this summer in Washington.