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投资理财

中国不是欧元区的救世主

Nin-Hai Tseng 2011年11月14日

中国是当今世界上少数经济增长强劲的国家之一,手握巨额现金,其最大的出口市场也正是欧洲。然而,中国并没有快马加鞭赶来救欧洲于水火之中。原因何在?

    去年大概也是这个时候,持续的欧洲债务危机意外地引来了中国的投资精英们。这个世界第二大经济体的官员们半路杀出,许诺将支持为债务所困的西班牙,并签订了价值73亿美元的多项协议,投资涉及从银行到能源的几乎所有领域。此前,中国也曾承诺支持希腊,签订了当时被希腊人称为中国在欧洲的最大一笔单项投资。

    所有这些似乎都意味着如果形势向着不好的方向发展,中国是愿意向欧洲伸出援手的。显然,如今这种担心正在变成现实,欧洲地区的债务危机已从希腊蔓延到了一些规模更大的经济体——也就是意大利。上周三,意大利债券收益率突破了%,逼近此前曾迫使其他欧元区国家请求救助的水平。意大利总理西尔维奥•贝卢斯科尼坚持进行选举、而不是采用过渡政府的方式,可能令震荡持续,加深了欧元区分裂的担忧。

    分析师们认为,这些变化意味着欧元区危机已进入了一个危险的新阶段。

    但现在欧洲似乎还是远看不到白衣骑士的到来。随着债券危机继续肆虐市场,上周三华尔街股市收于近3个月以来的最低点,中国大举施援的可能性似乎更低了。

    两周前,欧洲官员造访北京,试图说服中国领导人增加对欧洲金融稳定基金(European Financial Stability Facility,简称EFSF)的投资。这个去年成立的基金通过发售债券为陷入困境的欧元区国家提供贷款融资,最近已进行了扩容,但很多人认为仍需更大幅度的扩容才能拯救像意大利这样的规模更大的经济体;如今的意大利可能已经处于随时需要救助的状态。

    至少眼下,中国打算让欧洲自己解决债务问题,这与几个月前对希腊和西班牙的大力支持截然不同。诚然,中国不可能单枪匹马地解救欧元区,因为欧元区债务问题存在深层次的结构性原因。但这个东亚巨人是少数几个有能力担当这样重任的国家之一——中国持有全球最大的外汇储备,价值3.2万亿美元。

    中国保持谨慎并不是没有原因,但大部分看起来都比较短视。

    比如,《基督教科学箴言报》(The Christian Science Monitor)近日就指出,中国希望对欧元区国家的经济政策有更大的影响力——这种想法当然有些吓人,因为欧元区很多边缘经济体都存在结构性缺陷。即便中国不管怎样,最终达成了一项十分不可能的交易,并通过提供救助资金换得了在政策上更多的话语权,可能到头来对中国也只是一场噩梦。毕竟,不同的声音太多,同时缺乏足够强大的领导力,这些正是欧洲没能更快采取行动的主要原因之一。

    《基督教科学箴言报》同时指出,中国选择退缩,也可能是因为投资欧洲的风险和不确定性都太高。这肯定是让大多数投资者苦恼的原因,但中国尤其如此——全球金融危机期间中国主权财富基金的海外投资曾遭受巨额损失,压力之下,北京需要进行更明智地投资。另外,中国退缩的原因也可能是正在等待欧洲官员给它以政治上的承诺,但欧元集团主席让-克洛德•容克早已说过,这不太可能发生。

    无论怎样,中国在拯救欧元区行动中扮演更重要的角色,得大于失。

    欧元区是中国最大的出口市场,随着债务危机延续,继续侵蚀欧元区的经济增长,中国自身的经济健康也可能受到影响。而且,正如加州大学(University of California)圣地亚哥分校的中国问题专家巴里•诺顿今年早些时候指出的那样,救助欧洲可以改善中国的国际形象。中国长期以来一直被指责人为低估人民币汇率,持有巨额外汇储备。如果中国能从这些储备中拿出一部分帮帮欧洲,乃至整个世界,或许能减轻它承受的压力。

    虽然中国出手相助很可能激发欧洲人的抵触情绪(就像上个月法国总统萨科齐呼吁中国给予帮助时一样),但只有欧洲能更开放地接纳东方邻居,欧元区才有可能避免更严重的危机。毕竟,欧洲央行(European Central Bank)已经一再强调,它没有义务作为最后贷款人,同时也拒绝提高纸币的发行量。欧洲救助基金的规模显然还不够,而欧元区财长们也还没有提出清晰的进一步扩容的计划。

    如果中国不愿拍马来救,很难想象谁还能担此重任。

    It was around this time last year when Europe's ongoing debt crisis unexpectedly drew the investment savvy of China. Officials from the world's second-largest economy swooped in, promising to back debt-troubled Spain by signing $7.3 billion in deals that spanned investments in everything from banking to energy. This followed China's pledge to back Greece, where officials signed off on what Greeks at the time called the biggest single investment by China in Europe.

    All this implied that China was willing to come to Europe's rescue if things took a turn for the worse. Needless to say, things are moving in that direction, as the region's debt troubles spread beyond Greece and into much bigger economies – namely, Italy. On Wednesday, yields on Italian bonds surpassed 7%, approaching levels that previously sent other euro zone nations scrambling for bailouts. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's insistence on elections instead of an interim government threatened to prolong the instability and fanned fears of a split in the euro zone.

    The developments, analysts have suggested, signal a dangerous new phase in the euro zone crisis.

    But it seems as though Europe's white knight is far from sight. And as the debt crisis continue to roil markets, sending stocks on Wall Street tumbling to their worst finish Wednesday in nearly three months, it looks less likely that China will step in in any big way.

    Last week, European officials traveled to Beijing to persuade China's leaders to beef up investments in the European Financial Stability Facility, established last year to sell bonds to finance loans for distressed euro nations. The fund's powers were recently expanded, but many still think it needs to be much bigger to rescue larger economies like Italy, which could very well need a bailout any day now.

    For now at least, China has left Europe dealing with its own debt woes – a marked reversal of the bold backings of Greece and Spain months earlier. Admittedly, China can't single-handedly save the euro zone, as the region's underlying debt problems are also deeply structural. But the East Asian giant is one of the few nations well positioned to play a major role --China holds the world's largest foreign exchange reserves at $3.2 trillion.

    There are several reasons why China remains cautious, but much of it seems shortsighted.

    For one, as highlighted in The Christian Science Monitor recently, China wants more influence on economic policy over euro zone nations – certainly a scary thought, given how structurally flawed many of the peripheral economies are. Even if China somehow works out a very unlikely deal to have more say over policy in exchange for rescue funds, this would likely turn out to be a nightmare. After all, having too many voices and not enough strong leadership is one of the chief reasons why officials in Europe haven't been able to act quicker.

    China's pullback could also be a result of a decision that investing in Europe might be too risky and uncertain, as the Monitor has also pointed out. That's something obviously irking most other investors, but especially China as its sovereign wealth fund has come under scrutiny. During the global financial crisis, overseas investments suffered large losses and so Beijing is under pressure to make wiser investments. It could also be that China is waiting for European officials to grant it political confessions, which Eurogroup chairman Jean-Claude Juncker has said is unlikely to happen.

    Whatever its hold-ups, China has more to gain than lose by playing a bigger role in the euro zone's rescue.

    The area is China's largest export market, so its own economic health is at stake as the ongoing debt crisis continues to erode growth in the euro zone. What's more, as China expert Barry Naughton from the University of California in San Diego pointed out earlier this year, helping Europe could boost China's global image. The country has long been criticized for artificially undervaluing its currency and holding vast foreign currency reserves. Giving up some of those reserves to help Europe, and by extension, the world at large, could potentially lift pressures on China.

    And while Chinese aid could easily incite European opposition (as was the case last month when French President Nicolas Sarkozy called on China to help), the euro zone may be able to avoid something far more disastrous if only it were more open to its eastern neighbors. After all, the European Central Bank has repeatedly said it has no mandate to act as the lender of last resort and has refused to print money. The EU bailout fund is clearly inadequate, while the region's finance ministers have presented no clear plans on how to make it bigger.

    If China doesn't step up, it's hard to think who could.

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