APEC Finance Ministers Gather in China's Suzhou

Top Asia-Pacific economic officials launched talks on Thursday in east China's Suzhou City on how to combat the global economic slowdown, hoping the United States will help kick start the growth.

Washington, however, said ahead of the APEC meetings that while the US economy should pick up in coming months, Asian countries would have to do their part and called on Japan to take decisive action to end its economic malaise.

China, host of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings this year, said the four days of talks in Suzhou would focus on spurring sustainable growth and reform in ways that satisfy the diverse economies in the 21-member group.

Wang Jun, a senior official in China's Ministry of Finance, laid out the agenda at a news conference ahead of the talks, at which deputy ministers and central bankers will forge an agenda for the weekend meeting of APEC finance ministers.

"With joint efforts of all APEC economies, the meeting will contribute to supporting stable economic growth, preventing financial crisis, expanding economic development and cooperative exchanges among all economies for the prosperity and stability of the region," Wang said.

That will prove a tall order for APEC, which spans the economic and ideological spectrum, from the world's two industrial powers in the United States and Japan to crisis-hit Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Vietnam.

US Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, who arrives in Suzhou on Friday, is expected to face pleas from APEC members for measures to boost the US economy.

But O'Neill said on Wednesday the United States could not be the sole engine of global growth and Japan must also pull its weight and implement reforms to pull itself out of a decade-long slump that has sapped the region's growth.

"Our economy is sound and I look forward to a rising growth path in the months ahead and through 2002," O'Neill told a Washington news conference as he prepared to leave for China and a later trip to Japan.

"But it isn't enough for the US economy to be the only engine of economic growth in the world."

The gloom over Suzhou runs in stark contrast to the APEC finance ministers meeting in Brunei a year ago, when Asia's recovery from the 1997 crisis seemed comfortably on track.

The US slowdown combined with the global high-technology slump has taken a toll on exports in the Asia-Pacific region.

Singapore slipped into recession in the first half, Japan teeters on the edge and Taiwan has suffered its first economic contraction in 26 years. South America, meanwhile, has been shaken by Argentina's debt troubles.

With recovery under threat, Asian ministers are expected to raise concerns about the weakening dollar and its impact on their exports.

Officials in Tokyo and elsewhere in the region worry the United States may be quietly dropping its strong dollar policy.

Japanese Finance Minister Masajuro Shiokawa says he plans to ask O'Neill to clarify Washington's position on the dollar when they meet in Suzhou. Some analysts speculate there could be concerted intervention to boost dollar-yen.

On Wednesday, O'Neill reiterated his support for a strong dollar and said there was no change in currency policy, pushing the dollar back up to two-week highs against the yen.

China has weathered the economic storms better than others -- it grew 7.9 percent year-on-year in the first half of this year.

Its increasing clout in APEC is underscored by its looming accession to the World Trade Organisation, expected by early next year at the latest.

APEC groups Australia, Brunei, Canada, China, Chile, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Chinese Taipei, Thailand, the United States and Vietnam.

(Chinadaily.com.cn 09/06/2001)

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