China sought to restore confidence in its economy as financial leaders from G20 nations gathered in Shanghai on Friday, and Premier Li Keqiang urged greater global coordination and consideration of policy spillovers.
But Germany appeared to all but rule out coordinated stimulus to counter a deepening global chill, and U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said there was no need for a crisis response, as in 2009 when the Group of 20 (G20) major economies agreed on coordinated stimulus to prevent a worldwide depression.
While the health of the world’s second-largest economy, which hosts the G20 presidency this year, is a key talking point around the two-day summit, the threat of the U.K. leaving the European Union and its political and economic implications have also surfaced as concerns among participants in the meeting.
“Macroeconomic policy coordination needs to be strengthened. The global economic and financial situation may have become more grim and complex. It is time for countries to stand together to tide over difficulties,” Li said in a video message at the opening of the meeting.
Several other policymakers have urged better coordination, but there was disagreement about what steps to take, making it unlikely that concrete action points will emerge from the meeting.
“Talking about further stimulus just distracts from the real tasks at hand,” Germany’s Minister of Finance Wolfgang Schaeuble said, rebuffing a recommendation from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that the G20 should start planning now for a coordinated stimulus program.
“We, therefore, do not agree on a G20 fiscal stimulus package as some argue, in case outlook risks materialize.”
Lew had a similar message, saying there was a great deal of economic uncertainty at present but no crisis.
“It would not be reasonable to expect a crisis response in an environment that is not a crisis,” he said told reporters.
Overhanging the summit of major economy finance ministers and central bankers are global concerns about China’s ability to manage its domestic markets, currency, and commitment to wider restructuring reforms. Concerns about its slowing economy and confusion over its currency policy were among the factors which sowed turmoil in global markets in January.
China’s central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan repeated assurances the country would not stage another devaluation of its currency, the yuan, to support the economy. He also sought to manage expectations around the speed of China’s economic reform agenda.
“China will strike a balance between growth, restructuring and risk management,” Zhou said at a conference held by the Institute of International Finance (IIF) in conjunction with the G20 meeting.
“While the reform direction is clear … the pace will vary, but the reform will be set to continue and the direction is not changed.”
Zhou said China had monetary policy wiggle room, a statement echoed on the fiscal side by the Chinese finance ministry.
The case for further policy stimulus amid rising debt levels and already extremely low interest rates was a hard sell among some other G20 members.
Bank of England Governor Mark Carney warned cutting rates below zero carried serious risks, and blamed the recent global slump in shares and other assets on the failure of governments to make bold economics reforms.
Schaeuble said the debt-financed growth model had “reached its limits (and) is even causing new problems, raising debt, causing bubbles and excessive risk taking, zombifying the economy.”
And Japan’s Finance Minister Taro Aso shrugged off calls from some quarters for Tokyo to roll out fresh fiscal stimulus. Japan’s central bank stunned investors by adopting negative interest rates last month.
Geopolitics is also a worry for European representatives.
Speaking in Hong Kong, French Finance Minister Michel Sapin said it was best for the U.K. to remain in the European Union, and expects the British people would make the “right decision” at a June 23 referendum to remain a bloc member.
His comments follow a Financial Times report that British finance minister George Osborne is pushing the G20 to warn against the dangers of a “Brexit.”
Limited Room to Maneuver
Policymakers are watching closely for signs that China is ready to tackle the imbalances they see standing in the way of its economic sustainability.
Li said China has “the confidence to handle the complex situation at home and abroad”.
“We will expand aggregate demand as appropriate, and focus on structural reforms. We will press ahead with supply-side structural reform,” he said.
China would cultivate an “open and transparent” capital market, adding that there was “no basis for continued depreciation of the RMB exchange rate. It will stay basically stable on an adaptable and equilibrium level.”
Few in the G20, however, are underestimating China’s economic challenges.
International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief Christine Lagarde said China faced an “overwhelming” agenda of structural reforms as its leaders open up financial markets and move the economy away from fueled investment.
Beyond China, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development issued a report on Friday calling on the world’s 20 biggest economies to step up the slowing pace of reforms to boost growth amid sluggish trade and weak investment.