Timothy Geithner’s warning that President Barack Obama believes China is “manipulating” its currency may trigger renewed tensions between two of the world’s three biggest economies.
Geithner, Obama’s nominee for Treasury secretary, also told senators the administration will press China to “adopt a more aggressive stimulus package” to boost its domestic economy. The remarks on manipulation were a shift from President George W. Bush’s team, which stopped short of using the term in criticizing China’s exchange-rate management.
“The signal this sends is not good” for ties between the two nations, said Charles Freeman, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and former top trade negotiator for China at the U.S. Trade Representative’s office. “It opens a Pandora’s box. We need the Chinese to hold onto their Treasury and agency debt.”
Geithner’s comments triggered a drop in Treasuries on concern that demand from China, the largest foreign investor in U.S. government debt, may wane. They may also reignite calls among some U.S. lawmakers for measures to punish trading partners perceived to have undervalued exchange rates.
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“What they can’t work out diplomatically we can work out legislatively,” said Representative Charles Rangel of New York, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over trade issues, in an interview. “The committee has been saying for years” that China has manipulated the yuan’s value, he said.