China to buy EUR6.0 bn of Spanish debt: report

6th January 2011, Comments 0 comments

Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang has said Beijing is willing to buy about EUR6.0 billion worth of Spanish public debt, Spanish newspaper El Pais reported on Thursday, citing government sources.

Li told Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero during a meeting in Madrid on Wednesday that China "was willing to buy as much Spanish debt as its Greek and Portuguese debt holdings combined, that is some six billion euros ($7.9 billion)," it said.

The newspaper could not confirm the figure with Li but spoke to China' Vice Minister of Commerce Gao Hucheng who said that any transaction would be determined according to the date and size of any public debt issue.

Spain celebrates the Epiphany holiday on Thursday and no one from the Spanish government was immediately available to comment on the report.

In an op-ed piece in El Pais on Monday, one day ahead of his arrival in Madrid for a three-day official visit, Li said China was confident Spain would recover from its economic crisis and would continue to buy Spanish government bonds, without specifying a figure.

"We have confidence in the Spanish financial market, which has been translated into the acquisition of its public debt, something we will continue to do in the future," he said.

Spain was the first stop of Li's three-nation tour of Europe that will also include Germany and Britain.

Li, who is considered next in line to replace Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, will visit Germany between January 6-9 and Britain between January 9-12.

Zaparero's Socialist government has slashed spending and raised taxes to rein in a ballooning public deficit and ease market fears that Spain will need an EU bailout like the ones granted Ireland and Greece last year.

Financial markets are concerned that many Spanish borrowers will not be able to refinance their debts this year at a time when investors are nervous about taking on any European risk.

Spain's central government must raise about EUR170 billion this year on top of EUR30 billion by the country's regional government's according to debt ratings agency Moody's.

Any bailout for Spain would be far bigger than anything seen to date in Europe -- its economy is twice that of Greece, Ireland and Portugal combined -- and many fear it could force a re-think of the euro.

China has the world's biggest foreign exchange reserves at $2.648 trillion, with a large chunk -- nearly $907 billion -- parked in low-yielding US Treasuries but a growing portion invested in euro assets.

Analysts say that stabilising the economy in the EU -- the top destination for China's exports -- is in the interest of the Asian country which still largely depends on exports to drive economic growth.

But they warn that China would not be able resolve Europe's protracted debt crisis.

"Europe's problems are deeply structural in nature and are not something that China will necessarily be able to solve," said Mark Williams, a senior economist at London-based research firm Capital Economics.

"It can paper over the cracks perhaps for a few weeks but it can't solve them."

Spain has vowed to lower its publci deficit from 11.1 percent of economic output in 2009, the third-highest level in the EU after Ireland and Greece, to an EU limit of 3.0 percent by 2013.

© 2011 AFP

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