President Obama increased pressure on China to immediately revalue its currency on Thursday, devoting most of a two-hour meeting with China’s prime minister to the issue and sending the message, according to one of his top aides, that if “the Chinese don’t take actions, we have other means of protecting U.S. interests.”
But Prime Minister Wen Jiabao barely budged beyond his familiar talking points about gradual “reform” of China’s currency policy, leaving it unclear whether Mr. Obama’s message would change Beijing’s economic or political calculus.
Democrats in Congress are threatening to pass legislation before the midterm elections that would slap huge tariffs on Chinese goods to undermine the advantages Beijing has enjoyed from a currency, the renminbi, that experts say is artificially weakened by 20 to 25 percent.
Mr. Obama’s aides said he was embracing the threat of tariffs and new trade actions against China at the World Trade Organization to gain some leverage over the Chinese, but was also trying to head off any action that would lead to a destructive trade war.
While the United States has been pressing China for years to lift the strict controls on its currency, which keep Chinese exports competitive and more factory workers employed, American voters and lawmakers have only recently seized on exchange rates as a potent political issue. Mr. Obama pressed much harder on Thursday than during a visit to Beijing last year, perhaps because a Chinese commitment several months ago to allow the value of the currency to rise has resulted in a change of less than 2 percent.
This is getting interesting.