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Geithner Goes to China
U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, third from right, speaks during a meeting with Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan, third from left, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, Monday, June 1, 2009. Geithner said Monday that the global recession seemed to be losing force but that it will be critical for the United States and China to

U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, third from right, speaks during a meeting with Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan, third from left, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Monday, June 1, 2009. (AP)

While Barack Obama was dealing with the bankruptcy of GM yesterday, U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner was in Beijing, dealing with what may be even bigger issues for the USA.

China is now the biggest holder of U.S. government debt. When the U.S. spends money on GM or Iraq or stimulus at home, that is — in a very real sense — China’s money.

Geithner was there to make sure Chinese leaders believe the U.S. is good for it. A new poll, out while he was there, found 87 percent of Chinese respondents believe it is not.

This hour, On Point: Soothing America’s banker — China.

You can join the conversation. Tell us what you think — here on this page, on Twitter, and on Facebook.


Joining us from Beijing is James Fallows, national correspondent and widely read blogger for The Atlantic. He’s been based in China since 2006, and his latest book, “Postcards from Tomorrow Square,” collects his articles for the magazine during that time. His piece “Be Nice to the Countries That Lend You Money,” an interview with the president of China Investment Corporation, appeared in the December 2008 issue.

In our studio we’re joined by Li Jin, professor of finance at Harvard Business School. He has taught at Fudan University in Shanghai and served as a consultant for Shanghai International Securities Co. Ltd.

And from New York we’re joined by Brad Setser, economist and fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He has worked at the U.S. Treasury Department and the International Monetary Fund. You can read his latest thoughts at his blog, Follow the Money.

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  • Isabel

    In response to Tom’s question, what does it feel like, the US with hat in hand going to China as its banker; it feels awful, Tom. We should have “let China sleep” as Napoleon said. Whose brilliant idea was it to move our manufacturing base offshore to China anyway? All those cheap goods were the Trojan Horse to our own ruin. Who benefitted from that? The US worker? Obviously not.

    To quote another, Ben Franklin said something about debt being the equivalent of slavery. I don’t like the Chinese record on worker’s rights, human rights, religious freedom, freedom of speech, right to petition government. I wouldn’t like to have to adjust our way of life to theirs, but we are probably headed in that direction, as their debtors. I don’t know if there’s anything that can be done about it. It’s really too bad.

  • Jack

    Hi Tom,
    Great show!
    I am skeptical about China’s holding on US Treasury Bonds. My inner mind says it has some evil intention. What guarantee we have from China that it will not threaten, say through North Korea, if we do not reduce our fiscal deficit?
    Thank you.

  • http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/june/4/newsid_2496000/2496277.stm Frederic C.

    To blazes with what Bush et. al. did; Bush does not epitomize America.

    America certainly does not have a perfect record but it does have a lot of marks in the ‘done good’ column.






  • neal

    China has 5 thousand yrs old history, June 4th is a chapter of that history. Chinese people also rised up against western invasions, reclaiming their homeland from the western invaders, that is also an important part of china’s history:

    The NPR should also mark that as an important anniversary, to remind the public every year how the west used to loot, murder in china, fueling china’s civil war, causing millions lives lost, and how heroic chinese people are in the face of western invasion.

    By only emphasizing on June 4th, it shows NPR is just another biased western media, NPR will never gain any recognitions from the chinese audience and any fair minded western listeners

  • Frederic C.

    ‘Neal,’ don’t forget a couple of chapters for exploitation by Japan. Another for the Rape of Nanking.

    Neal, so ah, people shouldn’t talk about the liquidation of demonstrators in Tiananmen Squre?

  • Bob G

    This trip was all theatrics. Of course the Chinese realize that we will default on our obligations through monetization which is why china has
    - increased its gold reserves from 454 tons to over 1,000 tons
    - is rolling its us treasury into the short end of the curve so that they can let it mature over time
    - is acquiring real assets (oil rights) in the sudan, south america, etc.

    Do you honestly believe that they will continue to provide vendor financing to US consumers indefinitely?

  • neal

    ‘Federic’, no one said that ppl shouldn’t talk about the June 4th.

    What troubling is that some western media or some individual, Only singled out 1 event from hundreds important historic events out of china’s 5 thousands yr old history. It is neither fair nor balanced, it is biased.

    Talking about June 4th is fine, let’s also talk about the looting and murdering by the west as well. Let’s also talk about the Brits were kick out of HK, and HK continue to prosper to today.

  • Waiting Out


    Do you typical attract brain dead zombies to your program? Just a question arising from curiosity, especially this fellow Frederic.

  • Frederic C.

    06041989 will forever symbolize what an authoritarian government by necessity must to do to keep control.

    Tiananmen Square was the epitome of the ‘audacity of hope.’

    Tiananmen Square is the bare truth. It is a window into China.

    You cannot know China without knowing Tiananmen Square.

    month = 06
    day = 04
    year = 1989

  • Felipe

    Borrowing from poor people to pay poor people?
    Poor people expecting power in exchange for their poverty?
    Satanic evil lurks beneath the veil…

  • Rob L.

    If the free market was controlling currencies then there would be no need for this conversation. The Chinese Yuan would rise against the dollar, U.S. goods would become relatively cheaper, and trade would balance. This is Ec. 101.

    But the Chinese buy treasuries to keep the dollar high and the Yuan low. Now they have $1 trillion. Which have basically been bought in order to subsidize Chinese exporters.

    So the Chinese have already gotten the “value” for their treasuries – they’ve pumped up their manufacturing industry. If they want “value”, they should let the Yuan rise so their people can afford to buy more. It’s that simple. Anything else is just a smoke screen.

  • Richard

    The problem is that China is using a model of “trade” that went out with button shoes. No longer is the accumulation of “money” the reason for trade; now trade is to keep goods flowing and people working. Instead of buying treasuries (and, to a lesser extent, equities) with their trade surpluses, China should be buying American manufactured goods. If they don’t want American goods, let them buy Japanese, or French, or Russian, anything to keep the bucks moving.

    In the meantime, we have boxed ourselves into a corner with the various trade agreements. Other countries complain about our fiscal problems, but by treaty we can’t do the obvious thing to raise revenues — a tax on imported goods.

    By the way, it was Nixon that started the re-opening of China. I recall reading many articles hyping the thought that China was a nation of a billion would-be consumers, i.e. at the time some commentators viewed China as a market. I remember thinking, “Right — a billion consumers with an aggregate disposable income of about $1 billion.”

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