European woes will take G-20 spotlight off Obama

Sarkozy, Merkel to grab star roles

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Senate Democrats, spurred by allies in Big Labor, last month passed legislation that calls for tariffs on Chinese goods to offset an artificially cheap Chinese yuan, reflecting concern that a trade imbalance with China is causing the loss of U.S. jobs.

House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, called the legislation “dangerous policy” but urged Mr. Obama to take a stand on China’s currency.

Mr. Obama has stopped short of supporting the Senate legislation but has said he thinks China is “gaming” international trade by holding down the value of the yuan. The issue could gain prominence in the 2012 presidential race.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a leading contender for the GOP nomination, has said he would label China as a currency manipulator and take the case to the World Trade Organization.

China is already the largest holder of U.S. debt, with more than $1.1 trillion as of August. A bailout of Europe by the Chinese would expand their influence in America’s biggest market.

Ms. Conley said while European leaders “want to have the rescue, they’re also quite concerned about what is the policy quid pro quo for this.” China has long sought full market-economy status from the EU, which would boost its trade advantages.

“Will they see demands by China, for example, for the EU to grant market economy status?” she asked. “Will they see pressure to change their position on the EU arms embargo? There’s multiple levels of concern.”

Chinese Prime Minster Wen Jiabao has said that gaining market-economy status would “contribute to our friendship.”

Ms. Conley also said the Chinese might be “relieved” that the European debt crisis is likely to deflect questions about their currency valuation at the G-20.

Colin Bradford, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the Center for International Governance and Innovation, said the G-20 is the proper place for the U.S. to confront questions of China’s expanding influence in Europe.

“Get used to it,” Mr. Bradford said.

“They’re going to be at the table or in your face. You want to be in the room with people with whom you differ the most.”

The two-day G-20 summit will include the heads of the leading industrial nations as well as rising developing powers such as China, India and Brazil.

The European Union is the United States’ biggest trading partner, and Mr. Obama wants to prevent any more of the economic “head winds” coming out of Europe from rattling the fragile U.S. economy.

Some observers doubt whether Mr. Obama brings the debt-reduction credibility, or the leverage, to make much of an impact on the European crisis.

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