2011/06/08

Lagarde arrives in China on IMF tour

BEIJING, June  8, 2011 (AFP) - French finance minister Christine Lagarde arrived in China on Wednesday as she pursues a global charm offensive trying to persuade sceptical emerging countries to back her bid to lead the IMF.

Lagarde, a 55-year-old former lawyer seeking to be the first female managing director of the International Monetary Fund, travelled to Beijing from India, where a day of talks with Indian leaders did not yield any public endorsement.

China, India and other emerging nations have baulked at Europe's traditional lock on the top job at the Washington-based IMF, calling the arrangement outdated, so that their support is seen as key to the success of Lagarde's bid.

A French embassy official said she was to kick the day off with talks with central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan, followed by a meeting with Vice Premier Wang Qishan -- China's top official on financial affairs.

She plans to meet Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi later in the afternoon before a dinner meeting with Finance Minister Xie Xuren.

Lagarde is seen as the frontrunner to replace Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who resigned last month after his arrest on sexual assault charges. He pleaded not guilty in a New York court on Monday to the attempted rape of a hotel maid.

Two weeks ago, France's chief government spokesman Francois Baroin said China -- the world's second-largest economy -- was "favourable to the candidacy of Christine Lagarde", but did not offer any evidence to back up his statement.

China's foreign ministry subsequently said the choice of a new IMF chief should be based on "openness, transparency and merit, and better represent emerging markets and better reflect changes in the world economic structure".

Lagarde -- who has already visited Brazil, another major emerging economy -- has pledged to reform the IMF to give emerging and developing countries more power.

Indian Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said Tuesday after meeting Lagarde that the choice of an IMF chief should be based on "merit" and "competence".

He added that talks with Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa -- who make up the the so-called BRICS bloc along with India -- aimed at agreeing on a joint candidate were continuing.

Much could hinge on whether China unites with other BRICS nations rather than doing its own deal with Europe and the United States, with some reports suggesting China is seeking to place its own candidate as Lagarde's number two.

Lagarde is to give a press conference on Thursday in Beijing before heading on Friday to Lisbon, where African finance ministers and central bankers will be meeting for the African Development Bank's annual gathering.

The only other serious IMF contender, Mexico's central bank chief Agustin Carstens, visited Canada on Tuesday and was to head to India on Friday on a tour that has already seen him stop off in Brazil and Argentina.

The deadline for nominations is on Friday, leaving only a few days for anyone else to emerge.