French President Nicolas Sarkozy chairs the G-20 this year and has focused on the reform of the international monetary system. I was invited by the French Finance Minister and the central bank Governor to join the High Level G-20 Seminar in Nanjing March 31 on that subject as one of the lead speakers (of which there were quite a few). The G-20 is the group of industrial and emerging market countries that has replaced the G-7 industrial countries as the lead forum for global economic policy coordination. This meeting was attended by the Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors of the G-20 countries or their deputies, heads of international financial organizations (like the IMF), and some academics like me.
The Nanjing meeting was opened by Vice Premier of the Peoples Republic of China (PRC), Wang Qishan, and French President Sarkozy. For this opening session I was seated next to a Germany delegate who was kind enough to explain to me who various people around us were and what was going on. The opening was delayed for an hour waiting for President Sarkozy to arrive. The President was grandstanding the Deputy Governor explained to me. “Don’t you find it strange,” he asked, “that the Vice Premier rather than the Premier is opening the meeting and doing so in front of the French and EU flags with no PRC flag?” “Well, yes, that is very strange.” I replied. “This is because,” he continued, “the Chinese government didn’t really want such a meeting in China. The issue of the exchange rate of the Chinese currency would have to come up. It was agreed, however, that the China Center for International Economic Exchanges (CCIEE) would host the seminar on behalf of the PRC. So no Chinese Premier and no Chinese flag.” I should always be lucky enough to sit next to a German.
After the long wait, President Sarkozy delivered an excellent opening speech. He is an impressive performer. His several references to “my friend Tim,” while nodding to U.S. Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner, sitting in the front row, seemed perfectly natural and effective.
Nanjing is famous as the capital of the Ming and several other Dynasties and for its food. The food of each region of China is distinct. I can’t really explain the differences but the food here in Nanjing is very good. During the Seminar luncheon I sat next to the Finance Minister of Japan, who complimented me on my chopstick skills. I explained that I had been using them from childhood. On the rare occasions that my parents could afford to take us out for dinner, we went to a Chinese restaurant (they were cheaper). Thus Chinese restaurants were very special in my mind and like all kids I was eager to learn all that I could, including how to use chopsticks.
My own session was chaired by Christian Noyer, Governor of the Bank of France, and moderated by George Osborne, Minister of Finance of the U.K (Chancellor of the Exchequer as they call it in the U.K.). Following strict instructions from Ito and Ken Weisbrode, I informed Mr. Osborne that his wife’s novels were much enjoyed by some of my friends, though I had never read one myself. He was pleased and informed me that her next one would be out soon. During our session Minister Osborne replied to a procedural question with the remark that “As is often the case, the British are operating under the instructions of the French.” Delicious.
My presentation on the SDR, the International Monetary Fund’s reserve asset, was made sitting directly across the table from Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the Managing Director of the IMF and Robert Mundell, a friend and a Nobel prize winner in economics. I could not have wished for a better audience for my three-minute summary of my radical suggestions, which you can find here: http://global-currencies.org/smi/gb/home.php.
I was sitting next to Kevin Warsh, a Governor on the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (the U.S. central bank), and while waiting for our session to get underway I could not resist telling him about a dinner I had with my friend Randy Kroszner, who was also a Governor on the Fed’s Board of Governors at the time. I met Randy at a Belgian restaurant on MacArthur Boulevard in Washington that he wanted to try Tuesday evening September 16, 2008 after his meeting with the Federal Open Market Committee. Lehman Brothers had declared bankruptcy the day before and I was eager to talk to Randy about it. Around 9:00 pm I received a CNN news alert on my Blackberry that the Federal Reserve had saved AIG that day with a $85 billion injection that gave the Fed an 80% equity interest. My jaw dropped. “Randy,” I asked, “how could you sit there all evening and not say a word about this.” He looked uncomfortable and said, “I am afraid that I still can’t comment because I don’t know if CNN is reporting from a Fed Press Release or a leak.” If ever anyone was leak proof it is Randy.
Despite the 12 hour time difference, I was wide awake until the afternoon session on surveillance (no offense Ted Truman, your presentation was very good). The next day, April 1, we were taken sightseeing. We climbed the 391 steps to the Mausoleum of Sun Yet-sen to see his tomb. Each step represented one million Chinese of the population as it was at the time of his death (obviously some time ago). I noticed that our police escort car was a Buick (probably made in China).
The food here in Nanjing is excellent as are our rooms and conference facilities outside the city in the Purple Palace Hotel at the foot of the Purple Mountains. The roads are equally modern and beautifully designed and built. From a distance I can see the modern skyscrapers of the city surrounded by a 600 hundred old 25 kilometer long stone wall. The city was founded 2,500 years ago. Most of the villages, which is where the majority of Chinese still live, remain very poor. But increasingly the hundreds of millions of Chinese in the major cities live in surprisingly modern and vibrant housing and surroundings. Most people visiting china are shocked.