Maybe China should bail out Europe

Call it a “bailout,” a “rescue” or a “refinancing.” By whatever label, it probably couldn’t work without China. It has the money to become, in effect, Europe’s lead banker. Its foreign exchange reserves total $3.2 trillion and are growing by hundreds of billions of dollars a year. But the United States and Europe don’t want to call China, and the Chinese don’t seem to want to be called. The result: stalemate.

It’s easy to understand why. Americans and Europeans don’t want to cede power to China, whose goals are suspect. China might seek a new world order based on China’s interests, while ditching the existing system of “open, rules-based trade,” writes economist Arvind Subramanian in his book “Eclipse: Living in the Shadow of China’s Economic Dominance.” China’s involvement would probably trigger an uproar in the United States and Europe, with unpredictable consequences. Similarly, China apparently disdains the choices it would face. How heavy-handed would it be in lending? How would it deal with losses?…

Historians blame the Great Depression’s severity in part on poor international cooperation. Economist Charles Kindleberger found a vacuum of power: Great Britain, the old economic leader, could no longer lead alone; and the United States — a replacement — wasn’t ready to help. Is there a parallel today between the United States and China? Are we repeating the mistakes of the 1930s? Unsettling questions.