Planet Money
11:01 pm
Thu February 16, 2012

What It Feels Like In China When Europe Comes Asking For Help

Jiang Shixue is describing to me one of the most exciting moments of his life: The moment earlier this month when one of the most important people in Europe — German Chancellor Angela Merkel — came to visit his workplace.

"She said that the EU would be happy to see if China can offer a kind of helping hand," says Jiang, an academic at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Merkel never actually said the word "money," or "help." She said "cooperation" a lot. But Jiang says everyone in that auditorium heard one clear message: Europe needs help from China to get through its debt crisis.

"I can't believe that China is now the country that the EU is trying to seek help from," Jiang says. "Twenty-two years ago China was a basket case — a very poor developing country. So I really feel quite proud."

Europe buys a lot of stuff from China. So, Jiang says, it makes sense for China to help Europe. But this idea is hard to sell to Chinese people. No surprise, given that the average Chinese person makes one sixth as much as the average Greek person.

"If you talk to the laymen on the streets they will tell you, Give the money to us, instead of the foreigners,' " says Yu Liang, a civil servant in Beijing.

But the idea that China — a poor country — should be financing the governments of rich countries really isn't so strange. After all, China is one of the world's biggest investors in U.S. Treasury bonds.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.