Not-so-tough Talk on China

Why do the spin-meisters keep doing this?

Just when Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is enjoying a rare patch of fairly positive press coverage, the Treasury resorts to one of the oldest and hoariest ruses in the PR handbook for announcing something in a way to attract a bare minimum of public attention.

The WSJ just posted Geithner’s announcement that Treasury is delaying its semi-annual report on currency manipulation, which must either accuse or acquit China of manipulating its currency, the renmimbi, to boost exports.

To his credit, Geithner is openly admitting that he’s delaying the report because he doesn’t want to making the Chinese mad ahead of “high-level meetings” over the next three month. That’s more than the Bush Treasury did; on at least one occasion, it missed the Congressional deadline for months without even bothering to say anything.

But really. Making the announcement on SATURDAY between Passover and Easter? Washington was already almost shut down on Friday as people took an unofficial semi-religious three-day weekend. As if that wasn’t enough, Treasury has not, as of this writing, even posted the statement on its website.

After I complained just now, Treasury sent me the statement. But their attitude seems to be that “openness” amounts to emailing a copy to reporters on the press list on a sunny Saturday before Easter, when nobody wants to work.

Here’s the rub with Geithner. First, the RMB is increasingly out of balance right now for several reasons. Its economy is growing far faster and its exports are booming far more than ours; And China put a halt to its extremely cautious moves to let the RMB rise in value relative to the dollar. Second, there is no reason to believe that polite diplomacy will accomplish any more than it has for the past seven years, which is almost nothing

It’s easy to understand why Geithner wants to avoid publicly brow-beating China. He might even be right. I don’t think so, but reasonable people can disagree. But hiding the announcement makes me suspect that the Obama administration wants to climb down from some of its recent grumbling about exchange rates.

At the least, the cynical maneuvering is a bad tactic to protect a reasonable policy. At worst, its a bad tactic to disguise a really bad policy mistake.

About Edmund L. Andrews 37 Articles

Edmund L. Andrews spent two decades as a business and economics correspondent for The New York Times. During that time, he covered many of the nation ’s most transforming events, from the Internet and biotech revolutions to the emergence of capitalism in central Europe and Russia and the Federal Reserve under Alan Greenspan and Ben S. Bernanke. In 2009 he published BUSTED: Life Inside the Great Mortgage Meltdown (WW Norton), his own harrowingly personal account of the epic financial crisis. He has frequently appeared on major television and radio news programs, from the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer and Today to 20/20, All Things Considered, Lou Dobbs on CNN, the Colbert Show, BBC Worldwide, MSNBC and CNBC.

Ed began his affiliation with The Times in 1988 when he covered patents, telecommunications, and technology. In 1992, he joined the Washington bureau of The Times as a domestic correspondent and reported extensively on the business and politics surrounding the convergence of cable television, the Internet and broadband digital networks. In 1996, Ed became The Times’ European economics correspondent and its Frankfurt bureau chief. He returned to Washington in 2002 and became the bureau’s lead economics correspondent and The Times’ main eyes and ears on the Federal Reserve.

Prior to joining The Times, Ed worked as a magazine writer specializing in business and economics. Before that, he was an assignment editor for Cable News Network in Washington and an education and city government reporter at The Sentinel-Record in Hot Springs, Ark.

Ed graduated magna cum laude from Colgate University in 1978 with high honors in international relations. In 1981, he received a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University. He is married to Patricia Barreiro and has four children – Ryan, Matthew, Daniel and Emily.

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