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China's Hu rebuffs Obama on yuan

aus bus pix Obama G-20 President Barack Obama meets President Hu Jintao on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Seoul Source: AP

CHINA'S President Hu Jintao stood firm against Barack Obama's pressure on currency revaluation in private meetings at the Seoul G20 summit.

Mr Hu told his US counterpart that China will push forward on revamping the yuan exchange-rate mechanism - a long-time goal of US policy - but that such a move requires "a sound external environment" and can proceed only gradually, according to state television and a government spokesman.

He also told Mr Obama that China is paying attention to the US Federal Reserve's decision to pump $US600 billion into the US economy, which critics charge is driving down the value of the dollar.

Mr Hu urged the US to consider the interests of emerging markets, according to Chinese state TV.

Mr Hu’s rebuff over the yuan came as Mr Obama limped toward the close of the summit, weakened by an anaemic economic recovery and an election drubbing that has left world leaders questioning US authority.

The President also failed to secure a free-trade agreement with South Korea by his imposed deadline, a blow to Mr Obama who has pledged to double US exports over the next five years.

The G20 summit is expected to conclude with a communique that papers over differences on fiscal and monetary policy that had burst into the open in the run-up to the gathering.

Under secretary of the US Treasury Lael Brainerd said currency policy dominated the meeting between Mr Obama and Mr Hu after the US president raised it.

"The major reserve-currency issuers, while implementing their monetary policies, should not only take into account their national circumstances but should also bear in mind the possible impacts on the global economy," Zheng Xiaosong, director general of the Ministry of Finance's International Department, reiterated at a press briefing.

That China was emboldened to lecture the US on its currency, a notable reversal of recent meetings, underscores how it and other countries, including Brazil and Germany, have emerged from the global economic crisis faster and more strongly than the US.

Mr Obama found himself in the odd position of having to defend the US's independent central bank.

He was also unable to quell concerns that the US government is deliberately trying to weaken the dollar to boost exports.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said yesterday he would press Mr Obama to explain the Fed's move.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak demurred when asked about it.

"I think that kind of question should be asked to me when President Obama is not standing right next to me," Mr Lee answered.

The US says the policy is designed only to boost US domestic growth, which is critical to the global economy.

It also argues that the dollar's value is correlated to confidence in the US and global recovery.

The meeting of world leaders in Korea kicked off in earnest last night with a large dinner and closed-door meetings focused in part on disputes over currency valuations and trade imbalances.

The leaders are expected to reach several agreements before they adjourn today, namely on financial regulation and the role of the International Monetary Fund.

But the issues that divide them have led officials to quash expectations of a breakthrough on the top issues of currencies and trade.

"When you see the final communique, it will reflect a broad-based consensus about the direction that we need to go," Mr Obama said.

"There may be at any given moment disagreements between countries in terms of particular strategies."

The communique won't include a numerical target for trade surpluses or deficits, which the Obama administration had pushed. Nor is it likely to explicitly pressure China to accelerate increasing the value of the yuan, to make Chinese exports more expensive and to empower Chinese consumers.

Mr Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed to downplay the sniping from officials that dominated the run-up to the summit.

Both resolved to pick up the phone before going public with their frustrations.

"They both agreed that it's not ideal in the run-up of a meeting like the G20 to be reading attacks on specific economic or financial policies in newspapers from Germany or the US," a German official said.

"There was an agreement that in the future, perhaps, there could be better consultation."

Additional reporting: Ian Talley and Patrick McGroarty