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French finance minister visits China seeking support for top IMF job

By Eunice Yoon, CNN
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Lagarde in China to campaign for IMF job
  • French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde calls Chinese visit "very satisfying"
  • Lagarde is vying for the post of IMF chief
  • A sex scandal forced IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn to resign last month

Beijing (CNN) -- French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde just wrapped up two days in China, her latest stop on her world tour to woo emerging nations to support her candidacy for chief of the International Monetary Fund.

Lagarde on Thursday called her visit "very satisfying," before departing China for her next stop, Portugal.

"I'm confident. I'm very positive about the meetings that I've had so far," Lagarde said, referring to her multi-nation charm offensive. "My sense is that it's too early to count the chickens, if I may say."

At a Thursday meeting with reporters at the French ambassador's residence in Beijing, Lagarde said she had spent her two-day visit meeting with top Chinese officials, Among them, Vice Premier Wang Qishan, Finance Minister Xie Xuren, and People's Bank of China Governor Zhou Xiaochuan.

China is the latest stop for Lagarde after visits to India and Brazil. Her meetings in those countries have been described as warm, but the 55-year-old lawyer failed to secure outright support from their leaders. Developing nations have long been lobbying for greater representation and leadership at the world lending body, which has historically been headed by Europeans.

Read correspondent Eunice Yoon's blog on Lagarde's global tour

In Portugal, Lagarde is scheduled to meet with representatives of African governments. From there, the French finance minister is scheduled to travel to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and Cairo, Egypt for meetings over the weekend.

Battle to the IMF finish line

After a sex scandal forced the resignation of IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn, some emerging countries have argued the vacancy is a chance for developing world nations to place one of their own in the job. That, or base their support for candidates on the condition that they will gain greater influence with the IMF.

So far, China has not officially backed any candidate for the top post, though Chinese leaders reaffirmed to Lagarde their view that the process should be "open, transparent, and the selection merit-based, irrespective of nationality," she said.

However, an editorial published Thursday in The Financial News, a state-run newspaper published by the People's Bank of China, has prompted speculation that the government favors Lagarde. The editorial does not amount to an official position taken by the Chinese government.

"The situation is clearer that she has almost nailed the victory," said Chen Fengying, a government researcher with the World Economy Institute of the Institute of Contemporary International Relations in Beijing. "She faces no real opposition in the bidding to head the IMF."

Chen's remarks were included in the front page editorial.

Mexico's central bank governor, Agustin Carstens, is currently Lagarde's main rival but has not yet won widespread support from the developing world. Carstens is scheduled to visit China on June 16.

Lagarde pledged that under her leadership, the IMF would continue to reform itself to better reflect the rising influence of the emerging world.

"The IMF does not belong to anybody. It belongs to 187 members of the fund," Lagarde said. "And the management of the fund does not belong to any particular nation or region."

When asked about handing some of that responsibility to China's Zhu Min, who is a special adviser to the IMF managing director, Lagarde said it would be "fully appropriate, if he played a key role in the management of the fund."

Patrick Chovanec, associate professor at Tsinghua University's School of Economics and Management in Beijing, said a challenge for developing nations is that they have failed to rally behind one common candidate. Despite their growing economic power, countries such as China, he said, are reluctant to take on greater responsibility in global affairs.

"China wants someone to listen to their point of view," Chovanec said. "But taking on a genuine leadership position is something more than they want to chew."

The IMF's 24-member executive board is scheduled to elect a new chief June 30.