China paper warns of euro crisis "Black Death"

BEIJING (Reuters) - The "Black Death" of the debt crisis across the euro zone will hurt China's exports, although Beijing's relatively small holdings of euro assets will limit damage to foreign exchange reserves, the nation's top official newspaper said on Monday.

The bleak diagnosis for the euro appeared in the overseas edition of the People's Daily, the main newspaper of China's ruling Communist Party, in a commentary by a former central bank official and an economist for the state-owned China Development Bank.

"The euro debt crisis has now been going for nearly two years since the end of 2009, and the sovereign debt crisis has spread like the Black Death of the fourteenth century across the euro zone countries," said the commentary, referring to the rodent-borne pandemic that devastated Europe.

Although the commentary in the People's Daily does not reflect a definitive view from China's most senior leaders, it and other comments in the official press suggest the euro zone's successive crises have caused anxiety and debate in Beijing about the impact on China.

"But the euro debt crisis will lead to a decline in real demand that will have a far-reaching impact on our country's real economy," they wrote.

The commentary came only days before French President Nicolas Sarkozy is due to meet Chinese President Hu Jintao in Beijing for impromptu talks that will probably focus on the recent turbulence in global financial markets.

Separately, the main, domestic edition of the People's Daily said there were no "safe havens" from turbulence triggered by European and U.S. debt problems.

"There is a long-term trend toward international capital flowing to emerging markets in Asia," said a commentary in the paper's domestic edition. "But at least for now, Asian currencies are still not a new safe haven."

About a quarter of China's foreign currency reserves of more than $3 trillion are held in euro assets, analysts estimate. Beijing does not disclose such numbers.

The 27-member EU bloc is China's biggest trade partner, with bilateral trade in goods in 2010 reaching 395 billion euros ($570 billion), a rise of 13.9 percent, according to EU statistics. Chinese exports to the EU reached 281.9 billion euros in 2010, a rise of 18.9 percent on 2009.

Chinese leaders, including Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, have repeatedly expressed confidence that debt-laden European nations can overcome their problems and return to healthy growth.

Speaking in Germany in June, Wen said his country could buy the sovereign debt of some troubled euro zone nations if needed.

But the People's Daily overseas edition said the euro zone's problems reflected deep-seated institutional failings that needed to be fixed for Europe to recover confidence and strong growth.

"The euro zone should reform the institutional constraints to economic development, and show a responsible attitude regarding the links between their countries' and their region's economic development and global economic and financial stability," wrote the two economists.

($1 = 0.694 Euros)

(Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Ken Wills and Daniel Magnowski)