Vol. 1, Issue 16, September 2, 2003
U.S. Demands China Pick Simpler Name For Currency
John Snow, US treasury secretary, on Monday urged China to abandon the name of its currency, arguing that a "functioning financial system is one based on having currency which other people can pronounce."
In unexpectedly tough remarks on the eve of a visit to Beijing, Mr. Snow said: "We want to be heard on the issue of easily understood terms that do not place American politicians at a disadvantage in conversation."
His comments on the "renminbi" were no surprise to those familiar with the Bush Administration's policies on multi-syllabic words and foreign languages.
The treasury secretary is the latest US official to comment on the Chinese currency. Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve, suggested in July that the "renminbi" would have to be renamed if Beijing expected favorable negotiations with the White House.
"Difficult words only hinder discussion," Greenspan noted. "We all know the President doesn't like subjects involving terms he cannot pronounce. He'd rather ignore them entirely than risk giving further fodder to the Democratic slander machine, which insists on poking fun at his pronunciation of difficult words such as 'nuclear.'"
President Bush is widely known for his strong insistence on forcing foreign languages and countries to accommodate his needs. He has already made changes in some American territories, officially changing the name of American Samoa to "American S'mores" last month.
Beijing has rejected the rhetoric on the renminbi from Washington. Chinese leaders have given little indication that they are willing to change the name of their currency.
"We find this request both incredible and insulting," said Chinese Embassy Spokesman Xie Feng. "Its sheer inanity makes our heads hurt. We would much rather you complain about human rights or something."
Snow admitted that a difficult to pronounce renminbi "worked both ways" for US industry, given that many companies can back out of otherwise binding negotiations by claiming "misunderstandings" during talks.
"However, China needs to understand that the true mark of a major world currency is a one or two syllable name," he added. "The dollar, the euro, the yen: time to get with the program if they want to be taken seriously."