TOKYO, Oct 9 (AFP): US Treasury Secretary John Snow was due here today to launch a regional tour set to be dominated by US calls for deep-seated reform of China's currency and trade regimes.
Snow was also expected to push strident US demands for a revival of the World Trade Organisation's stuttering drive to tear down trade barriers, as the clock ticks down to a crucial meeting in Hong Kong in two months.
Snow was to meet Japanese Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki for talks over dinner Monday at a time of rare hope for the world's second-largest economy after a slump stretching back more than a decade. Tanigaki was also expected to brief Snow "about the timing of the prime minister's reform agenda, including the all-important postal savings reform", the Treasury undersecretary for international affairs, Tim Adams, said.
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's government was convincingly returned to power in an election a month ago, giving the charismatic leader the mandate he wanted to privatise Japan's vast post office service.
The US finance minister is due Tuesday to leave Tokyo for Shanghai for a week-long swing through China, including a meeting next weekend near Beijing of the Group of 20 larger developing countries and rich nations.
The G20 talks are mainly focussed on development issues and reform of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, "though I suspect the top issue will be energy", Adams said.
The G20 meeting comes with high oil prices straining economies in both the developed and developing worlds. It also comes in the run-up to the WTO ministerial gathering in December.
Following stops in Shanghai and the western city of Chengdu, Snow's tour will climax after the G20 with an annual meeting of the Sino-US Joint Economic Commission (JEC) in Beijing.
A top-level US team led by Snow and Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan will thrash out a heavy agenda with senior Chinese officials including Finance Minister Jin Renqing and central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan. While welcoming recent steps by China to relax its currency, the US administration says the yuan remains undervalued against the dollar -- at the cost, it complains, of millions of US jobs lost to cheap Chinese imports.
The United States is also angry at a surge in Chinese textile exports and what it calls "rampant" copyright abuses by Chinese manufacturers illegally aping US brands.
While the currency dispute has dominated coverage of Sino-US affairs for months, Adams said Washington has other demands on China that it sees as just as important for both the Chinese and global economies.