U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said he was confident that China would see that it is in its own interest to make the yuan more flexible, while Beijing stoutly defended its currency policy.
Geithner, who said global economic recovery "looks quite strong now,'' also said on Tuesday it was "China's choice'' whether or not it revalues the yuan.
"As I said before and I'll say it again, but I want to make sure I am repeating myself, I am confident that China will decide it's in their interest to resume the move to a more flexible exchange rate that they began some years ago and suspended in the midst of the crisis,'' he told India's NDTV.
In Beijing, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman and two government economists held out the prospect of the yuan being allowed to resume its rise after a 20-month pause but said at separate briefings that China would proceed with caution and on its own terms.
"We don't want to see our exchange rate kept unchanged,'' said Zhang Yansheng, director-general of the Institute for International Economic Research, a think-tank under the National Development and Reform Commission, a powerful planning agency.
Making the yuan more flexible was a challenging task, not least because of a lack of hedging instruments in China and domestic companies' lack of experience in handling a fluctuating exchange rate, the economist said.
With U.S. unemployment near 10 percent, President Barack Obama is under pressure from Congress to persuade Beijing to allow the yuan to appreciate.
Geithner over the weekend decided to delay a report on whether China manipulates its currency, pledging to work instead through the Group of 20 economies and other multilateral meetings to press for more currency flexibility.
Earlier on Tuesday, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said China never manipulates the yuan and rejected the argument that a firmer yuan would reduce the U.S. trade deficit with China—indicating that Geithner's decision may not have eased tensions over the issue.
After allowing a three-year climb in the yuan, Beijing in July 2008 re-pegged the near 6.83 to the dollar to help its exporters weather the global financial crisis.
Critics, including many U.S. lawmakers, say the yuan's value represents an unfair subsidy that costs jobs in many countries.
Jiang Yu, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said China does not manipulate the yuan and called for trade differences to be settled through dialog.
"The renminbi exchange rate is not the main reason behind the U.S.-China trade deficit,'' Jiang told a regular briefing.
"So naturally, renminbi appreciation is not the solution to rebalance Sino-U.S. trade.'' Financial markets expect Beijing to permit the yuan to resume its rise some time this year in order to cap inflation and help promote domestic demand.
The yuan rose in offshore forward markets on Tuesday as traders read the postponement of the "manipulation'' decision as a sign of an easing in bilateral tensions that could buy time for policymakers in Beijing to reach a consensus.
The market is now pricing in a 3 percent rise against the dollar in a year's time.
Jiang, the Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said China would keep perfecting its "managed floating exchange rate'' but would stick to the three principles it has always followed: any change must be at Beijing's initiative, the manner of the change must be controlled, and it must be gradual.
"We will continue to push forward reform of the exchange rate formation mechanism. The direction will not change,'' she said.
Geithner, in comments after meetings with India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, said he would press for more balanced growth based more on domestic consumption, not exports.
"We're working with countries around the world to make sure there is a level playing field globally so that our companies, as they compete globally, are competing on a fair basis.
That's the general imperative and it goes beyond China,'' he told the NDTV TV channel.
In the wake of last Friday's U.S. Labor Department report showing the U.S. economy grew at its fastest clip in three years, Geithner expressed confidence in global recovery.
"I think the global recovery looks quite strong now. It's much stronger than it was even three months ago. There's much broader confidence about its sustainability,'' Geithner said.
He said the probability of a double dip recession was "much much lower than it was,'' but he added that there was a risk that fiscal stimulus is withdrawn too quickly, throwing it off track.
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