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Asian Monetary Fund?

Is IMF still relevant, even in the time of crisis, to Asian economies? The Journal ponders the possibility of AMF.

Asia's finance ministers are getting a little cozier.

After nearly a decade of scant progress on regional support systems, governments are making plans to shore up defenses against a fast-worsening global economic crisis.

[Forex reserves]

Already planned is an $80 billion pool of reserves against which central banks can borrow. China, South Korea, and Japan would contribute 80% of that, with the rest coming from the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Bilateral deals are in the works as well. South Korea's central bank is working to expand a currency swap deal with China which, according to Korean press reports, could equal one in place with the U.S. Federal Reserve.

The talks showcase Asia's collective financial strength, a gargantuan $4.4 trillion worth of foreign exchange reserves, and have some wondering if the natural extension of this cooperation isn't the creation of a regional alternative to the International Monetary Fund.

Skepticism about what's dubbed the Asian Monetary Fund is warranted. This is an old idea, floated ten years ago by the likes of Eisuke Sakakibara, then Japan's vice finance minister for international affairs. Mr. Sakakibara renewed that call this week.

But there are a few reasons this idea could get more traction than it has in the past, not the least of which is the credit crunch.

The IMF may find itself unable to swat down the idea as it did when the economic crisis was of Asia's own making. The body is adamant that its $200 billion war chest is ample, but Ukraine, Hungary and Iceland are already asking for its help and a wave of problems in the Baltic states could stretch its resources further.

Asian leaders still cringe at the thought of the IMF's one-size-fits-all austerity programs of a decade ago. Pakistan, for one, approached China before starting serious talks on aid with the IMF.

China would certainly play a key role in any pan-Asian initiative in ways it doesn't at the IMF. There, Belgium and the Netherlands together have more votes than China does.

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