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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

IMF Unveils New Mission at Meeting

The World Bank and International Monetary Fund proclaimed updated missions Tuesday at the start of their joint annual meeting, putting new emphasis on openness, honesty and social justice among their member nations.

The IMF, traditionally the overseer of countries' debts and currencies, "has focused increasingly on a broader reform agenda," managing director Michel Camdessus told an audience of finance ministers and central bank governors from some 180 countries.

Camdessus said the fund is now speaking out more forcefully about income distribution, "unproductive" military spending by countries with pressing social needs, accountability, corruption and policy transparency.

James Wolfensohn, president of the World Bank, said its work of funding global development is being transformed by a greater willingness to listen to what poor people say they need, and to reach out to often-excluded groups such as ethnic minorities.

Like Camdessus, he urged governments to be more open and attack corruption -- topics that until recently were rarely raised by the two financial institutions on the grounds that these were countries' internal affairs.

Officials from more than a dozen nations followed Camdessus and Wolfensohn to the podium in Hong Kong's soaring, glass-fronted convention hall. Two themes emerged again and again, as they have during several days of IMF- and bank-related meetings.

They were the question of whether the two institutions infringe on national sovereignty when they link aid with good government; and how much power states can or should have to control their markets when the trend is for free global flows of goods and money.

Speaking as the head of the host nation, Chinese Premier Li Peng insisted that economic aid must come without political conditions, and that nations must be free to choose development paths suited to their own conditions.

"Such practices as bullying the weaker or less fortunate by dint of one's power or wealth should not go unchecked," Li said.

"Still less should countries be allowed to impose sanctions, or threaten to do so at every turn, against others," he said in a tacit slap at the United States.

Washington has repeatedly used the threat of sanctions in negotiations with China to lower trade barriers, curb copyright violations and end human rights abuses. Li said many developing countries were struggling with an unjust and inequitable world economic order which has left 1.3 billion people in poverty.

"The prosperity and affluence of a small number of countries cannot last long on the basis of poverty and backwardness of the majority countries," Li said.

He said developed countries could provide technology and capital, while developing countries can offer natural resources, labor and potential markets.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, who used his speech to the annual meeting to champion free capital markets, also met Tuesday with financial officials from the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. They discussed the idea of setting up some kind of Asian fund to help countries whose currencies come under market attack.