PARIS: China would support Finance Minister Christine Lagarde as the next IMF chief, French government said on Tuesday backing which would put her firmly in pole position to succeed Dominique Strauss-Kahn.
Lagarde has emerged as the leading candidate to replace Strauss-Kahn who quit last week fighting sexual assault charges in New York, although Mexico is pushing the claims of its central bank chief and many emerging nations have said it is time for Europe's 60-year grip on the job to be relaxed.
European governments want to retain their traditional control over the leadership of the multilateral lender while it is involved in major bailouts of Greece, Ireland and Portugal.
A number, including Britain and Italy, have already said they would back Lagarde and Ireland added its support on Tuesday.
"It's a European consensus," France's budget minister and government spokesman Francois Baroin told Europe 1 radio, asked about Lagarde as a possible contender for the job.
"The euro needs our attention, we need to have the Europeans (on board), the Chinese support the candidacy of Christine Lagarde," he said.
China's foreign ministry said it had no comment on whether Beijing would back Lagarde, a 55-year-old former lawyer, to lead the International Monetary Fund.
Last week, the head of China's central bank, Zhou Xiaochuan, said the IMF's future leadership should reflect the growing stature of emerging economies, but he stopped short of saying its new boss should be from an emerging economy.
Ireland's Europe Minister Lucinda Creighton said it was quite likely Ireland would back a Lagarde candidacy.
"Already you have the backing of New Zealand and a number of European member states for Christine Lagarde.
I think it's quite possible that the U.S. will row in behind her as well," Irish Europe Minister Lucinda Creighton told state broadcaster RTE.
The leadership race was triggered by Strauss-Kahn's resignation last week, after a New York hotel maid accused him of attempted rape.
A "gentleman's agreement" has always had a European lead the IMF and an American the World Bank but fast-growing emerging nations are seeking a larger role in global organisations.
Sources in Washington have said it would back a European for the post. The United States and European nations jointly hold more than half of the IMF's votes, giving them enough power to decide who leads it.
The fund is currently being run by its No. 2 official, John Lipksy, who has said he wants to step down in August, and it has set a June 30 deadline to pick a permanent head.
On Monday, Mexico sought support for its central bank governor, Agustin Carstens, but Brazil appeared reluctant to back him, saying more time was needed to make a choice.
Brazilian government sources said some officials feel Carstens is a long-shot for the job.
Russia has said it would back Kazakhstan's central bank chief, Grigory Marchenko, and sources have said South African politician Trevor Manuel could also emerge as a candidate.
Lagarde, a skilled negotiator and fluent English-speaker who was named the euro zone's best finance minister last year by the Financial Times, has not commented on her possible nomination but few doubt she would want the job.
Ringing the opening bell at the NYSE Euronext exchange in Paris on Tuesday, Lagarde grinned at reporters asking about her possible nomination, but dodged answering their questions.
Copyright Reuters, 2011