China, the world's second-largest economy, yesterday said the next World Bank president should be selected on merit, going against a tradition that dictates the bank's head is an American.
World Bank President Robert Zoellick has said he will step down on June 30 at the end of a five-year term, during which he led the bank's response to the global financial crisis.
Foreign Minister spokesman Liu Weimin said: "China hopes that the World Bank will select the next president of the World Bank based on the merit principle of open and fair competition."
A non-American president would be a break from the informal agreement that dates back to the bank's founding almost 68 years ago. The bank's president is an American under that agreement and the head of its sister institution, the International Monetary Fund, is a European.
In announcing Zoellick's departure, the board of the 187-nation organisation said it would begin looking for a new president under guidelines directors adopted in 2011 calling for an "open, merit-based and transparent selection" process.
There is no guarantee that a non-American will be chosen to head the bank, although China and other countries with growing economic clout have been exerting pressure for a change in the US-European arrangement.
The IMF was supposed to follow the same open selection guidelines when it searched for a new managing director last year. It chose a European, former French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde.
The World Bank is an international financial institution that provides loans to developing countries. The IMF helps countries when they are hit with financial crises. Both are based in Washington.