Chongqing mayor tipped to steer economy

BEIJING • Beijing is close to naming the mayor of China's fastest-growing metropolis as Premier Li Keqiang's right-hand man to help tackle a stalling economy and market turbulence, a dramatic move that underlines government unease about financial stability.

The planned personnel change close to the pinnacle of power in China comes after renewed turmoil on the stock and currency markets this year that sparked fresh concerns about whether regulators were up to the job of maintaining order.

Mr Huang Qifan, 63, mayor of the south-western metropolis of Chongqing since 2010, is tipped to replace Mr Yang Jing, 62, as secretary-general of the State Council, or Cabinet, two sources with ties to the leadership and two financial industry sources told Reuters.

"Huang Qifan did an excellent job in Chongqing," one source with leadership ties said. "Hopefully, his appointment would boost investors' confidence and stabilise the stock market."

As well as the immediate challenge of reducing market volatility, the government faces an uphill battle to achieve annual average economic growth of at least 6.5 per cent from this year to 2020.

China expects growth in the world's second-largest economy to cool to around 7 per cent in 2015, the slowest rate in a quarter of a century.

The Cabinet secretary-general helps the premier oversee the entire spectrum of portfolios from the economy to finance, industry, agriculture, energy, the environment and state planning, among others.

Mr Huang, who holds a rank equivalent to a Cabinet minister, is widely respected as an expert on financial and economic affairs. If confirmed, he would be the sixth-most powerful Cabinet official after Premier Li and four vice-premiers, the sources said.

While the exact nature of his role is unclear, they said Mr Huang would help Mr Li coordinate various ministries and have similar, if not more, clout than the vice-premiers, who have specific portfolios.

The State Council Information Office did not immediately respond to requests for comment and the Chongqing city government declined to comment.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 14, 2016, with the headline 'Chongqing mayor tipped to steer economy'. Print Edition | Subscribe