China clears way for top Xi adviser to lead financial oversight

Liu He (pictured), a key economic adviser to Chinese President Xi Jinping, is a clear candidate to succeed vice premier Ma Kai who could be stepping down from his post soon.
Liu He (pictured), a key economic adviser to Chinese President Xi Jinping, is a clear candidate to succeed vice premier Ma Kai who could be stepping down from his post soon.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (Bloomberg) - China appointed 71-year-old Vice-Premier Ma Kai to lead a top-level committee on financial oversight, a sign the job may soon pass to the recently-promoted Liu He, a key economic adviser to the President.

President Xi Jinping announced in July the establishment of the State Council Financial Stability and Development Committee at a twice-a-decade National Financial Work Conference, giving it the power to oversee the work of the country's four regulatory bodies.

Having such a high-ranking member lead the committee shows that curbing risk in China's US$40 trillion (S$54.48 trillion) financial industry has been given fresh priority amid increasingly intertwined business between China's banks, brokerages, asset managers and insurers.

Ma's appointment comes after the elevation of Liu, 65, to the Communist Party's Politburo in October, making him Xi's top financial and economic policy official and a clear candidate to take over at the helm of the new regulatory panel.

Ma is one of the country's four vice-premiers and has been in charge of macroeconomic policies, but he was not elected to the Politburo after the recent party congress, indicating he would step down from his post as Vice-Premier soon.

"The appointment of Ma shows the head of the committee is a premier-level job," said Hu Xingdou, an economics professor at the Beijing Institute of Technology.

"Whoever succeeds Ma will take over the job - and it's very likely to be Liu He."

Speaking at the committee's first meeting, Ma said China will maintain prudent monetary policy, enhance coordination among financial regulators, increase the ability to prevent financial risks and safeguard national financial security, according to a statement on the government's website released late on Wednesday.

This indicates "the committee's primary job is stability, instead of development", said Zhou Hao, an economist at Commerzbank AG in Singapore.

"Preventing financial risks will be the focus in the future, and measures to cut leverage and deflate bubbles will continue."