China to pick next govt leaders at key meet

Communist Party officials likely to name monetary, financial regulators, say sources

BEIJING • President Xi Jinping will convene a Communist Party meeting within days to select China's next government, including monetary and financial regulators, according to people familiar with the matter.

The party's top 400 officials are expected to gather in Beijing ahead of annual legislative meetings next month, according to four people with knowledge of the matter. The session would approve personnel appointments and government restructuring decisions to be publicly ratified by the legislature, said three of the people, who requested anonymity because they are not authorised to speak to the media.

It would be the party's third full Central Committee meeting since President Xi secured a second five-year term as leader last October, underscoring the scale of his efforts to reshape the government. The committee has not met so many times during the same period since the process was standardised four decades ago.

With current People's Bank of China (PBOC) governor Zhou Xiaochuan expected to retire soon and a restructuring of the financial oversight system as yet unfinished, Mr Xi now has an opportunity to install his favoured candidates, potentially transforming the leadership of the central bank, as well as banking and insurance regulators.

The plenum will lay the ground for National People's Congress (NPC) meetings that will start on March 5, when the President, Premier Li Keqiang and other top Cabinet figures will be formally appointed to new terms.

The Central Committee's International Communication Office did not immediately respond on Thursday to a faxed request for comment on the meeting.

The strongest signal yet of Mr Zhou's impending retirement came in January.

A personnel transition in the top economic and financial policy positions has implications for China's current battle to defuse its ticking time bomb of aggregate debt - which stands at around 260 per cent of output and growing - without crashing the economy. As China currently contributes around one-third of global growth, the appointments matter far beyond Beijing.

As Premier Li is expected to retain his post, attention is likely to focus on Mr Xi's pick to lead the central bank, an institution that has garnered increased stature under Mr Zhou and may take a leading role in the Financial Stability Development Committee created last year to tackle China's unruly financial sector.

While current banking regulator chief Guo Shuqing and Hubei provincial party chief Jiang Chaoliang have both been tipped for that post, Mr Xi's top economic policy adviser and Politburo member Liu He has recently been named by analysts in connection with the job and a vice-premier's post.

Such appointments would elevate him to an economic-policy status unparalleled since Mr Zhu Rongji simultaneously led the PBOC and held a vice-premier title in the 1990s.

Also being watched is the fate of former anti-graft chief Wang Qishan, whom the South China Morning Post reported in December was expected to be named vice-president. Mr Wang was selected as an NPC delegate last month, positioning him for another official role.

The Central Committee also met last month, when it approved the first amendments to the state Constitution in 14 years, which also require the NPC's approval. The amendments would add Mr Xi's governing philosophy, "Xi Thought", to the document and allow the creation of a more powerful disciplinary agency to police public officials.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 24, 2018, with the headline 'China to pick next govt leaders at key meet'. Print Edition | Subscribe