The business titans to watch at China's big political gathering

(Clockwise from left) Co-founder of smartphone maker Xiaomi, Lei Jun; Geely's founder and chairman, Li Shufu; chairman of Gree Electric Appliances of Zhuhai, Dong Mingzhu and founder of developer China Evergrande Group, Hui Ka Yan.
(Clockwise from left) Co-founder of smartphone maker Xiaomi, Lei Jun; Geely's founder and chairman, Li Shufu; chairman of Gree Electric Appliances of Zhuhai, Dong Mingzhu and founder of developer China Evergrande Group, Hui Ka Yan.PHOTOS: REUTERS

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) - It is not just a party of politicians. Among the rich and powerful gathering in Beijing for the annual meetings of China's legislature and political advisory body are some of the biggest names in business.

The stakes are high: President Xi Jinping will begin his second five-year rule with Cabinet reshuffles, and a constitutional amendment is set to scrap his two-term limit.

It is also an opportunity for top executives to shape the direction of the world's second-largest economy. They will be submitting proposals and advice, likely lobbying for favourable policies.

Here are some of the most prominent executives who will be in the spotlight, how they figure in China's future, and their priorities.

TECH TITAN - PONY MA


Pony Ma at the Fortune 500 Global Forum in Guangzhou, Guandong Province, China, on Dec 6, 2017. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Who: The billionaire founder and chairman of Tencent Holdings, the gaming giant and operator of WeChat, will serve for another five years on the Guangdong provincial delegation to the National People's Congress, a 3,000-member body that meets each year.

What's at stake: The social media titan has recently invested in brick-and-mortar retail in a race against Alibaba Group Holding. Chinese tech giants are rushing into physical retail to ramp up adoption of their digital wallets, gain valuable consumer data and drive new users to their services.

What to watch for: Last year, Mr Ma proposed building China's own Bay Area equivalent with a technology zone in southern China that would include the financial centre of Hong Kong and the gambling city of Macau.

SMARTPHONE UPSTART - LEI JUN


Lei Jun gestures during a launch of the company's new products in Beijing, China, on Sept 27, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

Who: The chairman and co-founder of smartphone maker Xiaomi is a member of the Beijing delegation to the NPC.

What's at stake: Chinese smartphone makers have outflanked Apple in the local market and are aggressively expanding overseas. Xiaomi is looking to enter developed markets as it consolidates positions in emerging markets such as India and Russia. Xiaomi is planning an initial public offering that could give it a valuation of US$100 billion (S$132 billion).

What to watch for: In 2017, Mr Lei's proposals touched on China's national strategy for artificial intelligence, developing so-called new retail to boost growth, and leveraging President Xi's Belt and Road Initiative to help Chinese tech companies expand abroad, according to local media reports.

AUTO VISIONARY - LI SHUFU


Geely's founder and chairman, Li Shufu, at an event in Berlin, Germany, on Oct 20, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

Who: The billionaire founder of automaker Zhejiang Geely Holding Group is a member of the Zhejiang NPC delegation.

What's at stake: The size of China's car market has already surpassed the United States, and the government is urging companies like Geely to go overseas to gain a foothold as the industry consolidates. Mr Li last month (February) became the top shareholder in Daimler AG, which will help his company better compete with the likes of Google and Apple in the shift to electric and self-driving vehicles.

What to watch for: Last year (2017), Mr Li offered advice on promoting methanol-fuel vehicles to ease China's oil shortage and fight pollution, as well as on improving laws and regulations regarding autonomous driving technology, local media reported.

APPLIANCE QUEEN - DONG MINGZHU


Dong Mingzhu attends the China Entrepreneur Summit in Beijing, China on Dec 9, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

Who: The chairman of Gree Electric Appliances of Zhuhai is an NPC delegate from Guangdong.

What's at stake: Having led Gree to become China's biggest air-conditioner maker, Ms Dong has set her eyes on new-energy vehicles. Government incentives have made electric vehicles more affordable to buyers, helping the market surpass the US as the world's biggest in 2015. The country now accounts for half of global electric vehicle use.

What to watch for: Ms Dong's suggestions in 2017 included promoting innovation and protecting intellectual property rights, as well as setting limits on how many years home appliances could be used, Chinese media reported.

PROPERTY MAGNATE - HUI KA YAN


Hui Ka Yan at a news conference on the property developer's annual results in Hong Kong, China on March 28, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

Who: The founder of developer China Evergrande Group is also a long-serving member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the top political advisory body.

What's at stake: Debt-laden developers such as Evergrande may see headwinds in the property market amid local governments' stringent home-buying curbs and the potential for liquidity to tighten. Evergrande, whose Hong Kong-listed shares jumped 458 per cent in 2017, plans to list a property unit on the mainland where central and local governments are determined to cool housing prices.

What to watch for: In 2017, Mr Hui spoke in favour of long-term limits on home prices and raising the entry barriers to property development, according to local media reports.

THE EX-MINISTER - LU DONGFU

Who: The general manager of China Railway and former vice-minister of transport is a delegate from Guangdong to the legislature.

What's at stake: The state-owned operator of the world's longest bullet-train network is mulling mixed-ownership reforms. Such restructurings involve the sale of minority stakes in state-owned companies to private investors, with the goal of making them more efficient without surrendering government control.

What to watch for: China is plowing 3.5 trillion yuan (S$728 billion) into expanding its railway system by 18 per cent over the next two years. Its high speed network by then will cover 80 per cent of the country's big cities.

DRUG PIONEER - SUN PIAOYANG

Who: The chairman of Jiangsu Hengrui Medicine, China's biggest drugmaker by market value, serves on the Jiangsu provincial delegation to the NPC.

What's at stake: The government has launched dramatic reforms to the drug-approval process to ensure quality and build homegrown industry champions. Annual spending on medicine has crossed US$100 billion in China as diseases like diabetes and cancer have surged. Jiangsu Hengrui has been one of the most successful companies to pivot from selling cheaper generics to developing innovative therapies, and to push into markets such as the US.

What to watch for: Mr Sun's suggestions last year included easing restrictions on pharmaceutical companies for using human genetic resources in research, and pushing back against cumbersome drug-price negotiations, an official database shows.

THE DEALMAKER - YUAN YAFEI

Who: The chairman of conglomerate Sanpower Group is a member of the national political advisory body.

What's at stake: A deal spree has given Sanpower foreign assets including Britain's House of Fraser department-store chain. While other acquirers such as Anbang Insurance Group and HNA Group have had their wings clipped by Beijing and scrambled to unwind overseas investments, Sanpower appears to be on the government's good side, as shown by Mr Yuan's new term on the advisory body and the company's ability to close deals under foreign-exchange restrictions.

What to watch for: Mr Yuan told local media last year that his proposals focused on building a legal framework for cell therapy regulations, loosening restrictions on medical-equipment imports, and protecting intellectual property rights.