Continuity, not change, likely result of China's upcoming party congress: Economist

(From left) Moderator Chia Kim Huat, NUS EAI assistant director (policy research) Chen Gang, APS Asset Management (China) deputy chairman Tan Kong Yam and LSE associate professor of economics Jin Keyu (on screen). ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - The 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China to be held later in October is likely to result in more continuity than change in Chinese economic policies, said economist Jin Keyu from the London School of Economics on Friday.

Asked for her views on which policies credited to Chinese President Xi Jinping would continue, she said she does not expect that there would be major or dramatic changes.

But there would be a greater sense of security, politically speaking, and therefore more confidence to tackle both the challenges of the economy and of keeping the Covid-19 pandemic under control, she said.

Associate Professor Jin was among the panellists at the 13th FutureChina Global Forum who discussed the potential implications of the twice-a-decade meeting on Friday.

A key issue from the closely watched meeting - where Mr Xi is widely expected to retain power for an unprecedented third term - is who will rise up the ranks to the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee, the party's top leadership body.

Panellist and professor of economics at the Nanyang Technological University Tan Kong Yam tipped Vice-Premier Hu Chunhua to be the next premier. Mr Hu, 59, is a protege of former president Hu Jintao and a Politburo member.

Prof Tan said that Mr Hu's appointment, if it happens, would be significant because it could mean that Mr Xi faced pressure to do so from party elders such as Mr Hu Jintao and former premier Wen Jiabao.

"Suppose Hu Chunhua doesn't come up, and one of (Mr Xi's) proteges come up. Then it would be an indication that he is able to resist the pressure, which I don't think is likely," said Prof Tan, who is also deputy chairman of APS Asset Management (China).

Senior research fellow at the East Asian Institute Chen Gang agreed that Mr Hu is likely to be the next premier, although there was uncertainty over the decision, with the way the Chinese political system is structured.

There could also be dark horses, Dr Chen said. He noted that there are three members of the Politburo who were born in the 1960s. This makes them the youngest in the 25-member body.

They are Mr Hu, director of the party's General Office Ding Xuexiang, 60, and Chongqing party chief Chen Min'er, 62.

But if there are exceptions to the age criteria - led by Mr Xi, who at 69 is one year older than the age where top Chinese officials are expected to step down at the start of a new term - Vice-Premier Liu He, 70, could also be in contention, said Dr Chen.

The one-day forum, held at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre, brought together academics and government and business leaders to discuss a range of China-related issues.

The three panellists were also asked for their views on the prospects for the "workhorses" of the Chinese economy by moderator Chia Kim Huat, who is regional head of the corporate and transactional group at law firm Rajah and Tann.

He said these pillars were domestic consumption, manufacturing, export and real estate.

Prof Jin said the real estate sector - which accounts for about a quarter of China's gross domestic product by some estimates - will no longer be a driving force of the economy, after a recent crackdown on indebted property developers.

The government has instead emphasised consumption and the auto sector, including electric vehicles, among others.

"I would say it's primarily to do with Covid controls, but also a lot with a lack of transparency and a direction of where the policy is going. So I think what people would be looking for is some clarity... after the party congress," she said.

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