• Friday, 02 June 2023

China: Xi's government doles out key Cabinet positions

Gulan Media March 12, 2023 News
China: Xi's government doles out key Cabinet positions

Some of the largest ministries will see their current heads stay on, signaling a cautionary stance in the face of economic and political headwinds.

China's new government on Sunday named key Cabinet ministers during the annual session of the rubber-stamp parliament, the National People's Congress.

After President Xi Jinping was given a new five-year term on Friday

— becoming the most powerful Chinese politician since Mao Zedong — and Li Qiang was named as premier on Saturday, the Congress's final task was to announce the largest reshuffling of senior positions in a decade.

However, several ministries have seen their current leaders remain in place.

China reinstates finance minister, central bank governor

The two leaders opted for continuity in the core policymaking roles of central bank head and finance minister.

Yi Gang, 65, was approved by the National People's Congress to remain governor of the People's Bank of China and Liu Kun, 66, to stay on as finance minister.

The move came as a surprise, as the US-educated central bank chief Yi was expected to retire.

But strong US connections and close ties with the president's economic architect, Liu He, give Yi "a great bridge between Xi's economic imperatives and the need to outreach to the US business community during this challenging time," Wenti Sung, a political scientist at the Australian National University, told DW.

In other economy-related appointments, Wang Wentao will continue as commerce minister while Zheng Shanjie, governor and deputy party secretary of Zhejiang province, will take over as head of the National Development and Reform Commission, the powerful state planner.

Qin becomes China's top diplomat

Li nominated Qin Gang to return as foreign minster, having only been appointed in December after previously serving as China's ambassador to the United States.

Qin was also elevated to the status of State Councilor, a high-ranking position within the State Council or the central Cabinet, the executive organ of the Chinese government.

"In receiving the appointment as a state councilor, Qin climbed two career ladders within six months. It is an extremely rare occurrence and it shows that the old norms of personnel appointment are no longer binding," Sung told DW.

Qin's experience is seen as critical in the face of growing geopolitical tensions with the West over Taiwan, the South China Sea, spy balloons and Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

IT minister, sci-tech minister to stay on

Premier Li also nominated Jin Zhuanglong and Wang Zhigang to stay on as the minister of industry and information technology and minister of science and technology, respectively.

The continuity underlines the importance of their roles, as China competes with the West on the technology front.

Xi has previously ramped up calls for central and local governments to reduce reliance on foreign supply chains at a time when US export controls have choked supplies of key equipment to some Chinese tech firms and sectors.

Four new vice premiers

Ding Xuexiang, 60, who also sits in the ruling Communist Party's powerful Politburo Standing Committee, has been appointed as the first-ranking vice premier. He has been Xi's chief of staff for 17 years, first in Shanghai and for the past 10 years in Beijing.

He Lifeng, 68, replaced Liu He as the next economic tsar. A longtime ally of Xi, Liu was in charge of the National Development and Reform Commission.

Zhang Guoqing, 58, spent 20 years working in defense corporations before turning to politics and holding top positions in the provincial-level cities of Chongqing and Tianjin, as well as in Liaoning province.

Liu Guozhong, 60, was the Communist Party chief of Shaanxi province, where Xi has ancestral roots.

Other nominations included:

Li Shangfu as minister of defense
Chen Yixin as minister of state security
Wang Xiaohong as minister of public security
He Rong as minister of justice

What happens now?

China's leaders are keen to shore up the economy following the COVID pandemic, which enforced strict lockdowns and supply chain delays that stymied growth.

The economy grew just 3% in 2022 and expects to grow around 5% in 2023 — its lowest in nearly three decades.

According to Christopher Beddor, deputy China research director at Gavekal Dragonomics, beating this growth forecast without triggering serious inflation or piling on more debt will be one of the key challenges for this government.

Meanwhile, Iris Pang, chief economist for Greater China at ING bank, told DW that the decision to retain so many key economic and financial officials "implies that the Chinese government wants policy continuation in economic and financial sectors during the recovery."

"It could be due to the rising risks in the global financial markets and the domestic financial markets. It is not totally a good sign," Pang warned.

William Yang in Taipei contributed to this article.

mm, mk/ar (Reuters, AP, AFP)