China’s State Council welcomed four new ministerial-level officials on February 24, with the appointments raising the curtain on a much-anticipated year of key official promotions that will culminate in the unveiling of the revamped Chinese supreme leadership in the year-end 19th Communist Party National Congress.
The new heads were appointed to the China Banking and Regulatory Commission, the National Development and Reform Commission, the Ministry of Commerce and the Ministry of Justice and, with three of the four assignments closely involving finance and economy, commentators say these latest personnel placements show the importance China’s top leadership is placing on business and economic growth.
Both topics will form the main focus of the National People’s Congress and will also almost certainly provide the core of Premier Li Keqiang’s annual work report, to be delivered on Sunday, and his high-profile Congress-closing press briefing.
Among the new appointments, analysts were encouraged to see the experienced financial reformist Guo Shuqing, 60, taking over the helm at China’s banking regulator.
Guo has, for the past four years, served as the governor of Shandong. It is a politically important role because the province boasts a population of close to 100 million and a GDP of US$1 trillion. But his impressive résumé also shows senior roles at the central bank, the securities regulator, and with China Construction Bank.
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The newly appointed National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) and the Ministry of Commerce (Mofcom) chiefs, He Lifeng (62) and Zhong Shan (61), respectively, were both promoted internally and replace former heads that have reached their retirement age of 65.
He Lifeng has worked as a vice chairman of the state planning agency since 2014 after being the deputy party secretary of Tianjin municipality where he oversaw the development of Tianjin Binhai, the first national innovative zone to be approved by the State Council.
Zhong, formerly China’s chief International Trade Representative negotiator and vice-minister of commerce, will replace 66-year-old Gao Hucheng. Before serving at Mofcom, Zhong was vice-governor of Zhejiang province and also managed a number of state-owned trading companies.
Zhang Jun, named as the new Minister of Justice to replace Wu Aiying, has been working in the judiciary system for most of his career except for most recently when he worked for five years under anti-graft boss, Wang Qishan, as the deputy secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.
The appointment ceremony, held during last Friday’s bi-monthly session of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, was chaired by Zhang Dejiang, China’s third-highest ranking official, after President Xi Jinping and Premier Li.
The Standing Committee meeting also saw lawmakers approve the draft agenda of the upcoming annual parliamentary session, while adopting two revised laws: one to improve the governance of the scandal-plagued Red Cross Society and the other to allow more tax concessions on businesses making large donations.
The 19th Communist Party National Congress will be held in Beijing this autumn, on dates yet to be announced, and will endorse the new central leadership of the 19th Central Committee, the Politburo and the Politburo Standing Committee, and as well as making more key financial and business appointments, will also rubber-stamp key positions in major state and military organizations.