Liu He (center) attends a signing ceremony between China and Vietnam at the Great Hall of the People, on May 11, 2017. Photo: Reuters/Jason Lee

Liu He looks to have emerged from the 19th Party Congress with the task of masterminding China’s economic reform for the next five years.

The 65-year-old, who is currently the Director of the Central Committee’s Leading Group of Financial and Economic Affairs, has known General Secretary Xi Jinping for most of his life as the pair were classmates at the elite Beijing 101 Middle School.

After facing the tragedy of his father’s suicide in 1967 during the Cultural Revolution, Liu went onto graduate from the Department of Industrial Economics at Renmin University of China and has continued his journey to the very centre of Chinese political power ever since.

Liu’s top-tier career path started in 1988 when he was made deputy director of the National Planning Commission — restructured and renamed the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) in 2003 — and his progress was aided by an early 1990s study tip to the US where he earned a masters degree at Seton Hall University in New Jersey and a Master of Public Administration degree from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

After Deputy Director roles at the State Council Information Office and the Central Leading Group on Financial and Economic Affairs, Lui was made Deputy Director of the Development Research Centre of the State Council in 2011. By the time he was elected to the 205-strong Central Committee in November 2012 he was being recognised for his macro-economic skills and was tasked with resolving the inflationary problems caused by the State Council’s 4 trillion yuan (US$602 billion) economic stimulus measures.

The rising star’s suggestion of launching a series of supply side structural reforms, that included the “temporary pain” measures of calling a halt to monetary easing and allowing “zombie companies” to fail, was embraced by Xi and it saw Liu promoted to Vice Chairman of the NDRC and then to the Director role he holds today. In 2015, he took up an additional duty as Party Chief in the NDRC and, since April 2017, he has also led a special task force that examines economic and ecological reforms.

By the time Liu was elected to the CPC’s 205-strong Central Committee in November 2012 he was being recognised for his macro-economic skills and was tasked with resolving the inflationary problems caused by the State Council’s 4 trillion yuan (US$602 billion) economic stimulus measures

According to media reports, Liu has contributed as a writer on speeches on economic topics for Xi, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao while for several years Liu has been seen by Xi as an important confidant. He has also played a key role in communications between the US and China.

In 2009, he met with then US Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner and then Director of Washington’s National Economic Council Larry Summers and was viewed by the US as the pathway to top Chinese officials. When Thomas Donilon – who was then National Security Advisor to US President Barack Obama – visited Beijing in 2014, Xi introduced Liu as his key associate.

His future central role was underlined this week when his membership of the party’s Central Committee was renewed on Tuesday and, on the following day – the last day of the Congress – Lui was elected to the party’s 25-strong Politburo at the first plenary session of the 19th Central Committee.

As Liu has followed a very similar career path to the newly-elevated Politburo Standing Committee member Wang Huning, he is now likely to succeed Wang as Communist Party Policy Research Office Director. Such a move will effectively rubber stamp Liu’s position as the main architect of China’s economic reforms.

Read: Xi’s former associates, classmates dominate Politburo

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