Mar 30, 2023
Xi’s New Vice Premier to Oversee Finance, Housing in Shake-Up
(Bloomberg) -- China has tasked its Vice Premier He Lifeng, a close confidante of President Xi Jinping, with the mandate of shoring up the nation’s embattled property industry as well as the $60 trillion financial sector, according to people familiar with the matter.
He, 68, will have all the financial regulators, including the People’s Bank of China and the newly-created super financial watchdog, under his purview, said the people, asking not to be identified discussing a private matter.
In a change from the previous five years, He will also assume the supervision of the housing ministry, said the people. Previously, oversight of the finance and housing ministries were split between former Vice Premiers Liu He and Han Zheng.
Bringing housing and financial sector responsibilities under one official highlights the importance of property regulation for China’s economy and financial stability, and the need to better coordinate policy.
Vice Premier Ding Xuexiang, another close confidante of Xi, will assume responsibility for technology and tax portfolios, according to people familiar with the matter.
The State Council Information Office didn’t immediately respond to faxed questions seeking further information.
Hong Kong-based Singtao previously reported on He’s new responsibilities. The report, which cited a document circulated online, also said Ding would be in charge of the National Development and Reform Commission, the nation’s planning agency.
He Lifeng was widely expected to take over from Liu He as Xi’s top economic policy aide, which would have given him some say on property policies.
He will also take on a public-facing role promoting foreign direct investment into China, analysts at consultancy Trivium said in a note, a job previously held by former Vice Premier Hu Chunhua. Given his wide-ranging economic roles, “He could be much more powerful than his predecessor,” they added.
He’s friendship with Xi goes back to the 1980s, when they were both local officials in the coastal province of Fujian. He is seen as one of Xi’s closest confidantes, regularly accompanying him on domestic trips and foreign missions, including the president’s first travel outside of China since the start of the pandemic.
He previously headed the NDRC, the nation’s powerful planning agency, and was made a member of the Communist Party’s 24-member Politburo last year. He was given the title of vice premier earlier this month at an annual meeting of the ruling party-controlled parliament.
He has previously made hawkish statements about China’s property sector, which drives as much as 20% of demand for goods and services in the economy. Excessive flow of money into property development is one of the “three imbalances” damaging China’s economy, He said in a speech before ascending to the Politburo.
While economists expect government support to help stabilize the real estate sector after more than a year of declines in sales, most expect the role of property in growth to decline over time.
In a sign of his wide-ranging economic responsibilities, He recently met with International Monetary Fund managing director Kristalina Georgieva to discuss international economic and financial situations, state-media reported.
China also named two other vice-premiers this month, who could also have economic policy roles.
Zhang Guoqing, who worked in China’s arms industry for more than a decade, could play a role in industrial policy, while Liu Guozhong will take responsibility for agriculture, according to an analysis by the US-based Asia Society Policy Institute.
Former Vice Premier Han Zheng was made vice president earlier in March, suggesting he will continue to play a role in foreign policy.
--With assistance from Jing Li.
©2023 Bloomberg L.P.