China appoints new top officials as part of largest-in-years government reshuffle


This year’s Two Sessions, China’s largest annual political gathering, has been one of the most significant in years. Not only has President Xi Jinping been officially “re-elected” president and relieved of term limits, but a major government reshuffle was announced last week. As part of that government reshuffle, new top-level officials have been announced.

Here are three whose names will be impossible to ignore:

Wang Qishan 王岐山, the trusted adviser to Xi who, according to decades-long retirement norms, wasn’t even expected to be still in power after last year, is set to become possibly China’s most powerful vice president ever.

  • The way Wang was presented on state TV during his swearing-in ceremony, India Today reporter Ananth Krishnan noted, essentially confirms that he is the “8th Politburo Standing Committee member for all intents and purposes.” Bill Bishop of Sinocism adds (paywall) an important caveat: “Is this just an [National People’s Congress] thing or will we see it elsewhere, as Wang is effectively an eighth member of the PBSC, or because due to protocol he is a retired Standing Committee member but still an active official?”
  • U.S.-China relations are expected to be Wang’s responsibility, Reuters reports, though “any effort by China to elevate formal exchanges with the United States on tricky trade issues, for example from a cabinet to vice presidential level, would require the White House’s consent too.”

Liu He 刘鹤, the economic “mastermind and another close adviser to Xi, was appointed to be a vice premier overseeing financial and industrial policy.

  • Liu’s elevation is a big boost for Xi’s vision of reform (which as we noted last week means not so much market liberalization as bureaucratic streamlining), says (paywall) the New York Times.
  • The Times separately mentions (paywall) in its coverage of Wang’s reentry into top leadership that Liu will possibly be competing with him for influence in the U.S.-China relationship.

Yi Gang 易纲, the low-key technocrat is now head of the People’s Bank of China. 

  • Yi is largely expected to oversee “continuity and stability of the central bank policy,” Caixin reported. Reuters says that hinted that “PBOC would roll out policies and measures to reform and open up the financial sector between now and the next Boao Forum, known as Asia’s Davos, in April. He did not elaborate.”
  • “Low-key technocrat” is what Michael Hirson of Eurasia Group described Yi as to Bloomberg, and as the media outlet notes, that also means he is seen as subordinate: “The real power may ultimately lie with Liu He, President Xi Jinping’s top economic adviser, who was elevated to vice premier status, paving the way for him to effectively run China’s economy, including monetary policy and its drive to reduce risks in the banking system.”

Here are some of the other names to keep in mind:

  • Li Ganjie 李干杰, head of the new Ministry of Ecological Environment. Reuters reports that the Ministry under his leadership is working on a new three-year plan to tackle smog. Separately Reuters says that Li “expressed concerns about tight natural gas supplies,” an issue that proved a major obstacle to phasing out coal for heat over the winter.
  • Liu Kun 刘昆, head of the Ministry of Finance. Caixin describes (paywall) him as a “fiscal reformer” who will lead the Ministry as it wages its “ongoing war against local government debt,” and continues to make initial preparations for China’s first property tax.
  • Yang Xiaodu 杨晓渡, who will lead the new National Supervisory Commission that is set to have incredibly broad powers to investigate and detain any public-sector employee accused of corruption or impropriety, whether they are a Communist Party member or not, Reuters reports.

Read more about the full lineup of new officials on Trivium, Brookings, Xinhua, or any of the links above.