Meet China’s Top Officials Running the Show in Xi’s Third Term

(Bloomberg) -- China’s parliament has formally unveiled the list of top government officials who will be managing the world’s second-largest economy as Xi Jinping begins his third term as president.

Most Read from Bloomberg

The biggest surprise is how few new faces are in the cabinet. Almost half of the 26 officials in that lineup have been in the position since 2021 or earlier, data compiled by Bloomberg News show. The only two new bureaucrats introduced over the weekend at the National People’s Congress were Li Shangfu, the defense minister, and Zheng Shanjie, as head of the economic planning agency.

The country is navigating a challenging recovery after the pandemic, with strains this year from weakening exports and a struggling property market. Analysts say the retainment of some top roles — like Yi Gang as central bank governor — suggests a desire to keep policy consistent at least in the short term as the nation wraps up a regulatory restructure.

READ: China Retains Yi as Central Bank Governor in Surprise Move

Here’s a look at the key players in China’s new government:

He Lifeng, vice premier

He, 68, was formerly the chairman of China’s powerful economic planning agency, the National Development and Reform Commission. He is seen as a close confidante of Xi, having known him since the 1980 when they worked as government officials in Xiamen, a city in the coastal province of Fujian.

He spent over two decades in Fujian, one of the first regions that opened up to foreign investment, before becoming a deputy party secretary in northern China’s Tianjin city in 2009. There, he oversaw the construction of a massive new district billed as “China’s Manhattan.”

The city’s economic growth soared at first, but has since slowed amid persisting concerns, including building vacancies. He holds a PhD in economics from Xiamen University.

Yi Gang, governor of People’s Bank of China

Yi stayed on as central bank governor, a surprise move given he had reached the retirement age for ministers. Since taking office in early 2018, the 65-year-old Yi has pushed forward reforms and led the PBOC through tumultuous times, including the US-China trade war and the Covid pandemic.

He further modernized monetary policy and helped reclaim the yuan’s international standing after a botched devaluation in 2015 hurt market confidence.

Yi also managed the country’s effort to curb soaring debt in the economy, and the PBOC’s mandate over financial stability was strengthened under his reign.

A fluent English speaker, Yi is well respected internationally and regularly engages with other central bank chiefs in public events. He taught economics at Indiana University in the US for eight years before returning to China in the 1990s.

Yi held several central bank roles before becoming governor, including head of the foreign exchange regulator and assistant to former central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan.

Liu Kun, finance minister

Liu, 66, retained his role as finance minister, which he was first elevated to in 2018. He graduated from Xiamen University’s fiscal policy and finance program, the same as incoming Vice Premier He.

Liu spent about three decades working for the government of Guangdong, one of China’s richest provinces and where his family is from. He was promoted in 2013 to deputy finance minister, and had a stint with the NPC’s Standing Committee for more than a year with a focus on financial and economic work.

When Liu first became finance minister, he was tasked with reforming the mechanism for sharing fiscal income and spending responsibilities between the central and local governments.

During his tenure, transfer payments by the central government to lower-level governments jumped over 50% to reach 10 trillion yuan ($1.4 trillion) this year. Massive tax breaks were also offered to support an economy roiled first by the trade war with the US and then by Covid-19 outbreaks.

Zheng Shanjie, chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission

Zheng, 61, replaces He as chief of the NDRC.

Though little known before his position was announced at the NPC, Zheng worked in multiple offices in Fujian and Zhejiang provinces during his career — where President Xi worked in his early days as a government official, and which are deemed Xi’s power base.

Zheng moved to Beijing to be deputy chief of the National Energy Administration in 2015. He was also vice director of the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council for several months in 2017.

He later became a major official in Zhejiang, and was the Communist Party chief in neighboring Anhui province before replacing He. Zheng holds a master’s degree in business management from Xiamen University.

Wang Wentao, commerce minister

Wang, 58, has been the commerce minister since 2020.

A graduate from Fudan University’s school of philosophy, Wang spent his early career at a college in Shanghai as an official at the Communist Youth League, and later as head of its business unit selling photocopiers.

He joined government in the late 1990s, working as an official in Shanghai and southwest China’s Yunnan province. Wang became the top official in central China’s Nanchang in 2011, and then took charge of Jinan in the east in 2015.

Wang served as governor of Heilongjiang province in the northwest rust-belt before becoming commerce minister.

Wang Xiaohong, public security minister

Wang, 65, stays on as the police chief.

He was appointed to the position last June. Wang is widely seen as a Xi ally because the two overlapped in Fujian province, with Wang serving as deputy police head of Fuzhou when Xi was the city’s party chief from 1990 until 1996.

Wang reiterated the need to “maintain the nation’s regime security, institutional security and idealogical security” in a meeting with directors of public security bureaus across the country on Jan. 9.

The police force also needs to “prevent and resolve various risks in the economic and social areas,” he added.

Li Shangfu, defense minister

Li, 65, received unanimous support when appointed as defense minister on Sunday, but his job might be one tinged with awkwardness if he’s ever paired up with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin for a meeting.

When he was the top official overseeing China’s defense technology in 2018, Li was targeted by Washington in 2018 for violating US sanctions by allegedly aiding in the transfer of military equipment from Russian arms seller Rosoboronexport to China.

Beijing subsequently demanded the US drop the penalties and refused a US warship entry to Hong Kong.

Wang Zhigang, science and technology minister

Wang, 65, retained his spot from 2018 as the minister of science and technology.

Wang once spent about a decade at state-owned China Electronics Technology Group as senior executive. The company was considered a state champion in developing China’s own semiconductor technologies.

In an interview with state media in January, Wang said technological self-reliance is “a necessary requirement for a big country to become a strong country.”

The push for self-sufficiency has become an increasing focus of Xi’s government, as the US moves to prevent China from obtaining advanced technology that could give it an economic and military advantage, particularly in chips and artificial intelligence.

Jin Zhuanglong, industry and information technology minister

Jin, born in March 1964, was a seasoned aerospace technocrat before joining the powerful industry and information technology ministry last September to oversee a wide spectrum of sectors from cement production to makings of automobiles.

Trained as a missile engineer, Jin spent almost his entire career in aviation and space industries. He directed the development of China’s largest narrow-body passenger jet, the C919.

Other top officials include:

--With assistance from Jing Li.

Most Read from Bloomberg Businessweek

©2023 Bloomberg L.P.