November 18, 2017

China’s New Effort to Tame Its Financial System May Disappoint

But the commission that emerged seemed more a minnow than a whale. None of the current agencies disappeared, and the commission was merely assigned a small office in a corner of the central bank.

Mr. Ma himself is something of a lame duck, being past the age when Chinese officials typically retire. While he remains a vice premier in the Chinese government, he lost his seats on senior decision-making bodies within the Chinese Communist Party amid a broad reshuffle last month.

Still, the committee could be strengthened later, or more details may emerge that further outline its powers.

The decision to hold the committee as President Trump arrived in Beijing for a meeting with Mr. Xi may be an indication that the Chinese leadership is still focused on the country’s financial vulnerabilities, even if a long-term leader to address those vulnerabilities has not yet been chosen.

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China’s stock market crash two years ago, and a subsequent flight of money that shaved about $1 trillion off its vast hoard of foreign exchange reserves, illustrated the weaknesses of the country’s financial system. While China has a vast cushion of savings and a still-considerable pile of foreign exchange reserves, its financial system has become increasingly reliant on debt. Critics say it also does a poor job of funneling money to small businesses and entrepreneurs who could spark new sources of growth.

Zhou Xiaochuan, the governor of the country’s central bank for the past 15 years, and who is also expected to retire this winter, has been issuing increasingly dire warnings in recent weeks about the country’s mountain of debt, particularly at state-owned enterprises and local governments.

“In recent years, nonperforming loans have risen, eroding banking capital and risk resilience,” Mr. Zhou warned in a statement released last Saturday that went on to warn about rising bond defaults as well as Ponzi schemes masquerading as internet finance companies.

President Xi had authorized the commission last July at a National Financial Work Conference: a gathering where China’s leaders just to talk about financial regulation, and held only once every five years.

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Having a vice premier run the first meeting nonetheless raises the profile of the commission. It could establish a precedent that the commission may continue to be run by a vice premier. Vice premiers are at least two rungs more senior in the Chinese system than the minister-level officials who run the central bank and the financial regulatory agencies.

Its next leader might also be considerably more influential and politically connected. Some experts suggest Liu He, a close economic adviser to Mr. Xi, may emerge as the successor to Mr. Ma as the vice premier with responsibility over wide areas of the economy, including financial regulation.

Mr. Liu has a reputation for advocating a greater reliance on market forces in economic reform policies. By contrast, Mr. Xi has taken a greater interest in strengthening the role of the Communist Party in almost aspects of life in China, including the financial sector.

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Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/08/business/china-financial-stability-committee.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

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