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Five Figures to Watch at the Two Sessions
Some of the senior officials who will meet the press
By Junni Ogborne | Web Exclusive

Each year, the Lianghui or Two Sessions--the annual sessions of the National People's Congress (NPC) and National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC)--highlight leaders who have a major role in China's future development. Here's Junni Ogborne's assessment for the Two Sessions:


Li Keqiang (XINHUA) 

1. Li Keqiang, Premier of the State Council

Why is he the one to watch?

o Premier Li will deliver the annual Report on the Work of the Government, which will lay out the annual growth target as well as other policy priorities for the year. This will give a sense of how much the government will act to support economic growth in 2017.

o Li's press conference on March 15 after the close of the NPC session is a valuable chance for journalists to ask him questions. In previous years, Li has used colorful phrases to describe China's challenges such as likening painful state sector reform to "wrist-slashing" and "declaring war" on pollution.


Wang Yi (XINHUA) 

2. Wang Yi, Minister of Foreign Affairs

Why is he the one to watch?

o The international situation is in flux. From rising uncertainty in the Sino-U.S. relationship to difficulties on both sides of the Korean Peninsula, challenges from abroad have gained greater weight in Chinese policymaking.

o Wang's press conference at the Two Sessions on March 8 will attract attention for indications of how China will deal with the Trump Administration.


He Lifeng (XINHUA) 

3. He Lifeng, Chairman of National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC)

Who's the man?

o Born in Fujian in southeast China, He worked in the province for many years.

o Prior to his promotion on February 24, He was Vice Chairman of NDRC and in charge of implementing the Belt and Road Initiative.

Why is he the one to watch?

o As head of NDRC, the primary government agency responsible for managing the economy, He will be expected to drive efforts to phase out industrial overcapacity while keeping the economy on track.

o NDRC plays an important role China's economic development. Market-oriented reforms have stripped away some of its powers to set prices and grant approvals. He will lead efforts to realign NDRC's functions with the current economic reform agenda.

What to watch?

At the Two Sessions, the NDRC will deliver a report, which will lay out China's economic and social development priorities for the year. He will hold a press conference on March 6.

Zhong Shan (XINHUA)


4. Zhong Shan, Minister of Commerce

Who's the man?

Zhong was Vice Minister of Commerce earlier and China's chief trade negotiator.

Why is he the one to watch?

As Minister of Commerce, Zhong inherits a challenging environment to navigate:

o Trade: Ministry of Commerce is negotiating a number of free trade agreements to support the Belt and Road Initiative. However, anti-globalization sentiment is on the rise around the world and U.S. President Donald Trump has pledged to get tough on China on trade issues.

o Investment: Pressure from Trump to draw investment back to the United States will add impetus to China's Ministry of Commerce's efforts to improve China's foreign investment environment.

What to watch?

Zhong's press conference on March 11 will be watched for signals to foreign investors. It will also be one of the first chances to see him as minister and gauge how he will deal with U.S. trade counterparts known for their hardline views on China.

Zhou Xiaochuan (XINHUA)


5. Zhou Xiaochuan, Governor of People's Bank of China (PBOC)

Who's the man?

Noted for his keen intellect, Zhou is also known to establish good rapport with his foreign counterparts through his fluent English, sense of humor and excellent tennis skills.

Why is he the one to watch?

o Widely respected Zhou has been Governor of PBOC, China's central bank, since 2002, making him the longest serving head of PBOC to date. He has overseen a number of important financial reforms, culminating in the renminbi (RMB) officially becoming the IMF's fifth global reserve currency in October 2016.

o His experienced hand will be needed in this period of external uncertainty.

What to watch?

Zhou is working to keep the RMB stable. His press conference on March 10 will be keenly watched for indications of PBOC's stance on the currency over the coming year.

The author is associate director of North Head, a Beijing-based strategic communications and public affairs consultancy. He specializes in leading research projects on China's policy and business environment

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