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China Central Banker Zhou’s Book May Fuel Retirement Speculation

Governor of the People's Bank of China Zhou Xiaochuan
Governor of the People's Bank of China Zhou Xiaochuan. Photographer: Nelson Ching/Bloomberg

The publication of a book by Zhou Xiaochuan may fuel speculation that China’s longest-serving central bank governor since the 1960s is close to retiring.

“The Global Financial Crisis” includes 45 speeches, articles and interviews by Zhou, 64, from 2007 to 2012 on his views of the international turmoil, China Business News, a Shanghai-based newspaper, reported on Oct. 29. The most recent is from June and 24 items are being published for the first time, the newspaper said, citing a publisher’s description.

“The expectation is that he will either retire or be moved elsewhere because he’s been in his job a long time,” said Willy Wo-Lap Lam, adjunct professor of history at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “The publication of the book looks like a swan song.”

Zhou presided over China’s first change in currency policy in a decade, when officials ended the yuan’s peg to the dollar in 2005, and is helping to oversee a loosening of controls on interest rates. His status may become clearer at a Communist Party congress starting next week, where the party will name its central committee in a once-a-decade leadership transition. If he’s no longer a member, that could signal a change.

Zhou is approaching a decade in the job after taking the role in December 2002. His age indicates that he’s likely to step down soon, said Yao Wei, China economist at Societe Generale SA in Hong Kong.

The book “is his signal to everybody that his tenure is coming to an end,” said Bo Zhiyue, senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s East Asia Institute.

Previous Works

The book wasn’t available from the central bank, which said it would be on sale soon. The People’s Bank of China didn’t immediately respond to faxed questions seeking comment on when Zhou may leave his role.

Previous collections of Zhou’s articles include a July 2008 book containing remarks from 1991 to 2004 on economic reforms, and a December 2008 book, according to listings on e-commerce sites and

Shen Jianguang, chief Asia economist at Mizuho Securities Asia Ltd. in Hong Kong, said the timing of the new work doesn’t necessarily mean Zhou will retire and a decision will come after the congress.

Given that Zhou was a “scholar in the beginning” and not a political leader and has had many articles published before, the book is “just a coincidence, not any signal,” said Shen, who formerly worked at the European Central Bank.

Reserve Currencies

During the global financial crisis, Zhou argued for reducing the world’s dependence on the dollar, urging the International Monetary Fund to expand the use of so-called Special Drawing Rights and move toward a “super-sovereign reserve currency.”

The PBOC, unlike central banks in the U.S., U.K. and Europe, doesn’t have political independence and its actions are subject to the approval of, or decided by, China’s cabinet.

This year the central bank has twice lowered interest rates and twice cut lenders’ reserve requirements in response to the deepest economic-growth slowdown since 2009. The central bank also widened the yuan’s trading band against the dollar to 1 percent from a daily range of 0.5 percent in place since 2007.

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