China Naming Harvard-Educated Liu to NDRC May Hail Policy Shift

Liu He was appointed as a vice chairman of China’s top economic-planning agency, a sign that President Xi Jinping’s government may be preparing to quicken market-driven policy changes to sustain growth.

The National Development and Reform Commission’s website today showed Liu, previously Communist Party secretary of the State Council’s Development Research Center, as one of 11 deputies. He was also promoted this month to director of the Office of the Central Leading Group on Financial and Economic Affairs from deputy director, his online biography shows.

Liu was a “major collaborator” in a World Bank report published last year that advocates accelerating market-driven change, and is a proponent of financial liberalization, according to Cheng Li, a China scholar at Washington’s Brookings Institution. Taking the NDRC post may indicate Liu will play a key role in government efforts to restructure the economy, according to BNP Paribas SA.

“This is an extraordinary appointment for China,” said Stephen Roach, a senior fellow at Yale University and former non-executive chairman for Morgan Stanley in Asia. “Liu He is on the leading edge in articulating China’s reform imperatives - - especially the long-overdue structural transformation of the growth model toward more of a consumer-led economy.”

‘Key Person’

Liu is a 61-year-old graduate of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government who played a pivotal role in coordinating U.S.-China relations during the global financial crisis. He was named to the party’s 205-member Central Committee in November, suggesting he would have a senior position in the new government that took office this month.

“Liu He is the key person in determining what kind of economic-policy package ultimately makes it to Xi Jinping’s desk,” Barry Naughton, Chinese economy professor at the University of California at San Diego, said in November.

Starting in 2003 Liu was deputy director of the party’s financial and economic affairs group office. Participants included former Premier Wen Jiabao, former Vice Premier Wang Qishan and People’s Bank of China Governor Zhou Xiaochuan, according to China scholars and non-government websites.

“These new appointments make him a major mover and shaker in China’s financial policies,” Li of Brookings said.

Liu spent much of his career in the State Planning Commission, the agency that formerly set prices for everything from bicycles to grain. It now writes industrial policy under a new name, the NDRC. Liu has helped draft the five-year plans that underpin China’s economy.

The roles he played at the central leading group and the Development Research Center show Liu is “reform-minded,” said Chen Xingdong, chief China economist at BNP Paribas in Beijing.