China Promotes Former Xi Colleagues in Economic Team Revamp

  • He Lifeng, who oversaw One Belt One Road, taking over NDRC
  • Zhong Shan, a deputy to Xi in Zhejiang, is commerce minister

He Lifeng

Photographer: Imaginechina

China chose former associates of President Xi Jinping to lead the commerce ministry and top economic planning body, shaking up his economic team as trade tensions rise with the U.S.

He Lifeng was appointed director of the National Development and Reform Commission, which sets macroeconomic policy, according to a statement released after the standing committee session of the National People’s Congress on Friday. Zhong Shan will lead the Ministry of Commerce, it said.

He was the third-highest ranking member of the NDRC, overseeing Xi’s signature "One Belt, One Road" initiative to build an intercontinental web of infrastructure and trade links with China. Before moving to NDRC, He was deputy party chief of the northern port city of Tianjin.

He’s ties to the president date back to the mid-1980s, when he ran the fiscal affairs of Xiamen while Xi was deputy mayor of the southeastern port. He was among a handful of guests invited to the low-key wedding in 1987 when Xi and People’s Liberation Army singer Peng Liyuan tied the knot, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Zhong served as the Ministerial-level international trade representative and vice commerce minister before the promotion. He previously oversaw international trade negotiations and anti-monopoly investigations.

China Hardliners

Zhong became deputy governor of Zhejiang province in 2003 and worked under Xi, the then-party chief. In 2008, he went to Beijing to assume the post of vice commerce minister, and then added a new role of China’s trade representative in 2013.

In another move, Ding Xuedong, chairman and chief executive officer of China Investment Corp., the nation’s $810 billion sovereign wealth fund, has stepped down, according to a person familiar with the matter. He left for another job, said the person, who asked not to be identified discussing personnel issues.

China’s exports have remained subdued as soft global demand weighed on sales. Last year, the country’s trade surplus decreased for the first time since 2011. In the meantime, it has faced increasing trade disputes across the globe, and failed to obtain "market economy status" from developed countries 15 years after joining the World Trade Organization.

In his new role, Zhong will be among officials dealing with potential U.S. counterparts of Wilbur Ross, Trump’s nominee for commerce secretary, Robert Lighthizer, his pick for U.S. trade representative, and trade adviser Peter Navarro -- all hardliners on China.

— With assistance by Miao Han, and Ting Shi

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