It has been long known that there would be a vacancy falling open at the top of the People’s Bank of China at the end of this year. The second and final term of the central bank’s influential and pro-reform governor, Zhou Xiaochuan, expires next month, and he turns 65 in January, the nominal retirement age for a minister. But it looks as if retirement from public life beckons for Zhou as he has not been reelected to the Party’s Central Committee. His name is absent from the 205 members and 171 alternates published on Wednesday. So there is no chance of him becoming a state councillor, for which the nominal retirement age is higher than for a cabinet-level ministerial ranking job like central bank governor, and for which membership of the Central Committee is similarly a prerequisite, let alone of promotion to the Politburo.
Widely regarded inside and outside China as one of the country’s smartest and ablest bureaucrats, Zhou’s career never quite scaled the heights of top political office that it was once thought it might. He will, no doubt, find a new niche in that world of academia, think tanks, multilateral institutions and global conferences, where he will be a much-sought-after presence, but his strong voice for financial-markets liberalization will now be heard further from the center of power.
With Zhou going from the new leadership hierarchy, along with Zhang Ping, chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission, Finance Minister Xie Xuren and Commerce Minister Chen Deming, also all not reelected to the Central Committee, and Wang Qishan moving to run Party discipline, the economic policymaking engine room will take on a new look under the Xi-Li leadership. The question is how much its complexion will change in the process.