THE ANTI-CORRUPTION INVESTIGATION of Fan Yifei, one of the six deputy governors of the People’s Bank of China, may suggest that all does not bode well for the central bank as Xi Jinping starts his second decade of leadership.
Xi has been investigating more than two dozen financial regulators, state banks, insurers and investment funds since last year to assert Party authority over a financial sector that Xi far from trusts. Fan is the most senior of several financial officials detained over the past year.
Fan spent most of his career as a banker with the Construction Bank of China, so there may be skeletons not as deeply buried in his cupboard as he may have thought. Over-closeness of party cadre to private sector business is now deeply out of favour.
Yet there a clues that there may be policy motivations behind his investigation. Earlier this year, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the country’s top graft-buster, criticised the central bank for failing to meet Party objectives.
The central bank’s top leadership has been a stronghold of economic reformers and advocates of internationalisation of the Chinese financial system, a policy direction for which Xi has little instinctive enthusiasm.
The PBOC’s internationally respected governor, Yi Gang, and its party secretary, Guo Shuqing, were removed from the Party’s central committee during the 20th Party Congress last month. That is seen as a prelude to them leaving their positions early next year when senior government jobs get reallocated.
Their replacements are likely to be men who will ensure that the central bank — and the financial sector it regulates — fall into line with Party goals, just as the technology sector has been ‘rectified‘. This Bystander expects to be hearing more about financial inclusion for common prosperity.
Fan’s case is the more interesting because he was the vice-governor responsible for payments and financial technology, which involved overseeing the development of the central banks’ digital currency, the e-CNY or digital yuan. It is an area in which the PBOC has built a substantial lead over other central banks. Fan’s last public appearance, in September, was to announce a further expansion of its trial.