World Bank Group

Chinese economist a frontrunner for top World Bank role

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 January, 2008, 12:00am

Leading Chinese economist Justin Yifu Lin is a frontrunner in the race for the job of World Bank chief economist, bank sources and Professor Lin's assistant said yesterday.

This comes after World Bank president Robert Zoellick and the central government said they were keen to foster a closer relationship between the bank and the world's largest developing economy, the sources said.

Professor Lin, 56, director and founder of the China Centre for Economic Research at Peking University and professor at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, may become the second Chinese national to be hired as a senior official by a key world body.

Former Hong Kong health chief Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun became World Health Organisation director-general in 2006.

'[Professor] Lin is on a list of several candidates and the result will come out next week,' his assistant, Chen Xi, told the South China Morning Post yesterday.

If appointed, Professor Lin would be the bank's first chief economist from the developing world. It is a role that has been filled in the past by renowned western economists including Anne Krueger, Stanley Fischer, Lawrence Summers, Joseph Stiglitz and Sir Nicholas Stern.

Professor Lin may also become the bank's senior vice-president for development economics.

Mr Zoellick, during his first visit to China as World Bank chief last month, asked Beijing to recommend people to join the bank's top management, a bank source who attended Mr Zoellick's meetings said.

The World Bank's office in Beijing would neither confirm nor deny the news, but said it was the bank's policy to recruit people from developing economies.

Professor Lin could not be contacted yesterday.

World Bank sources said Professor Lin was the top contender to replace Frenchman Francois Bourguignon, who retired in October.

Li Yao, a senior investment officer with the International Finance Corporation's resident mission in China, a World Bank unit, said the appointment would reflect the bank's recognition of China's successful experience in economic development. Professor Lin, with his expertise in development economics, would play a crucial role advising the bank and Mr Zoellick on developing world issues.

Professor Lin is already an adviser to the World Bank. He gained a master's degree in Marxist political economics at Peking University in 1982 and a PhD at the University of Chicago in 1986, has twice won China's top Sun Yefang Economics Prize and is a senior government adviser.

A Taiwanese, he defected while serving in Taiwan's army by swimming to Fujian province from Kinmen island in 1979.