National People's Congress

Stability is the key for China's new cabinet

Old guard will form backbone of State Council, but analysts say fresh faces will improve profile of nation and bolster its position on world stage

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 March, 2013, 7:19pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 March, 2013, 9:29am

The nation's new cabinet was unveiled yesterday - a mix of veteran diplomats, senior politicians and technocratic newcomers with international exposure.

Analysts say the line-up will maintain policy stability and strengthen China's position in the world order.

Of the 25 ministers who make up the cabinet, or State Council, ceremonially elected by the National People's Congress, 15 kept the jobs they held previously.

Of these, four were born in 1949 and are only a year away from turning 65, the mandatory retirement age for ministers.

The NPC also approved four vice-premiers - Politburo Standing Committee member Zhang Gaoli and Politburo members Liu Yandong, Wang Yang and Ma Kai - as part of the new government led by President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang.

Zhang, a former Shenzhen party chief, Wang, a former Guangdong party chief, and Liu, who oversaw Hong Kong affairs as a state councillor, all have a working knowledge of the special administrative region.

Besides Liu, there are two other women in the cabinet - Wu Aiying, who was kept on as justice minister, and Li Bin , who will head the new national health and family planning commission.

Veteran diplomat Wang Yi, 59, who was ambassador to Japan from 2004 to 2007 and also has extensive experience of North Korean and Taiwan affairs, was named foreign minister.

His predecessor, Yang Jiechi, was named one of five state councillors yesterday.

Gao Hucheng, 61, an experienced international negotiator, becomes commerce minister, while Lou Jiwei , 62, chairman of sovereign wealth fund the China Investment Corporation, and well-known in international circles, is finance minister. Central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan retained his position as expected.

Analysts say the arrangements reflect concern for policy continuity as well as China's global profile amid mounting challenges at home and abroad. These include balancing the economic growth model and dealing with an international community that sees a rising China as both an opportunity and a threat.

Gu Su, a law professor at Nanjing University, said Xi and Li probably wanted a smooth transitional period rather than creating a "shockwave" by introducing too much new blood.

"Xi and Li still need some time to consolidate their power," he said. "Too drastic a reshuffle might trigger a backlash," he said.

Hong Kong-based political commentator Johnny Lau Yui-siu said the new ministers with technical expertise could enhance policy execution.

"Beijing has realised that merit-based choices work better than political correctness in terms of improving governance," he said.