The inclusion of top party official Liu Yunshan in an influential macroeconomy task force suggests the new leadership under President Xi Jinping has attached greater importance to economic work and reflects concerns over challenges faced by the world's second-largest economy, analysts say.
Liu, a member of the innermost Politburo Standing Committee and head of the party Secretariat, the party nerve centre, has been made a member of the Central Leading Group on Financial and Economic Affairs.
On Monday, Xi chaired the group's meeting. Also in attendance were deputy group leader Premier Li Keqiang, and members Liu and Executive Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli.
In past administrations since its 1980 debut, the group has been headed by the party chief and state president, aided by the premier and vice-premiers. No party official has previously been seen in the task force. Jianguan Shen, chief economist of Mizuho Securities Asia Limited in Hong Kong, said Liu's inclusion was significant. "Indeed, the inclusion shows the importance of economic and financial affairs in the overall policymaking of the new leadership," he said. "It may signal that economic development and reform will be the priority in the coming future."
Zhao Xijun, a professor of economics and deputy director of Renmin University's Finance and Securities Institute, said Liu's inclusion suggested the need for more cooperation and coordination in economic management among departments.
Ma Guoxian, a political economist with the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics, said Liu's inclusion reflected the leadership's judgment over the challenge facing the economy amid the slowdown in growth. "The inclusion of the head of the secretariat suggests the need for more efforts to tackle the challenge ahead amid the slowest growth in years," Ma said.
Ma, also the director of the university's Public Policy Centre, said the leadership underpinned development on reform. The secretariat could play a role in pushing ahead the restructuring, which is expected to meet resistance from vested interest groups, Ma said.
Since coming to office, Xi has vowed to focus on reforms aimed at raising economic productivity and addressing social justice. Recent economic data suggests that China's growth has slowed.
China's economy grew 7.4 per cent year on year in the first half of 2014, one of the more sluggish periods compared to the two-digit growth of the past 30 years.
Liu has long worked in Inner Mongolia and advanced his career through the China Youth League and the party's propaganda machine. Liu has little background in economic management.
But Kerry Brown, professor of Chinese politics and director of the University of Sydney's China Studies Centre, said that Liu, once considered a rank outsider to get into the inner circle of supreme power, and whose elevation in 2012 surprised many, was now becoming one of Xi's most trusted lieutenants.
Brown said Liu's skill in dealing with propaganda and party building had obviously satisfied his colleagues. "His star continues to rise," Brown said.