News that Long Yongtu is set to become the next secretary-general of the Boao Forum - supposedly Asia's premier gathering of economic policymakers - will no doubt generate mixed reaction. Many within China will be surprised that the man who is perceived as having negotiated the nation's World Trade Organisation deal on generous terms to foreign companies is being put forward for such a sensitive position. Others will nod knowingly at the politics of the decision. Regional leaders will surely be relieved that someone of Mr Long's reputation has been secured for the post. Whatever the cross-section of views that is thrown up, one thing is for sure: this will be a tough job for Mr Long, and it is in China's interests that he succeed. Fortunately, the vice-minister of foreign trade and economic co-operation is well suited to the task. His resume reflects deep international experience, he is well known in global media circles, and he speaks fluent English. He is also, however, an apparent victim of China's recent reformist success. In the reshuffle of government positions following the 16th party congress, Mr Long was passed over for the post of his outgoing boss, Shi Guangsheng. The many enemies he made while securing China's WTO deal were a likely influence in his sidelining. Intriguingly, the political lifeline he is being thrown has probably come from President Jiang Zemin. If Mr Jiang steps down as planned in March at the National People's Congress, he will be looking to secure a prominent role for himself in China's international affairs. The Boao Forum could turn out to be the highlight of his annual calendar. Unless, that is, Boao turns out to be as unmitigated a disaster as it was last April, when Premier Zhu Rongji had to apologise to 2,500 delegates for the forum's organisational chaos. It seems hard to imagine that participants will suffer the same ignominy this time around. Running water and electricity will surely be laid on for most of Asia's top power-brokers. But that might not be enough to ensure success. The real challenge for Mr Long will be to see that there is nothing to distract delegates from the very serious business on the conference's agenda. That means there must be none of the politicking that has dogged it since its founding. China must be seen as a facilitator of real, open debate on issues that affect the entire region. It cannot be accused of dominating the event for its own purposes. Sadly, this is what much of last year's backstage muttering focused on after the previous secretary-general, Malaysia's Agit Singh, was seen to have been pushed out by Chinese interests. There will be high expectations riding on the forum's organisational progress. Mr Long will hopefully not disappoint.