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Wang Qishan

Secret meeting with Steve Bannon in Beijing adds to speculation over Wang Qishan’s future

Mixed signals as to whether anti-graft tsar will stay on during Xi Jinping’s second term after he also met Singapore’s leader Lee this week

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 September, 2017, 5:46pm
UPDATED : Friday, 06 October, 2017, 10:54am

China’s anti-corruption tsar Wang Qishan reportedly met secretly with former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon in Beijing last week, adding to speculation over whether he will stay on during President Xi Jinping’s second term.

Wang, who turned 69 this year, is expected to step down during the Communist Party’s five-yearly congress next month, in line with informal retirement rules.

But there have been mixed signals as to whether Wang – a key ally of Xi and enforcer of his signature anti-graft campaign – will stick to those rules.

Wang is said to have contacted Bannon via an intermediary and the pair met for 90 minutes at the party’s Zhongnanhai headquarters, the Financial Times reported on Friday, citing anonymous sources.

Wang reportedly asked about economic nationalism and populist movements – the subject of Bannon’s speech at an investor conference in Hong Kong last Tuesday.

Singapore PM Lee Hsien Loong in surprise meeting with China’s anti-graft tsar Wang Qishan

But foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a regular press briefing on Friday that he was “not familiar with” the reported meeting.

Bannon has in the past accused China of being at “economic war” with the US, although in Hong Kong he said a trade war could be avoided if Beijing stopped “appropriating” American technology.

Wang, who some see as the second most powerful politician in China, also met visiting Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong this week.

Although he is a veteran in economic and financial policy, Wang – head of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection – has not held any portfolio in this area, either in the party or the government, during Xi’s first term.

He has also been less active in meeting high-profile visitors compared with some of his peers in the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee, the country’s top leadership body. Wang has met just five high-profile guests – including Lee – when they visited China in the past 12 months, mostly senior officials from other communist parties or anti-corruption agencies, according to state media reports.

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Wang’s meeting with Bannon was not reported by mainland Chinese media.

It would have been kept quiet to avoid misinterpretation to do with Wang’s political future, according to Chen Daoyin, a political scientist with the Shanghai University of Political Science and Law.

“There has been speculation that Wang will replace [Premier] Li Keqiang after the party congress, and Beijing will be wanting to avoid stoking those rumours,” Chen said. “But the message is clear about his meeting with Lee – the leadership is behind him on fighting corruption.”

At that meeting on Wednesday, Wang told Lee he was “surprised but glad” that Lee asked to meet him. The pair reportedly discussed building clean government, among other topics.

There are voices within the academic and business communities that want Wang to remain in the Politburo Standing Committee and to take a role spearheading growth of the world’s second largest economy.

He is considered one of China’s best informed officials when it comes to the economy, overseeing market reforms and state-owned banks since the 1980s, as well as Sino-US trade matters.

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Beijing-based political commentator Zhang Lifan said the meeting suggested Wang wanted to play a bigger role in China’s economy.

“He must have had a reason to meet Bannon, and the topic doesn’t seem relevant to his current job,” Zhang said. “It’s possible his political career will be extended, though maybe in a different area.”