Where will Liu He, the mastermind of China’s economic policies, go next?

Economist is expected to take a seat on Politburo and replace Wang Huning as Communist Party’s principal theorist

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 October, 2017, 8:31pm
UPDATED : Monday, 23 October, 2017, 11:32pm

President Xi Jinping’s trusted economic adviser Liu He is in line for promotion to the role of Communist Party principal theorist, taking over from fellow academic and politician Wang Huning, the South China Morning Post has learned.

Wang is likely to be elevated to the party’s highest decision-making body, the Politburo Standing Committee – as revealed earlier by the Post in an exclusive report.

The changes will be made at the party’s twice-a-decade national congress that is under way in Beijing and ends on Tuesday. All eyes are on the new line-up for the seven-member Standing Committee, but the Politburo will also see a big shake-up, with about half of its 25 members to be replaced.

Liu, who is a member of the lower-level leadership body the Central Committee, is also expected to take a seat on the Politburo.

Although he is at a ministerial-level rank for now, Liu has a higher international profile than other more senior officials because of his close ties to Xi.

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A Harvard-trained economist, Liu is the mastermind behind Xi’s macroeconomic policy. He first came to outside attention when Xi singled him out for introduction to Thomas Donilon, national security adviser to former US president Barack Obama, when he visited Beijing in 2013.

“He is very important to me,” Xi was famously quoted as saying. Liu has also accompanied the president on many of his overseas trips.

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After he is elevated to the Politburo, sources said Liu will take over from Wang as head of the Central Policy Research Office, which provides research and ideas for ideology and theories. It also prepares work reports and key documents for the top leadership and carries out research for major policy initiatives.

While Liu was widely expected to take a seat on the Politburo, the role as communist ideologist may come as a surprise to some China watchers – there had been speculation he could take a more prominent role as a vice-premier in charge of the economy.

But sources said Liu’s lack of administrative experience and his academic temperament made that move less likely.

However, Xi is eager to strengthen the theoretical support for his reform policies – particularly on the economic front – and that is reflected in the promotions of Liu and Wang, one source said. Liu is expected to play an influential role as head of the Policy Research Office.

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Christopher K Johnson, a senior adviser at the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies and a former China analyst at the CIA, described it as “a perfect position” for Liu.

“[In Xi’s view perhaps] he is too much of an academic for the knife attack of regular politics. There was a lot of assessment early on that he might become a vice-premier or something like that. But it seems Xi has concluded that would be a bad use of his talent,” Johnson said.

“It’s better to have him over at the Policy Research Office and remould its duties to act more as a strategic operation centre for policy – especially reform-oriented policy related to carrying out the agenda of the third plenum,” he said.

“The Policy Research Office is the right spot for Liu. I don’t think it’s a sidelining or anything like that.”