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China names new planning chief, commerce minister before key meeting

By yan shen

BEIJING - By Shen Yan and Kevin Yao

China has appointed a new head for its top economic planning agency and a new commerce minister as part of a reshuffle ahead of a crucial Communist Party meeting later this year.

He Lifeng, a vice chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), has been tapped to lead the agency, state media Xinhua said Friday on its official microblog, citing a decision by the standing committee of the National People's Congress, replacing Xu Shaoshi, who has reached retirement age.

Zhong Shan, currently a vice commerce minister, has been named new head of the ministry, the Ministry of Commerce said on its website, taking over from Gao Hucheng.

Reuters had earlier reported China will appoint He and Zhong as the new chiefs of the nation's two top economic policymakers, citing sources with direct knowledge of the matter.

Zhong was previously China's international trade representative, responsible for trade negotiations, and held official positions in Zhejiang province when Chinese President Xi Jinping served as governor and party boss of the province from 2002-2007.

Beijing is struggling to cope with weak global demand and faces risks from growing U.S. trade protectionism as the Trump administration shows an aversion to globalisation, which has benefited China hugely.

In an interview with Reuters, President Donald Trump declared China the "grand champions" of currency manipulation on Thursday, just hours after his new treasury secretary pledged a more methodical approach to analysing Beijing's foreign exchange practices.

The NDRC is tasked with overseeing the Chinese economy, regulating prices and approving major infrastructure projects.

The once-powerful NDRC was dubbed a "super-ministry" when China had a centrally planned economy, but has seen its influence erode as Beijing pushes for market-based reforms and deregulation to let market forces play a bigger role.


SUPPLY-SIDE REFORMS

Prior to joining NDRC, He worked for other agencies in China's northern city of Tianjin and southeastern Fujian province.

He, 62, is expected to push supply-side reforms and spearhead a drive to cut excess capacity in the steel and coal sectors.

Both Xu and Gao have reached the mandatory retirement age of 65 for a Chinese cabinet minister.

On Saturday the official China Daily newspaper said Guo Shuqing had resigned his position as governor of eastern Shandong province to take the helm at China's banking regulator, replacing the body's current head Shang Fulin.

Financial magazine Caixin reported on Thursday on its website, citing sources familiar with the matter, that Guo would soon be appointed as head of China Banking Regulatory Commission (CBRC).

The 19th Party Congress, expected to be in the autumn, will see President Xi Jinping look to further cement his grip on power.

Chinese officials have pledged to maintain stable economic growth this year to ensure a successful party meeting.

China's economy grew 6.7 percent last year, the slowest rate in just over a quarter of a century, and it faces risks from rising debt and growing asset bubbles, which leaders have vowed to address this year.


(Reporting by Shen Yan and Kevin Yao; Additional reporting by Adam Jourdan in SHANGHAI; Editing by Richard Borsuk & Shri Navaratnam)