27 February 2020
China's top leaders will be taking a more hands-on role in overseeing reforms. Photo: Bloomberg
China's top leaders will be taking a more hands-on role in overseeing reforms. Photo: Bloomberg

POLICY WATCH: New high-level reforms group may cut NDRC role

China could see a significant overhaul at its key economic policy-making organization, with the agency’s role and functions getting redefined, as top leaders are taking more power into their hands by setting up a new high-level body to oversee a wide range of reforms in the next decade.

The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), which has been the nation’s top economic policy planning and implementing body over the years, is likely to see its powers get diluted going forward as the Communist Party’s recent plenum has decided on establishing a new group that will be dedicated to handling reform efforts.

According to a communiqué issued at the end of the third full meeting of the party’s 18th Central Committee last week, the new team will be tasked with “comprehensively deepening the reform”.

Experts believe the new group, which could be led by President Xi Jinping{習近平}, will provide institutional support for reforms. The decision to set up the body at the highest level sends a signal that concrete steps will be taken after years of the public calling for change. The high-level group will also be responsible for drafting guidelines for implementation of reforms.

Political observers as well as diplomats based in Beijing have smelt the changes towards NDRC, which has been treated as the most powerful government body until now as it oversees almost all the industries including state-owned enterprises and has in its ambit vital sectors such as energy, technology and emerging industries such as green energy.

Some foreign diplomats have raised questions regarding the function of NDRC and the new leading group. Authorities said the new group will deal with a more macro level of reforms across sectors in a bid to assist top leaders in implementing the reform plan. Meanwhile, the NDRC, which bears development, reform and resource allocation roles, faces a lot of issues on the execution front which need to be fixed.

While NDRC will continue to play a major role even under the new regime, there is no doubt that the agency is also under reform in this round of shake-up of power. Officials said NDRC function needs to be improved further as it is an important collaboration body within the government. Under new Premier Li Keqiang’s {李克强} leadership, the NDRC has already relinquished several administrative approval rights, while striving to improve the approval procedures’ transparency and efficiency.

Going ahead, the new leading group will be the highest level organization that handles reform, which should ensure much better implementation of reforms.

There are expectations that Xi will lead the new group, while Han Zheng, currently the Party Secretary of Shanghai, will be his deputy. According to the communique issued on Nov. 12, the team will be in charge of mapping reform on an overall basis, arranging and coordinating reform, and pushing forward reform as a whole. It will also supervise the implementation of reform plans.

Xu Shaoshi {徐紹史}, director of NDRC, has said deeper reform involves various important missions. The NDRC will continue to work closely and coordinate the development plan of the central government, accelerating improvements in administrative approvals, investment system, macro-economic regulation, and pricing mechanism, he said.

– Contact the reporter at [email protected]


EJ Insight writer