In light of Bo Xilai’s move to Party Secretary of Chongqing, as predicted by us two months ago, the guessing game is on as to the identity of the new Minister of Commerce to replace Mr. Bo. Our money is on Chen Deming. Having, until very, recently been in an advisory role at the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), Chen has been known to us for several years, courtesy of the unique relationship our Senior Partner, Chris Devonshire-Ellis, has with senior Chinese officials, and as identified in our annual ministerial briefing each spring (see May 2007, April 2006, and April 2005 issues of China Briefing magazine on our archives). Mr. Chen’s position within the NDRC has seen him take specific responsibility for investment in the energy sector, a key component of China’s inbound investment policy.
Chen Deming was born in Shanghai in 1949 and holds a doctorate degree in management. Previously the mayor of Suzhou and party secretary in Jiangsu province, he was elected governor of Shaanxi province in 2005 before his appointment to the NDRC 18 months later. Chen has just been given the role of Vice-Minister of Commerce and we expect to see him further promoted after Chinese New Year as the full ministerial head once he has had time to assess his new surroundings.
His role at the NDRC has been a powerful one. Since China has no energy or oil ministry, the NDRC is China’s top energy policy-maker, controlling domestic oil products and electricity prices. In the absence of an energy ministry, Beijing’s policies are centered between the NDRC and several smaller ministries, with final approval coming directly from Premier Wen Jiabao, but with the primary influence being Chen and his team of advisors. The NDRC role for Chen has been one of ensuring adequate energy supply, while also restructuring the country’s energy industry, overhauling the oil price regime to reflect market mechanisms and establishing a management program for the strategic petroleum reserve. He has also encouraged renewables and promoted energy conservation.
“I have always found Mr. Chen to be a courteous and pragmatic man, occasionally stern but with a good sense of humor. His role at the NDRC in understanding China’s energy needs will play a pivotal role in the future FDI policies China takes via his new position at the MOC,” says Chris Devonshire-Ellis.