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Movers and shakers in China's economy
( 2004-01-08 14:22) (China Business Weekly)

Editor note: With the support of its readers, China Business Weekly has selected China's top 10 movers and shakers in the country's economy last year. The 10 were picked for their performance in their own field and their contribution to the nation's economic growth in 2003. Beyond their recognition among their peers, their accomplishments and personalities as well as the national media have pushed them into the public limelight.

Zhou Xiaochuan

Aware of the urgent need to deepen reform in the country's financial sector, the 55-year-old governor of the People's Bank of China brought an aggressive and reformist style to the nation's central bank.

In his new job, the former chairman of the China Securities Regulatory Commission, despite international pressure to revalue the local currency, stressed frequently the importance of currency stability, and chose instead to focus his efforts on improving the management of foreign exchange.

He pushed forward the liberalization of interest rates, with the central bank now allowed commercial banks' lending rates to companies to move within a wider band to give more freedom to banks, putting them in a better position to finance small and medium-sized enterprises.

During the past year, the renminbi has been kept stable, national foreign currency reserves have risen dramatically and inflation has been kept low.

Liu Mingkang

Few people know the country's banking system better than Liu Mingkang, chairman of the China Banking Regulatory Commission (CBRC).

In April, the appointment of the 56-year-old Shanghai native to the post marked a milestone on China's long march to a stronger and healthier financial system.

No single word can describe his firmness.

The banking industry regulator soon issued a deadline for State-owned banks to clean up their old dud loans.

Liu also fired the starting gun a few weeks ago for the Big Four banks' race to list their shares, either at home or abroad. He is encouraging all banks to use every means possible to cut down their ratio of non-performing loans to 15 per cent by 2005.

With the 35,000 rural co-operatives, Liu was even firmer. He has pledged that within five years 90 per cent of these "farmers' banks" will be closed and their bad assets - estimated at over 500 billion yuan (US$60.2 billion) - will be disposed of.

In the ongoing restructuring of China's banking system, Liu can be seen as both the leader guiding the sector forward and the driver whipping it on from behind.

Wen Tiejun

Agricultural economist Wen Tiejun won his fame last year not as a theory maker, but as the creator of China's first free farmer's training centre - the Yanyangchu Countryside Construction Institute in Hebei Province.

Wen is a senior research fellow with the China Society for Economic Reform and the chief editor of the journal China Reform. A prolific researcher of rural economies and rural affairs, Wen is never satisfied with developing new theories. He bases his research on massive field investigations across the country, and his research projects concerned such problems as farmers' credit situation, rural finance, farmers' insurance, and medical reform in China's countryside.

Long Yongtu

After successfully helping bringing China into the World Trade Organization (WTO) after nine years of hard work, former vice-minister of Foreign Trade and Economic Co-operation Long Yongtu became famous once again in May last year. But this time his role was changed. He acted as the organizer of an international seminar on "SARS and the Asian Economy." It was the only major international event held in Beijing during the SARS outbreak in May, and it played an important role in reviving people's confidence in the Chinese economy despite the SARS attack.

Tang Yunxiang

Tang, 58, chairman of PICC Property & Casualty Co Ltd, led the company, China's largest property insurer, onto the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in November, blazing a trail for mainland's insurers to get listed in overseas markets.

PICC's initial public offering drew massive demand from retail investors. The IPO shares were oversubscribed 136-fold by retail investors in Hong Kong, while the institutional tranche of the deal was oversubscribed 15-fold.

Wu Ying

The rip-roaring take-off, in 2003, of cheap limited mobility service Xiaolingtong, or Little Smart, known in the industry as PHS (personal handy access), has made UTStarcom and its founder and vice-chairman Wu Ying the biggest success story in the telecoms manufacturing industry.

UTStarcom upgraded earnings forecasts several times in 2003, thanks to numerous big orders from Chinese fixed-line carriers, which are aggressively promoting Xiaolingtong. All this forms a stark contrast with other gear vendors, stung by a slowdown in spending by operators.

Wu was the most active promoter of Xiaolingtong in 2003.

Dismissing doom-sayers' assertion that Xiaolingtong is a backward technology that will be washed out of the market when the superspeed 3G (third generation) wireless services are rolled out, Wu says the service will live as long as fixed-line networks exist.

Huang Fajing

Huang, 37, board chairman of Wenzhou-based Rifeng Lighter Co Ltd, rocketed into people's ken because of his lawsuit against lighter manufacturers in European Union (EU) countries.

A draft law proposed by EU lighter manufacturers in 1998 required safety locks for lighters worth less than 2 euros (US$2.48), obviously aimed at cheap lighters, mostly made in China. Before the draft law took force, EU lighter companies further charged China's lighter manufacturers with dumping.

Huang, representing the Wenzhou Cigarette Instrument Industry Association, allied with other 15 lighter manufacturers to fight the charge.

The detailed evidence presented and Huang's statement that "No Damage" had been done were accepted by the court, and the EU side withdrew the charge.

This was the first time for a non-governmant organization in China to win a lawsuit involving international trade barriers, and Huang played a leading role in achieving its successful settlement.

William Ding

William Ding, founder of China's leading Internet portal NetEase.com, is a great survivor of the Internet bust.

Ding, the icon of China's Internet industry, was disgraced in 2001 when trading in his company's NASDAQ-listed shares was suspended for four months.

With the industry-wide rebound, Ding has regained his dignity and fortune.

NetEase.com shares have risen several hundred per cent in the past year and become profitable because of increasing revenues from advertising, short messaging and online games.

NetEase.com and its rivals Sohu.com and Sina.com have been among the best performers in NASDAQ since October, 2002.

Ding, who has been shying away from the media for the past year, was ranked by Forbes Magazine as the richest person in China, with a fortune worth US$1 billion.

Timothy Chan

Timothy Chan, 30, is best known for Legend, a multi-player online game which is enjoying incredible popularity in China.

Chan is the founder of Shanda Networking, which provides Legend and other offerings to its 170 million registered users.

Shanda is the largest online gaming firm in China, with about 40 million online gamers. Chan founded Shanda in 1999 with 500,000 yuan (US$60,241) which he had made on the stock market.

Under Chan's leadership, Shanda has been reaping profits from the surging demand for online games in the country.

Chan was ranked by Forbes Magazine as China's sixth-richest person last year with a net worth of US$490 million.

Sun Dawu

Sun became well known nationwide in 2003 because of his arrest. As a billionaire and a private entrepreneur in the Dawu Industry and Trade Group, based in Hebei Province, Sun often criticizes government policies that are prejudiced against the private sector. He points out the institutional origin of policies that are unfair to farmers and the countryside. He is considered as a rural theoretician.

In July 2003, Sun was arrested by local police charged with illegally taking over private deposits. Sun and his lawyer argued that Dawu Group did not take over the deposits, but had simply persuaded fellow villagers to lend the group their personal money and that the group would repay them with interest. In China, this kind of financing is illegal.

Sun received support, including appeals on his behalf from famous entrepreneurs and scholars, as well as tens of thousands of online petitions. On October 31 he was sentenced to three years in prison but let off with four years on probation, a relatively light juridical punishment.

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