China’s Top 10 for 2012


Who are going to be the top 10 people or groups making the most impact in the Chinese world, and on Australia’s relations with China, in the Dragon Year of 2012? Rowan Callick looks at the names to watch out for in China over the next 12 months.

1. It’s hard to go past Xi Jinping for a start. In October he will take over from Hu Jintao as the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party at the party’s five-year national congress in October, and thus become the top man (no woman has ever so far reached the Politburo Standing Committee) in the country. He will not be expected to initiate many changes for a couple of years – if indeed he does have a reform agenda, which no one really knows – since it will probably take that long for his own taizidang (princeling) appointees to work their way into the required positions of responsibility, succeeding the tuanpai (Youth League) supporters of Hu.

2. People’s Bank of China governor Zhou Xiaochuan has had a decade in the top job overseeing monetary policy, and this year will be as important as any – with the march of the yuan as a trading currency, and further pressure from the electioneering USA and many other countries to accelerate the appreciation of the currency. There is strong speculation that in the leadership reshuffle cascading down from the top, he may be succeeded by China Construction Bank Chairman Guo Shuqing, a former head of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange.


3. Chen Bingde, the PLA Chief of Staff, who’s been busy building relations with US counterparts, and who is responsible for the continuing rapid modernisation of the PLA – while in 2012 trying harder to calm growing concerns among China’s neighbours, especially about its ambitions in the South China Sea.

4. Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, the Chinese equivalent of eBay, with a finger in many other pieces of China’s massive and fast growing Internet pie. He has followed Western online entrepreneurs in taking a green path, pledging to divert 0.3 percent of all revenues to environmental causes. His persisting but socially aware success indicates that he is also aware of the dangers for entrepreneurs in China of seeking to push their influence too far. Brushes with those in real power always leave the businessmen bruised and battered.

5. Henry Tang, set to succeed Donald Tsang as Hong Kong’s chief executive following the election/selection on March 25. Crucially, he has the backing of Beijing, which ultimately decides who runs the city since it is within Chinese sovereignty, albeit ruled through the “one country, two systems” format. China experimented with its first appointee, Tung Chee-hwa, believing that such a tycoon would best reflect the style of the city. But he floundered, long-time public servant Tsang steadied the ship, and Beijing as a result believes that Hong Kong is best run by mandarins, especially those like Tang with a financial background.

6. China’s Olympic Games squad. At the Beijing games, China topped the table, winning 51 gold medals to the USA’s 36. It will be fascinating to see if the Chinese team can maintain the momentum away from home, at the Olympics in London. It would be foolish to bet against China scoring a swag of golds again – though it is unlikely to replicate the level of the triumph in Beijing.

7. Cheng Yen, the Buddhist nun, based in Hualien on Taiwan’s magnificent east coast, who founded and runs the Tzu Chi Foundation, the largest NGO in the Chinese-speaking world. Her organisation is the most effective aid agency in the region, very often the first on the ground with practical support after emergencies – such as the Indonesian tsunami in 2001 and the Japanese tsunami last year – with its “blue angel” uniformed volunteers.

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8. Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo – whose influence, inside China and internationally, will continue to build, as did that of the recently deceased Czech writer and later president Vaclav Havel, the longer he remains in jail.

9. Andrew Michelmore, the chief executive of MMG, the Melbourne-based, Hong Kong-listed Minmetals subsidiary which is steadily but surely building an international resources giant which will not only provide strategic resources for Chinese industry, but prove highly profitable in its own right. The synergy of his management team with their Chinese counterparts, is ground-breaking, and their patient and painstaking research will win further global acquisitions in 2012.

10. Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who launched the white paper on “Australia in the Asian Century” and former Treasury secretary Ken Henry, who is in charge of delivering the report in mid 2012. This is a rare opportunity to align Australian policies to greatest effect in terms of economic and social enmeshment with Asia, with an especially strong place of course for Australia’s biggest trading partner, China. 

*Rowan Callick is the Asia Pacific editor for The Australian newspaper.


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