POISON CHALICE

Nobody wants to be in charge of spending $500 billion in China’s sovereign wealth fund

May 27, 2013
May 27, 2013

Running China’s main sovereign wealth fund is a powerful job that a series of powerful leaders and executives don’t seem to want.

The chairman’s position has been left open at the China Investment Corporation since Lou Jiwei left in March to become China’s finance minister. “Those with the right qualifications don’t want the job. Those who want the job don’t have the right qualifications,” one CIC executive told the Financial Times (paywall).

Several candidates seem to think the job is cursed, in part because CIC’s hasty investments in its first few years of operation from 2007 may include some potential disasters—and that doesn’t include well-known debacles like the fund’s investments in Morgan Stanley and Blackstone. Potential CIC bosses are worried that the blame for additional losses will be pinned on them.

Reputed candidates who turned down the job include Jiang Jianqing, chairman of the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, Huang Qifan the mayor of Chongqing, and Yi Gang, a central bank deputy governor. Shanghai vice-mayor Tu Guangshao, the most recent front-runner, also seems reluctant to take up the post.

Even promoting from within is no simple matter. CIC’s number two, Gao Xiqing, studied in the US in the 1980s on a course not sanctioned by the party, unofficially precluding him from a ministerial level job. If more CIC investments turn out to be ticking time bombs, that may prove to be a blessing.

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