Why China Is Tightening Its Oversight of Banking and Tech
A real estate market that is threatening the financial system and holding back the economy. A tech industry that is being targeted by aggressive U.S. efforts to cut it off from the world. Tech companies that are trying to keep pace with fast-moving developments in artificial intelligence.
As its trade and economic rivalry with the West has intensified, China has launched a government overhaul intended to address some of its biggest stated priorities. A series of changes handed down from the highest reaches of the government were approved Friday at the annual gathering of the country’s legislature. That body, the National People’s Congress, also confirmed Xi Jinping for a third term as China’s president.
The moves reflect broader changes by Mr. Xi to centralize Communist Party control throughout the government. Several regulatory agencies are being realigned to stabilize the financial sector, which faces a potential onslaught of losses from loans made to troubled real estate developers. In another key change, the central government’s bank regulator will start playing a bigger role in supervising thousands of fast-growing local banks, which continue to make many of the riskiest loans.
To boost tech, China’s primary scientific policy agency is being refocused on Mr. Xi’s goal of having China make its own advanced semiconductors and not rely on imports.
In the battle over tech prowess, the United States, Japan and the Netherlands have imposed limits on the sale of equipment used to make such microchips, which Western countries worry will be used by the Chinese military.
Mr. Xi bluntly warned on Monday that “Western countries led by the United States have implemented all-around containment, encirclement and suppression of China.”
Here are three main areas where China is reordering government oversight.
Financial regulation is changing to tackle a rolling real estate crisis.
China is in the middle of a slow-motion housing crash that could ripple through its banks. Dozens of real estate developers have defaulted on their debts to investors overseas. Nobody knows for sure what the risks are for China’s banks, which have lent heavily to the real estate sector, but the fallout is expected to continue.
In response, Beijing is strengthening what has been known as the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission. It is being renamed the State Administration of Financial Supervision, and municipal regulators will cede their authority to the national officials. The State Administration of Financial Supervision will wield a much bigger role in overseeing small, local banks, which represent nearly half the country’s banking market.
Alicia García-Herrero, the chief economist for Asia and the Pacific at Natixis, a French investment bank, said that the centralization suggested preparations to reorder the banking sector. “That level of concentration of power to me is only explained by — and this is the key — a massive restructuring coming,” she said.
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The new agency will also take responsibility from the central bank — the People’s Bank of China — for the protection of consumers and investors. The central bank will also reopen offices around the country that it had closed in a previous reorganization, providing further scrutiny of local financial institutions.
The difficulty with replacing local officials with national officials is that local officials may have a better understanding of financial conditions in their towns and be able to stop fraudulent investment schemes, said Victor Shih, a political scientist at the University of California, San Diego. But officials with local ties may also be more easily influenced by bank managers to ignore misconduct.
The National Development and Reform Commission, China’s powerful central planning agency, will separately relinquish its oversight of the sale of corporate bonds, which are a form of borrowing. That duty will now fall to the China Securities Regulatory Commission, which already oversees the bond trading.
The Ministry of Science and Technology is being streamlined to give it more control over funding.
China is bestowing more clout on its science and technology ministry. The plan would give the ministry more control over how government science funds were spent. Officials believe that heavier top-down supervision of innovation, from the people involved to the research conducted, will produce critical breakthroughs in high-end computer chips.
Some of the ministry’s other responsibilities outside of high-tech, such as developing advances in agriculture, will be transferred to other ministries.
A new science and technology committee under the Communist Party will be installed at the ministry, part of Mr. Xi’s efforts to expand the party’s reach over the state bureaucracy.
“The attention being given to the science and technology bureaucracy appears to be a renewed focus on hard tech, like chips, the type of things the U.S. and allies are currently cutting China off from,” said Graham Webster, the editor in chief of the DigiChina Project at the Stanford University Cyber Policy Center.
A National Data Bureau will centralize how data is managed.
China announced the construction of a National Data Bureau on Tuesday, reflecting China’s commitment to data and artificial intelligence as fundamental drivers of its future economy.
The new bureau will consolidate efforts that were once the remit of multiple agencies. It will be overseen by the National Development and Reform Commission, and will support things like the building of a national infrastructure to transmit data.
“The debut of the Data Bureau is a perfect echo of top leaders’ pledge to ensure both development and security of China’s data-related issues,” said Bruce Pang, chief economist for Greater China at Jones Lang LaSalle, the global real estate and investment advisory firm.
Data raises fraught issues in China — it is central to the development of cutting-edge technologies, but also seen by the authorities as a strategic resource that must be tightly minded.
Under Mr. Xi, the country has expanded its control over data in the name of national security. As part of a crackdown in 2021, China unrolled new rules governing how companies collect and manage data. Analysts expect the oversight of personal data and cybersecurity to mostly remain the purview of China’s powerful internet watchdog, the Cyberspace Administration of China.
China views data as the backbone of its economy in the future. In November, the country opened a data exchange in Shenzhen, a market similar to a securities exchange but where brokers and buyers instead trade different kinds of data. Just as stock markets can enable valuable companies to find investors, the new Shenzhen exchange is supposed to determine the most productive use of data across the economy.
“The government is interested in figuring out what data it has and how to extract value from that data,” said Tom Nunlist, a tech analyst at Trivium China, a Beijing-based research firm. The new bureau reflects “the culmination of a national data strategy to manage and deploy data at a centralized level,” he added.
Li You contributed research.
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