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Dai Xianglong
Governor, People's Bank of China 
Master of the currency - and much more

Whenever there is a rumor about a yuan devaluation, all eyes turn to Dai Xianglong. As governor of the central bank, the People's Bank of China (PBoC), and head of its powerful currency policy committee, Dai is the frontman for China's currency policy. He sent jitters through Asian markets in July when he failed to repeat the usual "we will not devalue" line and said instead the yuan's value would be "determined by market forces." Though he still insists no devaluation is imminent, analysts interpreted his comment to mean one could be coming, maybe next year. Yet Dai is much more than just the currency master. In arguably the most turbulent economic times in recent Chinese history, he has pushed through important financial reforms. Over the past three years, Dai, 55, has cut bank interest rates seven times to stimulate domestic consumer spending. He has also restructured the PBoC along the lines of the U.S. Federal Reserve by replacing its provincial branches with cross-provincial ones. And he has been at the forefront of reform of the state-owned commercial-bank sector, establishing asset-management companies to look after the non-performing loans of state-owned enterprises. He set up risk-assessment systems for loans and has expanded pilot projects to allow foreign banks to handle renminbi account. Dai's star began rising in 1993, when his boss and mentor Zhu Rongji (now premier) became governor of the PBoC, appointing Dai as senior vice governor and then governor in 1995. Those were the days of white-hot economic growth, plagued by double-digit inflation not seen since the early 1950s. As Zhu's financial lieutenant, Dai helped coax the economy to a soft landing. There is speculation he may move to Shanghai to replace party boss Huang Ju. But for now, Dai is the man the world watches when it is looking for a reading on the future of the yuan.

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Photo: Xinhua