Status of China central bank chief remains a mystery after meetings

Those hoping for clarity about the future of the leadership of China's Central Bank were disappointed this past weekend.

Zhou Xiaochuan
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Zhou Xiaochuan

Zhou Xiaochuan, governor of the People's Bank of China, was very visible at the International Monetary Fund meetings in Washington, D.C. over the weekend, but did not address publicly—nor it appears privately—speculation about his future and possible departure.

Recent reports in the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere have suggested Zhou might be leaving his post or even pushed out—which has in turn led to questions about the future of reforms in China if he leaves. He has long been a promoter of key reforms, such as allowing interest rates to float.

There was a ripple of excitement when Zhou arrived at a JPMorgan cocktail reception where CNBC was present on Saturday night. There also was anticipation he might say something about the status of his tenure at a low-key meeting held on Sunday morning with the world's top central bankers, as well as at a Sunday afternoon meeting of the Institute of International Finance. But people in attendance at those events told CNBC that he did not address his future—nor was he asked about it.

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On Sunday morning, Zhou appeared on a panel called "The Outlook for Global Growth" alongside Janet Yellen of the U.S. Federal Reserve, Governor Haruhiko Kuroda of the Bank of Japan, and Portuguese economist Vitor Constancio, vice president of the European Central Bank. The panel was moderated by Jean-Claude Trichet, former head of the European Central Bank. The panel was held at the Inter-American Development Bank.

The panel was part of an off-the-record event held every year by the Group of 30, known as the G30, on the Sunday morning of the IMF fall meetings.

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The G30 is a nonprofit, international body, and its website indicates that it primarily comprises current and formal central bankers from around the world, along with leading economists. The yearly meeting is called the International Banking Seminar and is by invitation only; reporters are never invited, according to Stuart Mackintosh, the group's executive director.

According to four people in attendance at the meeting, however, Zhou did not discuss whether he would remain the head of the PBOC. His comments were limited to the economy of China, the Chinese savings rate, and China's currency, the renminbi.

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Attendees who spoke with CNBC did so on condition of anonymity because of the private nature of the event.

None of Zhou's comments departed from the current consensus about the Chinese economy—annual GDP growth of about 7 percent or slightly above—according to those who spoke with us.

At a meeting of trustees of the Institute of International Finance, the topic of Zhou's tenure did not come up either.