The old generation of economic policymakers in Beijing is ceding centre stage to a new one as the Trump administration in the US threatens to tear up the global trade rule book.
Whether China will move towards an open and ordered market economy, based on the achievements of people such as central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan, will be largely dependent on the new team's ideas and capabilities.
The South China Morning Post today introduces a series looking at those who have contributed to China's current economic situation and those who are likely to shape its future.
Central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan looks likely to remain in the post for a while as Beijing needs his experience and expertise more than ever to navigate uncharted financial waters, analysts said.
The 69-year-old was appointed head of the People's Bank of China in late 2002 and policymakers in Beijing are hoping he's be able to steer it through a gathering storm as money flees the country at an alarming rate, debts are piling up to dangerously high levels, and the currency's value is falling even though Beijing has spent US$1 trillion of its foreign exchange reserves to defend it.
More from the South China Morning Post:
The man who pushed for a global yuan - China's central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan
Budgets, targets and Trump: what to watch at China's 'Two Sessions'
'The central bank is neither god nor a magician ...' China's central bank chief Zhou Xiaochuan breaks silence over the yuan
Donald Trump's victory in last year's US presidential election and his threat to label China a currency manipulator have made it all the more important for Beijing to have a trusted voice that can be heard in Washington. Few cadres inside China's decision-making elite can do that better than Zhou, a fluent English speaker who has developed a reputation as a reformer in his 15 years at the helm of the central bank.
"China's top leaders have realised that a central bank governor is not only a financial official but also an important diplomat," University of Hong Kong economics professor Chen Zhiwu said. "Zhou is the face of China for the international financial community."
"He may personally want to retire to spend time doing research, giving lectures, writing books or just enjoying music," Chen said. "But it's just hard to find another person [to replace him]."
Liu Shengjun, an economist at the Shanghai-based China Europe International Business School, said Zhou was "irreplaceable" and would remain in office through the Communist Party's 19th national congress late this year – a key meeting where a fresh leadership line-up will be decided – and would only to retire in March next year when his five-year term as one of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference's vice-chairmen ended. The vice-chairmanship is an honorary position that gives Zhou the status of "state leader".