SHANGHAI - China has removed the head of its securities regulator following a turbulent period in the country's stock markets, appointing a top state banking executive as his replacement, as leaders move to restore confidence in the economy.
The announcement on the official Xinhua news agency on Saturday follows a string of assurances from senior leaders following the Lunar New Year holiday that China will underpin its slowing economy and steady its wobbly currency.
Xinhua said Xiao Gang, chairman of the China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC) since 2013, had been succeeded by Liu Shiyu, chairman of the Agricultural Bank of China Ltd. (AgBank) and a former deputy governor of the central bank.
"Xiao's departure is not a surprise following the recent stock disaster. This is a role vulnerable to public criticism because most Chinese retail investors are destined to lose money in such a market," said Zhang Kaihua, a fund manager of Nanjing-based hedge fund Huyang Investment.
Reuters could not immediately reach the CSRC or Agricultural Bank of China for comment.
Xiao and the CSRC came under fire as China's Shanghai and Shenzhen stock markets slumped as much as 40 percent in just a few months last summer.
In a further blow, a stock index "circuit breaker" introduced in January to limit stock market losses was deactivated after four days of use because it was blamed for exacerbating a sharp selloff. Online media nicknamed Xiao "Mr. Circuit Breaker."
Reuters reported in January that Xiao, 57, had offered to resign following the "circuit-breaker" failure. The CSRC said at the time the information did not conform to the facts.
The gyrations in China's stock markets, an unexpected devaluation of the yuan in August and sharp falls in currency reserves rattled global markets, raising concerns about the health of the economy and Beijing's ability to steer the country through both a protracted slowdown in growth and a shift away from manufacturing towards services.
Economic growth slipped last year to 6.9 percent, stellar by Western standards, but the weakest pace for China in more than two decades.