China is about to get its first new central bank chief in 15 years, and the ultimate selection for the hot seat could demonstrate what Beijing is planning for the world's second-largest economy.
Zhou Xiaochuan, the head of the People's Bank of China, is expected to retire soon. He's had the job since 2002, making him China's and the G-20's longest-serving central bank head, working under three Chinese presidents and alongside three U.S. Federal Reserve governors.
One of his greatest accomplishments was to end a direct peg of China's yuan to the dollar, allowing market forces to play a greater role in setting the value of the currency.
Under his tenure, Zhou, 69, also oversaw the rise of the yuan to become more internationally accepted as a reserve currency. Zhou was at times controversial given his support for financial reform, making him a radical thinker in Beijing circles.
Zhou, an engineer by training and fluent in English, was well-liked abroad. He "had an international profile ... in terms of reassuring the international markets — everyone thought he had a great deal of credibility and listened to him," said Kerry Brown, professor of Chinese politics at King's College London. "That's a hard act to follow."
Lately, Beijing has tightened its grip on the yuan to fend off market volatility and financial risk. While wider calls for market-oriented reform haven't gone away, experts say China is questioning what will work best at home.
There's a "diminishing confidence in the Western model, post-global financial crisis," said Andrew Polk, co-founder and economist at Beijing-based research firm Trivium China.
Unlike its Western counterparts, China's central bank doesn't have full autonomy to decide policy: The State Council, the country's highest executive body, has the final say. Still, the PBOC did gain some relative independence under Zhou. What's at stake now is how much liberty Beijing's pick for the job will have — or if China's top leaders will exert greater control on the levers behind the scenes.
Meet the two frontrunners: