Stifled by Politics, Beijing and Shanghai Fall in Rankings of International Financial Centers

By Justin Zhang
Justin Zhang
Justin Zhang
Justin Zhang has been analyzing and writing articles on China issues since 2012.
and Angela Bright
Angela Bright
Angela Bright
Angela Bright has written for The Epoch Times since 2019.
April 1, 2023Updated: April 1, 2023

Shanghai and Beijing have both fallen sharply in the latest ranking of the world’s most competitive financial centers. The dynamism of China’s financial sector has waned markedly in part due to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s recent policies, and the trend is intensifying.

With the outbreak of the pandemic in early 2020, CCP authorities implemented an extreme “Zero-COVID” policy that seriously hurt the Chinese economy.

Meanwhile, the CCP’s ongoing heavy-handed “regulation” of the financial sector and pervasive corruption have damaged China’s financial environment.

As a reaction, Shanghai fell from fourth place in the world in March 2022 to seventh in the world Financial Center Competitiveness rankings released by the Global Financial Centers on March 23. Beijing fell to 13th place from eighth in the same period last year.

Decline in GDP Growth

China’s GDP growth in 2022 is far behind that of some other Southeast Asian countries due to the “Zero-COVID” policy, which led to many outward shifts in the industrial chain. According to recent data, Malaysia’s GDP growth rate in 2022 was 8.71 percent, Vietnam’s 8.62 percent, the Philippines’ 7.2 percent, India’s 6.7 percent, Indonesia’s 5.31 percent, Singapore’s 3.6 percent, and China’s 3.3 percent (the real figure may be lower). Such a phenomenon has been rare in the past 30 years.

However, despite China’s economic malaise, the CCP has recently sent out a series of signals that it will regulate the financial sector more tightly.

Li Wenhong, head of Beijing’s local financial supervision Bureau, said at a financial forum led by Tsinghua University that Beijing would position itself as a national financial management center and build and improve its supporting functions. Li’s disclosure that Beijing will play the role of financial regulator comes after the official revelation of a financial reform plan centered on strengthening financial regulation on March 16.

Under the plan, the CCP will create a Central Financial Commission within its Party affairs system to oversee activities in China’s financial sector and formulate major financial policies. The Central Financial Work Commission, established in 1998 but abolished in 2003, will also be restored to provide unified leadership over Party affairs in the financial system. In addition, functions of the Financial Stability and Development Committee of the State Council will be transferred to the Central Financial Commission.

Epoch Times Photo
Chinese President Xi Jinping attends the opening of the first session of the 14th National People’s Congress at The Great Hall of People in Beijing, China, on March 5, 2023. (Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

Since March, the CCP has repeatedly stated that it will strengthen the centralized and unified leadership of the Party over financial work. The People’s Bank of China, the CCP’s central bank, declared on March 15 that the financial system should “firmly uphold the Party’s overall leadership over financial stability” at its 2023 Financial stability Work conference.

Distorting  Development

Fang Qi, a U.K.-based veteran of the Chinese financial industry, said that some regulations and policies imposed by the CCP would further distort the development of the financial sector.

“Judging from Beijing’s current positioning as the national financial management center and the newly announced reform plan for financial institutions, it is confirmed that ‘finance should be under the Party’s management.’ So you can imagine that the financial industry will follow this trend and flock to Beijing because China is not a market economy, but a government-driven economic model,” he told The Epoch Times on March 26.

After the reform of the tax-sharing system, the central authorities collect most of the tax revenue from the local authorities and then redistribute it, which is a transfer payment. As a result, the headquarters of most banks and state-owned enterprises were also located in Beijing.

By December 2022, 782 domestic and overseas listed companies were headquartered in Beijing with a total market value of over RMB 40 trillion (about $6 trillion), an increase of 60 compared with 2021. Shanghai’s domestic and foreign listed companies, though close in number to Beijing’s 633, have a total market value less than half of the former’s, at about RMB 13 trillion (about $2 trillion).

Meanwhile, more wealthy people are flocking to Beijing than Shanghai, China’s financial hub. On the “2022 New Fortune 500 Rich” list compiled by New Fortune magazine, Beijing is home to 77 people with a combined wealth of RMB 2.5 trillion ($360 billion); Shanghai followed with 62 people and a combined wealth of RMB 1.8 trillion (about $260 billion).

Beijing is the political center of the CCP, where the rich and big companies flock to trade power and money and maximize profits.

“Because of the proximity and relationships (power-money trading) there, it’s easier to get more shares of the pie,”Fang said.

Beijing's Central Business District
Buildings shrouded in smog amid a sandstorm in the Central Business District (CBD) of Beijing on March 22, 2023. (Tingshu Wang/Reuters)

At the financial forum that ended on March. 19, Li Wenhong also vowed to promote the construction of Beijing as a global wealth management center. As early as May 2022, the CCP issued the “Opinions on Promoting the Construction of Beijing as Global Wealth Management Center” circular. Its core content is consistent with the goals of the financial reform plan recently launched—to strengthen the CCP’s ability to control wealth and capital and to clarify that the Party is the supreme leader of the financial industry.

Fang believes that this is worth watching.

“Because wealth management centers are wealth management for rich people, private banks, and other high-value objects,” he said. “Beijing wants to build a global wealth center, which means the CCP wants to manage the money of rich people both at home and abroad.”

According to Fang’s analysis, the CCP will control China’s financial activities more tightly.

Fang said that more capital and financial institutions will be attached to powerful CCP departments or political groups.

Xia Yeliang, a former economics professor at Peking University, said that with financial decision-making concentrated in the hands of the CCP, the government is equivalent to the administrative organ of the Party.

“The Party used to work behind the scenes and through government agencies, but now it has come to the fore,” he told The Epoch Times.

“We know that the more open and freer the economy and finance, the better it works. It is a basic idea and experience that if power is controlled too much, then the sector cannot have great development.”

To strengthen its control over financial activities and its ability to control money, the CCP or a certain political faction within the Party is distorting normal economic and financial activities through its absolute monopoly on power, which has caused Shanghai and Beijing to fall in the competitiveness of the world’s financial centers. If this trend continues, China’s financial environment is bound to be further damaged.

Ellen Wan contributed to the report.