From folk singer to international finance expert – Liao Min is a new face on China’s trade team in Washington

On the official list of the Beijing delegation that arrived in Washington on Tuesday for trade talks, there is a new name.

Liao Min, a well-known folk singer during his university days in the late 1980s, is now deputy director of the Office of the Central Commission for Financial and Economic Affairs, the inner party economic policymaking body, and is among those in the US with Liu He, China’s vice-premier and the top economic adviser to Chinese President Xi Jinping.

It marks the first time for Liao’s new title has been made public. Liao previously worked as a director of the International Economics Bureau of the Central Leading Group on Financial and Economic Affairs, the predecessor to the commission.

Liao, 49, is considered a rising star among China’s economic policymakers for his international finance experience. A source who knows him from his early years says Liao is a fluent English speaker who started his career as a trader with proficiency in both Reuters and Bloomberg data terminals.

In his new capacity, Liao plays a key role in drafting China’s policies and tactics in dealing with US trade threats.

His career started to take off in December 2016 when he was promoted to Beijing to work under Liu.

Liu had searched for a year for an official who was familiar with international finance and economy after the former international economics bureau chief, Fang Xinghai, was promoted to vice-chairman of the China Securities Regulatory Commission in 2015.

Fang recommended Liao, who got the job, according to an article published by the social media account of the official Beijing News.

Before that, Liao had worked for five years as the Shanghai branch chief for the China Banking Regulatory Commission, after seven years in the head office of the regulator in Beijing.

Unlike most Chinese Communist officials who are faceless, Liao was literally a star. While studying at Peking University from 1986 to 1993, he wrote folk songs and released albums. Even now, his name shows up as “a folk music singer” on Douban, one of China’s biggest music and film review websites.

But after leaving college, Liao’s career in banking and finance took precedence.

He started at the People’s Bank of China, the central bank, and Bank of China, one of the four main state-owned lenders. His 1998 book, “The Rising Euro,” was acknowledged as one of the most comprehensive studies of the European currency in China.

He revisited the issue in 2017, publishing “The Euro and the Battle of Ideas”. He has also written or co-authored books on financial technology and China’s financial risk control.

In an interview with a state-owned magazine in 2008, Liao said his biggest regret was that he couldn’t further his studies to obtain a doctoral degree.

“If I had another chance, I would go abroad and attend an overseas university,” Liao was quoted as saying. His official biography shows that he earned a master’s degree from Cambridge University.

According to Liao’s interview in 2008, he joined the central bank by accident.

While waiting to meet a friend at the central bank in April 1993, an employee from the bank’s foreign currency division bumped into him and asked him a few questions in English. Liao answered fluently. That impressed the chief of the division, and he offered Liao a job on the spot.