China picks rising star to run new natural resources ministry

BEIJING (Reuters) - China on Monday chose Lu Hao, a young politician who’s risen swiftly through the Communist Party ranks over the past 15 years, to run a new Ministry of Natural Resources, as the government undergoes its biggest overhaul in years.

FILE PHOTO: Lu Hao, the governor of Heilongjiang, gestures as he speaks at a Heilongjiang delegation group discussion at the National People's Congress (NPC) in Beijing, China, March 6, 2016. REUTERS/Stringer

Current ministers for agriculture and environmental protection were also voted in to run their expanded ministries amid a broad government reshuffle at this year’s annual National People’s Congress.

The selections were read out at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, following last week’s announcement of sweeping government reforms with the creation and expansion of several new ministries aimed at making policymaking more efficient.

At 50, Lu is young for a politician by China’s standards and has risen through the ranks quickly, becoming the youngest provincial governor in the country when he was made governor of Heilongjiang in the industrial and cornbelt northeast, in 2013.

Under his tenure, Lu has overseen economic and social upheaval in the region, which was hit hard by the steel and coal industry downturn in 2016 and saw widespread protests by workers over unpaid wages and pay cuts.

He was marked out as a rising star when he was appointed head of the Communist Youth League in 2008.

While Chinese President Xi Jinping has moved to sideline the faction, once seen as a breeding ground for future leaders, he still needs broad party support and can’t completely ignore those associated with the League.

Another Youth League alumnae, Hu Chunhua, was also appointed a vice premier on Monday.

A graduate in economics from the prestigious Peking University, Lu was Beijing’s youngest vice mayor when he was named to the position in 2003 at the age of 35.

The Ministry of Natural Resources will replace the Ministry of Land & Resources, State Oceanic Administration (SOA) and the national surveying and mapping bureau.

Li Ganjie, head of the Ministry for Environmental Protection (MEP), was elected to take over the reins of the new Ministry of Ecological Environment, which will absorb the MEP and take on duties overseeing river, marine and soil pollution as well as climate change held by other ministries and departments.

Han Changfu has been agriculture minister since 2009 and will head the new Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, which will oversee policy on agriculture, rural areas and its people.

Reporting by Shu Zhang and Christian Shepherd; additional reporting by Meng Meng and Ben Blanchard; writing by Josephine Mason; Editing by Amrutha Gayathri and Richard Pullin