Cheng Siwei, the former vice-chair of the Standing Committee of the National Peoples Congress, has long been an influential player in Chinas now-three-decade-long process of economic reform.
Last night, he was honoured by the Canadian International Council as Globalist of the Year. (The CIC is the think-tank backed by Jim Balsillie, co-CEO of RIM; last year, it named OECD secretary general Angel Gurria as globalist of the year.)
Siwei, 73, has represented China at the World Economic Forum in Davos for the past three years. He speaks softly, but his words carry weight. For instance, in late 2007, he made some remarks that were widely interpreted as a signal China would start diversifying out of its U.S. currency reserves, sparking a run on the greenback.
Speaking at last nights event and, previously, at the annual conference of Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, Ont., over the weekend, Siwei was very careful with his words when talking about Chinas currency reserves and the deepening economic crisis.
But on the latter topic, he did make a few predictions.
For one, he suggested that Chinas GDP would grow next year by between 5.5% and 10%. That, to many, might seem wildly optimistic on the upper end.
On the other hand, Siwei, who called himself a prudent optimist, wasnt all sweetness and light before the crowd of business, political and academic luminaries last night.
For one thing, he suggested that he thought the subprime crisis would work its way through the global financial system by the end of 2009.
For another: The good news is that Siwei figures the world economy will recover. The bad news is he doesnt see it happening before the end of 2011.