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Son of former premier Zhu Rongji talks up technology after denouncing property

Levin Zhu Yunlai, the son of former premier Zhu Rongji, praised the state of new technology in China in a keynote speech to a high-profile conference in Beijing on Friday, a week after he poured cold water over the country’s property market.

Zhu was speaking as a “financial expert” at the Global Innovator Conference, a gathering of start-up executives, because the former chief executive of China International Capital Corporation (CICC) has not assumed a new title in the last two years.

Levin Zhu, son of former premier Zhu Rongji, quits investment bank CICC

But Zhu was unmistakably the guest of honour at the event whose audience – including Eric Jing Xiandong, chief executive of Ant Financial Services Group; Ge Huayong, chairman of China UnionPay; and Liu Zhen, former vice-president of Uber China – applauded his broad-ranging speech on the role of technology in human progress.

“What shall we call the age we are living in?” he asked rhetorically, more from the perspective of a scientist than an investment banker. “There are so many fast emerging technologies: big data, cloud computing, autonomous driving, virtual reality, and fintech … these are the areas we need to explore.”

The conference is being held by the China Business Council of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec), an association sponsored by China’s big banks and CICC.

Zhu, 59, who studied atmospheric science at the University of Wisconsin, is believed to have played a key role in turning CICC, the first joint-stock investment bank in China, into the king of initial public offerings in early 2000s by floating big state-owned enterprises.

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CICC was established by Morgan Stanley and China Construction Bank in 1995 and was dominant in managing overseas share sales by state-owned firms shortly after Zhu joined in 1998. His father oversaw China’s burgeoning economy as premier from 1998 to 2003.

Since leaving CICC two years ago, Leven Zhu’s career course of has been something of a mystery. His name showed up in a corporate filing by Anbang Insurance – the mainland Chinese insurance company that has been aggressively buying overseas assets – in late 2014 as a director. But he told journalists on the sidelines of a forum in March that it was a misunderstanding and he had never agreed to be a director of Anbang, according to several reports by Hong Kong-based Phoenix Television.

At the same time, and despite holding no corporate title, Zhu’s opinions and influence are still highly valued – he spoke on internet finance at the Boao Forum for Asia in 2015 and appeared at the save venue this year as a financial expert.

A week ago, Zhu attended a forum organised by Xinhua in Shanghai where he questioned the sustainability of China’s property boom.

Zhu said China had already over-built and that its present and planned supply of homes could house 400 million people, according to Xinhua.

Zhu was also quoted by Xinhua as saying that China’s state sector was investing too much, therefore reducing investment opportunities for private investors and making the economy less efficient.