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Lin Jianhai: The First Chinese Secretary-General of the International Monetary Fund

Lin Jianhai, former Secretary-General of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), concurrently serves as the Secretary-General of the IMF Council and the International Monetary and Financial Committee. Currently, he is the Vice Chairman of the International Finance Forum (IFF), Executive Director of the China Finance Forty Forum, Honorary Professor of the China Foreign Affairs University and the School of Economics of Beijing University, University of International Business and Economics, School of International Finance and Trade of Shanghai International Studies University and other universities, Member of the American Bretton Woods Commission. Lin Jianhai graduated from China University of International Business and Economics, and went on to study at University of California, Berkeley, and received a Ph.D. from George Washington University.

Lin Jianhai joined the International Monetary Fund in 1989. He has since successively served in the Asia Department, Strategy, Policy and Inspection Department, Finance and Financing Department and Secretary Department. From 2012 to 2020, he served as Secretary-General, in charge of the IMF Council, the International Monetary and Financial Committee and the Executive Board. As member of the board, he has participated in major decisions pertaining to global macroeconomic surveillance, global financial crisis relief, IMF share and global economic governance reform. He has also participated in many high-level international conferences, such as the G20 Summit and the World Economic Forum.

"Responsibility is the main driving force of my work at the IMF. One of the great joys of my work is the process of mastering macroeconomic analysis methods. Being able to grasp and prospect the complex changes and situations by setting coordinates globally and in specific countries and facing the rapidly changing international economic situations. The greater joy in the IMF lies in the sense of responsibility this work brings to me. No matter how difficult or tiring the work is, I can still enjoy it. All analysis and decision-making often boils down to a country’s economy. Development puts forward policy recommendations, ultimately to promote the country's economic development, as well as global economic development and social progress."

Youth with eager to learn, the sun of the sunrise

For Lin Jianhai, the size of the earth is relative. Born in a farm family in Panshi Town, Yueqing, Zhejiang, the village and town used to be very huge for him; along with a high-ranking position in the International Monetary Fund in Washington, the earth then became relatively small to him. All these temporal and spatial displacements and changes in the sea actually all started from a wise young man's desire to learn.

Lin Jianhai went to school with his sister when he was 5 years old. Although he was not of school age yet, he was given the opportunity to study formally because of his aptitude and cleverness. Although Lin Jianhai's study journey encountered the era of the Cultural Revolution, he has experienced all kinds of ups and downs such as suspension of school and farming, and the imprint of the times is also on him. However, the desire and persistence for knowledge and the habit of diligent study helped him in grasping precious opportunities one after another, he began to show his lofty ambitions at a young age.

In 1974, Lin Jianhai was admitted by the Beijing Institute of Foreign Trade (now renamed the University of International Business and Economics) majoring in English. During his college years, Lin Jianhai has been serving as the study committee member of the class and the representative of the English class. He received good reviews from teachers and classmates and was valued by the leaders of the department and the institution.

At the beginning of 1978, after graduating from university, due to the selection of the institution and the retention of his teacher, Lin Jianhai, who originally planned to return to work in the south, continued to study at the institution to supplement the teaching staff. At this time, the institution unexpectedly presented the opportunity to study abroad. Lin Jianhai's emerged from his outstanding examination performance. In the autumn of 1981, he came to the University of California (Berkeley) on the other side of the Pacific Ocean to study abroad, focusing on international finance.

2012 Annual Meetings with former MD Lagarde

Studying abroad 

Flying across the ocean, the world opened up a broader picture in front of Lin Jianhai. From a small farmhouse in a small town in Zhejiang Province to the internship on the 50th floor of the Bank of America headquarter in San Francisco, Lin Jianhai's vision was no longer the same. The desire and dream of studying that were once out of reach became within reality. However, he also deeply understood that in order to realize his ambition, he must work hard and keep making progress.

In the autumn of 1983, Lin Jianhai accepted a full scholarship from George Washington University and came to the east coast of the United States to study for a Ph.D. His mentor, Professor Grubb, was quite prestigious in the American academic field, and had high hopes for Lin Jianhai, the first Chinese student to study abroad. In the first semester, Lin Jianhai took six courses, far more than the general postgraduate course schedule. However, Lin Jianhai studied hard and successfully completed all the courses, which not only lived up to the expectations of the mentor, but also became a role model among the students at that time.

With the support of such a diligent and studious spirit and the strict supervision and careful guidance of his supervisor, Lin Jianhai completed his studies in just three years, successfully passed the defense of his doctoral dissertation, and obtained his degree. It is rare in the history of the institution to complete a doctorate in such a short period of time. It laid the foundation for the institution to continue to provide scholarships to Chinese students in the future, but it also set a high standard for the latecomers. 

Looking back on his 20+ years of student life, Lin Jianhai feels that there were both bitterness and sweetness. On the one hand, it was the burden of study and the pressure of exams, and on the other hand, it was the freedom and fun of student life. During study abroad and in addition to studying, the classmates often gathered together and talked at length, which was really a bit like "just a young student, guiding the country".

At a Conference

Overcome decision-making and shoulder heavy responsibilities

In 1989, Lin Jianhai decided to apply for employment at IMF. It was the international institution he had known about when he was studying in Beijing in the 1970s, and it was what his heart has desired. He recalled that when he was studying in Beijing, he and his teacher co-wrote an article related to the IMF exchange rate system, which was published in the first issue of the university's "Foreign Trade Research". Unexpectedly, from that time on, he actually forged a lifetime bond with the IMF.

The IMF was established at the same time as the World Bank in 1944. Its purpose is to monitor global macroeconomic development, maintain the stability of the international financial system, and help member countries overcome difficulties in the balance of payments and restore economic development. The organization has a total of 190 member countries, and the Council is its highest decision-making body, consisting of central bank governors or finance ministers. The IMF has three main functions: monitoring member and global economic policies and developments, providing capacity building to member countries, and providing credit support to member countries. The IMF now has $1 trillion in loanable funds and is an important line of defense to help member countries deal with economic and financial crises. Therefore, in the contest with global crisis, the IMF has played an important role and has become a well-known "firefighting team" to deal with the global crisis.

The IMF has nearly 3,000 staff, half of which are economists. Needless to say, the organization is very demanding when it comes to recruiting staff. It mainly recruits once a year, about 20 to 30 people, and each time there are more than 1,000 candidates, most of whom are PhD students in economics from world-renowned universities. The rigor of the interview is no less than that of the defense of the doctoral dissertation. For the doctoral dissertation, graduates come prepared, and such an interview can only be based on the knowledge learned in school and the ability to play on the spot. Among the many applicants, Lin Jianhai successfully passed the interview and officially became a permanent employee of the organization in 1989, engaged in analysis and supervision of economic development and credit work in the Asian region.

Lin Jianhai introduced: "Before the Asia financial crisis in 1997, I had been working in the IMF's Asian Department and had been to many countries in Asia. At that time, the economic development in the Asian region was remarkable. Therefore, when the crisis hit Thailand, Indonesia, and South Korea, I was very sad. At the time of the crisis, I was transferred to the Policy Development and Surveillance Department, which is responsible for all credit policies and approvals at the IMF. My day-to-day tasks were reviewing credit documents, meeting to discuss international capital flows, financial market dynamics, and urgent issues related to member states, often busy from 8 am to 8 pm. When visiting member states, we often have five or six people together to divide a country's economy into four major parts: the real economy, financial conditions and policies, Monetary and credit dynamics and policies, and balance of payments and exchange rate policy. Each person was responsible for one part. These four parts together can roughly provide a comprehensive understanding of a country's macroeconomic development status, appropriate policies, and future economic development trends. The visit lasted for about two weeks. In such a short period of time, it was a very heavy task to make a convincing assessment of a country and to put forward our own opinions and countermeasures. We all worked diligently and collaboratively, not much sleep and did more work until the task was successfully completed. When negotiating, because the other party was a minister-level senior government official, or even sometimes a state leader, we must be polite and respectful, based on detailed and scientific analysis, and in-depth discussions to reach an agreement. Of course, differences in opinions occur in the negotiations, but as long as we do it reasonably, many major differences will eventually be resolved.”

In March 2012, Lin Jianhai was appointed as the Secretary-General of the International Monetary Fund, responsible for the work plan and daily affairs of the IMF Executive Board, assisting the IMF President in organizing and presiding over the Executive Board meetings, and coordinating the participation of 190 member countries in various aspects of international economic governance matter. He was also the Secretary-General of the IMF Board of Governors and the International Monetary and Financial Committee, assisting the Chairman of the Committee in chairing the caucus of the Committee consisting of central bank governors and finance ministers of 24 countries.

According to Lin Jianhai, the Executive Board is the permanent decision-making body of the IMF and consists of 24 executive directors representing 190 member countries. The Executive Board conducts consultations on the economic development and policies of various countries, discusses global economic and financial trends and policy responses, and votes on IMF loan issuance, financing, SDR allocation, and other matters. The Executive Board typically holds nearly 350 formal and informal meetings each year and discusses nearly 3,000 meeting documents. In addition, the Secretariat is also responsible for the biannual spring and autumn conferences, which include the highest decision-making body, namely the council meeting, as well as various top-level seminars that gather economic and financial leaders and academic elites. At the same time, the Secretary-General is also responsible for organizing and arranging the election of the IMF managing director, as well as the daily communication with member countries.

How to effectively communicate the opinions of the 24 executive directors representing the different interests of the 190 member states and stand on different positions in a short period of time and reach a consensus, so that the executive board can successfully pass the resolution and put it into practice, is an important task for Secretary-General. In order for the executive board meeting to go smoothly, before the meeting, he and his team need to read a lot of written materials, understand the background of the issue and the main views and positions of the executive directors, anticipate various issues that may arise in the meeting, and prepare good coping plans. Especially when encountering more complex and controversial meetings, we will directly understand the opinions of each executive director face to face. For Lin Jianhai, it is necessary to listen to the different views and opinions of member states, comprehensively consider the advantages and disadvantages of various solutions, and strive to "level the bowl of water", and propose and achieve a balanced solution acceptable to everyone.

He said, "In this position, I deeply appreciate the importance of the knowledge, experience, critical thinking methods and judgment skills accumulated during the work of the IMF. A high degree of participation in the discussion and decision-making of global macroeconomic policies on the international stage requires more than knowledge. Work experience, mastery, overall sense that have been precipitated in the work of the IMF over the years, as well as diplomatic skills are also important factors for the successive secretary-generals to be competent for this job.”

"Working seriously and being surefooted is my creed and my philosophy of life." said Lin Jianhai. "There are no shortcuts in work, all success comes from the hardworking spirit of doing things, and more effort and striving. "

With the Current IMF Managing Director

Remembering the original intention, forge ahead

In July 2020, Lin Jianhai officially resigned as Secretary-General of the International Monetary Fund, completing his glorious mission. In the IMF's press statement, Managing Director Georgieva said, "I am impressed by Jianhai's outstanding leadership, excellent organizational and coordination skills, extensive and in-depth understanding of the IMF's policies and operations, and his dedication to serving member countries. I deeply admire his dedication. As Chairman of the IMF Executive Board, I know that the Executive Directors place great trust in Jianhai and give him the highest evaluation and recognition for his contributions to the IMF itself.”

Lin Jianhai is the first Chinese secretary-general of the IMF. During his 31 years of work at the IMF, he has witnessed the IMF's reforms, changes, ups and downs, as well as its unprecedented global status in recent years. During this period, he has also personally experienced many countries from the backward state of low and middle income to the prosperity of emerging markets. In the 1990s, emerging and developing countries as a group contributed only a quarter of world economic growth. In the first seven years of the 21st century, their contribution to world economic growth rose to about half. Since the outbreak of the global financial crisis in 2008, three-quarters of the world's economic growth has benefited from emerging and developing countries, of which China alone has supported about one-third of the world's economic growth.

Although retired from the position of Secretary General of the IMF, Lin Jianhai, as the world's top economic and financial expert, will not stop his dedication to the world. He was awarded the honorary professor of Beijing University School of Economics last year, and was hired by the School of International Finance and Trade of Shanghai International Studies University not long ago as a consultant professor to continue to provide assistance and guidance for the education and training of talents in China's economic and financial circles.

Lin Jianhai is currently writing the book "Turning Crisis into Opportunity". This book will provide panoramic interpretation of the development trend of the global economy in recent decades and major challenges in the future, how the IMF analyzes and supervises the development and impact of the global economy, how to help its member countries overcome difficulties and recover from the previous global economic and financial crises, and economic stability and growth. Lin Jianhai hopes to convey an important message to readers through this book, that is, an organization or an individual should have the courage to face changes and challenges, and continually innovate and improve. This is the main reason why the IMF can endure for a long time, and it is also a portrayal of his life course from a rural town to the international economic stage.

Lin Jianhai lectures on the international economic and financial situation for Chinese and American university students, participates in relevant international seminars, and publishes research articles. For him, retirement is just another new starting point in life. Sharing his knowledge and experience with others and giving back to the society is both a pleasure and a responsibility.

At the International Montery and Financial Committe Meeting

(English Translation by Joey Yu)