The man behind the wheel of the world's most supercharged economy.
He may be the kind of guy you wouldn't ordinarily think twice about--cautious, colorless and corporate. In the past he has often lost the spotlight to other world leaders with bigger egos and sharper elbows. But to underestimate Hu Jintao would be a monumental error. His position as China's president makes him CEO of a financial juggernaut that's projected to post a $280 billion trade surplus this year. While the rest of the world plunges deeper into recession, Hu the Humble is emerging as the one who is holding the lifeline.
Thirty years of drastic reforms have transformed China from a vast sinkhole of poverty into the world's third-largest economy--one that's still growing. Recent projections for GDP growth in the coming year hover around 8 percent or somewhat lower. The country's decades of massive profits have enabled Beijing to become the U.S. government's biggest creditor, investing billions in American T-bills and shares of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Any retreat from that position now could doom Barack Obama's hopes of funding a stimulus package for the U.S. economy.
Hu also holds the purse strings for other countries that are vital to U.S. interests--places like Pakistan, America's frontline ally in the Afghan war. Back in October, a quest for emergency economic assistance brought President Asif Ali Zardari straight to Beijing on his first official state trip. …