China Premier Li Keqiang bows out as Xi loyalists take reins

Beijing –

After spending a decade in the shadow of China’s President Xi Jinping, Li Keqiang takes his final bow as the country’s prime minister, leaving the seasoned technocrats who have helped steer the world’s second-largest economy to leave the largely unquestioned Shows support for officials known for their unbridled loyalty. China’s most powerful leader in recent history.

Despite not reaching retirement age after stepping down from the ruling Communist Party’s all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee in October, Li’s last major task was to deliver a national policy speech to the National Assembly on Monday. The report was intended to reassure citizens of China’s economic resilience, but it contained little new content.

Li, once seen as a potential supreme leader, is gaining ground as Xi amasses more and more power and beefs up military and security services to support the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” I was pushed aside. Li’s low profile sometimes made it hard to remember that he was technically ranked number two within the party.

Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, and a longtime observer of Chinese politics, said Mr Li was “a prime minister who was largely out of the limelight by order of the prime minister”. rice field.

In an era when personal loyalty trumps everything, the fact that Mr. Li was not seen as a genuine Xi Jinping loyalty may ultimately become “the main reason he is fondly remembered.” unknown.

For most of his career, Mr. Li was known as a cautious, capable and highly intelligent bureaucrat, who had gone through and been bound by the consensus-oriented Communist Party, which reflexively stifled disagreements.

As governor and then party secretary of Henan province, a densely populated agricultural region in the 1990s, Li was tied to an illegal blood-purchasing ring that pooled plasma and reinfused it into donors after it was stripped of blood products. Suppressed reports of the AIDS outbreak. of local government officials.

Although Lee was not in office when the scandal erupted, his administration worked to quell it, prevent victims from seeking redress, and work for orphans and others affected. harassed civilians.

But I also cut a slightly different profile of being an English speaker from a generation of educated politicians at a time when they were more open to liberal Western ideas. Entering politics in the midst of the chaos of his 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution, he enrolled at the prestigious Peking University, where he was elected not through his political connections, but on his own merits. I studied law and economics.

After graduation, Li got a job in the Communist Party Youth League. The Communist Youth League, an organization that recruits college students to party posts, is led by Hu Jintao, who later served as chairman and party leader. The dignitaries soon followed.

Among the faceless Chinese bureaucrats, Mr. Li was very outspoken. In a U.S. State Department telegram published by WikiLeaks, Li told diplomats that China’s economic growth figures were “artificial” and looked to power demand, rail freight and lending as more accurate indicators. It is reported that he directed

Although not a populist, Mr. Li has substantially ranted in his speeches and public statements compared to the typically listless Mr. Xi.

However, unlike its predecessor, it was unable to effectively utilize the platform it was given. Mr. Lee spent most of his time repeating points and reciting statistics at the only annual press conference held on the final day of the Congress’ annual session. During the turmoil of China’s three-year battle against COVID-19, Li was largely absent.

Li, who comes from humble origins, was seen as a potential successor to Hu. But the need to balance party factions has led the leadership to choose Xi, the son of the former deputy prime minister and party chairman, as the consensus candidate.

Although the two never formed the kind of partnership that characterized Hu’s relationship with Premier Wen Jiabao, or Mao’s relationship with Zhou Enlai, Li and Xi openly disagreed on fundamentals. I never did.

“Xi Jinping is not first among his peers, he is well above them,” said Chen Li, an expert on China’s leadership at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. . He said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Li’s powers have been gradually reduced, starting with the office reorganization in 2018. Some may have hoped Mr. Li was more “influential and decisive,” but as Mr. Xi shifts more state power, the ground is crumbling under his feet. rice field. Speaking to the council, China’s cabinet and party organs, Chen Li said: The shift to expanded party control is expected to continue on an even larger scale in the current Congress.

At the same time, Xi appeared to favor credible longtime comrades-in-arms such as Economic Advisor Liu He and Legislative Yuan President Li Zhanshu over Li, giving him little visibility or influence.

His resignation raises major questions about the future of the private sector, which Mr. Xi has held back, and the broader economic reforms Mr. Li and his colleagues champion. Li Qiang, who is expected to replace him, was his Xi companion during the provincial government days and is best known for ruthlessly enforcing his months-long COVID-19 lockdown in Shanghai last spring. It is

“Li Keqiang has been associated with a more economic-focused view of governance, in contrast to the ideological tone he brought to politics,” said Rana Mitter of the University of Oxford.

“Lee may be the last prime minister like him, at least for a while,” Mitter said.

Carl Minsner, a Chinese law and governance specialist at Fordham University in New York, is remembered more for the fact that he was the last technocrat to head the Chinese Communist Party than for what Mr. Li accomplished. said it might. Council on Foreign Relations.

Politically, Mr. Xi’s authoritarian leanings risk a return to Mao-era practices that make elite politics “even more Byzantine, vicious and unstable,” Minzner said.

Li’s resignation “means the end of an era when expertise and achievements, rather than political loyalty to President Xi, were the primary career criteria for ambitious officials seeking to rise to higher positions. ” he said.

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