Former Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, once seen as a reform-minded contender for the country’s top leadership job, died of a sudden heart attack early Friday in Shanghai, state media reported.
He was 68 years old.
Lee, who was nominal China The No. 2 leader until late last year, he served as the country’s prime minister – traditionally responsible for the economy – for a decade from 2013 to March this year during his reign. Strong leader Xi Jinping.
During his time in the position, Lee navigated the world’s second-largest economy through a difficult period of rising technology and trade tensions with the United States, mounting government debt and unemployment, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
In his final year in power, the economist by training has been a powerful voice warning of the challenges facing China’s economy amid widespread coronavirus lockdowns, while supporting efforts to boost employment and maintain economic stability.
Li, known for occasionally using his English language skills in appearances outside the mainland, was seen as representing a different approach to China’s relations with the world, at a time when the country’s relations with the West have become increasingly tense.
“China and the United States have common interests. The two countries need to exert more energy on their common ground and expand converging interests,” Li said in response to a CNN question at his annual press conference in March 2021.
As news of Li’s death spread on Friday morning, social media users shared a line from Li’s annual speech to China’s parliament in 2022, in which he pledged that “no matter how much the international environment changes, China will continue on its broader path.” openness.”
Lee, a highly educated technocrat with degrees in law and economics, was considered a friend of the private sector. He was also seen as having a divergent political stance from Xi, who has tightened the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s control over the economy.
Li oversaw much of China’s efforts to support economic growth during his decade-long tenure, and has remained a supporter of the global integration of the Chinese economy, even as he finds himself increasingly sidelined by Xi.
As international skepticism has grown in recent years about Beijing’s intention to pursue its “reform and opening-up” policy, Li has repeatedly assured foreign company executives and local officials that such economic development remains the party’s priority.
During the country’s coronavirus lockdowns, he held meetings to direct various government departments to remove logistical obstacles for foreign companies to resume production.
“(Li) was the only member of the Politburo Standing Committee who explicitly called for the continuation of (former leader) Deng Xiaoping’s open-door policy, which goes against Xi Jinping’s instincts,” said Willy Lam, a senior colleague. at the Jamestown Foundation think tank in the United States, in reference to Xi’s tendency toward state-controlled measures.
Li is also remembered for his focus on tackling societal ills – with social media users on Friday also pointing out his comments in which they pointed out that 600 million people in China – or roughly 40% of the population – still have a monthly income of 1,000 yuan (137 dollars). .
The remarks, made during the Premier’s annual press conference in 2020, served as a reminder of China’s ongoing struggle to lift people out of poverty, even as Xi praised China’s efforts in this regard as a point of national pride.
During the pandemic, as Beijing’s policies have brought large swaths of the country to a standstill, Li called on local officials to implement “serious” policies to stabilize the economy and support small businesses and employment.
He was also the highest-ranking official to visit Wuhan in January 2020, when the city was under lockdown and facing a wave of infections in the world’s first known COVID-19 outbreak.
Some of Lee’s efforts to boost the economy appeared to underscore his rift with Xi, and the prime minister was widely seen as lacking in authority compared with many of his predecessors.
When the Prime Minister called for the revival of street stalls as a way to stimulate growth and solve the escalating jobs crisis, his proposal was met with criticism from a number of government media outlets.
The backlash from the party’s mouthpieces sparked speculation of a conflict between the party’s two most senior figures over how to stimulate the economy amid strict controls to combat the pandemic.
Li is widely seen as a follower of Xi’s predecessor Jintao, who oversaw an era of rapid growth in China from 2002 to 2012. The two men shared economic sensibilities and rose to power through the Communist Party’s Youth League, which was seen as One day as a training ground for future leaders.
The faction was known for producing reform-minded leaders from humble family backgrounds, but its influence is believed to have been crushed by Xi since coming to power.
The relationship between Li and Hu was in the spotlight last year when the former supreme leader was unexpectedly pulled out of the World Cup closing ceremony in October 2022. Communist Party CongressAs Xi further consolidated his power.
in Moment of drama During what was usually a highly choreographed event, Hu was escorted from the room, pausing on his way out to pat the shoulder of the stone-faced Li, who nodded and turned to watch the former leader leave. State media later suggested that he left due to health problems.
During the Hu Jintao era, Li was appointed to the position The party’s supreme leadership body, the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau, in 2007.
He previously held key roles as party chief in the industrial province of Liaoning and was a regional leader of the Henan agricultural base.
Born in Anhui, Li spent his late teens doing manual labor with the Dongling Production Brigade in Eastern Province during the Cultural Revolution, the decade-long social and political upheaval unleashed by the late Chinese leader Mao Zedong.
Li was among the first batch of students to take the university entrance examination after it was reinstated after the end of the Cultural Revolution. In 1978, he entered the prestigious Peking University, where he studied law and later obtained a doctorate in economics.
Unlike Xi, Li is not considered one of China’s princes who comes from a prominent party family. He held positions in the Central Committee of the Communist Youth League during the 1980s and 1990s.
His time in the party’s upper echelons ended last October, when he was not appointed to its central committee during a leadership-level reshuffle that occurs twice every decade, and which saw Xi surround himself with key allies.
Li was 67 at the time, one year below the unofficial retirement age for top Chinese Communist Party leaders.
He was succeeded as premier earlier this year by former Shanghai party chief and Xi loyalist Liqiang.
Alfred Wu, an associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, said Lee’s exit from power means there are not many reform-oriented senior cadres left in the leadership.
“This is the difficult reality we will face. China has moved away from the future that Li’s vision represented.
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