China names Li Keqiang as premier

Key task will be to fix economy

Sat, Mar 16, 2013, 00:00


The Chinese Communist Party installed Li Keqiang as premier yesterday. The new second in command will be the public face of efforts to fix the world’s second-largest economy and ease public dissatisfaction over graft, pollution and the gaping wealth gap.

A steady career bureaucrat, Mr Li takes over from Wen Jiabao. He was elected for a five-year term but will most likely be President Xi Jinping’s right-hand man for the next decade.

Xi Jinping, a “princeling” whose father was Xi Zhongxun, was appointed president on Thursday, having been named Communist Party chief and head of the military in November.

However the fact that the new premier is no Communist blueblood seems to resonate well.

“Li Keqiang doesn’t have an outstanding birth background, but he was promoted by his ability. In a country like China, his promotion can be considered progress,” wrote one web commentator, Pang Zai.

Encouraging innovation
Born the son of a local cadre in the poor province of Anhui, Mr Li comes from a more liberal background than Mr Xi and his role as premier will be largely about encouraging more innovation, narrowing the wealth gap, improving healthcare and increasing employment.

The National People’s Congress, a red-draped annual event held in the Great Hall of the People, backed Mr Li with a vote of 2,940, with three opposed and six abstaining.

The 57-year-old has given speeches in English – unheard of until now – and has spoken of the need for economic reform, something which puts him into the same boat as his processor.

His background is similar to Mr Xi’s in that his political upbringing took place during the ideological frenzy of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), when he was forced to abandon his studies and go to work in the countryside, like millions of other educated people.

Afterwards, he studied law and economics at the elite Peking University. During the crackdown on the student-led democracy movement in 1989, he was involved in trying to mend ties between the Communist Youth League and the student protesters, albeit briefly.

Aids cases
His career has also managed to survive his handling of an explosion of HIV/Aids cases related to illegal blood transfusion rings in Henan province in 1998, when he was governor there.

His wife, Cheng Hong, teaches English and American Literature, and they have a daughter, who also graduated from Peking University and studies in the US.

He has not figured in the speculation about corruption surrounding the families of other top cadres, although questions have been raised over his brother’s powerful position at the government tobacco monopoly, and whether that clashes with his role in deciding health policy.

As the NPC draws to a close, it yesterday appointed the reform-minded Zhou Qiang as supreme court president, while another reformer and close ally of ex-president Hu Jintao, Li Yuanchao, was named vice president. This appointment broke with with recent tradition, as he is not in the party’s seven-member ruling standing committee of the Politburo.

There will be more appointments today, with the selection of vice premiers, a central bank governor and finance and other ministers before the rubberstamp parliament wraps up on Sunday.

There are rumours Wang Yang, Communist Party chief in the rich province of Guangdong and seen as a liberal influence within the elite, could be up for a senior position now, a major signal for reform.

Just like his predecessor, Mr Li is expected to give a news conference, the one time of the year when the Chinese leadership answers questions from foreign media.