“Before the start of the 20th party congress in October 2022, few people outside China had heard of Li Qiang, let alone that he was about to become China’s second most powerful leader. It was not until the Communist party chief of Shanghai followed Xi Jinping on to the stage at the Great Hall of the People that it became obvious that the 63-year-old had been anointed as the second-ranking Politburo Standing Committee member” (The Guardian). Li subsequently became China’s premier at the annual legislative session in March 2023 when Li Keqiang stepped down after two terms.
Li’s appointment demonstrates that “Xi places loyalty and trustworthiness above all else”. Although Li has had experience in regional economic management, it was ultimately his loyalty to Xi that prompted Xi to hand-pick him as his number two. “He is someone close to Xi and has his trust. Xi is now surrounded by ‘yes' men and there is no space for other rivals” (Prof Jean-Pierre Cabestan).
Li proved his loyalty to Xi during the Shanghai lockdown, when he was a loyal enforcer of Xi’s “zero-Covid policy”. However, Li’s reputation also took a beating as the lockdown “sparked public anger, rare protests and battered the city’s manufacturing and export-heavy economy”. Li loyally carried out Xi’s order for “zero Covid”, even when Shanghai’s protracted Covid lockdown became deeply unpopular and clearly mistaken. In the middle of the two-month lockdown, Li told cadres that they must “unswervingly implement the ‘zero Covid’ task according to the spirit of Xi’s instructions.”
Yet there is another very different side to Li Qiang. “Despite his closeness to Xi, Li is also generally regarded as pro-business and has voiced support for economic reforms. Li, who has presided over many foreign investments in Shanghai during his term there, has been described by those who have met him as having a pro-business and pragmatic work style.” “During his tenure in Shanghai, he opened the Shanghai Stock Exchange STAR Market, oversaw foreign investment in the city including Gigafactory Shanghai of Tesla, Inc., eased the requirements for internal migrants to obtain residency permits, and created five new towns to decrease the land supply shortage.”
His pro-business instincts are important for China. As premier, Li will be the top official in charge of reviving China’s ailing economy, which has suffered under a stringent “zero-Covid” policy for nearly three years amid strained relations with the United States. His role will be to steer China out of the economic troubles. “He is expected to focus on innovation and hi-tech industries, under Xi’s plan to develop these areas, as set out in his party congress work report.”
But he cannot be as different from Xi Jinping as Li Keqiang was. Li Keqiang was seen by Xi as a threat because he was prepared to challenge Xi. When Xi claimed that China had eradicated poverty in the nation, Li Keqiang openly disagreed with him, stating that significant numbers of Chinese still lived in poverty. Li Qiang will not make the mistake of openly disagreeing with his boss.
“Li has had no special political achievement to back him up, so he is very clear that he owes his position to Xi. So whatever Xi tells him to do, he will implement it. He would be very different from Li Keqiang… he has to follow Xi 100%.” (Willy Lam)
Which will dominate – Li’s total loyalty to Xi or his instinct to be pro-business and to support economic reforms?
Pray for Li Qiang, as he begins his five year term as premier, that he would find the courage and the instinct to create economic growth in China.
Pray for Li Qiang to find God-fearing voices to support and to influence his thinking.
Pray for China’s relationship with the world outside, especially the USA.
Sources: Wikipedia and The Guardian