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PoliticsWorldWhy Li Keqiang was removed as China PM: Explainer

Why Li Keqiang was removed as China PM: Explainer

Ostensibly demonstrating who the boss in China is, the Communist Party of China has dropped Prime Minister Li Keqiang, the nation’s Number 2 leader, from the Politburo Standing Committee, the group of the seven most influential people who govern China, giving President Xi Jinping a glitch-free administration. Li belongs to the tuanpai (populist) faction of the communist party, the members of which come from a Communist League background. 

In the ongoing CPC congress in Beijing, the Communist Party Saturday elected its new 205-member central committee, from which the names of Li and three others — longtime Xi ally Li Zhanshu (72), party advisory body head and Number 4 in the government Wang Yang (67) and Shanghai party chief Han Zheng (68) — were missing, implying that they cannot retain their place in the Politburo Standing Committee, the members of which will be announced tomorrow.

Li Zhanshu and Han would have gone anyway, as they had crossed the ‘retirement ’ of 67.

Li Keqiang will continue as the premier for six months until his successor is named.

Li Keqiang loses class war in CPC

Prime Minister Li Keqiang, who climbed party ranks, was once a strong presidential candidate until Xi overtook him. Li is a proponent of -oriented reforms, as opposed to Xi’s policy of strong state control over the economy.

Li Keqiang belongs to the “tuanpai” or populist faction of the party, comprising members with a Communist League background, whereas Xi comes from the ‘princeling’ faction (sons of senior leaders) of the CPC.

The father of Li Keqiang, born in July 1955 in Hefei in the Anhui province of China, was a small-time local official. The then-Mao Zedong government, in a bid to make the urban work in rural areas, sent Li, then all of 19, packing to eastern Anhui as a ‘sent-down youth’.

Li Keqiang joined the CPC in 1976. In 1978, he went to Peking University to finish his education. He did well in academics, earning advanced degrees in economics. 

In the 1980s, Li Keqiang joined the Chinese Communist League, where he met with its leader Hu Jintao, who eventually became his mentor and the president of China. 

In July 1998, Li Keqiang took over as governor of Henan, the youngest provincial governor in China at the time.

Li Keqiang entered the power echelons as a member of the Politburo Standing Committee in 2007. The next year, he became China’s vice premier. In 2013, he became the premier and then Xi beat him to the post of president.

As Li Keqiang worked his way up the power ladder, he made a mark with his work in economic improvement and affordable housing, and his economic policy was dubbed ‘Likonomics’. BBC said his “economic policy of structural reform and debt reduction… aimed to reduce China’s dependency on debt-fuelled and steer the economy towards self-sustainability.”

A 2017 article from Forbes says about Li: 

“Within the current Politburo Standing Committee, he is thought to keep the flame lit for the reform agenda, towards a larger role for the in determining prices and allocating capital. He is also thought to favor internationalising the currency and opening up the capital market.”

However, as Xi rose, Li subsided.

Li Keqiang was a protege of Hu Jintao, the man who was the supreme leader of China before Xi. Li was a protegee of Hu Jintao, the man who was the supreme leader of China before Xi. Today, even a reluctant Hu was seen being led out of the National Congress, and the footage went viral on platforms, with users speculating this was proof of Xi's authoritarianism.

Evidently, Xi wants to eliminate all rival factions within the CPC to cement his leadership. To that end, Xi had to clip Li's wings. In the current CPC congress, Li remaining a standing committee member would have meant Xi’s control was not yet total. The scenes today show Xi turning a one-man government of China.

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