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Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to step down in sweeping leadership change

By K J M Varma
March 11, 2022 18:19 IST
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Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, who is at the helm of managing the country's economy for a decade, said that he will be stepping down this year, setting in motion the once-in-a-decade sweeping leadership change in the Communist country.

IMAGE: Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is seen on a screen during a news conference held via video link, following the closing session of the National People's Congress (NPC) in Beijing, China on March 11, 2021. Photograph: Martin Pollard/Reuters

Barring President Xi Jinping, who has emerged as the most powerful Chinese leader after the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) founder Mao Zedong, the rest of the leadership of the party and the government is expected to undergo a change.

"This is my last year as a Premier," Li, 66, the second ranking leader of the CPC after Xi, said in a matter of fact voice while answering a question on the economy.


At the end of his last press conference, Li left with a wave and a simple 'thank you, everybody' without leaving any farewell message.

Li, who was groomed into various leadership positions by the previous President Hu Jintao, had settled for the second rank in the party as 68-year-old Xi emerged victorious in the race for the leadership in the CPC Party Congress in 2012.

While Xi was the vice president in the previous regime, Li was the vice premier.

But since his emergence as the General Secretary of the party, Xi moved up at a breakneck speed, consolidating his power base after Hu handed over the powerful position of Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), the overall high-command of the Chinese military.

Since then, Xi, commencing his tenure as President, head of the party and the military, strengthened his leadership position first with his sweeping anti-corruption campaign in which over a million officials, including several top generals of the military, were punished.

As Xi consolidated his power, emerging in the process as a 'core' leader on par with Mao, Premier Li, known for his simple life-style and outspoken manner in his official work, mostly confined himself to the management of the economy, hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, which faced severe headwinds with declining growth in the last 10 years.

Under Li's watch, China's economy more than doubled from 51.9 trillion yuan ($8.5 trillion) in 2012 to 114.4 trillion yuan ($17.7 trillion) in 2021.

After the once-every-five-years Party Congress is expected to be held later this year, China will have a new leadership at all levels, including a new Foreign Minister, replacing the incumbent Wang Yi, who is also China's Special Representative on the India-China Boundary issue.

Xi is widely expected to continue in power for an unprecedented third term and may have a lifelong tenure like Mao.

All Xi's predecessors retired after two five-year-terms, adhering to the norm set by Mao's successor Deng Xiaoping to avert one leader domination and to facilitate a new generation of leaders to lead the party.

Li, who joined the CPC in May 1976, is a graduate of Peking University's Law Department where he earned a Bachelor of Law degree, and of the university's School of Economics where he completed an in-service graduate program in economics and was awarded a Doctor of Economics degree, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.

He earlier served as Governor Henan province later as Vice Premier.

He is currently a member of the Standing Committee of the 19th CPC Central Committee Political Bureau, Premier of the State Council, and Secretary of its Leading Party Members Group.

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K J M Varma
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