Chinese President Xi Jinping has chosen Li Qiang to become the next premier on Saturday during the ongoing annual meeting of the Chinese parliament.
Qiang will replace Li Keqiang who has been the premier for the last ten years. Li Keqiang’s exit also means that hopes of implementation of liberal reforms have diminished. Keqiang was sidelined by Xi Jinping last year itself when anti-Covid Zero protests broke out in Shanghai.
Even though there were rumours that Qiang would face the wrath of Xi Jinping for botching the Covid response as Communist party chief of Shanghai, China’s largest city and global financial hub, on Saturday he was elevated to the role of premier.
Sidelining Keqiang is one of the steps Xi Jinping has taken to elevate loyal party workers and subordinates to positions of power, and also end the influence of the tuanpai or the Youth League Faction, which was seen as a counterweight to Xi Jinping’s faction within the party.
Li Qiang served as Xi’s chief of staff between 2004 and 2007. Xi Jinping at that time was the provincial party secretary of eastern China’s Zhejiang province.
Qiang was appointed to the number-two role on the politburo standing committee during the Communist party congress in October.
This month Xi has installed loyalists to key positions as he oversees the biggest government reshuffle in a decade. This reshuffle also saw the exit of a generation of more reform-minded officials and allowed Xi to centralise power as he was elected by the rubber-stamp parliament for a record-breaking third term on Friday.
Xi also nominated Liu Jinguo as a candidate for director of the National Commission of Supervision. The National Commission of Supervision deals with graft cases.
He nominated Zhang Jun for the president of the supreme people’s court and Ying Yong was nominated candidate for procurator general of China’s supreme people’s procuratorate.
Richard McGregor, a senior fellow at the Lowy Institute in Sydney, told news agency AFP that even though Qiang may make a good premier, the appointment shows “loyalty trumped meritocracy”.
“Li might be quite capable, and may make a good premier, but it is hard to see how he got there other than through Xi’s personal favour. If proof were needed that loyalty trumps meritocracy in Xi’s China, Li Qiang’s elevation provides it,” McGregor was quoted as saying by AFP.
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