Chinese President Xi Jinping for years he wielded unlimited power in his country, ousting the country’s second most important person from the prime minister Li Keqianga.
But Li no longer seems to want to be in Xi’s shadow, at least judging by his recent speeches criticizing the president’s economic policies.
For Xi, the “secession” from the left comes at the worst possible time, as the government faces a new wave of pandemics and a growing number of anti-lockdown protesters. Moreover, in the second half of this year, Xi will seek a third term in the National Congress of the Communist Party of China, and “rebellion” at the top is the last thing he needs right now.
Li Keqiang has been loyal to Xi for nearly a decade since he became prime minister, apparently enjoying being almost invisible.
Yet it was Li who pressured China’s authoritarian leader to drop some measures that had steered the country away from Western capitalism and contributed to the slowdown in China’s economy.
After the president set out to crack down on China’s powerful tech sector and its increasingly influential group of billionaires, Li engineered a relaxation of regulations on tech companies supposed to target giants like Alibaba, also making it easier for investors to lend and to real estate buyers.
A few days ago, Li showed up at Yunnan University, where, speaking to students without face masks, he said the economy hit by covid-19 needed “support urgent”.
This week, reports show that China will miss its growth target of around 5.5% this year, and the youth unemployment rate has hit an all-time high.
In a rare statement of unrest, hundreds of Peking University students demonstrated last weekend against covid-19 measures on campus. Most restaurants and public spaces in the capital are closed and millions of people face daily tests and work from home.
“Local authorities should implement new policies by the end of May to support growth,” Li said during a visit to the southwestern frontier province of Yunnan.
China’s premier said price inflation was stable and there was enough room for policy to cope with “new challenges”, adding that the government had refrained from “flooding the economy of incentives”.
“Authorities should double down on supportive policies, such as value-added tax refunds and tax reductions, financial support and deferred interest payments for pending SMEs,” Li said, according to a report by the official Xinhua news agency.
Li is also trying to influence the choice of his replacement when he steps down as prime minister this year, with the aim of appointing someone to “counter” Xi.
Chinese President Xi Jinping will serve a third term as General Party Secretary to the National Congress of the Communist Party of China later this year, one step closer to realizing his goal of becoming a lifelong leader.
Some party officials are reportedly backing attempts to rein in Xi, who they say “has focused too much on adhering to an ideology rooted in the socialist vision.” Mao Zedonga“.
Li is most supported by officials of the Communist Youth League (CYLC), one of the few important institutions not completely under Xi’s control.
Minxin Peieditor of the China Leadership Monitor, told the Wall Street Journal that until last year Li “practically didn’t even exist” and now “he looks better and better” every day.
Their rivalry began when Xi became president.
Li, a doctor of economics, became China’s youngest provincial governor when he was appointed head of the central province of Henan in July 1998. In 2008 he was appointed vice premier and in 2013, he became China’s prime minister, a position that had previously been primarily responsible for the country’s macroeconomic policy.
However, when Xi became president, he took control of the economy, the function of Li’s name became almost useless. All talk of the left’s structural reform and debt reduction policy (known as Likonomics) has disappeared from state media. Instead, they focused on Xi’s ideological ideas.
That was the case until this week, when People’s Daily, a mouthpiece for China’s ruling Communist Party, published Lei’s entire speech. The most important sentence of this speech, according to analysts, is a secret criticism of the president.
“Improving economic and social development is a fundamental responsibility of governments at all levels and also a key condition for improving party behavior and building the same government,” Li said.
Despite growing discontent among citizens and officials, Xi still has no real opponent.
“Xi will retain his powers, but in terms of politics and personnel, he will have to make compromises in order to get that term for life,” a Chinese political expert told The Times. Willy Lam. “For Xi Jinping, ideology and his supreme position come first.”
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