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Who is Chinese Prime Minister Li Qiang?

Who is Chinese Prime Minister Li Qiang?
Who is Chinese Prime Minister Li Qiang?

 


Who is Chinese Prime Minister Li Qiang?

That's the question the Australian government, from Anthony Albanese on down, will attempt to answer during Li's four-day visit to Australia, the first by a Chinese leader of his rank since 2017.

In theory, these titles alone give him great stature and weight. As prime minister, he sits atop the Council of State, or cabinet, making him the head of the country's vast government apparatus.

More importantly, he holds second place in the ruling Communist Party's most powerful body, the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee.

Under Xi Jinping, however, they are no longer appointed prime ministers as before.

After Xi came to power in 2012, China's chattering classes tracked the relative weight of the rival power centers of the ruling Communist Party's Central Committee and the State Council, or government. In shorthand, the headquarters of the Central Committee was near the southern courtyard of the Zhongnanhai leadership complex in the heart of Beijing. The Council of State was located near the north courtyard.

The eternal feud between the southern court and the northern court, or between the party and the government, was the symbol of the rivalry between competing government ideologies. Very generally, this pitted increased party political control against a growing technocratic elite in government ministries.

Xi won this battle decisively. He strengthened the party apparatus at the expense of a once slightly more autonomous government. As the saying goes, politics is in charge under Xi. This means a stronger, less practical and more ideological state.

Incumbent 2023 Prime Minister Li Keqiang indirectly but unequivocally criticized Xi when he left office in early 2023. China's open-door policy would not change, just as the course of the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers would not change. would not be reversed. he said.

Li has also played a central role in China's looming global dominance in electric vehicles, which the United States, Japan and Europe fear could wipe out their auto industries.

Li, who died of a heart attack later in 2023, served two five-year terms as prime minister from 2013 to 2023. During this period, he was marginalized by Xi over the economic policy he should have been responsible for. as Prime Minister. His supporters were furious, but powerless to do anything.

Li Qiang ascends to the high office of prime minister, but, given what happened to his predecessor, he arrived with low expectations. If Li Keqiang was marginalized, why should he do better?

Li Qiang had an advantage over Li Keqiang. The first is a Xi loyalist. The latter was not. But over the past year, in some ways, expectations for Li Qiang in power have become even lower. Although he is officially ranked just behind Xi in the Politburo inner circle and considered loyal to his leader, Li is not considered the second most powerful person in the country.

Chinese analysts generally identify the fifth man (and they are all men) on the standing committee, Cai Qi, as the most powerful person after Xi. This is not because Cai, a former Beijing party chief, has an independent political personality or achievements in power comparable to those of Li, but because he was given the role of hand of Xi.

Earlier this year, Xi canceled annual press conference that the Prime Minister has traditionally held for decades at the closing of the annual session of the National People's Congress. It was a highly publicized event, broadcast live and closely followed in China and abroad, and which would have provided Li Qiang with a huge stage.

The message delivered by Xi's cancellation of the event was crystal clear. The south courtyard gives the floor. This is not the case for the north courtyard.

But such an analysis might underestimate Li's influence.

Loyalist (Greg Baker via AFP/Getty Images)
Yet, loyal to Xi Jinping, over the past year, expectations for Li Qiang in power have become even lower (Greg Baker via AFP/Getty Images)

Unusually for a Chinese leader, Li's professional experience before going to Beijing took place almost entirely in and around the wealthy coastal province where he was born, Zhejiang, which borders Shanghai. In Zhejiang, Li spent years working in the cities of Wenzhou and Hangzhou. He also served as party secretary of neighboring Jiangsu province, based in Nanjing. Before moving to Beijing, he led Shanghai, China's commercial capital.

These provinces and cities are among the richest in China because their economy depends on the private sector and foreign trade. This experience gave Li a unique level of experience for a Chinese leader in working with private companies.

Xi has severely cracked down on several high-profile entrepreneurs during his second term. Famous business leaders, such as Alibaba's Jack Ma, have been forced out of their companies for changing direction.

Over the past year, Xi has reversed course, partly at the urging of Li, who has been at the forefront of efforts to reassure entrepreneurs, and partly to steer China's economy out of trouble. its recession.

Li has also been a central player in China's looming global domination of electric vehicles, which the United States, Japan and Europe fear risks wiping out their auto industries.

In this case, Li exploited foreign entrepreneurs to boost Chinese industry. As party chief in Shanghai, Li negotiated with Elon Musk to bring Tesla to the city, the first time China allowed a foreign company to make cars without a local partner. The Chinese have learned a lot from Tesla and the supplier ecosystem clustered around its advanced mega-factory in Shanghai. This has, in turn, helped Chinese private companies create their own world-class businesses.

Musk commonly asked Li to build the Tesla factory in two years. In the end, it was built in less than half the time.

His stay in Shanghai had some dark moments. As the Covid pandemic grew, Beijing ordered it to lock down the city to prevent the spread of the virus. Many of the city's residents, accustomed to the comfort of middle-class life and the freedom of travel, were deeply affected by the experience.

Li is said to have a personal connection to Australia. According to Cheng Li, University of Hong Kong, Li's daughter studied in Australia. But it's not something a Chinese leader would talk about in public.

Sources

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2/ https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/who-chinese-premier-li-qiang

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