The world’s second-largest economy is currently facing some of its worst prospects in years, and China named Li Qiang, a close friend of top leader Xi Jinping, as its next premier on Saturday.
At the National People’s Congress, China’s ceremonial parliament, session on Saturday morning, Li was proposed by Xi and chosen for the job. That occurred the day after Xi, 69, won a record-breaking third five-year term as state leader, paving the way for him to potentially rule for the rest of time.
As party chief of the Chinese financial center, Li Qiang is best known for having imposed a harsh “zero-COVID” lockdown on Shanghai this spring, demonstrating his commitment to Xi in the face of complaints from locals about their lack of access to food, medical care, and basic amenities.
Li, 63, got to know Xi when the future president served as governor of Zhejiang, a relatively affluent province in the southeast that is now renowned as a hub for manufacturing and technology.
Prior to the epidemic, Li Qiang established a reputation for being supportive of private sector in Shanghai and Zhejiang, even as Xi implemented stricter political controls, anti-COVID restrictions, and increased supervision over e-commerce and other internet firms.
As premier, Li Qiang will have the difficult task of reviving a sluggish economy still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic while dealing with weak export demand on a global scale, lingering U.S. tariff increases, a declining labor force, and an aging population.
He assumes the position while the State Council, China’s Cabinet, and the authority of the premier have both been progressively losing ground as President Xi shifts more authority to institutions directly under the Communist Party in charge.
The incoming Premier Li Keqiang unveiled plans for a consumer-led recovery of the faltering economy on Sunday at the start of the annual congress session, setting this year’s growth objective at “about 5%.” The growth rate last year was only 3%, which is the second-lowest level since at least the 1970s.
There was no suggestion that NPC members had any other choice than to support Li Qiang and other officials chosen by the Communist Party to fill other roles, as there was with Xi’s appointment on Friday.
Li Qiang‘s vote total comprised three against and eight abstentions, in contrast to Xi who obtained the unanimous support of the body.
In addition to electing new leaders for the Supreme People’s Court and the state prosecutor’s office, the roughly 3,000 delegates also selected two vice chairs for the Central Military Commission, which oversees the party’s 2 million-member military wing, the People’s Liberation Army. The voting took place in boxes positioned around the Great Hall of the People’s spacious auditorium.
An inevitable appointment for the party chief for thirty years, Xi was dubbed head of the commission on Friday. The military forces are clearly under the party’s command, therefore the premier has no direct control over them. He also has a minimal impact on international affairs and domestic security.
Assembling China into the top political, military, and economic rival to the United States and the leading authoritarian threat to the United States-led democratic world order are all parts of Xi’s hyper-nationalistic agenda, which are now effectively outlawed by his election to a second term and the appointment of loyalists to high positions.