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Meet Li Qiang, the most powerful man in China after Xi Jinping

He is a loyalist to Xi Jinping. He is likely to become the next Premier of China. Li Qiang is the man to watch out for after Xi Jinping in China these days.

Li Qiang with Tesla boss Elon Musk at an event.

Li Qiang has now become the second most famous name in Chinese politics after President Xi Jinping. As the National Party Congress of China concluded, Li Qiang’s ascent into Chinese decision making structure became more pronounced as it became clear that he is likely to become the next Premier of the Chinese Communist Party.

This step can be seen as a part of Xi Jinping’s broader agenda of packing the party leadership with his yes-men. Li Keqiang, the incumbent Chinese Premier is all set to retire from his position and in a show of Xi Jinping’s supremacy, Keqiang was also removed from the all powerful Politburo Standing Committee in the new shuffle. It was a known fact that Li Keqiang and Xi Jinping did not often see eye-to-eye on their vision for China, and even in their contrasting leadership styles (Li Keqiang was considered more open than Xi Jinping) and this led to fissures in their political partnership. Now, with the possible takeover of the position by Li Qiang, the room for any rivalry or opposition has been reduced. Before understanding what this new appointment would mean for China in the larger context, let us first trace the story of the man now set to become the Premier of the People’s Republic of China.

Climbing the ladder

Trained in management engineering as well as economics, Li Qiang also holds a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. He also holds a degree in Agricultural Mechanization from the Zhejiang Agricultural University. While tracing this diverse academic portfolio, it becomes clear that Li Qiang possesses relevant economic and technical understanding. However, his political career began when he joined the Chinese Communist Party in 1983 and became the secretary of the Communist Youth League.

Over the course of his political engagements, it can be noted that instead of being in independent leadership roles, Li Qiang has often shadowed Xi Jinping. The fruits of which he reaped when he was selected to become a part of the Provincial Party Standing Committee of Zhejiang in 2005, under Jinping’s leadership. He became Xi Jinping’s Chief of Staff and his personal aide, eventually being elevated to the position of the Governor of Zhejiang. The Zhejiang province holds prominence as it is often called the economic powerhouse, geographically very close to Shanghai. Li Qiang has also served as the Party Secretary of the Jiangsu, Yongkang as well as Wenzhou regions. This proves that since the very beginning Li Qiang has received considerable experience in the ground level regional administration and management of various provinces.

One of Li Qiang’s most significant roles under Xi Jinping’s party leadership is to be appointed as the Governor of Shanghai. It was during his tenure as the governor that Li Qiang attracted most of the public attention especially in times of the pandemic. His implementation of the sudden lockdown of Shanghai led to strong criticism. However, he still aimed to carry out the instructions given to him, proving him to be a trusted executor of Xi Jinping’s decisions. In order to consolidate all the executive and decision making powers in his hands, President Xi Jinping needs men like Li Qiang in top party positions.

How important is the Premier?

Before delving deeper into the meaning of Li Qiang’s appointment as the Premier of the People’s Republic of China, it is also imperative for us to understand what this office stands for. What is the role of the Premier in the Party? Is he just a nominal head of the party?

The office of the Premier is responsible for the administrative and economic affairs of the State which primarily caters to the implementation of the domestic policies. His role thus includes effectively administering the bureaucratic infrastructure within the country. The planning and implementation of the social development policies as well as economic policies are headed by the Premier. The approval of the state budget also falls under the leadership of the Premier while also overseeing the functioning of the state ministries, governance departments, statutory agencies and commissions.

Therefore, it would be safe to conclude that the Premier of the People’s Republic of China is not just a nominal head of the state and holds a strong portfolio. Hence Li Qiang’s appointment as the Premier would hold a greater prominence in this regard.

Li Qiang as the Premier

The “right hand man” and Jinping’s most trusted confidant became the talk of the town as he climbed the ladder even further to become he Premier. Li Qiang has been elevated through the party ranks solely on the basis of his strong professional relationship with President Xi Jinping. Qiang has been reaping the benefit of this alliance since the beginning of his political career and now the most important testament to this fact is his appointment as the Premier by superseding the former Vice Premier Wang. As the custom dictates, the former Vice Premier would be in the ranks to become the next Premier after the retirement of the incumbent. However, the position is likely to go to Li Qiang now.

Li Qiang will inherit a China that has been bearing the brunt of the global economic slowdown brought about by the pandemic. However, his portfolio suggests that he had handled the Covid-19 crisis in Shanghai amidst grave criticism by strictly adhering to Xi Jinping’s decision to impose a lockdown during the Omicron wave. Now, with the vision of following the 'zero Covid' policy even further, as was highlighted by Xi Jinping in his address to the Party, it becomes clear tha Li Qiang is going to follow through on his leader’s decisions.

There are also hopes that the new Premier might play a stronger role in reviving the economy from the post covid impact on administration and social development. His educational background in agricultural engineering and world economy might prove to be beneficial in this regard. The vision of developing a strong technological base and the focus on involvement and innovation in the information technology industry is also an important aspect of the new domestic policy agenda of China. It would be interesting to witness how Li Qiang navigates through these challenges and maintains the position of Xi Jinping’s most trusted ally.

Amidst all the speculations however, one thing that remains clear is that Li Qiang is going to become a 'strong implementer' to Xi Jinping’s domestic policies.


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