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Bolder reform hopes as Li Keqiang becomes Premier

Ananth Krishnan
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New Chinese Vice-Premier Li Keqiang.— PHOTO: AFP
New Chinese Vice-Premier Li Keqiang.— PHOTO: AFP

China’s Communist Party on Friday firmed up the leadership line-up of its new government with the expected appointment of second-ranked Politburo Standing Committee member Li Keqiang as Premier.

Mr. Li (57), who was anointed as the successor of outgoing Premier Wen Jiabao five years ago, will take over the reins of the world’s second-largest economy as the head of the State Council, or Cabinet, which sets economic policies. The new Premier is seen in China as a protégé of former President Hu Jintao, who stepped down on Thursday.

The new CPC General Secretary Xi Jinping, appointed as the head of the Party and military last year, was formally selected as Mr. Hu’s replacement on Thursday by the National People’s Congress (NPC), or Parliament.

Mr. Li rose through party ranks in the Communist Youth League, where Mr. Hu has his power base. He is among the few top party leaders with a law degree and doctorate — unique in a leadership dominated by engineers — and he also speaks fluent English.

He graduated from the elite Peking University during the political upheaval of the 1980s, when it was a centre of liberal activism. Many of Mr. Li’s friends became student leaders during the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.

Despite his close links to Mr. Hu, he is seen by many analysts as having a good equation with Mr. Xi, raising expectations that the administration will be able to be more effective than the previous leadership was in bringing about a consensus in the Party for bolder reform measures.

Case for reforms

In recent public appearances, Mr. Li has made out a strong case for reforms. He told a conference in December, “Reform is like rowing upstream. Failing to advance means falling back.” “Those who refuse to reform may not make mistakes”, he said, “but they will be blamed for not assuming their historical responsibility”.

Mr. Li and his team will have to grapple with a long list of economic challenges, from declining growth — the 7.8 per cent growth rate last year was the lowest in 13 years — to rising pollution. At the same time, he would have to push forward long-discussed plans to transform the development model to more innovation-driven and consumption-driven and to boost urbanisation and social security.

“A major priority of the new government should be improving the country’s scientific and technological prowess to increase productivity and offset rising labour costs”, Wang Tongsan, an economist at the official Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the State-run Xinhua news agency.

But doing so, he added, would involve overcoming obstacles ranging from “an education system that values conformity more than individual innovation; a business environment that lacks protection of intellectual property rights; and a financial system that often fails to support the funding needs of private firms”.


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