Li Qiang, close Xi ally, is China’s next Premier

National People’s Congress endorses new leadership of Central Military Commission 

March 11, 2023 07:21 am | Updated 09:27 pm IST - BEIJING

Chinese President Xi Jinping at left and Li Qiang arrive for a session of China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Saturday, March 11, 2023.

Chinese President Xi Jinping at left and Li Qiang arrive for a session of China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Saturday, March 11, 2023. | Photo Credit: AP

Li Qiang, a long-time close ally of President Xi Jinping, was on Saturday appointed the next Premier of China, and given the task of running the economy for the next five years.

Mr. Li, 63, was widely expected to succeed outgoing Li Keqiang in the post, having been appointed the second-ranked leader of the Politburo in the Communist Party’s once-in-five-year congress held in October 2022. He is expected to serve two terms as Premier.

The National People’s Congress (NPC), the ceremonial legislature that on Friday endorsed Mr. Xi for a precedent-defying third term, on Saturday confirmed Mr. Li’s appointment. While Mr. Xi was endorsed unanimously by all 2,952 members with none opposing or abstaining, three voted against and eight abstained in Saturday’s appointment of Mr. Li. The NPC session concludes on Monday, when Mr. Li will hold his first press conference as Premier.

Mr. Li earlier served as the Communist Party chief in Shanghai, where he had a mixed record. While garnering a reputation for being business-friendly – restoring relations with an embattled private sector will be one key task on his agenda of boosting economic growth – Mr. Li was also in charge during the widely criticised two month-long lockdown of Shanghai last year.

The session on Saturday also endorsed, as expected, two People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Generals, Zhang Youxia and He Weidong, as Vice Chairmen of the Central Military Commission (CMC) of the State, which is headed by Mr. Xi. Their announcements were also formalities given their appointments at October’s Communist Party Congress.

As with Mr. Li’s appointment, the CMC positions also underlined Mr. Xi’s influence over every branch of Party and State. General Zhang Youxia, 72, a close associate of Mr. Xi, was appointed for another term on the CMC despite reaching the retirement age.

Meanwhile, General He Weidong, 65, was appointed to the top post of CMC Vice Chairman without ever serving on the CMC, receiving a double promotion. General He has experience with both the Western Theatre Command (WTC) which borders India, and the Eastern Theatre Command (ETC) which is responsible for Taiwan. General He served as the Army (ground forces) commander of the WTC from 2016 until 2019, including during the 2017 Doklam crisis. In 2019, he was promoted to head the ETC.

On Saturday, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported PLA representatives of the NPC had been pushing for the introduction of “wartime legislation”, with PLA deputies during the ongoing session expressing “an urgent need for wartime legislation as they reviewed amendments to the Legislation Law, which sets out principles for law-making and lawmakers”. The proposed legislation could be taken up in future NPC sessions.

“Zhang Like, commander of the Shandong Provincial Military District, suggested that China should push for the introduction of laws such as the mobilisation of reserve forces,” the report said, adding that “other deputies called for legislative changes related to the PLA’s overseas operations, which have expanded in recent years and include the establishment of a military base in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, and naval escort missions in the Gulf of Aden and waters off Somalia.”

The NPC in 2021 passed a border law, which came into effect in January 2022, which lists various responsibilities for civilian and military authorities to take steps to “safeguard national sovereignty”. The law has 62 articles in seven chapters, covering delineation and border defence to immigration, border management and trade, and calling for the Chinese military to carry out border drills and to “resolutely prevent, stop and combat” what it calls “invasions, encroachments and provocations”.

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