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Why Xi Jinping is concerned about Li Keqiang’s passing

In China, the loss of a leader can either trigger political unrest, as was the case in 1989 when Hu Yaobang’s mourning led to the Tiananmen Square riots, or it can bring about significant reforms, as it did with Mao Zedong.

Because of this, the demise of former premier Li Keqiang has already prompted a number of actions aimed at preserving stability.

To limit Chinese residents’ access to the portions of the internet that are not under Communist Party control, a crackdown on VPN use is now underway.

The Party does not want broader criticism of the current Xi Jinping-led administration to result from the grieving of a well-liked, liberal former number two leader.


It is not only that Li passed very unexpectedly, having a heart attack only a few months after resigning, but also because of what he stood for: a possible administration of China that would have different goals than General Secretary Xi’s.

He was a pragmatist of great intelligence who seemed unconcerned with ideology. And for good reason—he was one of the lone members of the nation’s most influential decision-making body, the Politburo Standing Committee, which consisted of seven men at the time.

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The “Li Keqiang Index” was also created through a well-known US State Department paper that was leaked on Wikileaks. According to reports, in 2007 Li, as the Party Secretary of Liaoning Province at the time, informed the US ambassador that the local GDP estimates were not a trustworthy indicator of the state of the economy.

According to reports, he employed three additional metrics—train cargo volume, electricity consumption, and bank loan disbursements—to analyze growth.

It’s doubtful that criticizing China’s official figures to the Americans, even in private, was favorably received by his political rivals.

The former prime minister was regarded as one of his generation’s most intelligent politicians. Soon after Chairman Mao’s terrible Cultural Revolution, the universities were reopened, and he was admitted to the esteemed Peking University Law School.

He was an economist in a Party dominated by engineers, and he gained notoriety for “telling it like it is”—honestly and openly admitting China’s economic woes in order to find answers.

Li Keqiang, via Reuter’s image source
Image caption: During a press conference led by Mr. Li in March 2017, journalists raise their hands.
He discussed the harm that Mr. Xi’s renowned “zero-Covid” policy was causing to the Chinese people and the economy during the most current pandemic.

He didn’t specifically challenge the nation’s most important leader or the policy, of course, but he also didn’t downplay the effects of the amelioration measures.

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He first praised the “effective work” of officials facing “unexpected challenges” during the crisis in May 2022, at a virtual meeting that was reportedly attended by over 100,000 representatives of government and business. However, he continued, saying that “the difficulties, in some areas and to a certain degree, are even greater than the severe shock of the pandemic in 2020.”

Saying that “development is the basis and key to solving all problems in China,” he went on to remark that there was a clear path forward. Notably, he mentioned development rather than ideological vigor.

“We need material and financial resources to prevent and control epidemics effectively. Development is necessary to promote risk avoidance, steady employment, and people’s livelihoods,” he stated.

While the zero-Covid policy was still in effect in May of last year, he made an unmasked appearance at a university in the province of Yunnan. Furthermore, none of the officials or students gathered around him had on masks. Posts applauding the premier went viral on social media as a result of this. Soon, there was censorship surrounding the hashtag #PremierAtYunnanUniversity.

The media caption read, “In 60 seconds, who was Li Keqiang of China?”

As the official economics head during the first year of the Covid pandemic, Li made the decision to support the capacity of street stalls to create jobs and was observed visiting street sellers in Shandong Province. He claimed that although business was already facing challenges, this kind of trade might invigorate the economy and generate new jobs.

After being outlawed for years, street sellers returned to Beijing’s streets almost immediately. However, they would never be permitted to remain, not in accordance with Mr. Xi’s vision for the Chinese capital.

Li’s purported effort to bring back street vendors was being attacked in The Beijing Daily, the official publication of the Beijing Municipal Party Committee, a few days after it was announced. It carried a statement characterizing street vendors as “uncivilized and unhygienic.” Then, with similar sentiments, other state media joined in.

The fact that the country’s premier’s proposed policy could be swiftly, openly, and successfully overruled by the municipal administration demonstrated how weak his authority had grown.

This would not have been conceivable under the collective leadership of the previous Hu Jintao regime. The Party’s various factions needed to be balanced.

However, under Mr. Xi, one must choose the correct path or the Xi Jinping route.

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Li was the final top government official associated with the Hu-era and its methods until he resigned in March of this year.

His appearance was a symbol of a different era, a less militant approach to politics that put commercial interests ahead of political rhetoric.

In Montreal, Canada, Li Keqiang is dressed in a hockey jersey.
image description
When visiting Canada in 2016, Mr. Li wears an NHL hockey jersey from the Montreal Canadiens.
Speaking English with ease, he could be quite endearing to foreign dignitaries. Additionally, when reporters gathered to record his formal meetings, he would smile and wave at them.

Its possible sensitivity has been increased by the fact that his death occurred only a few months after the prominent Foreign and Defence Ministers’ mysterious dismissal.

The upcoming official rituals honoring him will be managed extremely cautiously, in case they even marginally incite a view of the former Premier that is in sympathy with him and could contradict the government’s current course.

Those observing Chinese social media platforms will be keeping an eye on the online expressions of astonishment and grief as regular people pay tribute to him.

At one point, Li was vying to succeed Mr. Xi as General Secretary of the Communist Party, having risen through the ranks alongside him.

There has been a lot of conjecture over what China could have become if Li had assumed the role of supreme leader.


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