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China appoints Li Qiang prime minister as world’s second-largest economy


China on Saturday named Li Qiang, a close confidant of top leader Xi Jinping, as the country’s next prime minister, nominally in charge of the world’s second-largest economy, which faces some of its worst prospects in years.

Li was nominated by Xi and appointed to the post during Saturday morning’s session of the National People’s Congress, China’s ceremonial parliament. It came a day after Xi, 69, won a third five-year term as head of state, setting him up to rule for life.

Li is best known for imposing a harsh ‘zero-Covid’ lockdown on Shanghai last spring as party leader of China’s financial hub, proving his loyalty to Xi in the face of complaints from residents about their lack of access to food. , medical care and basic services.

Li, 63, got to know Xi during the future president’s tenure as head of Zhejiang, a relatively wealthy province in the southeast now known as a technology and manufacturing powerhouse.

Before the pandemic, Li had earned a reputation in Shanghai and Zhejiang as being supportive of private industry, even as Xi imposed tighter political checks and anti-Covid restrictions, as well as increased control over the e-commerce and other technology companies.

As prime minister, Li will be tasked with reviving a sluggish economy still emerging from the Covid-19 pandemic and facing weak global demand for exports, persistent tariff hikes in the United States, a weak labor force. dwindling work and an aging population.

He assumes the authoritative post of prime minister, and the State Council, China’s Cabinet, has been gradually eroded as Xi transfers more powers to bodies reporting directly to the ruling Communist Party.

At the opening of the annual congress session on Sunday, outgoing Premier Li Keqiang announced plans for a consumer-led revival of the struggling economy, setting the growth target for this year at “about 5 %”. Last year’s growth fell to 3%, the second-lowest level since at least the 1970s.

As with Xi’s nomination on Friday, there was no indication that NPC members had no choice but to endorse Li and other officials chosen by the Communist Party for other posts.

Unlike Xi, who received full court approval, Li’s tally included three oppositions and eight abstentions.

The roughly 3,000 delegates cast ballots in ballot boxes placed around the vast auditorium of the Great Hall of the People, in a process that has also produced new heads of the Supreme People’s Court and the State Attorney’s Office, and two vice-chairmen of the Central Military Commission which commands the party’s military wing, the People’s Liberation Army which has 2 million members.

Xi was reappointed as head of the commission on Friday, an automatic nomination for the party leader for three decades. The prime minister has no direct authority over the armed forces, which explicitly take their orders from the party, and plays only a marginal role in external relations and internal security.

Xi’s new term and appointment of loyalists to top positions underscores his near-total monopoly on Chinese political power, eliminating any potential opposition to his hyper-nationalist agenda of making China the main political, military and economic rival of the United States. United States and leader’s authoritarian challenge to the democratic world order led by Washington.

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.