Former Premier Li Keqiang, who served as China’s chief economic officer for ten years, passed away due to a heart attack at the age of 68. From 2013 to 2023, Li held the position of China’s second-in-command and was a proponent of private enterprise.
Li, once perceived as a potential leader of the Communist Party, found his influence reduced in the latter years of his service due to President Xi Jinping‘s consolidation of power and shift towards a more state-centric economic approach.
According to CCTV, Li suffered a heart attack in Shanghai on Thursday and passed away early Friday morning.
“Comrade Li Keqiang, while resting in Shanghai in recent days, experienced a sudden heart attack on October 26 and after all-out efforts to revive him failed, died in Shanghai at ten minutes past midnight on Oct. 27,” state broadcaster CCTV reported.
Fluent in English and trained as an economist, Li, in his role as the primary economic official, pledged to enhance conditions for entrepreneurs. However, under Xi’s rule, state industries became more dominant, and there was increased control over tech sectors. Foreign businesses felt less welcome due to policies promoting economic self-reliance and other regulatory actions.
In 2022, Li was removed from the Standing Committee, even though he was two years shy of the unofficial retirement age of 70. On the same day, Xi secured a third term as party leader, breaking the tradition of a 10-year term limit. Xi’s loyalists filled top party positions, signaling an end to consensus leadership. Li Qiang, with less national experience than Li Keqiang, took over the No. 2 position and expressed his role as executing Xi’s decisions.
Li Keqiang assumed office in 2013 during a time when China’s economic growth, driven by construction and exports, was slowing. Advisors suggested a shift towards domestic consumption and service industries, necessitating reforms in state-controlled sectors.
Li’s predecessor, Wen Jiabao, expressed regret for not implementing changes more swiftly. In 2010, Li highlighted challenges such as over-reliance on investments for growth and the wealth disparity between urban and rural areas.
Many viewed Li as a potential champion of market reforms initiated by Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s. However, his leadership style was more laid-back compared to the aggressive approach of Zhu Rongji, who spearheaded significant reforms during his tenure as premier from 1998 to 2003.
Li was thought to support the “China 2030” report, which advocated for reducing state industry dominance. However, under Xi’s leadership, there was a shift towards more centralized control, with limited market-oriented reforms.
Li’s tenure witnessed several tragedies, earning him the moniker “Three Fires Li.” Despite these incidents, he remained politically unscathed. Additionally, his term saw various natural and man-made disasters.
Li played a crucial role in China’s Covid-19 response, with strict measures that limited international travel and city access. Towards the end of his tenure, he announced a relaxation of these measures due to economic pressures.
Born in 1955 in Anhui province, Li climbed the political ladder, starting as a party secretary in a commune. He studied law at Peking University and was involved in the Communist Youth League, which propelled the careers of former party leaders. After various party roles, Li earned his PhD in economics in 1994. He joined the party’s Central Committee in 2007 after serving in provincial posts and ministries.
(With inputs from agencies)

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