New Premier Li Qiang, 63, a close confidant of Chinese leader Xi Jinping, is tasked with reviving China’s stagnant economy.
China has named Li Qiang, a close confidant of President Xi Jinping, as the country’s next prime minister, putting him nominally in charge of the world’s second-largest economy, which is now facing some of its worst prospects in years.
Li was nominated by Xi and named to the position without a dissenting vote on Saturday morning during the session of the National People’s Congress, China’s ceremonial parliament, in Beijing. He replaces outgoing Prime Minister Li Keqiang.
The 63-year-old received votes from nearly all of the more than 2,900 delegates who voted. The official confirmation of Li’s position came a day after the 69-year-old Xi secured an unprecedented third five-year term as president, potentially allowing him to rule for life and confirming him as the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong .
Li is best known for enforcing a brutal “zero-COVID” lockdown in Shanghai last spring as party boss of the Chinese financial center. In doing so, he proved his loyalty to Xi despite protests and complaints from residents about their lack of access to food, medical care and basic services.
Li came to know Xi during the then-future president’s tenure as head of Li’s native Zhejiang, a relatively prosperous southeastern province now known as a technology and manufacturing powerhouse.
Former Premier of China Li Keqiang shakes hands with newly elected Premier Li Qiang as Chinese President Xi Jinping watches during the Fourth Plenary Session of the National People’s Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China on March 11, 2023 (Greg Baker/ pool via Reuters)
Prior to the pandemic, Li built a reputation in Zhejiang and Shanghai for being friendly to private industry — even as Xi imposed tighter political controls and anti-COVID restrictions — and he also had greater control over e-commerce and other tech companies.
As prime minister, Li will be tasked with reviving China’s sluggish economy still emerging from the pandemic. He will also have to cope with weak global export demand, continued US tariff hikes, a shrinking workforce and an aging population.
China’s economy grew just 3 percent last year, and on the opening day of parliament, Beijing set a modest 2023 growth target of about 5 percent, the lowest target in nearly three decades.
Li’s main task this year will be to meet that goal without causing serious inflation or piling up debt, Christopher Beddor, deputy China research director at Gavekal Dragonomics, told Reuters news agency.
“Leadership has already accepted two years of exceptionally weak economic growth in the name of COVID containment. Now that that containment is gone, they’re not accepting any more,” Beddor said.
Li will now make his closely watched debut on the international scene on Monday during the prime minister’s traditional question-and-answer session with the media after the parliamentary session.
Li’s appointment is just one of many loyalists that puts Xi in key positions amid China’s biggest power reshuffle in a decade.