China’s Forgotten Premier Li Keqiang Steps Out of Xi’s Shadow as Economic Fixer - May 11, 2022

Li Keqiang helps press the president to dial back policies that have contributed to the economy’s slowdown - article by Lingling Wei for the Wall Street Journal .

For years, President Xi Jinping has side-lined China’s second most powerful political figure, Premier Li Keqiang. Now, Mr. Li is re-emerging as a force in his own right, a potential counterbalance atop the Chinese government that hasn’t been seen for nearly a decade.

With China mired in its worst economic funk in recent memory, Mr. Li is helping press China’s authoritarian leader to dial back some measures that steered the country away from Western-style capitalism and contributed to China’s economic slowdown, according to government officials and advisers close to decision-making.

Under Mr. Li’s influence, those people said, Beijing recently eased a regulatory crackdown on private technology firms, loosened lending to property developers and home buyers, and acted to help some manufacturers resume production when much of China has been forced into lockdowns by Mr. Xi’s zero-Covid approach.

Mr. Li, 66 years old, is also trying to influence the selection of his replacement when he steps down as premier in less than a year, said the people close to decision-making. His goal is another premier who would be a counterweight to Mr. Xi as he consolidates power to rule for at least another five years, the people said.

In China’s opaque political system, it is difficult to gauge how much support Mr. Li has. The people close to decision-making said his moves are backed by some Communist Party officials who worry Mr. Xi has focused too heavily on adhering to an ideology rooted in Mao Zedong’s socialist vision, rather than on giving priority to practical measures to ensure economic growth.

Supporters of Mr. Li’s efforts include officials with ties to the Communist Youth League, a once-powerful organization that produced past leaders including former party chief Hu Jintao, but has fallen out of favor in the Xi era.

Last month, during an inspection tour of Jiangxi, a farm province in eastern China, Mr. Li visited an industrial park populated with e-commerce firms. That industry has been hit hard by Mr. Xi’s campaign to rein in tech companies and punish what Mr. Xi has described as “disorderly expansion of capital”—a euphemism for unchecked free-market behavior.

Standing in front of a crowd of e-commerce executives and their employees, Mr. Li promised to invigorate the “platform economy”—meaning internet-based businesses such as online retailer Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. —and to promote entrepreneurship. “We support the platform economy,” the premier told a cheering crowd, according to a video of the event. “We support entrepreneurs.”

A few days later, a meeting of the Politburo, a 25-member central decision-making body, signaled a halt to Mr. Xi’s regulatory crackdown on tech firms, which has included hefty fines and other punishments that have eroded business confidence and led to mass layoffs. An official readout of the meeting called for measures to “support the standardized and healthy development of the platform economy.”

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China’s Forgotten Premier Li Keqiang Steps Out of Xi’s Shadow as Economic Fixer - WSJ - 11
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Premier Li Keqiang, left, and President Xi Jinping at the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference in Beijing last year.Mark Schiefelbein/Associated Press

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