BEIJING: The Chinese Communist Party’s No. 2 leader was confirmed Friday as premier, tasked with addressing a slowing economy and defusing public anger over corruption, pollution and a growing gap between rich and poor.
China’s rubber-stamp legislature appointed Li Keqiang to the premiership as a long-orchestrated leadership transition neared its end. Final touches take place Saturday with selections of vice premiers, a central bank governor and finance and other ministers, and the legislature wraps up Sunday.
Party chief Xi Jinping was appointed Thursday to the ceremonial post of president, completing his ascension as China’s pre-eminent leader after being promoted last November to head the Communist Party and the military.
Though the outcome of the legislative session was a foregone conclusion, it’s the result of years of fractious behind-the-scenes bargaining. They hail from different factions: Li Keqiang is a protege of the now-retired President Hu Jintao while Xi Jinping is the son of a revolutionary veteran with backing among party elders.
Xi cuts an authoritative figure with a confidence and congeniality that was lacking in his predecessor, the aloof and stiff Hu. New Premier Li, from a mid-level official’s household, has appeared to be a cautious administrator, like Hu, and has not been associated with particular policies on his rise.
Evidence of their and their patrons’ ability to forge consensus will be seen Saturday when appointments to the Cabinet and other top government posts are announced.
As top economic official, Li faces politically fraught challenges in keeping growth strong and incomes rising.
China’s leaders say they want more sustainable growth based on domestic consumption and technology instead of trade and investment.
Reformers say Communist leaders have to curb state companies that dominate industries from energy to telecoms to banking, and encourage free-market competition or growth could sink to 5 percent or lower by 2015, raising the risk of job losses and unrest. That will require Li, who has shown little appetite for confrontation, to challenge politically powerful corporate bosses.
China’s leadership is consensus-oriented, so governing the country is often sluggish business because none of the leaders are politically strong enough to prevail independently.
Wu Xiangdong, chairman of a wine company and one of the congress delegates, said expectations were high for Li.
The National People’s Congress endorsed Li for the post with a vote of 2,940, with three opposed and six abstaining.