Former Chinese Premier Li Keqiang Dies at 68

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (left) with China’s President Xi Jinping last year. CREDIT: GETTY

Li Keqiang, the former premier of China, has passed away at the age of 68 due to a heart attack in Shanghai. His death is a significant development in the Chinese political landscape, given his past political rivalry with President Xi Jinping.

Li, who retired from his position as China’s second most powerful leader in March, died in Shanghai just after midnight on a Friday, as reported by the Chinese state news agency Xinhua.

This marks the third major change in the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party in recent months, following the sacking of foreign minister Qin Gang in July and the removal of defense minister Li Shangfu from his position.

Li Keqiang, an economist from a rival faction to President Xi, held more moderate, economically liberal views compared to Xi’s hard-line Marxist-Leninist stance. However, his power had been steadily diminishing during his tenure, thanks to Xi’s purges and anti-corruption campaigns.

Initially an ally of former President Hu Jintao, Li’s political alliances were gradually eroded by Xi, leaving him with no significant factions in the cabinet when he left office this year.

Li’s career path started as a farmer, followed by studies in law, and eventually working for the party in the province of Anhui. He married an American literature professor in 1983.

His vision for governance emphasized allowing the market and society to excel in their respective domains, with government intervention focused on areas under its direct supervision.

Li’s doctorate in economics from Peking University in 1995 reinforced his belief in the need for economic reform, though this ideology later constrained his policymaking ability as Xi solidified his power and expanded government control over the private sector.

In his final policy address in March, Li acknowledged the challenges faced by the Chinese people during the COVID-19 pandemic and urged the government to enhance international market access to boost post-pandemic investment. He reaffirmed his loyalty to President Xi and the principles of socialism with Chinese characteristics. Li’s passing marks the conclusion of an era in Chinese politics, with President Xi Jinping now holding a firmer grip on power within the party.