The EconomistThe Economist

China’s new head of government, Li Qiang, has Xi Jinping’s ear

12 Mar 2023 · 6 min read

China's new prime minister has a track record in supporting private business and defying Xi Jinping's efforts to tighten control. Will he be allowed to set his own agenda?

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CHINA’S NEW prime minister, Li Qiang, is a puzzle. He has called private business his native province’s “golden namecard”. He has boasted of the entrepreneurial daring of his hometown, and lashed out at officials for interfering with the market. He has scolded scholars for failing to criticise his work boldly enough. But he is also a protégé of Xi Jinping, who has crushed dissent and sent shivers through the business world with his efforts to tighten the Communist Party’s control over everything, not least the economy. Could Mr Li’s appointment, rubber-stamped on March 11th by China’s parliament, make a difference to the way China is run?

Mr Xi’s rule by fear, requiring officials to make endless protestations of loyalty, has made it harder than ever to divine the policy preferences of individual leaders and sense how they get along with each other. In the years leading up to his latest appointment, the 63-year-old Mr Li has hewed to the same script as his colleagues. At the annual parliamentary meeting, known as the National People’s Congress, he has heaped praise on Mr Xi, attributing China’s “major achievements” amid a “severe and complex international situation” to his “being at the helm and piloting the ship”. Such phraseology recalls the personality cult that surrounded Mao Zedong.

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