New Chinese premier Li Qiang emerging as more than a yes-man to president Xi – Asia Newsday


When Li Qiang was first tipped to succeed the business-friendly Li Keqiang as China’s premier, much of the commentary was negative and expectations were low. This, after all, was the man who oversaw a three-month lockdown in Shanghai that left many residents traumatised by the authorities’ initial failure to keep basic supplies and services going.

But in the days before his confirmation last Saturday, stories appeared in the international media suggesting that, far from being a lockdown zealot, Li had been instrumental in persuading Xi Jinping to abandon the zero-Covid policy last December. Could his closeness to Xi, far from making him a yes-man, in fact allow him to offer more candid advice?

Li made an impressive debut before the media at the end of the Two Sessions, China’s annual parliamentary meetings. His manner was easy and he answered the pre-screened questions fluently and with occasional flashes of humour and flair.

His core message was that China was open for business again and that meant valuing private enterprise and encouraging officials to make friends with entrepreneurs. The entrepreneurs will hope this means that Beijing is turning away from its recent campaign of clipping the wings of business figures who fly too high or get too rich.

China: President Xi Jinping names confidant Li Qiang as premier ]

Li stayed away from foreign policy for the most part, although he spoke of how the China-US relationship benefited both parties. His tone was in contrast to that of Xi, who has been stressing the need for a strong defence and warning that the US was trying to encircle and contain China.

Events outside the Great Hall of the People are likely to have a more lasting impact on Xi’s fortunes and perhaps on China’s relationship with the US. The accord between Iran and Saudi Arabia, brokered in secret talks in Beijing, was a diplomatic coup for Xi, which he hopes to leverage in an effort to bring an early end to the war in Ukraine.

Just as Vladimir Putin’s invasion has driven much of the West into Washington’s arms, the western response to the war has sent much of the rest of the world looking for alternatives. Western overreach on sanctions, particularly the freezing of Russia’s foreign currency reserves and the threat to appropriate them, has alarmed countries that fear they could find themselves in the crosshairs of western moral outrage.

These include Iran and Saudi Arabia, who may have felt more comfortable negotiating under the morally undemanding auspices of Beijing than beneath the stern eye of the whited sepulchres of Washington and its allies.

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