BEIJING — China on Saturday named Li Qiang, a close confidante of supreme leader Xi Jinping, as the country’s next prime minister, nominally in charge of the world’s second-largest economy, which now faces its worst outlook in years.
Li was nominated by Xi Jinping and appointed to the post at a Saturday morning session of the National People’s Congress, China’s ceremonial parliament. It came a day after Xi, 69, won a rule-breaking third five-year term as head of state, allowing him to potentially rule for life.
Li is best known for imposing a strict “zero-Covid” lockdown on Shanghai last spring as party boss of China’s financial hub, proving his loyalty to Xi in the face of complaints from residents about their lack of access to food, medical care, and more. and basic services.
Li, 63, met Xi during the future president’s tenure as head of Li’s native Zhejiang, a relatively wealthy southeastern province now known as a technology and manufacturing powerhouse.
Before the pandemic, Li had built a reputation in Shanghai and Zhejiang as friendly to private industry, even as Xi tightened political controls and anti-Covid restrictions and increased control over e-commerce and other technology companies.
As prime minister, Lee will be tasked with reviving a sluggish economy that is still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic and faces weak global export demand, lingering U.S. tariff hikes, a shrinking workforce and an aging population.
He takes over as prime minister and the State Council, China’s cabinet, is steadily disintegrating as Xi hands more powers to bodies directly under the ruling Communist Party.
At the opening of the annual session of Congress on Sunday, outgoing Premier Li Keqiang announced plans to revive the ailing economy and set a growth target of “around 5%” this year. Last year’s growth fell to 3%, the second weakest level since at least the 1970s.
As with Xi’s appointment on Friday, there was no indication that members of the National People’s Congress had any other option but to support Li and other officials selected by the Communist Party to fill other posts.
Unlike Xi Jinping, who won the body’s full approval, Li’s tally included three against and eight abstentions.
Almost 3,000 delegates dropped their ballots into boxes placed around the large auditorium in the Great Hall of the People’s Assembly, during which the new heads of the Supreme People’s Court and the State Prosecutor’s Office were also created, as well as two vice-chairmen of the Central Military Commission, which commands the military wing of the party — 2- million People’s Liberation Army.
Xi was renamed head of the commission on Friday, an appointment that has been automatic for the party leader for three decades. The prime minister has no direct authority over the armed forces, which take their orders clearly from the party, and plays only a marginal role in foreign affairs and internal security.
Xi’s new term and appointment of loyalists to top posts underscores his near-total monopoly on Chinese political power, eliminating any potential opposition to his hyper-nationalist agenda to transform China into a major political, military and economic rival of the US and a leading authoritarian challenge to the democratic world order under Washington.
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