Commentary: Will new Chinese premier Li Qiang be a yes-man or a Xi Jinping whisperer?

Li Qiang started his political career in the Youth League system in 1982, rising through the ranks in Zhejiang in the next two decades to become the party boss of Wenzhou, one of the most dynamic prefectures in the province. When Xi as party secretary of Zhejiang was looking for a secretary general of the Zhejiang Provincial Party Committee in 2004, Li Qiang became his top choice.

After Xi became national party leader, Li Qiang was made acting governor of Zhejiang in December 2012 and governor in January 2013, party secretary of Jiangsu in November 2016, and party secretary of Shanghai in October 2017.

In the last three Party Congress sessions, Li Qiang went from alternate member in 2012, to Politburo member in 2017, leapfrogging his way into the Politburo Standing Committee – the seven-man apex of power – just below Xi in rank in 2022.

This is because of, not despite, the punishing Shanghai lockdowns. Li Qiang demonstrated loyalty when it mattered.

In the first two years of the pandemic, Li Qiang managed the largest metropolitan city well and Shanghai’s economy was not seriously impacted. But with Xi’s direct personal intervention in the spring of 2022, Li Qiang practically decimated the city’s economy with considerable social and humanitarian costs to execute Xi’s zero-COVID policy.


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