Chinese President Xi Jinping on Saturday nominated Li Qiang to become premier during the ongoing annual meeting of China’s rubber-stamp parliament, a role charged with managing the world’s second-largest economy.
Li, the former Communist Party chief of Shanghai, China’s largest city, will replace Li Keqiang, who is retiring during the National People’s Congress session that ends on Monday, after serving two five-year terms.
Li Qiang, 63, is a close ally of Xi, serving as his chief of staff between 2004 and 2007, when Xi was provincial party secretary of eastern China’s Zhejiang province.
Widely perceived to be pragmatic and business-friendly, the incoming Li faces the daunting task of shoring up China’s uneven economic recovery after three years of COVID-19 curbs, weak confidence among consumers and the private sector, and global headwinds.
He will take office amid rising tensions with the West, including U.S. moves to block China’s access to key technologies and as many global companies diversify supply chains to hedge their China exposure, given political risks and the disruptions of the COVID era.
China’s economy grew just 3% last year, and on the opening day of parliament Beijing set a modest 2023 growth target of around 5%, its lowest goal in nearly three decades.
Li’s top task this year will be beating that target without triggering serious inflation or piling on debt, said Christopher Beddor, deputy China research director at Gavekal Dragonomics.
While China has not signalled plans to unleash stimulus to jump-start growth, major headwinds such as a collapse in exports or persistent weakness in the property sector could force Li’s hand, Beddor said.
“The leadership has already accepted two years of exceptionally weak economic growth in the name of COVID containment. Now that containment is gone, they won’t accept another,” he said.
Li will make his closely watched debut on the international stage on Monday during the premier’s traditional question-and-answer session with the media after the parliamentary session ends.
He was put on track for premier in October, when he was appointed to the number-two role on the Politburo Standing Committee during the once-in-five-years Communist Party Congress.
Xi is installing a slate of loyalists in key positions amid the biggest government reshuffle in a decade, as a generation of more reform-minded officials retires and Xi further consolidates power after being elected president for an unprecedented third term on Friday.
(Reporting by Laurie Chen and Tony Munroe; Editing by Sandra Maler and William Mallard)