China's strongman Xi Jiping has further cemented his power: The People's Congress in Beijing on Saturday almost unanimously elected a longtime confidante of the state and party leader as the new prime minister, Li Qiang. The 63-year-old succeeds the previous Prime Minister Li Keqiang (67), who comes from a different camp within the Communist Party. Immediately after the election, he took his oath of office. The day before, the nearly 3,000 hand-picked delegates had confirmed Xi Jiping for a third term at the helm of the country of 1.4 billion people.
The new prime minister received a total of 2,936 yes votes at the week-long annual meeting in the Great Hall of the People on Saturday. Only three delegates voted against him. Eight other MPs abstained. Li Qiang plans to appear before the press for the first time on Monday after the conclusion of the People's Congress. The change could be particularly important for the economy: while the president in China is responsible for the big picture, concrete economic planning is actually more the responsibility of the prime minister.
However, this division has changed in the ten years that Xi Jinping has been in office. He gave the previous head of government Li Keqiang significantly less room for maneuver and concentrated power - as in other areas - in his own hands. He appointed the new Prime Minister a high-ranking member of the Politburo in October. Li Qiang worked for the first time in 2007 directly under Xi Jinping, who at the time was still the party leader of the important province of Zhejiang.
Long political career
The new head of government has had a long political career, particularly on China's prosperous east coast. As party secretary in Shanghai, he championed the interests of business and at the same time promoted foreign investment. During his tenure, the US electric car maker Tesla came to the city with a large factory. "He doesn't talk so much about ideology, but a little bit more about how to do things," said Nis Grünberg from the China Institute Merics in Berlin.
Under the supervision of Li Qiang, Shanghai initially dealt with the virus less restrictively than many other regions of the People's Republic during the corona pandemic. However, because the metropolis could not get a handle on an outbreak in spring 2022, the city was finally put into a strict lockdown for two months. This apparently did not harm Li Qiang politically.
Xi Jinping had already been confirmed by the People's Congress for an unusual third term as president on Friday. At the party conference in October, the 69-year-old had already ignored the previous age and term of office restrictions and had a permanent leadership role anchored in the party constitution. With his sole rule, he ties in with the founder of the state and revolutionary Mao Tsetung.