Li Keqiang (Chinese: 李克强; Mandarin: [lì kʰɤ̂.tɕʰjǎŋ];[a] born 1 July 1955) is the current Premier of the State Council of the People's Republic of China. An economist by training, Li is China's head of government as well as one of the leading figures behind Chinese economic policy. He is also the second-ranked member of the Politburo Standing Committee of the Communist Party of China, the de facto top decision-making body of the country. Li is a major part of the "fifth generation of Chinese leadership" along with General secretary Xi Jinping. Li was named the World's 12th Most Powerful Person by the Forbes list of The World's Most Powerful People in 2015 and 2016.
Li rose through the ranks through his involvement in the Communist Youth League. From 1998 to 2004, Li served as the Governor of Henan and the province's party secretary. From 2004 to 2007 he served as the Party Secretary of Liaoning, the top political office in the province. From 2008 to 2013, Li served as the first-ranked Vice-Premier[b] under then-Premier Wen Jiabao, overseeing a broad portfolio which included economic development, price controls, finance, climate change, and macroeconomic management.
Given his Youth League experience, Li has generally been considered a political ally of former leader Hu Jintao. Li assumed the post of Premier in 2013, and has facilitated the Chinese government's shifting of priorities from export-led growth to a greater focus on internal consumption. Li has also been a major force behind the implementation of the "comprehensively deepening reforms" announced in the fall of 2013.
Li graduated from Hefei No.8 Senior High School in 1974, during the Cultural Revolution, and was sent for rural labour in Fengyang County, Anhui, where he eventually joined the Communist Party of China and made his way in becoming the party head of the local production team. He was awarded the honour of Outstanding Individual in the Study of Mao Zedong Thought during this time.
Li refused his father's offer of grooming him for the local county's party leadership and entered the School of Law at Peking University, where he received his LLB and became the president of the University's student council. He earned a PhD in economics in 1995, and the prominent economist Li Yining (no relation) was his doctoral advisor. His doctoral dissertation was awarded the Sun Yefang Prize, China's highest prize in economics.
In 1980, Li became the Communist Youth League secretary at Peking University. He entered the top leadership of the national organization of the Communist Youth League (CYL) in 1982 as a member of its Secretariat, and has worked closely with former Party General Secretary Hu Jintao, who also rose through the ranks of the CYL, ever since. Li became the organization's First Secretary in 1993 and served until 1998. He is a representative member of the first generation to have risen from the CYL leadership.
Li became the youngest Chinese provincial governor in June 1998 when he was appointed governor of Henan at the age of 43. According to provincial officials working with him at the time, Li refused to participate in any banquets or large fancy events not related to government activities. During his time as governor, a public sense of his "bad luck" grew due to the occurrence of three major fires in the province.
Li is known to be outspoken and led economic development in Henan, transforming the poor inland region into an attractive area for investment. Li did not spend time pursuing superficial projects. He trekked through all regions of the province trying to search for a comprehensive solution to its growing problems. Henan jumped in national GDP rankings from 28th in the early 1990s to 18th in 2004, when Li left Henan. However, his government was relatively ineffective at curbing the HIV/AIDS epidemic that was affecting the rural areas of the province.
Li was transferred to work as the Party Secretary in Liaoning in December 2004, taking on the top political office of the province. There he is known for the "Five-points to one Line" project, where he linked up Dalian and Dandong, as well as a series of other ports into a comprehensive network to improve trade flow.
With his Youth League experience and his association with then paramount leader Hu Jintao, Li was seen from early on in Hu's term as a contender to succeed Hu when his term as party leader ends in 2012. Li gained membership to the Politburo Standing Committee at 17th Party Congress held in October 2007. He was succeeded in his provincial party chief post by Governor Zhang Wenyue. While Li's political future seemed promising, he was outranked on the Standing Committee by Xi Jinping, who had just left his role as party chief of Shanghai to join the central leadership ranks in Beijing. This rank order ostensibly signaled that it would be Xi, not Li, who would eventually succeed Hu as party General Secretary and President. At the 2008 National People's Congress, Li was elected Vice-Premier, first in rank, reinforcing the speculation that Li would become Premier and was being groomed to succeed then-Premier Wen Jiabao.
During his first term in the PSC between 2007 and 2012, Li took on the most important portfolios in the Chinese government, including economic development, government budgets, land and resources, the environment, and health, ostensibly to prepare him for his upcoming premiership. He also became the head of central commissions overseeing the Three Gorges Dam and the South-North Water Transfer Project, as well as the leader of steering committees in charge of health care reform, food safety, and AIDS-related work. In addition, Li was the principal lieutenant to Premier Wen Jiabao in the broad portfolios of climate change, energy, information technology, northeastern China revitalization, and developing the Chinese far west.
Li's first major appearance internationally was at the 2010 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The event was seen as an litmus test for Li. At the forum, Li succinctly presented China's long-term vision for development in front of world business and political leaders. In particular, Li briefed the WEF on China's commitment to sustainable development, green energy, decreasing the income gap and modernizing key strategic industries. While reiterating Beijing's commitment to peaceful development and its focus in increasing domestic demand in the face of external pressures during the global financial crisis, Li also warned against protectionism, saying "opening up can be both bilateral and multilateral... in this sense, one plus one is more often than not bigger than two." He also touched upon the importance of international development, and international financial reform. He called for a global governance structure that was "more reflective of the changes in the global political and economic landscape."
In February 2010, Li gave a speech to ministerial and provincial-level leaders about the importance of changing the economic structure of the country in order to be better poised for future growth. The speech was published with minor omissions in the 1 June issue of Qiushi, the Communist Party's political theory publication. Li said that China had come to a critical historical inflection point where a fundamental shift in the structure of the economy must take place in order for the country to continue its path of growth. Li particularly emphasized the need to boost domestic consumption, and emphasized the importance of continued urbanization. Li also emphasized that China should be moving towards a more middle class-oriented society with an "olive"-shaped wealth distribution, with the majority of the country's population and wealth belonging to the middle class.
He has also reiterated the importance of industrialization, urbanization and agricultural modernization in China in order to improve its competitiveness, food security, energy security, affordable housing, and healthcare.
In August 2011, Li went on an official visit to Hong Kong, including a trip to the University of Hong Kong. The political sensitivities and heightened security surrounding the event resulted in the Hong Kong 818 incident, an event that caused controversy in the territory.
At the 18th Party Congress held in the fall of 2012, Li was elevated to the number two spot on the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) and thereby became one of the top leaders of China. As he was expected to become Premier, this was a shift from previous convention on the PSC set in 1997 whereby the Premier ranked third, after the Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, who ranked second. This change showed that the party intended to project Li as the number two figure in the Chinese political hierarchy, behind only party General Secretary Xi Jinping. Also in that same year, he had personally met with the openly gay Ma Baoli (a policeman turned businessman) to discuss the threat posed by HIV. In the same conversation, they discussed LGBT issues on preventing discrimination which has been interpreted as a sign that the People's Republic is slowly coming around to the idea even as major Chinese businesses have already begun tapping into the purchasing power parity of the LGBT community.
On 15 March 2013, Li Keqiang was, as expected, elected by the 12th National People's Congress as Premier. At the same Congress, Party General Secretary Xi Jinping was elected President. Li replaced Wen Jiabao, who retired after serving two terms as premier. Of the nearly 3,000 legislators assembled at the Congress, 2,940 voted for him, three against, and six abstained. He was elected for a five-year term, but was expected to serve two terms like his predecessor Wen.
On 16 March, the Congress selected Zhang Gaoli, Liu Yandong, Wang Yang, and Ma Kai as vice premiers following their respective nominations from Li Keqiang. He gave his first major speech March 17 at the conclusion of the National Peoples Congress, calling for frugality in government, a fairer distribution of income and continued economic reform. Li has focused his attention on China to move towards a consumption based economy instead of relying on export led growth. Li was ranked 14th of the 2013 Forbes Magazine's List of The World's Most Powerful People, after taking the office of Chinese Premier.
Li has an academic background in economics and is therefore a firm believer in the use of robust economic data to aid in government decision making. He is known to study economic statistics and routinely questions the reliability of the data he works with. Li has been described by international media as the pioneer behind the so-called "Keqiang index", an unconventional economic measurement indicator devised by Li that was said to bypass the often unreliable official GDP numbers and thus serves as a better indicator of economic health and a more useful barometer for decision-making. Instead of gathering data on total economic output alone, Li used three other indicators to keep tabs on the economy while working in Liaoning province. These were, the railway cargo volume, electricity consumption and total loans disbursed by banks.
When Li initially entered office, China was facing numerous structural problems inherited from the previous administration. Namely, the large abundance of non-performing loans, that many of the giant infrastructure projects the country embarked on since the global financial crisis was overloaded with crushing debt and lower than expected revenues, and the increasingly large wealth gap. Under these circumstances, Li was said to have responded with what became known as "Likonomics", a term coined by economists at the investment bank Barclays Capital. Likonomics consisted of a three-prong approach that included the across-the-board reduction of debt, an end to massive stimulus practices of the Wen Jiabao government, and structural reforms. However, by 2014, global economic pressures and a decrease in demand of Chinese exports led to lower than expected economic growth rates. Year-on-year GDP growth amounted to less than 7.5% for the first time since 1989. Li's government then responded with tax cuts for small businesses, renovation projects of poor urban areas, and another round of rail construction, particularly focused on the country's interior.
After the announcement of comprehensive reforms at the Third Plenum in 2013, Li became a leading figure of the government's reform implementation efforts. The Third Plenum called for market forces to play a "decisive" role in the allocation of resources, ostensibly looking to decrease government regulation on the free market. In early 2014, Li said that local governments still were still ineffective at following the central government's reform directives, and that "[some governments] meddle in affairs they shouldn't be involved in, and some don't pay attention to things they should be doing." Li emphasized that the success of reforms came down to "execution and implementation," and criticized local governments for failing to act in support of reforms.
Li Keqiang made his first foreign visit to India on 18 May 2013 in a bid to resolve border disputes and to stimulate economic relations. He said the choice of India as the first international visit highlights Chinese importance in its relations with the country. During Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to China in 2015, Li and Modi took a selfie together at the Temple of Heaven.
During his visit to Pakistan he met with top leadership of country and expressed his views "As Pakistan's closest friend and brother, we would like to provide as much assistance as we can for the Pakistani side".
Li is especially critical of unnecessary government bureaucracy, particularly at the grassroots level. He believes that many lower-level officials fail to provide services to the public in an effective manner. Regarding his disdain for the matter, Li's many quotable anecdotes have become viral. Li referred to a case in which a citizen filling out a form to travel overseas had to write down an emergency contact (the citizen put down their mother as the contact), and the government official overseeing the matter asked the citizen to provide a notarized document to "prove your mom is your mom." Li called this incident "absolutely preposterous." In another case, he referred to a grassroots civil servant who asked for proof that a one-year old does not have a criminal record in order to deliver a government service. In yet another case, Li referred to a senior citizen applying for welfare benefits being forced by government employees to provide proof that "they are still alive." Regarding the latter two incidents, Li said, "this is not a joke, it's all real!"
At the Third Plenum of the 18th Central Committee held in the fall of 2013, the Communist Party announced far reaching economic and social reforms. However, the document outlining the reforms was drafted under the leadership of Xi, Liu Yunshan and Zhang Gaoli, and Li was ostensibly not involved in preparing the document. This departure from convention (Wen Jiabao was the principal drafter of documents behind the reforms announced at the Third Plenum of 2003) led to speculation that Li was becoming marginalized in the new administration, and that the widely touted "Xi-Li Administration" in fact did not exist, as power was increasingly being centralized under the hands of Xi as the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China.
Following the Third Plenum of 2013, Xi amassed a series of leadership roles on four new powerful supra-ministerial bodies overseeing "comprehensively deepening reforms", the internet, military reform, and also the National Security Commission. The "deepening reforms" leading group was said to be encroaching on the affairs in the economic realm normally handled by the Premier, and was seen as having the effect of reducing Li's institutional power. However, Li appeared in official press releases as Xi's foremost lieutenant, being named Vice Chairman of the National Security Commission, in addition to becoming the deputy leader of leading groups on "deepening reforms", internet security, and the economy and finance.
Li is married to Cheng Hong, a professor at Capital University of Economics and Business in Beijing. His father-in-law was once the deputy secretary of the Communist Youth League Central Committee. He speaks conversational English.