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China Premier Li Keqiang Bows Out as Xi Loyalists Take Reins

After a decade in Chinese President Xi Jinping’s shadow, Li Keqiang is taking his final bow as the country’s premier, marking a shift away from the skilled technocrats who have helped steer the world’s second-biggest economy in favor of officials known mainly for their unquestioned loyalty to China’s most powerful leader in recent history.

After exiting the ruling Communist Party’s all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee in October — despite being below retirement age — Li’s last major task was delivering the state of the nation address to the rubber-stamp parliament on Monday. The report sought to reassure citizens of the resiliency of the Chinese economy, but contained little that was new.

Once seen as a potential top leader, Li was increasingly sidelined as Xi accumulated ever-greater powers and elevated the military and security services in aid of the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” Li’s lack of visibility sometimes made it difficult to remember he was technically ranked No. 2 in party.

Li “was a premier largely kept out of the limelight by order of the boss,” said Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute at the London University School of Oriental and African Studies and a longtime observer of Chinese politics.

In an era where personal loyalty trumps all, the fact that Li wasn’t seen purely as a Xi loyalist may end up being “the main reason why he will be remembered fondly,” Tsang said.

For most of his career, Li was known as a cautious, capable, and highly intelligent bureaucrat who rose through, and was bound by, a consensus-oriented Communist Party that reflexively stifles dissent.

As governor and then party secretary of the densely populated agricultural province of Henan in the 1990s, Li squelched reporting on an AIDS outbreak tied to illegal blood-buying rings that pooled plasma and reinjected it into donors after removing the blood products, allegedly with the collusion of local officials.

Source : AP NEWS