The implacable mastermind of Shanghai’s detested zero-COVID lockdown and the financial capital’s former top dawg has been enshrined China’s (potentially forever) premier as the annual rubber-stamp parliament kept stamping the rubber in Beijing on Saturday.

Now, instead of the steady, reasoning hand of the former premier Li Keqiang to restrain him, President Xi Jinping has tightened his grip around China by putting a cold, hard blade of a man in his pocket who will act with the fluency of thought in scratching Xi’s itches, whatever they may be, either as party secretary, president or – the best one –  boss of the Central Military Commission (CMC) which holds utter sway over the party’s military wing and naturally every one of China’s 2.2 million strong People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which is a state in itself.

An exciting prospect for Xi, which is probably making sleep difficult this weekend in Zhongnanhai.

The extraordinary elevation of Li leaves China’s tottering economy and impossibly complex government in the hands of a man with no experience in either.

Before the CCP’s last and most recently historic congress last October, very few people outside of China had even heard of Li Qiang, let alone imagined he’d be wandering about the People’s Hall today as the most powerful man in China (after the boss) and the man every other mini-boss reports to as the head of China’s infinitely sprawling state governmental machine.

But honestly, who knew – during the all important but also rather silly climactic reveal of the new standing committee of the party political bureau (where they all file out in descending order of star power) that, the punchy diminutive party general secretary of Shanghai would emerge on stage right behind Xi.


When Li met Xi 

“I once caught a fish this big…”      BEIJING, CHINA – MARCH 11: Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) speaks with Politburo Standing Committee member Li Qiang(R) during the opening of the fourth plenary session of the National People’s Congress on March 11, 2023 in Beijing  (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images


This morning, Li finds himself China’s 2IC (second-in-command) , with nothing above but open sky and the warm glow of his President for guidance. The position of Premier puts Li in charge of the State Council – effectively the Prime Minister in charge of the daily grind of policy implementation,  and, social to macro-economic policy.

To suggest the stellar rise of this vastly out-of-place, madly inexperienced provincial level official into the second brightest planet in the entire central government constellation is surprising, doesn’t quite capture the .

Li is, sans doubt, among Xi Jinping’s most trusted protégés. It’s also possible he knows too much. Thus goes the trappings of power.

From 2004 to 2007, he worked directly under Xi as his chief of staff in the Zhejiang Provincial Party Committee. Li’s appointment as party secretary of Jiangsu — an important province that had been beset by scandals involving top provincial leaders — and his appointment as party secretary of Shanghai reflected Xi’s intention to help bolster Li’s leadership credentials.

Li became governor of Zhejiang at the end of 2012 before being promoted to head of Jiangsu province in 2016 to fill the political vacuum caused by a Xi’s fast work on clearing deadwood during a corruption scandal.

A year later, he was general secretary of Shanghai, a position of enormous clout.

Li Qiang’s wife worked in the transportation bureau of the Zhejiang provincial government before taking a load off.

The couple’s single daughter, according to the Brookings Institute, has studied in Australia. Let’s hope that was a positive experience.


I’ll Xi you in Beijing

BEIJING, CHINA – MARCH 11: Chinese President Xi Jinping bursts into rapturous applause at the umpteenth session of the ‘Two Sessions’ National People’s Congress on March 11, 2023 in Beijing  (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

The Party General Secretary was gifted a new 5-year term as China’s president and head of the military a day earlier, in a similarly sham (and unanimous) vote by the congress inside Beijing’s Great Hall of the People.

Xi secured victory in a 2,936 to 0 whitewash.

The rise of these two confederates-of-old is the culmination of Xi’s patient daily screw-tightening of control across the country’s multi-layered power-machinery which has seen him become China’s most absolute leader since Mao Zedong kicked off the people’s republic, way back in the day.

Likewise on Saturday, the 63 year-old Li’s elevation was confirmed after a vote by thousands of delegates at the National People’s Congress (NPC), but his appointment was all but confirmed after Xi nominated him for the role in October.

And as the button-pressing parliament is totally beholden and subservient to the Communist Party (CCP) where Xi is all-powerful, the ballot was never in doubt. Nor were the other cavalcade of nominees who’ve been given the nudge, wiunk and tick of approval this weekend.

Associated Press had as many as several more new heads of the Supreme People’s Court. More attack dogs next door across the state prosecutor’s office. At least 2 x vice chairmen of the Central Military Commission  (CMC) that commands the party’s military wing and the 2 million-member People’s Liberation Army, which is a state in itself.

In a nicely outrageous display of faux democratic esprit, the NPC delegates have a wee think, then go place their ballots in gilded wooden boxes about the Great Hall’s vast auditorium. The count is  was drawn up inside the Great Hall of the People with 2,936 ballots read out Li’s name.

Shockingly there was a wave of opposition, with 3 votes against and an appalling 8 abstentions. An important contrast from the dizzying unanimity Xi garnered at the NPC on Friday as he was confirmed for an unprecedented third term as China’s president.

The new premier — who took criticism for Shanghai’s chaotic two-month virus lockdown last year but won plaudits for helping lure Tesla to build an electric vehicle plant in the financial capital — takes over from Li Keqiang who is retiring after serving two five-year terms.

Li will lead the State Council, the country’s cabinet, along with a new team of top officials to be picked before the parliamentary session winds up on Monday, with Xi set to potentially rule for life after a two-term limit was ditched in 2018 on his watch.

Li, who joined the Communist Party’s top body – the Politburo Standing Committee in October – is in comparison to other candidates and especially the outgoing Premier Li Keqiang – a 100% novice in China’s absurdly complex central government administration, which encompasses 31 provinces, municipalities, Self Administered Regions or SAR’s (oops, none of those left) and various autonomous (in name) regions.

The mildly impressive career bureaucrat served decades in his home province of Zhejiang and then things got real when he became a secretary to Xi for several years when the latter was the top official in the eastern Chinese industrial stronghold.

It wasn’t long before Li suddenly began to rise. He was subsequently promoted to party boss of Jiangsu province and, in 2017, as the party secretary of Shanghai, where his reputation flourished as an unsquirmish yes man  during the financial centre’s grueling lockdown of some 25 million residents under Xi’s signature zero-COVID policy.

Several years earlier, Li got his first headline economic coup when he lured Tesla to build its first mega factory on the outskirts of Shanghai near Hangzhou. That was Li’s puppy and won a lot of credit.

For now Li’s chief task will be dealing with the domestic economy. he’s already been given a leg up with the announcement of a new regulator to restore some market confidence.

Still, China’s gross domestic product (GDP grew by only 3% in 2022, the worst in decades and in no small part t his effectiveness in executing Xi’s own zero-COVID- policies.

There’s a lot to do on that front, but maybe Xi has other plans in mind for Li.


Get to know your Chinese Premier: Li Qiang 李强

Recent Appointments

• Premier (2023)
• Party Secretary of Shanghai (2017–2022)
• Member of the Politburo (2017–present)
• Full member of the Central Committee of the CCP (2017–present)

Personal/Political/Professional Background
(Sources: CCP, Xinhuia News Agency, Brookings Institute)

Li Qiang was born in July 1959 in Rui’an County, Zhejiang Province and he joined the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 1983.

He received his undergraduate education in agricultural mechanization at the Zhejiang Institute of Agriculture’s Ningbo campus in Ningbo City, Zhejiang (1978–82). He pursued further studies through a graduate program in management engineering at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, Zhejiang (via part-time studies, 1995–97); a year-long full-time training program for young and middle-aged cadres at the Central Party School (CPS) in Beijing (2001–02); and a part-time graduate program in world economics at the CPS (2001–04).

He also received an MBA from Hong Kong Polytechnic University in Hong Kong (via part-time studies, 2003–05).

Li began his career working at an electromechanical irrigation and drainage station in Mayu District, Rui’an County (1976–77) and then at the No. 3 Tools Factory in Rui’an County (1977–78). He served as a clerk and an official of the Chinese Communist Youth League (CCYL) Committee of
Xincheng District, Rui’an County (1982–83), and as secretary of the CCYL Committee of Rui’an County (1983–84).

He also served as deputy division head and division head of the Rural Relief Division of the Zhejiang Provincial Civil Affairs Department (1984–91), then as director of the Personnel Division of the Zhejiang Provincial Civil Affairs Department (1991–92), and finally as deputy director of the Zhejiang Provincial Civil Affairs Department (1992–96).

Following those roles, he served as a member of the Standing Committee of Jinhua City, Zhejiang, and as party secretary of Yongkang City, Zhejiang (1996–98). Next, he served as deputy director of the General Office of the Zhejiang provincial government (1998–2000), and then as director and party secretary of the Bureau of Administration for Industry and Commerce in the Zhejiang provincial government (2000–02).

After that, Li was appointed party secretary of Wenzhou City, Zhejiang (2002–04). He then became secretarygeneral (chief of staff) of the Zhejiang Provincial Party Committee (2004–12). Finally, he served as secretary of the Zhejiang Provincial Commission of Politics and Law (2011–12), as deputy party secretary of Zhejiang (2011–16), and as governor of Zhejiang (2013–16).

He was transferred to the neighbouring province of Jiangsu, where he served as party secretary (2016–17). He was first elected to the Central Committee as an alternate member at the 18th Party Congress in 2012.