Li’s comments unlikely to hurt Xi’s heavyweight

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“The opening up of China will continue. The Yellow River and the Yangtze River will not flow backwards. When Chinese Premier Li Keqiang made this statement during a visit to Shenzhen recently, it immediately spoke of the country’s future.

Then the speech disappeared from Chinese social media, giving way to speculation of a rift between Li and President Xi Jinping, as the latter is set to retain his presidency for an unprecedented third term. The five-year Party Congress, which is due to open in Beijing on Oct. 16, will also see Li resign from his post.

Li, who has a background in economics, had more or less disappeared from state media headlines for months while Xi became the focal point of all politics, the president of everything.

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Xi’s crackdown on private business and his push for “shared prosperity” is driving China down a socialist path after enjoying record growth as a freewheeling economy over the past four decades. This change in leadership and the crackdown on big business has understandably raised concerns about China under Xi. Thus, Li’s speech added another dimension to analysts’ reading of tea leaves.

Events within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) have always remained unclear, and Beijing had projected a unified front before the world even when the leaders faced headwinds.

Analysts and diplomats have often had to resort to clues such as state media headlines and public appearances by CCP leaders to determine who is in favor and who is not. From there, it’s hard to assume that Xi faces a major challenge, as he appeared in a total of 683 articles in People’s Daily in July, compared to just 32 featuring Li. Moreover, the news emerges also that Xi is planning foreign visits later this year, signaling his confidence in his control over the party apparatus.

So what about Li’s statements in Shenzhen? Some analysts say his words and paying homage to a statue of Deng Xiaoping are a signal to the country and the rest of the world that China will continue its economic journey despite recent crackdowns on the high-tech and manufacturing sectors. real estate.

But some see it as an admission by a weak prime minister that he did not act as a counterbalance to Xi in the party. “This is Li’s way of saying he tried but failed, and it’s a farewell,” tweeted Adam Ni, who founded the widely followed China Neican newsletter.

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Still, it is unwise to think that Xi has everything under control. Its insistence on pursuing the Zero Covid policy is disrupting supply chains while prolonged shutdowns are testing people’s patience. Shanghai’s weeks-long lockdown has recently seen frustration and anger surface on social media and censors have had to work overtime to remove comments aimed at the administration and the CCP.

A think tank report on Sunday called for a change in Covid policies, but that too was taken down from social media the following day. Currently, 28 cities are fully or partially enforcing lockdown measures due to Covid outbreaks. There is no indication that Beijing plans to change its Covid policies, but Chinese economists believe the lockdowns would gradually ease once the party congress is over.

The crisis in the real estate sector would be even more worrying for Beijing leaders, as more and more city residents are now refusing to pay mortgage payments for unfinished apartments, adding to the woes of many cash-strapped builders. This could snowball into a much larger economic problem, as many provinces have relied on land sales to fund government projects.

None of this will pave the way for a coup and when the party congress opens in Beijing, the well-oiled party machine will display the same old charade of leaders saluting the leadership and giving patriotic speeches on the progress of the country under the CCP.

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“Don’t read the latest gossip about Li challenging Xi as anything other than gossip. Xi will almost certainly pursue a third term, making history the most powerful Chinese leader in generations,” wrote Dexter Tiff Roberts, who has spent more than two decades in China as a correspondent for Bloomberg and is now a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Asia Security Initiative.

The CCP hates surprises, and even in the face of severe challenges it is unlikely to experience a sudden change in leadership. The party has set term limits for the presidential post and declared Xi Jinping’s Thoughts as its guiding light. Something is unlikely to change that immediately.

In a deep dive into the machinations that led to the rise of Xi, a senior fellow at the Asia Society Policy Institute, Christopher Johnson, says the CCP wanted a strong leader like him to support and strengthen the party then. that the opening under Deng Xiaoping had threatened the party’s hold on power while factions linked to former President Jiang Zemin played their own games.

(Disclaimer: The views of the author do not represent the views of WION or ZMCL. WION or ZMCL also does not endorse the views of the author.)

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