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Former Chinese Premier Li Keqiang speaks at the EU-China Summit in Brussels, Belgium in 2019.
Former Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, once considered a reform-minded contender for the country’s leadership, died suddenly of a heart attack in Shanghai early Friday, state media reported.
He is 68 years old.
As of the end of last year, nominally China’s no. 2 As president, Li served as the country’s premier — traditionally in charge of the economy — under strongman Xi Jinping for a decade from 2013 to March this year.
During his time in the role, Li led the world’s second-largest economy through a challenging period of emerging technology and trade tensions with the United States, mounting government debt and unemployment, and the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Peking University-educated economist, in his final year in power, has been a strong voice warning of challenges to China’s economy amid widespread Covid-19 lockdowns.
He supported efforts to increase employment and maintain economic stability.
When news of Li’s death broke Friday morning, social media users rubber-stamped a line from Li’s annual speech to China’s parliament in 2022, where he pledged, “No matter how the international environment changes, China will keep a broad course. Openness.”
Li, who occasionally used his English language skills in foreign appearances, was seen as representing a different approach to China’s relations with the world at a time when the country was increasingly isolated.
“China and the United States have common interests,” Li told CNN in response to a question at his annual press conference in March 2021. “Both countries must devote more energy to their common ground and expand their shared interests.”
Li is also being remembered for his focus on addressing social ills — social media users on Friday pointed to his 2020 comments that China still has 600 million poor people with a monthly income of 1,000 yuan ($137).
The comments come as China touts its success in lifting millions out of poverty as a point of national pride.
Lee, a highly educated technologist with degrees in law and economics who is seen as friendly to the private sector, has been seen to take an increasingly pro-economic policy stance from Xi, who has tightened party control over the economy.
Li is widely seen as a supporter of Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao, who presided over an era of rapid growth in China from 2002 to 2012. Men shared economic sentiments and rose to power through the Youth League of the Communist Party. A field for future leaders.
The once-powerful sect was known for producing reform-minded leaders from humble family backgrounds, but its influence is believed to have been eroded since Xi came to power.
The relationship between Li and Hu came under the spotlight last year when the former top leader was unexpectedly ousted at the closing ceremony in October 2022. Communist Party CongressXi’s leadership reshuffle led to Li’s exit from the party’s top ranks.
In a moment of drama during the usually highly choreographed event, Hu was led from the room, patted on the shoulder by a stony-faced Li, who nodded and turned to watch the former leader depart. State media later suggested Hu quit due to health issues.
Under Hu, Li was named In 2007 the highest central leadership body of the party was the Politburo Standing Committee.
He previously held key roles as party leader in the industrial Liaoning province and provincial chairman of the agricultural base of Henan.
Born in Anhui, Li spent his teenage years doing manual labor with the Dongling Production Brigade in Eastern Province during the Cultural Revolution, a decade-long social and political upheaval launched by the late Chairman Mao Zedong.
Li was among the first batch of students after the college entrance exam was reinstated following the end of the Cultural Revolution. In 1978, he enrolled at the prestigious Peking University, where he studied law and later earned a doctorate in economics.
Not considered one of China’s princelings, Li, a member of a prominent party family, served on the Communist Youth League Central Committee in the 1980s and ’90s.
His tenure at the Chinese Communist Party’s top committee came to an end last October. He was not named in the party’s central committee during the leadership change that happened twice in a decade. It was then that Ji found himself surrounded by key allies.
Li, then 67, was a year short of the unofficial retirement age for Chinese Communist Party leaders.
He was succeeded as prime minister earlier this year by former Shanghai Party chief and Xi loyalist Li Qiang.