Former Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, has passed away at the age of 68 on Friday.
He was a bureaucrat known for his reform-minded approach and once considered a potential future leader of the country but ultimately overshadowed by President Xi Jinping
He suffered a heart attack on Thursday and, regrettably, passed away shortly after midnight in Shanghai, as reported by the state-run news agency Xinhua.
The Chinese foreign ministry expressed profound sorrow over Li’s untimely demise.
“An obituary will be published soon,” ministry spokesperson Mao Ning told a regular briefing.
During his decade-long tenure as premier under Xi Jinping’s leadership, Li Keqiang carefully crafted an image as a more contemporary and loyal Communist Party member in comparison to his more formal colleagues.
Coming from a background as a career bureaucrat with fluency in English, he openly advocated for economic reforms throughout his time in office.
Born to a relatively minor party official in the economically disadvantaged Anhui province of eastern China, Li experienced the hardships of manual labor in the countryside during the turbulent Cultural Revolution spanning from 1966 to 1976.
He later pursued a law degree at Peking University, where his peers recall his strong affinity for Western and liberal political ideologies. He even translated a book on law written by a British judge.
However, he adopted a more orthodox approach after entering the realm of officialdom in the mid-1980s, serving as a bureaucrat while some of his former classmates were engaged in protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Li’s career ascended, and he became the highest-ranking official of the ruling Communist Party in Henan province and later in Liaoning in the northeast, both regions witnessing notable economic growth.
Nevertheless, his reputation suffered due to his management of an HIV/AIDS outbreak linked to a contaminated blood donation program during his tenure as the party leader in Henan.
Subsequently, Li was elevated to the position of deputy under then-Premier Wen Jiabao.
His efforts to address China’s profound economic complexities were constrained by the extensive authority wielded by Xi Jinping, even though he was once regarded as a potential rival for the nation’s top leadership position.
Li received commendation for his role in guiding the country through the global financial crisis with minimal impact. However, his tenure marked a significant shift in China’s political landscape, transitioning from the consensus-based governance of former leader Hu Jintao and his predecessors to the centralized power held by Xi Jinping.
“People always debated whether (China’s) institutions would… determine the outcomes, as opposed to just raw power,” Victor Shih, an expert on China’s elite politics at the University of California San Diego, told AFP.
“And of course, recent events show that raw power still matters more.”