Xi Jinping vs. Li Keqiang

2022. 5. 30. 19:34
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As a large-scale reshuffle of China's leadership is approaching in six months, rumors about a power struggle are spreading.

YOU SANG-CHUL The author is the head of the JoongAng Ilbo China Institute.

As a large-scale reshuffle of China’s leadership is approaching in six months, rumors about a power struggle are spreading. The rumors said Chinese President Xi Jinping’s powers will weaken, while Premier Li Keqiang will grow. Some even forecast that Li will replace Xi to become the highest power in China.

Why are the rumors spreading so quickly? It all started in mid-April when Shanghai was shut down due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the people’s complaints were growing. At that time, photos and videos of former Premier Zhu Rongji spread through Wechat, China’s most popular messaging application. Zhu’s inauguration speech in 1987 as he took the office as the mayor of Shanghai spread through WeChat, in which he said, “I won’t be afraid of saying anything if it will help the party.”

Around that time, the Wall Street Journal reported that senior members of the Communist Party of China (CPC) criticized Xi. The report said the elders were upset because Xi was breaking the collective leadership system and that Zhu was leading the criticism.

After such events, news reports about Li became more frequent. On May 14, the People’s Daily reported the entire text of Li’s speech. Hasty predictions were made that Li is now departing from the shadow of Xi and that Xi will fail to secure his third term.

But rumors of Xi’s decline and Li’s rise do not appear to be substantial, although the elder leaders in the party expressed complaints. On May 15, Chinese media reported that the General Office of the Central Committee of the CPC issued guidelines stressing that retired officials are valuable assets of the party and the country. The guidelines said CPC officials must listen to the party and work with it even after their retirement. The intention was apparent: The retired officials must remain silent, indicating that the elder members of the CPC are critical of Xi.

The media are frequently reporting about Li to help silence the elder leaders. It also shows that China’s collective leadership system is still working. It is unreasonable to interpret the situation as a sign that Li is regaining his power over the economy.

On May 16, Qiushi Journal, the newsletter on the party’s theories, reported about Xi’s remarks which showed the direction of the economy. It manifested who is controlling the economy. Xi’s status is not shaken, as rumors have said.

The rumors about Li’s rise likely reflect the hope of the people who are dissatisfied with Xi’s policy. It could be their wishful thinking. Until the leadership reshuffle is completed in the fall, we will hear more similar news about power struggles.

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