Li Keqiang to be China's new premier

The man in line to oversee China’s massive but rapidly slowing economy for the coming decade speaks English and comes from a generation of politicians schooled during a time of greater openness to liberal Western ideas than their predecessors.

But Li Keqiang, set to be the next premier, has been a cautious career bureaucrat who rose through, and is bound by, a consensus-oriented Communist Party. He has played the role of enforcer to keep a lid on bad news. Li, to be promoted within the leadership’s top council after a pivotal party congress closes later this week and expected to take the economy-focused post of premier from outgoing Wen Jiabao next spring, was governor of the agricultural province of Henan in 1998 during an unusual explosion of AIDS cases.

Tens of thousands of people had contracted HIV from illegal blood-buying rings that pooled plasma and re-injected it into donors after removing the blood products. But Beijing hadn’t acknowledged the problem yet, and Li oversaw a campaign to squelch reporting about it, harass activists and isolate affected villages. When the government finally did go public four years later, Li showed canny political instincts with a rapid course reversal, channeling government assistance to victims and making public shows of compassion.   Li’s formative years are typical of the fifth generation of communist leaders.

He was introduced to politics during the chaotic 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, then entered the prestigious Peking University. In contrast to the current leadership crop of engineers, Li studied law and economics.

After graduation, Li went to work at the Communist Youth League, an organisation that grooms university students for party roles, when it was headed by now-President Hu Jintao. After Beijing erupted in the 1989 pro-democracy protests centered on Tiananmen Square, Li tried to build bridges between the league and student activists. However, after martial law was declared, he quickly abandoned such efforts and within four years rose to head of the league.

Married to an English literature professor, Li and his family have steered clear of corruption.

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