Li reelected premier as new VP steps up

Top News | Agence France-Presse and Phoenix Un 19 Mar 2018

China's parliament gave Premier Li Keqiang a second five-year term yesterday, but he faces a tenure deeper in the shadow of the country's powerful leader Xi Jinping.

Li was reappointed with 2,964 votes in favor and two against during the annual session of the National People's Congress at Beijing's Great Hall of the People, one day after Xi was unanimously given a second term.

Appointed in 2013 to oversee the day-to-day management of the world's second-largest economy, Li, 62, has seen Xi consolidate power, accumulate titles and surround himself with powerful allies.

In another sign of Li's diminishing stature in government affairs, Xi's former anti-graft buster and trade negotiator, the economist Wang Qishan, was appointed vice president on Saturday.

Xi has also turned to his top economic aide, Liu He, to deal with US trade frictions, dispatching him to Washington earlier this month, though it has not stopped US President Donald Trump from considering new punitive measures against China.

For his part, Xi now has a clear path to ruling the country indefinitely as the parliament voted last week to abolish the two five-year terms limit for the president.

Li's first term has been marked by increasing concerns about China's growing debt load, which analysts warn could erupt into a financial crisis with global repercussions.

The government has rolled out a series of measures to prevent a financial calamity. On Saturday, the parliament approved the biggest government shakeup in at least a decade, which includes the merger of the banking and insurance regulators to control risks.

"[Li] is acquiescing to Xi's personalist power," said Sam Crane, a Chinese history expert at Williams College in the US. While Li has not been completely sidelined, "he has accepted a secondary, subordinate position," he said. "Li might still have some influence in terms of economic policy but that influence is premised on the prior recognition that Xi is the supreme leader."

The NPC also elected the 159 Standing Committee members for the next five years, with former legislator Tam Yiu-chung replacing Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai as the only representative of the SAR.

Tam, 68, received 2,941 votes supporting him to join the Standing Committee, while only nine were cast against him, and five abstentions.

The support rate of Tam was much higher than Fan received five years ago as she only gained 2,790 votes, while 124 votes went against her and 27 abstained.

Tam said he was thrilled to have been elected and would voice the opinions of Hongkongers in the Standing Committee. This will help his fellow committee members gain a better understanding of the city.

He also said the NPCSC's "August 31 Framework" on universal suffrage in the SAR should be relaunched if it receives support from different social sectors.

"The framework complies with the Basic Law, and it's a good way for Hong Kong to implement universal suffrage," he said.

Fan believed Tam would be more than capable as an NPCSC member, and recalled that the vetoing of the August 31 Framework by the Legislative Council was one of her worst moments as an NPCSC member. "I hope that friends from the pan-democrat camp will understand that political reform is a step-by-step process," Fan said.

Besides Tam, former director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office Wang Guangya, head of the NPC Constitution and Law Committee Li Fei and Basic Law Committee vice chairman Zhang Rongshun were also elected as NPCSC members.

The NPC will also elect four vice premiers, state councilors, ministers and the governor of the People's Bank of China in today's meeting.

It is widely expected that Liu He, vice-chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission and an important member of Xi's team as a finance strategist, will become one of the vice premiers with responsibility for financial and economic issues.

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