The Leaderboard: Li Keqiang

The Leaderboard profiles the people behind the policies of the Asia-Pacific.
Who is he?

Li Keqiang serves as Premier of the People’s Republic of China, where he oversees the State Council, China’s cabinet. He concurrently holds the number two position on the Politburo Standing Committee, China’s top decision making body, ranking just behind President Xi Jinping. A graduate of Peking University’s School of Economics, Li is a powerful voice in shaping China’s economic policies and reforms following his election to the premiership during the 12th National Peoople’s Congress in March 2013.


Premier Li Keqiang. Source: FriendsofEurope’s flickr photostream, used under a creative commons license.

Li served as Governor of Henan in 1998, where he gained a reputation for being outspoken and an effective economic policymaker, before his elevation to Party Secretary of Liaoning Province in 2004. He was elected to the Politburo Standing Committee in 2007, rising to Executive Vice Premier in 2008.

Why is he in the news?

China’s economic growth is slowing, raising questions about the sustainability of its current economic policies. Li has been signaling his intent to reform and restructure the Chinese economy, compelling three Barclays’ economists writing for the state-run China Daily to coin the term “Likonomics.”

What can we expect from him?

Li notionally favors three pillars for economic reform:  avoiding additional major stimulus spending, structural reform, and deleveraging. He says the government will interfere less with the economy and emphasizes a shift toward greater domestic consumption to boost growth.  At the same time, however, he has set the bottom line for China’s annual GDP growth at seven per cent.

It may be difficult for Li to stick to these reforms at the expense of growth.  Chinese leaders have pledged economic reforms in the past, only to continue injecting huge amounts of stimulus money when the economy began to falter. Li has acknowledged that this pattern is unsustainable, however, and seems committed to accepting a certain amount of short-term pain for longer term economic benefits.

While there remain doubts as to whether Li’s actions are deserving of their own moniker just yet, some analysts in China and abroad are hopeful that he will craft a reform legacy reminiscent of that of former premier Zhu Rongji, who oversaw the last substantial burst of Chinese economic reform more than a decade ago.


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