Thursday, June 20, 2024

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    Former Chinese Premier Li Keqiang Passes Away from Heart Attack at the Age of 68

    China’s former premier, Li Keqiang, passed away suddenly from a heart attack on Friday, marking an unexpected end to the life of a leader who served alongside Xi Jinping for a decade. Li was known for setting a more moderate tone in his leadership, without directly challenging Xi’s hard-line policies.

    Li, aged 68, was in Shanghai when he suffered the heart attack, and despite efforts to resuscitate him, he could not be saved, as reported by Chinese state television.

    In the past, Li was considered a potential top leader within the Chinese Communist Party. However, as time progressed, Xi’s influence grew, and Li assumed the role of China’s premier in 2013. During his ten-year tenure, he oversaw various government ministries, but it appeared that he held less power compared to previous premiers, with Xi dominating policy decisions.

    Born in Anhui Province in eastern China, Li Keqiang studied law and economics at Peking University. He was associated with liberal students who were involved in the pro-democracy movement of 1989. However, Li chose a different path, rising through the ranks of the Communist Party’s Youth League.

    While Li served as a provincial leader and was seen as a potential successor to Hu Jintao, Xi emerged as the top leader in 2012, and Li worked under his leadership.

    During his time as premier, Li aimed to reduce government bureaucracy and interference in the private economy. Nevertheless, key policy decisions were largely dominated by Xi.

    Over the past decade, Xi asserted his authority on various policy matters, sidelining Li. He established a series of Communist Party commissions responsible for policy decisions, effectively diminishing the role of government ministries, which reported to Li as the premier.

    Li’s passing has left many reflecting on his role in a rapidly changing China, where political influence has been consolidated at the top. Chinese internet users expressed shock and condolences on social media platforms like Weibo.

    Deaths of prominent leaders in China are regarded as politically sensitive events, with the potential to spark unrest. Therefore, there is anticipation about how Xi and the Communist Party will handle the commemoration of Li’s legacy.

    In recent times, Chinese authorities have been swift to suppress signs of dissent, particularly as the country grapples with economic challenges, a housing crisis, and high youth unemployment. Notably, there were protests against Covid restrictions in various Chinese cities late last year, marking a rare challenge to the party’s rule and an unusual affront to Xi’s leadership.

    For some Chinese citizens, the news of Li’s death evokes memories of the passing of Hu Yaobang in 1989. Hu was a relatively liberal former Communist Party leader who succumbed to a heart attack during a party meeting. His death triggered a wave of public grief that eventually led to the Tiananmen pro-democracy protests.

    However, Xi, China’s most powerful leader in decades, has exercised tight control over social media, universities, and society at large. Li Keqiang was not considered a transformative figure on the same scale as Hu Yaobang, as noted by experts. Nevertheless, Xi is expected to handle the mourning process carefully, including the official obituary and the party’s assessment of Li’s role.

    This development comes amid a sense of unease and uncertainty in the country, akin to the mood in 1989, and it will be closely watched to see if it gives rise to any challenges to the leadership.

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