China is going through a sustained economic decline, worsened by the strict anti-COVID measures imposed by the communist regime.

At the same time, a deep political crisis has become evident within the regime’s leadership, with several protagonists carrying out a real power struggle.

In this context, the figure of Li Keqiang, China’s prime minister since 2013, has emerged, challenging the power of the current president and leader of the communist regime, Xi Jinping.

Since Xi took power in 2013, he has sidelined China’s second most powerful political figure, Premier Li. Still, Mr. Li would appear to be re-emerging as a force in his own right, a possible counterweight at the top of the Chinese regime that has not been seen in nearly a decade of rule.

Li Keqiang’s political role in the communist regime

Li Keqiang represents the image of what can be called an “exemplary communist citizen” while studying at Peking University. He participated in the Communist Youth League of China until he climbed the ranks and became one of its foremost leaders in 1982 when he also graduated in Law.

He then continued his militancy, and from 1998 to 2004, he served as governor of Henan province, and between 2004 and 2008, he was general secretary of the CCP in Liaoning province.

His political career continued to escalate, and from 2008 to 2013, he served as China’s vice premier. During that period, he served as Premier Wen Jiabao’s right-hand man, excelling in economic development, price control, finance, climate change, and macroeconomic management.

Currently, he is considered by many, both in China and abroad, as the prime minister with the least power since the founding of the Communist Party of China. And according to some independent media, from the beginning, there has been an internal dispute with leader Xi Xinping.

But in recent months, since the Chinese economy has been showing serious symptoms of fragility and Xi’s image has declined due to the catastrophic consequences of the imposition of extreme measures to combat the CCP virus, Li Keigiang seems to be trying to take flight. He has taken some prominence seeking to separate himself from Xi’s circle and generating a significant counterweight at the regime’s top.

According to government officials and close advisors, Li is reportedly pressuring Xi to roll back some of the measures imposed, which he believes have moved the country away from Western-style capitalism and contributed to China’s economic slowdown.

Li, 66, is expected to step down as premier in less than a year and is reportedly trying to influence the selection of his replacement to continue in an opposing line to Xi, assuming that the current leader will remain in power for at least another five years.

The maneuvers come as Xi sets the stage to extend his regime, which began at the end of 2012, for a third term when the CCP conclave is held later this year.

The controversial speech

Although the power dispute between Xi and Li was already known, the situation became more apparent at the end of May. Li held a video call with hundreds of officials from all over the country, representatives of state-owned companies and financial firms. He warned about a severe “economic crisis.”

Premier Li spoke about the fragility of China’s economy and the severe impact on the central government’s fiscal revenues over the past period. He added that national budget revenue fell by 5.9% in April, and local budget revenue fell even faster, to 6.6%.

He revealed that many provinces requested approval for the issuance of emergency bonds to overcome their difficulties. However, the central regime was left with only an emergency fund, and local authorities had to rely on themselves.

The Prime Minister, during his speech, placed much of the responsibility on the anti-COVID measures and called on rulers and business leaders to better balance pandemic controls and economic growth.

Another detail that drew local and international press attention to the video call was the absence of national and regional CCP leaders. While the attendance of Party chiefs was not mandatory, they were all invited, and their absence marked an obvious disinterest in attending on the part of those loyal to Xi’s wing. 

In parallel to Li’s speech in which he stressed the need to prioritize the recovery of economic activity and growth, regime leader Xi Jinping again insisted that local officials must push for no Covid cases in their regions. 

This double discourse is causing an inevitable rift between those who prefer to continue to support the strict rules against the pandemic and those more pragmatic who choose to imitate the policies adopted in the West, where after two years, they finally prioritized reactivating the economy and limiting encirclements.

Li continues to contradict the official discourse

The communist propaganda media tried to hide the Prime Minister’s controversial speech not to show the growing rift brewing within the regime; however, Li insisted on continuing to deepen his distance from the official discourse.

Recently, the CCP Propaganda Department declared at the “China Decade” press conference on June 28 that since 2012, the CCP had realized “historic achievements” in building a so-called prosperous society in China. They added that the nearly 100 million rural poor had been lifted out of poverty while achieving relatively full employment.

But just one day after the above-mentioned conference, Premier Li took it upon himself to make controversial and completely contradictory statements.

According to Li’s statements, the number of Chinese citizens suffering from severe economic problems has risen sharply. This is because China’s economy has “gone off the rails” following a series of natural disasters and policies adopted to combat the pandemic.

Although neither Xi nor Li explicitly criticized each other at any time, their differences and the power struggle are becoming increasingly evident. They are keeping the Chinese population on edge as it observes a widening power rift between two sides within the same leadership. 

It is not yet clear which important figures are positioned on one side or the other of the rift. However, the next few months will undoubtedly be decisive. In November, on the occasion of the 20th National Congress of the CCP, the fate of Xi Jinping will be at stake. Some 2300 delegates representing the total number of Party members will decide whether the current leader will remain in power.

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