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Li Keqiang was born in 1955 in Anhui province and was the son of a local official. Like Xi Jinping he was sent to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution, and he joined the CCP in 1976. After the Cultural Revolution ended, Li enrolled at Peking University and gained a bachelor’s degree in law followed some years later by a doctorate in economics.
Li began his rise in the Communist Party while he was still attending Peking University. There he joined the local Communist Youth League (CYL) and later became secretary of his university’s chapter. He subsequently joined the CYL’s national organization and rose to become first secretary by the early 1990s. Li’s rise in the CYL led the central government to appoint him to be the youngest governor of Henan in 1999 (he served as acting governor beginning in 1998), and he later served as general secretary of Liaoning Province. While Li proved capable as a governor, his achievements were less stellar than contemporaries such as Xi Jinping. For example, Li presided over a large AIDS outbreak early on in his tenure as governor of Henan.
Li is commonly associated with the CYL Faction of the Politburo as he met many of his political allies, most notably outgoing President Hu Jintao, during his time in the CYL secretariat. As a current vice-premier and Hu protégé, Li Keqiang replaced Wen Jiabao and became the second highest ranking official in the Party hierarchy yesterday. He is expected to replace Wen as premier in March. In this sense, Li differs from his predecessor Wen, who, at least formally speaking, was listed as the third highest ranking official in the CCP hierarchy. This difference might be attributable to the fact that, much like his patron Hu, but in contrast to Wen, Li suffers from an acute lack of charisma.
Li’s premiership is also expected to break with Wen’s tenure in terms of the focus given to political and social reform. Whereas Wen often served as an advocate of greater political liberalization and social justice, many believe Li will focus more single-handedly on growing the economy in a more sustainable manner. As vice-premier over the last few years, Li has been an outspoken advocate of promoting growth by gradually liberalizing Chinese markets. He has also championed financial reform and a number of populist programs like affordable housing. According to Cheng Li of the Brookings Institution, “Li’s hot-button policy issues will include increasing employment, offering more affordable housing, providing basic health care, balancing regional development, and promoting innovation in clean energy technology.”
Despite his lack of charisma, Li is believed to have long-standing ties to a large percentage of the Central Committee members, potentially giving him a huge network to tap on the issues he is most passionate about. As such, Li is poised to become one of the most influential forces on development issues over the next decade.