Former Chinese Premier Li Keqiang Dies At 68

Li Keqiang served as premier during Chinese President Xi Jinping's first two five-year terms.

Former Chinese Premier Li Keqiang Dies At 68

Former Chinese premier Li Keqiang reportedly died after suffering a heart attack

Beijing:

Former Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has died after suffering a heart attack at the age of 68, state media reported Friday. A reform-minded bureaucrat, Li was once tipped as the country's future leader only to be eclipsed by President Xi Jinping, under whom he served as premier for 10 years.

Xinhua news agency said Li had a sudden heart attack on Thursday and passed away in the early hours of Friday in Shanghai, where he had been resting.  

During his time as premier, Li cultivated an image as a more modern apparatchik compared to his stiffer colleagues.

A career bureaucrat who spoke fluent English, he had voiced support for economic reforms during his time in office.

He showed liberal tendencies in his youth, but toed the party line for decades, and his reputation was damaged by his handling of an HIV/AIDS epidemic stemming from a tainted blood donation programme while he was party boss in Henan province.

Local authorities responded with a clampdown on activists and the media rather than assigning responsibility to the officials involved, and at the national level a stream of health scandals also happened on his watch.

Li, the son of a minor party official in eastern China's poor Anhui province, was sent to the countryside to work as a manual labourer during China's tumultuous Cultural Revolution.

He went on to gain a law degree from Peking University, where classmates say he embraced Western and liberal political theory, translating a book on the law by a British judge.

But he became more orthodox after joining the ranks of officialdom in the mid-80s, working as a bureaucrat while his former classmates protested in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Li rose to become the party's top official in Henan, and in Liaoning province in the northeast -- both of which saw economic growth -- before being promoted to become a deputy to then-premier Wen Jiabao.

But his attempts at tackling China's deep economic challenges were curtailed by the overwhelming authority of Xi Jinping, with whom he was once seen as a rival for the country's leadership.

Li was praised for helping to steer the country through the global financial crisis relatively unscathed.

But his time in office saw a dramatic shift in power in China from the more consensus-based rule associated with former leader Hu Jintao and his predecessors, to the more concentrated power of Xi. 

It also saw China's economy begin to slow from the dizzying heights experienced in the 1990s and 2000s.

When Li left office, the Chinese economy was experiencing some of its lowest growth in decades, battered by a Covid-induced slowdown and a crisis in the housing market.

The appointment of Xi ally Li Qiang -- a former Shanghai party boss -- as his successor this year was seen as a sign that his reformist agenda had fallen by the wayside as Beijing tightens its grip over its slowing economy.

But in his final speech as outgoing premier, Li struck a bullish tone, saying China's economy was "staging a steady recovery and demonstrating vast potential and momentum for further growth".

"Overcoming great difficulties and challenges, we succeeded in maintaining overall stable economic performance."

"There was always a feeling that Li was the last bastion of reason and heart in an otherwise ideological age," historian Jeremiah Jenne said in a post on social media platform X, formerly Twitter.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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