Chinese Premier Li Keqiang sidelined as Xi tightens grip on power

Li left out of decision-making panel led by Xi to draft economic visions

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CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping (left) and Premier Li Keqiang.

CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping (left) and Premier Li Keqiang. (AP photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Chinese Premier Li Keqiang's (李克強) noticeable absence from a recent gathering of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) General Secretary Xi Jinping's (習近平) brain trust is further evidence of a growing chasm between the two most powerful men in China.

Xi called a meeting on Monday (Aug. 24) to lay out the development agenda for the next five years, which drew media attention to the nine attendees who are expected to be the main economic advisors to Xi. The meeting comprised academics, Politburo Standing Committee members, Vice Premier Liu He (劉鶴), and Taiwanese military officer turned Chinese economist Lin Yifu (林毅夫), reported Free Radio Asia.

Li’s marked exclusion has added to speculations about a rift in the Chinese Communist Party and his influence on the decline.

Customarily, the general secretary takes charge of the country’s direction, diplomacy, national defense, and cross-straits issues, while the premier mainly focuses on interior and economic affairs, wrote UDN. The division of labor appears to have blurred since Xi assumed office in 2012, with Xi amassing greater power.

Signs of infighting in the leadership surfaced in May, when Xi was reportedly displeased by Li's remark at the annual National People's Congress suggesting that at least 600 million people in China were living on a monthly income of 1,000 yuan (US$145). The revelation was an embarrassing reminder of the ongoing struggle to eliminate poverty for the world’s second-largest economy.

Li also drew the ire of Xi by publicly advocating a return to the “street vendor economy” to spur spending amid the fallout of the coronavirus. The proposal soon triggered a backlash within the party, with CCP mouthpieces taking a swipe at the approach for the negative impact it would bring.

More recently, as floods continue to wreak havoc across many regions of China, major state media outlets have given limited coverage to Li’s inspection visits to seriously-affected areas. Meanwhile, Xi’s belated trips to flood-hit areas earlier this month grabbed headlines, the disproportionate coverage evidently pointing to strife brewing between the two figures.