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China's ex-Premier Li Keqiang dies at 68

BEIJING: China’s former Premier Li Keqiang died of a heart attack on Friday (Oct 27), aged 68, just 10 months after retiring from a decade of office during which his star had dimmed.

Once viewed as a top Communist Party leadership contender, Li was sidelined in recent years by President Xi Jinping, who tightened his grip on power and steered the world’s second-largest economy in a more statist direction.

The elite Peking University-educated economist was seen as a supporter of a more liberal market economy but had to bend to Xi’s preference for more state control.

“Comrade Li Keqiang, while resting in Shanghai in recent days, experienced a sudden heart attack on Oct 26 and after all-out efforts to revive him failed, died in Shanghai at ten minutes past midnight on Oct 27,” state broadcaster CCTV reported. An obituary will be published later, it said.

Li was premier and head of China’s cabinet under Xi for a decade until stepping down in March.

Related:

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to bow out of politics, as loyalist from President Xi Jinping’s inner circle takes over

“No matter how the international winds and clouds change, China will unswervingly expand its opening up,” Li said at his last public appearance in a press conference in March. “The Yangtze River and the Yellow River will not flow backwards.”

He was born in Anhui province in eastern China, a poor farming area where his father was an official and where he was sent to toil in the fields during the Cultural Revolution.

He memorably said in 2020 that 600 million people in China earned less than the equivalent of US$140 per month, sparking a wider debate on poverty and income inequality.

A career bureaucrat who spoke fluent English, Li had voiced support for reforms during his time in office, though his attempts at financial reforms were curtailed by Xi’s overwhelming authority.

Li was also 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.

The appointment of Xi ally Li Qiang – 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.

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