Rumors swirling around Premier Li Qiang’s future

President Xi Jinping is reported to be ‘losing confidence’ in his ‘closest aide’

Premier Li Qiang could be the next high-profile minister to be axed despite being a “close aide” to Chinese President Xi Jinping.

What appeared unthinkable less than a year ago is now rumored to be in the pipeline after he took over from the erudite Li Keqiang back in March.

Speculation has increased that Li Qiang will be made the fall guy for China’s unprecedented economic crisis and join a growing list of big-name casualties.

“[We] understand that President Xi is reportedly losing confidence in Li’s ability to manage the complexity of China’s economic strategy,” Intelligence Online reported earlier this week in a newsletter.

“[The former Communist Party chief of Shanghai] could even be on the way out,” it said.

Going, going, gone:

  • Xi has already rolled out a “Stalin-like purge” in “China’s ultra-secretive political system.”
  • Last summer, Foreign Minister Qin Gang disappeared after rumors of an alleged affair just six months after being appointed to the post.
  • The Xi protege has not been seen since.
  • At the same time, senior commanders of China’s nuclear missile force, Li Yuchao, and Liu Guangbin, also vanished along with former deputy Zhang Zhenzhong. 
  • Then in October, China’s Defense Minister Li Shangfu was fired when he joined the “political missing.”

Li doesn’t have enough clout to [solve China’s economic crisis].

Foreign Policy China Brief

Delve deeper: Former Premier Li Keqiang, who retired last year, later died in October after “suffering a heart attack” in a swimming pool.

Between the lines: “In the minds of many in China, ‘heart attack in a swimming pool’ has the same connotation that ‘falling out of a window’ does for Russian apparatchiks who anger or offend Vladimir Putin,” Politico mused in December.

Big picture: Since taking over the number two job in China, Li Qiang has been largely anonymous, parroting his master’s voice by quoting “Xi’s Thought.”     

Behind the rhetoric: “On Sunday, [he] called for officials to get their act together on the economy. Specific instructions might make a difference, but Li doesn’t have enough clout to [make that happen],” Foreign Policy’s China Brief revealed this week.

China Factor comment: So, will he stay or will he go? Well, Li Qiang would not be the first of Xi’s old Shanghai crew to be thrown under the bus. Just ask Qin Gang if you can find him.