Former Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, once considered a reform-minded contender for the country’s leadership, died suddenly of a heart attack in Shanghai early Friday, state media reported.
He is 68 years old.
As of the end of last year, nominally China’s no. 2 As president, Li served as the country’s premier — traditionally in charge of the economy — under strongman Xi Jinping for a decade from 2013 to March this year.
During his time in the role, Li led the world’s second-largest economy through a challenging period of emerging technology and trade tensions with the United States, rising government debt and unemployment, and the Covid-19 pandemic.
In his final year in power, the economist was by training a strong voice of caution for China’s economy amid widespread Covid-19 lockdowns.
He supported efforts to increase employment and maintain economic stability.
As news of Li’s death broke Friday morning, social media users circulated a line from Li’s annual speech to China’s parliament in 2022, where he pledged, “No matter how the international environment changes, China will keep a broad course. Openness.”
At a time when the country’s relations with the West were increasingly widening, Lee was seen as representing a different approach to China’s relations with the world, while making his English-language skills appear outside the mainland.
“China and the United States have common interests,” Li told CNN in response to a question at his annual press conference in March 2021. “Both countries must devote more energy to their common ground and expand their shared interests.”
Li is also being remembered for his focus on addressing social ills — social media users on Friday also pointed to his 2020 comments, noting that 600 million people in China would still have a monthly income of 1,000 yuan ($137).
The comments come as China touts its success in lifting millions out of poverty as a point of national pride.
Li, a highly educated technologist with degrees in law and economics, was seen as friendly to the private sector. He has increasingly taken an economic policy stance away from Xi, who has tightened party control over the economy.
Li is widely seen as a supporter of Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao, who presided over an era of rapid growth in China from 2002 to 2012. Men shared economic sentiments and rose to power through the Communist Party’s Youth League, once considered an apprenticeship. A field for future leaders.
The sect was known for producing reform-minded leaders from humble family backgrounds, but its influence is believed to have been suppressed since Xi came to power.
The relationship between Li and Hu came under the spotlight last year when the former top leader was unexpectedly ousted at the closing ceremony of the Communist Party Congress in October 2022, where Xi consolidated further power.
In a moment of drama during what is usually a highly danced event, Hu is led from the room, taps a stony-faced Li on the shoulder, who nods and turns to watch the former leader depart. State media later suggested Hu quit due to health issues.
Under Hu, Li was named In 2007 the Politburo Standing Committee, the party’s top leadership body.
He previously held key roles as party leader in the industrial Liaoning province and provincial chairman of the agricultural base of Henan.
Born in Anhui, Li spent his teenage years with the Dongling Production Brigade in the eastern province during the Cultural Revolution, a decade-long social and political upheaval launched by the late Chinese leader Mao Zedong.
Li was among the first batch of students after college entrance exams were reinstated following the end of the Cultural Revolution. In 1978, he enrolled at the prestigious Peking University, where he studied law and later earned a doctorate in economics.
Unlike Xi, Li is not considered one of China’s princelings from a prominent party family. He served in the Central Committee of the Communist Youth League in the 1980s and 90s.
His tenure at the top of the Chinese Communist Party ended last October, when he was not named to the party’s Central Committee twice during a decade-long leadership reshuffle.
Li, then 67, was a year short of the unofficial retirement age for Chinese Communist Party leaders.
He was succeeded as prime minister earlier this year by former Shanghai Party chief and Xi loyalist Li Qiang.