Amid the economic challenges posed by the pandemic, Li Keqiang recognized the need to stimulate job creation and reinvigorate the nation’s economic vitality. As the key figure overseeing China’s economy, he embarked on a campaign to promote street vendors, even making high-profile visits to street vendors in Shandong Province. This initiative was positioned as a response to the economic challenges posed by the pandemic, aiming to create more jobs and boost economic activity in challenging times.
Almost immediately, street vendors began reappearing on the streets of Beijing, despite having been banned for several years. Li Keqiang’s vision was to inject vitality into the economy through this form of commerce. However, it became evident that this vision did not align with President Xi’s perspective on how China’s capital should appear.
The Beijing Municipal Party Committee’s newspaper, The Beijing Daily, rapidly published a commentary that criticized street stalls as “unhygienic and uncivilized.” This stance was reinforced by other state media outlets, presenting a united front against the initiative. This coordinated response highlighted a stark contrast to the more balanced approach seen under previous administrations.
What became apparent through this episode was the limitation of Li Keqiang’s power, despite his position as Premier of China. In today’s political landscape, marked by centralized authority under President Xi, policies are often viewed as either conforming to “the Xi Jinping way” or not. The days of navigating various factions within the Communist Party, a practice that was more evident under the collective leadership of Hu Jintao, seem to have receded into the past.
Li Keqiang’s time in office represented a different era in Chinese politics, characterized by a business-oriented approach and a reduced emphasis on party slogans. As one of the last senior government figures associated with the Hu Jintao era, his departure marked the diminishing influence of that political approach.
The transformation of China’s political landscape under Xi Jinping underscores a shift toward a more centralized and top-down system, where political power is wielded with greater authority. This evolution carries significant implications for understanding the ever-changing nature of governance in the world’s most populous nation and its potential impact on China’s domestic and international policies. As China continues its ascent as a global power, these changes are poised to have far-reaching consequences.