Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. (Reuters)
Beijing, March 17 (AP): China’s new leaders struck a populist tone today as they got down to the painstaking work of governing, promising cleaner government, less red tape and more fairness to enlarge a still small middle class and help struggling private businesses.
In appearances that mark the completion of a months-long, orchestrated leadership transition, President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang stressed the urgency of reining in runaway official corruption to restore the Communist Party’s frayed public credibility.
Li outlined a striking vision — of a more limited government and its ties to reducing graft and unleashing the dynamism of entrepreneurs, migrant workers and the middle class. To do so will require taking on vested interests, he said, without identifying by name the powerful state-run enterprises and well-connected businesses.
Li made specific pledges to slash official perks and government extravagance to free up money for social welfare programmes at a time of slower economic growth.
He said a ban will be put on building new government offices, government payrolls will be reduced, as will spending on banquets, travel and cars — behaviour that has fuelled public anger and protests.
“If the people are to live a good life, their government must be put on a tight budget,” Li said in his first news conference as Premier.
Earlier, Xi said people’s own aspirations must be part of “the Chinese dream” — a signature phrase he has used to invoke national greatness. “Each of us must have broad space to diligently realise our own dreams,” he said.
Although Xi and Li were installed as Nos. 1 and 2 in the party leadership in November, Sunday’s closing of the legislature means their government is now fully in place.
The legislature’s close —and their appearances — also brought a concerted push to burnish the leaders’ image before a public that has grown more demanding as it has become more prosperous and better connected by the Internet and cellphones.
Both Xi’s speech and Li’s news conference were nationally televised. In them, they showed personality differences with their predecessors. Xi appeared more commanding and comfortable with his authority than his predecessor Hu Jintao. Li was more direct and plainly spoken if less sympathetic than the grandfatherly Wen Jiabao.
Li also gave a hint of his fluency in English. At one point, he corrected a translator for saying “thank you” at the end of a translation when Li had not said it.
The 57-year-old also recalled having been exiled to work in a poor rural village in his teens in the 1970s, like many in his generation under Mao Zedong’s radical rule.