Xi Jinping facing unprecedented challenge from Li Keqiang
President Xi Jinping’s order to ruthlessly lockdown Shanghai, China’s financial hub, has resulted in heavy damage to the country’s economy – but also unprecedented criticism of Xi’s zero-Covid policy by his No 2, Li Keqiang.
The criticism by Premier Li, who heads the State Council and is the second most powerful person in China, signals a major rift within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Speaking two weeks ago at a meeting of over 100,000 local officials, Premier Li said Xi’s zero-Covid policy was leading the country towards disaster by banning over 25 million people in Shanghai from leaving their homes for almost three months.
Analysts speculate that Li’s criticism stems from a deep disagreement within the CCP.
In an earlier teleconference meeting of the State Council, Li declared China’s economy is facing a bigger challenge than when Covid-19 started spreading in early 2020. He said the rate of capital outflow was unprecedented, while foreign investors who once believed in the government’s disease control measures are now fed up with lockdown policies that were crippling manufacturing. This had resulted in many multinational corporations halting operations or moving out of China entirely, he added.
The criticism of China’s president is shocking and unprecedented in the history of the CCP, though it has made few headlines in the foreign press.
Analysts calculate that the true aim of Xi’s zero-Covid policy is not to curb infections but to cement his power after the constitution was amended to allow him to remain as president for life instead of just two terms. They believe Xi is using this policy to show that he is putting the people first by slashing the infection rate. After all, a communist party governs by forcing people to follow the rules rather than giving them options.
Another factor reportedly adding to criticism of the president is budget problems affecting the Belt and Road Initiative, which Xi launched in 2013.
For a decade, China has poured its resources into this multitrillion-dollar project, but it has yet to bear fruit. The project involves construction of transport infrastructure in 72 countries, including dual-track railways, deep-sea ports, high-speed rail, tunnels through mountains, and airports that will help China connect with Southeast Asia, South Asia, Eastern Europe and Africa. Belt and Road also involves construction of dams, oil refineries, and power plants along the transport routes.
However, growing budget constraints in this initiative have already forced China to refuse a loan to Pakistan, which is facing a major economic crisis. This move may result in China losing Pakistan as a strategic ally. China had been planning to build a deep-sea port in Pakistan in order to completely surround India and give itself a competitive edge in the ongoing border standoff.