“Li Keqiang, China’s next premier, carries reformers’ hopes”

A good read to raise our hopes while we wait for the end of the Party Congress:

Li is described as an extremely intelligent self-taught speaker of English and a loyal Communist Party member who gave up a rare opportunity to study abroad when the party asked him to stay in China to work organizing students at Peking University as a top official in the Communist Youth League. It was at the university that Li made friendships with many outspoken pro-democracy advocates, some of whom were jailed or went into exile after the 1989 military crackdown at Tiananmen Square.

But some said he is not ruthless enough for the party’s internal maneuverings — a fact that some colleagues said may have relegated him to the No. 2 job, and not the presidency, which will go to the current vice president Xi Jinping.

Li entered Peking University, China’s most prestigious, in February 1978. Yang Baikui, who was an international politics student there, worked with Li for one year while at the school, translating an English book, “The Due Process of Law,” by British jurist Lord Denning. The book was brought to China by a professor, Gong Xiangrui, then one of China’s few British-trained lawyers, who inculcated his students in the ideas of Western-style liberalism and constitutional law.

“He learned a lot from the book he and I translated,” Yang recalled. “I’m not sure about democracy. But I’m sure he believes in constitutional government. And also the rule of law.”

Li had little formal English training. But Yang and others recall how Li diligently carried a stack of small notecards, held together with an elastic band, with English words on one side and the Chinese translation on the other. He would study the cards while waiting for the bus or standing in line at the school cafeteria. He became so proficient that in 2011 he stunned listeners at a Hong Kong University event by breaking protocol and speaking for two minutes in fluent English.

Li’s rise has not been without controversy. In Henan, where Li became governor in 1998, he has been criticized for not taking steps to prevent the spread of the AIDS epidemic to hundreds of thousands of villagers who were contaminated after donating blood through a government program.

Most of the infections happened before Li was governor. But one critic, Chen Bingzhong, a 79-year-old former head of China’s National Institute of Health Education, wrote an open letter that appeared on overseas Chinese Web sites in September calling Li “unsuitable to be the leader of a country.”

Will we get the rule of law aficionado, or the AIDS ignorer, or just another do-nothing Wen Jiabao?

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Filed under 2012 power transfer, Communist Party

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