Li's Debut At China's Congress Overshadowed By Xi Power Grab: Analysts

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china-xi-and-li-march-2014.jpg Xi Jinping (L) and Li Keqiang (R) arrive at the opening session of the 12th National People's Congress in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, March 5, 2014.

China's president Xi Jinping continues to boost his own political clout at the expense of his premier, Li Keqiang, analysts said on Thursday.

As the country's rubber-stamp annual parliament session entered its second day in Beijing, Li's role is looking less powerful and influential than many of his predecessors after Xi set up and took control of a number of task-forces traditionally within the remit of the premier.

"This has been a trend since the 18th Communist Party Congress [in November]," Cai Yongmei, editor of the cutting-edge political magazine Kaifang, said.

"Li Keqiang should be the second-in-command, but Xi Jinping is drawing more and more power to himself, to the extent that the entire State Council is being run by him," Cai said, referring to China's cabinet.

She said Xi had given himself the chairmanship of a newly formed national security committee, as well as a working group on deepening economic reforms, usually part of the premier's portfolio.

"The national security arm of the State Council has also come under Xi," she said. "This means that Li Keqiang can only do as Xi Jinping tells him; his actual power has been hollowed out."

Tackling pollution

In his debut annual work report to the National People's Congress (NPC) on Wednesday, Li set out measures to combat poverty and pollution.

In particular, he "declared war" on pollution in his speech to nearly 3,000 delegates from around the country.

But China's environmental protection budget was slashed by nearly 10 percent last year to 180 billion yuan (U.S. $30 billion), suggesting Li is being left with second-line challenges with which to make his mark.

Fujian-based environmental activist Zhang Changjian said the falling environmental budget showed the ruling Chinese Communist Party isn't serious about tackling the choking smog and other widespread pollution problems that plague the country.

"It's progress that the smog should have got a mention in the premier's work report, but there is always a lot of noise made about pollution and very little action," Zhang said.

"This is because of the close ties and vested interests between government and business at the local level," he said.

Cai agreed. "I don't think they have a real desire to change in this direction," she said. "Their economic policies are still based on GDP growth figures, rather than a longer-term strategy."

"As soon as economic growth lets up, it could cause instability for those in power," she said. "But we see the military budget rising all the same."

Tightening grip

Xi told the nation in his New Year address via state media that the party had delivered "deepening reform" and a "grand blueprint for future development" in 2013.

But analysts said the much-vaunted reform program is more likely to lead to a tightening of President Xi Jinping's grip on power than to a more constitutional form of government or freer markets.

Instead, Xi is relying on a widespread crackdown on corruption as a means of consolidating power within the party, according to outspoken political commentator Wai Po.

"Xi Jinping is talking a good fight ... saying that it's crucial to come down heavy in order to clean up all that is wrong with the world, that the cuts must be deep to expel the poison," Wai wrote in a recent commentary on RFA's Cantonese Service. "[If not], there will be no saving the party."

"The party's survival is said to depend on Xi Jinping's anti-corruption campaign, and going after high-ranking officials is its core goal."

"And in order to save the party, Xi Jinping is grabbing onto every scrap of power," he said.

Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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