END OF AN ERA
Li sparked debate on poverty and income inequality in 2020, saying 600 million people in China earned less than the equivalent of US$140 per month.
Some Chinese intellectuals and members of the liberal elite expressed shock and dismay on a semi-private WeChat channel at the passing of a beacon of China’s liberal economic reform, with some saying it signalled the end of an era.
“Li will probably be remembered as an advocate for the freer market and for the have-nots,” said Wen-Ti Sung, a political scientist at Australian National University. “But most of all, he will be remembered for what could have been.”
Alfred Wu, associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore, said” “All these types of people no longer exist anymore in Chinese politics.”
Li was less influential than his immediate predecessors as premier, Zhu Rongji and Wen Jiabao, Wu said. “He was sidelined, but what more could he have done? It was very hard for him, with the constraints he faced under Xi.”
Adam Ni, an independent China political analyst and author, described Li as “a premier who stood powerless as China took a sharp turn away from reform and opening”.
A glowing 2014 state media profile of Li, praising him as “a calm and tough wall-breaker”, went viral shortly after his death was announced. It emphasised his hard work and tenacity in pushing for economic reforms.
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