China on Friday completed its once-in-a-decade change of leadership by expectedly appointing Li Keqiang as Premier of the world’s second largest economy.
With Li’s appointment, new President Xi Jinping’s team is now complete at both the Communist Party of China (CPC) and government-levels.
US President Barack Obama was among the first heads of state to call Xi to congratulate him on his appointment as President.
“Currently, US-China relations are faced with a historic opportunity to chart a course for future development,” state media quoted Obama as telling Xi.
“…China and the United States have enormous common interests, but also differences. China firmly maintains and promotes the development of China-US relations, and would like to work with the United States in enhancing mutual trust, expanding cooperation, handling differences, and maintaining high-level contacts,” Xi was quoted as having told Obama.
On Friday, nearly 3000 members of the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s rubber-stamp Parliament, put the final approval stamp on Li’s appointment in choreographed ceremony at the Great Hall of the People on Sunday morning.
While new President Xi Jinping is the country's top leader, Li will head China's State Council, or cabinet, and is charged with executing government policy and overseeing the economy.
After the endorsement was announced, Li stood up and bowed to the deputie and shook hands with President Xi and former Premier Wen Jiabao.
Li becomes the seventh Premier since the People's Republic of China (PRC) was founded in 1949, replacing Wen who had headed the State Council since 2003.
Li was reelected to the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee in November.
At Friday's meeting, the deputies also endorsed the country's military leaders.
Fan Changlong and Xu Qiliang were endorsed as vice chairmpersons of the Central Military Commission (CMC) of China.
Chang Wanquan, Fang Fenghui, Zhang Yang, Zhao Keshi, Zhang Youxia, Wu Shengli, Ma Xiaotian and Wei Fenghe were appointed as CMC members.
“The new Premier bears an important but difficult mission," NPC deputy Wang Yuzhi told state media. “We have high expectations of him and the new government. After a decade of fast economic growth, China's national strength has notably increased but the country also faces a tough task to push forward reform in key areas,” Wang said.
State-run Xinhua news agency said Li was known for calling reform “the biggest dividend for China.”
Since being reelected in November as a senior Party leader, Li has used different occasions to facilitate reforms.
“Reform is like rowing upstream. Failing to advance means falling back,” he said at a symposium on advancing comprehensive reforms.
“Those who refuse to reform may not make mistakes, but they will be blamed for not assuming their historical responsibility.”
“I believe that in this class (of new leaders), his intent to reform is quite strong,” Chen Ziming, an independent political commentator told Reuters. “He has a close relationship with reform-minded economists. We've seen from his speeches after the 18th party congress that the gap between them and him isn't far.”
Where ballots have one name
The voting method
This is how delegates in China’s highest legislature voted for president: Each was handed a ballot with one name on it: Xi Jinping. Each dropped it in a box.
No mark was required to vote, so calling it rubberstamping suggests more work than there actually was. Thursday’s vote by nearly 3,000 delegates for Xi was a mere ritual.
‘We raise our hands’
“Our job is to raise our hands,” said Han Deyun, a lawyer from the megacity of Chongqing and one of the few National People’s Congress delegates who are not from the ruling party. Delegates like him are supposed to add a veneer of democracy to the proceedings. “We raise our hands to give them legitimacy,” he said in an interview with AP.
Calling out contradictions
“The voting by the national delegates is completely meaningless,” Chinese writer Murong Xuecun said in an interview. “If they were replaced with 3,000 machines, the result would be the same.” There is a growing tendency among a minority of Chinese, especially intellectuals and often in online forums, to call out the contradictions in the political system.