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China's premier-in-waiting schooled in free thought

Published on Nov 8, 2012 7:29 AM
In a file picture taken on Aug 17, 2011, China's Vice Premier Li Keqiang addresses an economic forum during his visit to Hong Kong. Mr Li, a bureaucrat with an easy smile but a mixed record, will step up China's Communist hierarchy at this week's congress on Nov 8, 2012 on his way to becoming prime minister of the world's second-largest economy. -- PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (REUTERS) - Where other top Chinese leaders can only stand around and look awkward in the presence of English-speaking dignitaries, premier-in-waiting Li Keqiang stands out for his casual and disarming command of the language.

Mr Li's English skills say more about the man who will run the world's second-largest economy than just an ability to schmooze United States CEOs and European prime ministers - they were learned as a part of a surprisingly liberal university education.

Over three decades ago, Vice-Premier Li entered prestigious Peking University, a member of the storied "class of '77" who passed the first higher education entrance exams held after Mao Zedong's convulsive Cultural Revolution, which had effectively put university education on hold.

More than any other Chinese party leader until now, Mr Li, 57, was immersed in the intellectual and political ferment of the following decade of reform under Deng Xiaoping, which ended in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests that were crushed by troops.

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