Chinese premier Li Keqiang confirms he will step down next March

China's Premier Li Keqiang has been premier since 2013, and is constitutionally limited to two terms. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said he would step down from his post after his current term expires next March, pointing to a coming reshuffle amid questions over the future of President Xi Jinping. 

Mr Li made the disclosure at his annual news conference on Friday (March 11) in response to a question about the accomplishments of his decade as China’s No. 2 official.

In China, the premier leads the State Council and oversees a range of ministries, while the president serves as head of state. Mr Xi also heads the party and serves as commander-in-chief of the military. 

“You said this year is the last year in the current term of the Chinese government,” Mr Li, 66, told reporters at the National People’s Congress (NPC) in Beijing. “This year is also the last year in my premiership.”

The country is preparing for a twice-a-decade Communist Party congress in the second half of this year in which top party posts will be reshuffled.

While Mr Xi is expected to stay on for a precedent-breaking third-term as leader after removing presidential term limits in 2018, authorities have yet to comment publicly on his plans.

Party leaders can choose the next premier, a post that is constitutionally limited to two terms.

“I’m confident that under the strong leadership of the CPC Central Committee, with comrade Xi Jinping at its core, with strong support of various sectors, and especially with the joint hard work of the Chinese people across the country, China’s economy will be able to overcome difficulties,” Mr Li said.

“We will be able to achieve all the major goals and tasks for economic and social development set for the whole year and lay a due, solid foundation for the development of the country in the future.” 

Mr Li also serves as the No. 2 member of the Politburo’s supreme Standing Committee, a position he is young enough to retain even if he steps down from the premier’s job.

Until Mr Li’s promotion in 2012, the No. 2 party position was held by then-NPC Chairman Wu Bangguo while the No. 3 position was occupied by then-Premier Wen Jiabao.

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