China near Naming Next Economic Chief; Li Keqiang, a Cautious Bureaucrat, Will Guide a Troubled System That Has Been Slow to Reform Enterprises

Article excerpt

BEIJING The man in line to oversee China's massive but rapidly slowing economy for the coming decade speaks English and comes from a generation of politicians schooled during a time of greater openness to liberal Western ideas than their predecessors.

But Li Keqiang also has been a cautious bureaucrat who rose through, and is bound by, a consensus-oriented Communist Party that has been slow to reform its massive state-owned enterprises while reflexively stifling dissent - and he has been an enforcer keeping a lid on bad news.

Li, to be promoted within the leadership's top council after a pivotal party congress closes this week and expected to take the economy-focused post of premier from outgoing Wen Jiabao next spring, was governor of the agricultural province of Henan in 1998 during an unusual explosion of AIDS cases.

Tens of thousands of people had contracted HIV from illegal blood- buying rings that pooled plasma and reinjected it into donors after removing the blood products. But Beijing hadn't acknowledged the problem yet, and Li oversaw a campaign to squelch reporting about it, harass activists and isolate affected villages.

When the government finally did go public four years later, Li showed canny political instincts with a rapid course reversal, channeling government assistance to victims and making public shows of compassion.

"He just tried to escape from this crisis" at first, said Wan Yanhai, a prominent Chinese AIDS activist who fled to the United States with his family in 2010 after increasing police harassment. …

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