China’s New Premier Shows Pro-Business Side And Vows To Support Private Economy

China’s new Premier Li Qiang used his first press conference to pledge support for private businesses, after a yearlong crackdown on the real estate, education and tech sectors pummeled investor confidence and decimated the wealth of the country’s most successful entrepreneurs.

The 63-year-old Li, formerly the Communist Party boss of financial hub Shanghai and a close ally of President Xi Jinping, was confirmed as China’s premier role during the nation’s annual parliamentary meeting, the National People’s Congress (NPC). He’s faced with the challenge of reviving the world’s second-largest economy after three years of strict Covid controls that battered the operations of a wide swathe of businesses, causing the country to miss last year’s growth target by a large margin.

Li said the goal for the economy to expand about 5% in 2023 won’t be easy to achieve, as China faces immense challenges at home and abroad. But he also reiterated that there are new markets and opportunities to be explored, and the country will treat all business enterprises on an equal footing, regardless of their origin or ownership structure.

“Private entrepreneurs will enjoy a better environment and further space for development,” the new premier said. “Government officials at all levels must sincerely care for and support private enterprises.”

Li’s remarks echo previous calls from the top leadership, which has recently emphasized the need to restore market confidence and be more supportive of the private sector. The reassurances come after entrepreneurs and investors were left reeling from a series of policies that banned after-school tutoring, reined in credit for property developers and cracked down on the nation’s tech giants. Last year, the collective wealth of China’s 100 richest plunged 39% to $907.1 billion, marking the biggest drop since Forbes started tracking the number more than two decades ago.

The premier acknowledged the frustrations felt by many private entrepreneurs, but sought to downplay the criticism that the government is less supportive of them. Having worked in business hubs like the city of Wenzhou and the Yangtze River Delta region, he is said to have shown a more pragmatic and pro-business approach at times. One of the premier’s signature achievements in Shanghai is persuading Tesla to build its first overseas factory in the megacity.

But Li also oversaw Shanghai during its bruising, month-long lockdown to curb the pandemic that left many residents scrambling for basic necessities and disrupted global supply chains.

The question will be whether Li has the authority and the will to push through pro-business policies in the future. The direct authority of China’s premiership is widely believed to be diminished under President Xi, who has just officially secured an unprecedented third term in office.