Mr. Shangkong

Li Keqiang's football musings a signal he wants to see some policy teamwork

Li's praise of the German World Cup team is a signal he wants to see some policy teamwork

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 July, 2014, 3:18am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 July, 2014, 9:18pm

Is Premier Li Keqiang really a big fan of Germany's national football team?

I don't know, but he decided to use Germany's victory in the World Cup this year to reaffirm a key point for policymaking and implementation: the importance of teamwork.

Teamwork, or in this case how to coordinate different ministries amid a growing power struggle, may already be the top challenge for Li and his boss, Xi Jinping, who succeeded Hu Jintao early last year to become the new state head.

Both Xi and Li must deal with the same long-term challenge that faced Hu and then premier Wen Jiabao, and even earlier political leaders. That challenge is how to get your policy enacted outside Zhongnanhai, the headquarters of the central government.

As the popular American saying goes: What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. But Zhongnanhai is not Las Vegas and actions speak louder than words. Since Xi and Li took the political centre stage, we've seen some difficulties in putting policies - especially economic ones - into practice at the ground level.

The launch of the Shanghai free-trade zone is just one example.

Li likened the different ministries to football players, who ... need to play together

As reported last year, Li was at one point so frustrated by all the opposition from different ministries over his plan to launch the new economic experiment in Shanghai that he lost his temper and slammed the table during a closed-door meeting.

We all know what happened later: the Shanghai free-trade zone was launched. But I won't say we should thank Li for his frustration, because the trade zone is still mired in all kinds of bureaucracy, and suffering from a lack of coordination between the local Shanghai government and the ministries in Beijing.

More recently, a Xinhua editorial caught my attention. It explained why Li was interested in spending some time talking about the success of the German team in the World Cup during a recent closed-door cabinet meeting.

Li, who chaired the meeting, cited the German team as an example for the ministries "to try their best to cooperate with each other and push forward the overall work and plans of the government".

He also urged his listeners to "go beyond the interests and benefits of your own ministry so we can assure the overall work can be implemented smoothly".

Li likened the different ministries to football players, who have their own special skills, but at the end of the day need to play together as a team in order to win.

In order for policymaking to extend beyond the walls of Zhongnanhai, ministry officials and local leaders must absorb Li's football lesson.

To me, the German football story sounds like a warning that our premier is about to lose his temper again.


George Chen is the financial editor and a columnist at the Post. Mr Shangkong appears every Monday in print and online. Follow @george_chen on Twitter or visit