Premier-in-waiting Li Keqiang meets Aids activists
Premier-in-waiting Li Keqiang held an unusual meeting with Aids activists from across the nation, the latest indication that the new leadership aims to project a more proactive and inclusive image.
Tianjin Aids activist Li Hu told the South China Morning Post that the executive vice-premier met representatives from 12 NGOs at the Ministry of Health on Monday afternoon, along with ministry party chief Zhang Mao and Health Minister Chen Zhu.
Li Keqiang vowed to fight public-sector discrimination towards patients with HIV/Aids and called an inter-ministerial meeting that same day to discuss better ways to protect the rights of patients with the disease, according to Li Hu.
The meeting came just over two weeks after Li Keqiang was named to the No 2 position on the Communist Party's supreme Politburo Standing Committee, in preparation for his ascent to premier in March.
It was seen as a sign that the incoming administration intended to tackle some of the mainland's more pressing social problems head-on.
Last week, the vice-premier personally called on the Health Ministry to intervene after it was revealed that a lung cancer patient was denied treatment by public hospitals in Tianjin until he lied about his HIV status.
As of last year, China had 346,000 registered HIV carriers and Aids patients, although the actual number of infected was estimated to be 780,000, according to a Xinhua report.
The issue was also behind one of the biggest black marks on Li's career: efforts to cover up a massive HIV outbreak in Henan province in the late 1990s when Li was governor.
Tens of thousands of farmers contracted HIV from tainted blood acquired through government blood-donation schemes in the early and mid-1990s. Although Li was not involved in the programme, his muzzling of the media and crackdowns on protests were controversial.
"Now that he'll be the next premier, he's apparently aware of such a blemish in his résumé which subjects him to scrutiny," said Liu Yige, a legal specialist with the Aids activist group Love, Knowledge and Action. "He's also aware of the high expectation for him to become a reform-minded premier, so he needs to work on something to prove that to the world."