Li Keqiang

Premier Li Keqiang takes to the world's stage with ease

Li Keqiang's first foreign mission as head of government continues Wen's 'friendly face' strategy

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 May, 2013, 7:47am

On his maiden, eight-day diplomatic trip as premier, Li Keqiang not only engaged in serious bilateral talks but also attempted to show his personable side to boost the image of the Chinese leadership.

Li expressed his appreciation of foreign culture and appeared self-confident when touching on sensitive issues.

Li's power as the No2 in the Communist Party hierarchy is consolidated, and thus he is more confident

Li's predecessor, Wen Jiabao always used overseas trips to show his human side, reinforcing the "Grandpa Wen" image he cultivated at home by showing his affection for the impoverished and those struck by disasters. On an "ice-melting trip" to Japan in 2007, Wen donned a baseball jersey and practised pitching and batting with university students in Kyoto.

But his remarks to Chinese communities overseas often raised eyebrows, as he used such occasions to call for political reform back home. In one meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Wen said China would be invincible if only its people could think independently. He also often quoted lines from Chinese poems.

Li did not make any such remarks on his trip and also steered clear of reciting classical Chinese. And his meetings with members of Chinese communities were mostly closed to the Hong Kong media.

But Li did surprise people by opting for a vegetarian meal at a dinner hosted by Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh.

He also said he was impressed by the philosophical insights of the poet Rabindranath Tagore and that he had watched 3 Idiots , the critically acclaimed Bollywood movie.

The charm offensive continued in Switzerland, where he visited a family farm. In Germany, he watched the Champions League final between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund in a live broadcast. "Both leaders wanted to show a softer side of the Chinese leadership," said Professor Qiao Mu , a communications expert at Beijing Foreign Studies University. "But Wen was more mature and looked more natural, while Li is a bit stiff. Li is just new to such an approach."

Professor Pang Zhongying , an international relations specialist at Renmin University, said Li appeared to be bolder and more decisive.

In India, Li said China had no intention of containing its giant South Asian neighbour, and called for dialogue to resolve border disputes.

Pang said Li's charm offensive was partly due to his being educated after the Cultural Revolution, when people were more open to Western ideas, and that he had learned English from his wife.

"The other reason is that Li's power as the No2 in the Communist Party hierarchy is consolidated, and thus he is more confident," Pang said.

Analysts said Chinese leaders were now more aware of boosting their image abroad. President Xi Jinping chatted with residents of Iowa during his trip to the United States last year, when he was still vice-president.