In his last televised press conference as premier , Li Keqiang presented himself as a social engineer carefully crafting policies to improve people’s livelihoods in the midst of crises such as Covid-19. The 66 year-old also portrayed himself as an empathetic government leader who cared about the plight of trafficked women and the underprivileged such as delivery drivers and migrant workers. There was no dramatic farewell message. Unlike his predecessors Wen Jiabao, who called for “political reform” in his swansong, or Zhu Rongji, who expressed his confidence in the future and proclaimed “we have a clear conscience” on the same occasion, Li highlighted his contribution to keeping the economy afloat during difficult times “The international environment is complicated and changing, while domestically there are increasing difficulties. But the biggest challenge is the blow Covid-19 dealt to the economy ,” he said. Li went on to outline how he promised to develop the economy and improve people’s livelihoods in his first press conference as premier nine years ago, and how he has sought to fulfil that promise by streamlining red tape, stimulating the market and providing millions of jobs. “It is also my last year as premier, we still face complex and grave situations and many difficulties and challenges … My colleagues and I will do our duty with perseverance and fulfil our promises with concrete action,” Li told the press conference on Friday that closed the annual legislative meeting known as the “two sesssions” . In contrast to Wen, whose last press conference lasted three hours and touched on sensitive issues such as a different approach to Taiwan and political reform, Li stuck to the standard lines on Taiwan, Hong Kong and China’s zero-Covid policy. China lawmakers have West’s decline on their minds at ‘two sessions’ He also appeared relatively conciliatory towards the United States and said he had often listened to grass-roots opinion when formulating policies to improve people’s livelihoods. The measures he introduced include setting aside no less than 4 per cent of GDP for education, basic health care insurance that reimburses people for 70 per cent of their medical bills and better support for more than 100 million migrant workers. Li also highlighted job creation as one of his top priorities, especially as the country will see a record 16 million new jobseekers this year. Li also made many references to how he cared about the underprivileged in his last press conference. He said the government was angry about the recent exposure of a human trafficking case . “We grieved for the victim and we are very angry about the incident … we must seriously clamp down on the crime of trafficking of women and children,” he said, as he promised to mete out severe punishment to the culprits. The recent discovery of a woman who was trafficked, chained in a shed and had given birth to eight children had caused a public outcry. Li also described how he was touched by migrant workers who left their homes to work in cities to pay for their children’s education and by the difficult lives of more than 200 million casual workers such as delivery drivers. “He positioned himself as a premier who cares about the livelihood of ordinary people, especially the vulnerable groups,” Xie Maosong, senior research fellow of National Strategy Institute at Tsinghua University, said. “He also showed his support for small and medium enterprises and sole proprietors and how he provided opportunities for them to develop, it is his positioning.” As Beijing tries to allay small-business fears, is it enough to ease minds? Analysts said Li’s influence is more limited than his predecessors and he gave standard lines on thorny issues because he does not have much say over those areas. The role of premier has changed in the era of Xi Jinping as he redefined the role of the Communist Party’s General Secretary, Alfred Wu, an associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, said. “[Previously] the general secretaries mainly took care of party affairs and the premiers were in charge of all economic planning and implementation. But under Xi, Li basically runs the economy under instruction from Xi,” he added. Gu Su, a political scientist at Nanjing University, said Li could not comment on diplomacy, political reform or propaganda because he had no say over those areas. “For the past nine years, he has positioned himself as the person to guarantee people’s livelihoods … and he did his best with what he had,” Gu said. “During Zhu Rongji’s time, China’s economy was growing and China took big strides to integrate with the world and carry out bold reforms. “Wen Jiabao did many solid things such as cutting agricultural tax and raising teachers salaries. They laid the groundwork before Li, who focused on how to protect people’s livelihoods such as helping businesses to create jobs and start new ventures [by] cutting tax and fees.” Li should also be remembered for his candid remark that more than 600 million people in China had a monthly income of less than 1,000 yuan (US$158) at his NPC press conference last year, projecting the image of a state leader who is willing to face the hard facts and staying in close touch with the people, Gu said.