China's parliament elected Li Qiang, a close ally of leader Xi Jinping and ranked No. 2 in the ruling Communist Party's apex of power, as premier on Saturday, replacing Li Keqiang.

Li Qiang, 63, will head the State Council, China's Cabinet, and his main task will be overseeing the economy, although the role of premier has been waning as Xi has concentrated power in his own hands over the years.

Li Qiang attends a plenary session of China's parliament in Beijing on March 11, 2023. (Kyodo)

The elevation of Li Qiang, a former Shanghai party boss, came a day after the National People's Congress unanimously re-elected party general secretary Xi to a norm-breaking third five-year term as the country's president at a plenary session.

Li Qiang was promoted to the Communist Party's highest decision-making body -- the seven-strong Politburo Standing Committee -- last October. Li Keqiang will retire as premier after serving two five-year terms.

Li Qiang took the oath of office, pledging that he will strive to build a "great modern socialist country."

Three legislators voted against Li Qiang's appointment as premier and eight abstained, with 2,936 in favor.

Following his endorsement, the smiling new premier shook hands with Xi and Li Keqiang, respectively, during the parliament session held in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

Li Qiang is scheduled to hold a press conference Monday after the conclusion of the parliament session. The NPC will elect new vice premiers and ministers on Sunday.

In a report delivered last Sunday at the opening of the annual meeting of the parliament, Li Keqiang, 67, said the government had set a gross domestic product growth target for 2023 of around 5 percent.

The figure was unveiled after China missed its GDP growth target last year due to the economic fallout from its stringent "zero-COVID" policy, involving quarantines and lockdowns, and a subsequent explosion of infections that occurred when the measures were abruptly lifted late last year.

The world's second-biggest economy expanded 3.0 percent in 2022 compared with a year earlier -- one of the slowest paces of growth in several decades.

After working at an irrigation facility and a factory in his native Zhejiang Province, Li Qiang joined the Communist Party in 1983.

He served under Xi, who was head of the province in the 2000s, and is said to have gained his trust during that period.

Li Qiang's election to the premiership came despite his lack of experience in central government and questions over his handling of Shanghai's two-month coronavirus lockdown last year.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) and Li Qiang shake hands after Li is elected premier at a plenary session of the country's parliament in Beijing on March 11, 2023. (Kyodo)

As the top party official in the nation's commercial and financial hub, Li Qiang faced criticism over the disruption caused to the lives of the city's millions of residents and its economy by the draconian antivirus policy.

On Saturday, the NPC also appointed Liu Jinguo as director of the National Commission of Supervision, an anti-corruption body, Ying Yong, 65, as procurator-general of the Supreme People's Procuratorate, the highest prosecutors' office, and Zhang Jun, 66, as president of the Supreme People's Court, the nation's top court.

Wang Huning, 67, the country's chief ideological theorist who is ranked No. 4 in the ruling party's top leadership, was elected Friday as chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the country's top political advisory body, replacing Wang Yang, 67.

Vice Premier Hu Chunhua, 59, who was demoted from the Politburo last October, was chosen as one of the 23 vice chairpersons of the political advisory body. Hu, who was once deemed a potential successor to Li Keqiang as premier, is believed to be not very close to Xi.

In 2018, China removed the two-term limits for the president and vice president from its Constitution, paving the way for Xi, who became the country's president in 2013, to hold power for life.

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