Former Chinese premier Li Keqiang dies at 68

Beijing: Former Chinese premier Li Keqiang, a reform-minded bureaucrat once tipped as the country’s future leader only to be eclipsed by President Xi Jinping, died on Friday. He was 68.

He had a heart attack on Thursday and passed away in Shanghai just after midnight, state-run news agency Xinhua said.

Interim Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar said he was “deeply saddened and shocked” to learn about Li’s passing and called him a “great friend of Pakistan”.

“We fondly remember his visit to Pakistan in 2013. Our thoughts and sympathies are with late premier Li, his family and with the Chinese nation at this hour of grief,” he said on a post on social media platform X (formerly Twitter).

Foreign Minister Jalil Abbas Jilani remembered Li as a “statesman”, adding that he contributed to “strengthening” ties between Pakistan and China.

“As the then-foreign secretary, I organised his visit to Pakistan in May 2013. My thoughts are with premier Li, his family and the Chinese people,” he said.

Former prime minister Shehbaz Sharif said he was “profoundly saddened” by the news of Li’s passing.

“Over the last decade, I had the privilege of knowing Li as a sincere friend of Pakistan. His substantial contributions to strengthening Sino-Pakistan relations were remarkable,” he said.

Shehbaz said that China has lost “a dedicated and remarkable statesman, while Pakistan mourns the loss of a steadfast and reliable friend”.

Li rose to become the ruling Communist Party’s top official in Henan province, and in Liaoning in the northeast — both of which saw economic growth.