Can the new duo last the distance?
Hopes of change are running high in China now that a new leadership has been installed, but will they be dashed yet again?
There appears to be some chemistry between President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang, but can it last?
Call me a cynic, but since China wrapped up its political meetings after ushering in a new administration that will be in charge until possibly 2022, these two questions have been swirling in my head.
Both leaders have fuelled hopes with their tough talk about tackling social ills and their show of commitment to reforms during the fortnight-long meetings of national legislators and political advisers that ended last Sunday.
Xi, who completed his rise to the top when he became president, has reportedly signalled his "reformist" inclinations by naming former organisation chief Li Yuanchao as his vice-president.
The appointment of Li, who was edged out of the apex Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) last November due to his reputation as a reformer, is widely seen as reflecting Xi's growing power base, and has further encouraged reform-minded optimists.
It was a special concession for Li as only PSC members had been named vice-president after 1998. Reports said Xi also had to rebuff attempts by former president Jiang Zemin to make one of his loyalists, fifth-ranked PSC member Liu Yunshan, the vice-president.
What also raised hopes was the bold move to dismantle the Railways Ministry, which had been operating as a private fiefdom with a workforce of more than two million.
Premier Li's first press conference impressed observers when he revealed tangible action plans to fight corruption, restructure the unsustainable economic growth model, cut extravagance and slash red tape.
In all, the rhetoric of the new president and his premier raised hopes of reforms at the National People's Congress (NPC) and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference sessions, even though they did not announce substantial initiatives.
But for China watchers, it was a case of deja vu. Best to temper the optimism, they advised. After all, public support for then president Hu Jintao and premier Wen Jiabao was high too in 2003. Both men gained more public favour by visiting Sars patients and shaking hands with Aids sufferers.
Similarly, Xi and Li have shown their affection for the common people by going to poor rural areas to visit villagers.
During his decade-long tenure, Wen, in particular, spoke several times on the importance of pushing political reforms, such as greater accountability to the media and the people.
Judging from the reactions of netizens and scholars, Xi and Li have sparked hopes that political reforms might be advanced on their watch, especially with the beefing up of the rule of law.
But when Hu and Wen retired formally last week, they left office with a report card that observers regarded as mixed at best. Commonly cited reasons for their less-than-sterling overall performance included their fear of taking on vested interest groups in the party and the bureaucracy, differences between Hu and Wen on political reforms, as well as tensions between Hu and his vice-president Zeng Qinghong, a Jiang ally.
History thus makes a useful guide for grasping the significance of this year’s liang hui (two meetings) and for interpreting the hype about the Xi-Li duo.
History should also instruct the duo that working together gives them the best chance of advancing reforms and avoiding a negative assessment when they step down in 2022.
For one thing, both have yet to consolidate their power base.
Li is the only one from the Communist Youth League faction in the seven-member PSC stacked with four Jiang loyalists and two "princelings", referring to offspring of party elders.
Xi, though a princeling, is said to have a weak hand in the PSC against more senior members like NPC chairman Zhang Dejiang, a Jiang ally.
The duo's best bet is thus to stick together or risk seeing their reform efforts derailed by vested interest groups, say observers.
University of Chicago analyst Yang Dali said both men, who have been in the PSC since 2007, appear to work well together. "As long as Xi does not compete with Li to manage the economy, this might turn out to be a good partnership for a while," he added.
Beijing-based analyst Russell Leigh Moses believes both are on the same page of this new chapter of reform - for now. "The real test will be how they address conflicts that could emerge from a crisis, such as a natural disaster," he added.
Those hoping for change should also hope that the duo's chemistry lasts the distance.