New rulers meet foreign press
About 500 foreign reporters waited in the Big East Room of the Great Hall of the People yesterday to meet the new ruling elite.
It was not announced when the seven newly elected Standing Committee members would appear, but reporters knew the time had come when an attendant appeared at the lectern with a glass of water.
Reporters working for radio stations reached for their cellular phones to make live feeds and cameramen trained their lenses.
New helmsman Jiang Zemin, looking confident, walked into the room leading the six other members of the Standing Committee. He was followed by a jubilant Prime Minister Li Peng and a stony-faced Executive Vice-Premier Zhu Rongji.
Carpenter-turned-politician Li Ruihuan was fourth to enter followed by the youngest of the seven, organisation boss Hu Jintao. Mr Hu's ranking within the policy-making committee has apparently been elevated as he was previously ranked seventh.
But the media spotlight fell on the two new faces - anti-graft boss Wei Jianxing and Vice-Premier Li Lanqing.
While the seven committee members stood rigidly in front of the press corps for a brief photo session, excitement spread on the floor.
'Yes! Great! I got all the names right,' one reporter said.
Another, working for a Hong Kong radio station, spoke into his cellular phone: 'I am now reporting live at the Big East Room. The new Politburo Standing Committee has just entered . . . and there are two new faces, Chairman of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection Wei Jianxing, and Vice-Premier Li Lanqing.' One foreign reporter tried to raise a question but was blocked by congress spokesman Xu Guangchun who made it clear no one could speak before the party boss.
In contrast to the lacklustre delivery of his policy speech last Friday, Mr Jiang spoke confidently and often looked straight at the cameras.
But he clearly had no intention of imitating his predecessor, disgraced party chief Zhao Ziyang, who unprecedentedly fielded questions from reporters at a similar meet-the-press session at the end of the 13th Congress in 1987.
Instead, Mr Jiang finished his speech, stepped back, raised his hands and said in English: 'Thank you all for coming.'