'People's premier' shows he still has the common touch

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 March, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 15 March, 2010, 12:00am

Wen Jiabao, who has been described as the 'people's premier', showed he had lost none of his populist touch at yesterday's news conference that wrapped up the annual parliamentary meeting.

Wen, 67, who is entering the final third of his premiership that runs until early 2013, talked of dedicating his 'remaining years' to addressing social imbalance and injustice.

'China's modernisation is not just about economic development. Not only do we need to do well in building an economy, we must also promote equality and justice. In my remaining years, I will do my utmost to promote these. I believe the future leadership will pay even greater attention to these issues,' the premier said.

Although the press conference was held on the anniversary of ethnic unrest in Lhasa two years ago, there were no questions asked on the sensitive issues of Tibet, Xinjiang or human rights. The mainland and overseas reporters asked eight questions on the economy and four on diplomacy. There was only one on social equality, to which Wen replied: 'There is still a lot of unfairness in our society, income inequality, miscarriages of justice. We should pay attention to these.'

Over the next few years, Wen said, the road ahead would be full of 'thorny obstacles' but he would not let up efforts to solve the country's myriad problems.

During his seven-year tenure, Wen has built an image as a compassionate leader who understands and shares the sorrow of his people.

But with just three years left, commentators said it was unrealistic to expect him to make bold political statements and champion high-profile campaigns. This does not mean, however, he won't be pushing his own agenda.

'In the next three years he can still do lots of things because he doesn't have to worry about repercussions,' said Professor Hu Xingdou, a Beijing economic and political expert.

Hu said Wen's talk of inequality could be a veiled reference to the need to tackle powerful cliques formed by officials and businesses, but it would not be strategically wise for him to make strong public statements about it.

Veteran political commentator Johnny Lau Yui-siu said the overarching priority for the government was stability. At the end of his term, Wen would not like to be seen to be rocking the boat. 'He needs to solve the problems that are right in front of him.'