Business as usual with high-sounding words
with Wang Xiangwei
As usual, the most important bit of the mainland's political event of the year - annual sessions of the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference - came right after their closing.
Premier Wen Jiabao's press conference is the only time every year when he opens the floor and takes questions from a selected dozen overseas and Chinese reporters, supposedly on issues of their interest.
The event, broadcast live on national television, is closely watched at home and abroad, not least because of China's rising economic power and the multitude of domestic challenges it faces.
Wen came fully prepared, displaying his trademark style of using traditional Chinese proverbs and poems, on a wide range of issues from the yuan's stability, to the possibility of the world plunging into recession again, to his personal health.
Curiously enough, although yesterday marked the second anniversary of the deadly riots that swept through Tibet and caused international repercussions over Beijing's policies, Wen was spared any pointed questions on this or any sensitive issue such as human rights or Xinjiang .
It is no secret among journalists accredited to cover Wen's press conference that they have a higher chance of being called on if their questions are vetted beforehand. But that did not prevent overseas correspondents from phrasing one or two questions around those issues at Wen's previous conferences.
For the people outside the mainland, this year's NPC and CPPCC sessions appeared to offer little excitement. Customarily in a gap year without reshuffles, the NPC session would vote and approve by a huge margin Wen's government work report, the budget by the Ministry of Finance and the more detailed economic report by the National Development and Reform Commission, which it did yesterday. The only addition this year was an amendment to the Election Law, also overwhelmingly approved.
Even the number of NPC deputies who traditionally voted no or abstained on the two reports by the Supreme People's Court and Supreme People's Procuratorate, as their way of showing displeasure with official corruption or worsening law and order, was lower this year.
All this would no doubt reinforce the long-standing reputations of the NPC as a rubber-stamp legislature and the CPPCC as a mere talkfest.
But officials repeatedly reject that characterisation, pointing to the thousands of proposals put forward by nearly 6,000 NPC and CPPCC delegates each year.
This year, the CPPCC delegates turned in 5,430 proposals, of which 5,163 were accepted, while the NPC deputies sponsored 506 motions that, by law, are submitted for review and turned in 7,418 other proposals, according to state media reports.
Mainland officials insist that most of the NPC/CPPCC proposals are dealt with properly. The delegates complain that the feedback is mostly a standard reply that their proposals are being studied by relevant government departments, and they never hear anything more.
But more and more delegates are demanding to be heard. Michael Tien Puk-sun, an NPC deputy from Hong Kong, said in a proposal that NPC deputies should have more opportunities to meet with those government departments and set timetables to track their progress.
There are signs that the delegates are tired of finding fulsome adjectives to praise the government reports. According to the official media, when one CPPCC delegate spent 40 minutes praising Wen's work report from every angle at a panel discussion, he was cut off by another delegate, triggering a war of words.
Zhu Zhenzhong, the chairman of the Guangzhou CPPCC, struck a responsive chord among more than 2,100 CPPCC delegates last week when he blasted Communist Party and government officials for high-sounding words and seeking form at the expense of substance.
His eight-minute speech was reportedly interrupted by nine thunderous ovations, which probably made delegates think of their own high-sounding words during the annual sessions.