Facing the press pack is 'like taking an exam'
As the spokesman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference for the past four years, Zhao Qizheng approaches the annual session's opening press conference much like a high-school student would in preparing for the university entrance examination.
Zhao, 72, who is also the dean of Renmin University's School of Journalism and Communication, fielded 16 questions at this year's event which was broadcast live on China Central Television on March 2.
'It does feel like sitting for a university exam,' he said, adding that it was a pity so many questions for which he had prepared answers went unasked.
Indeed, the more interested people were about certain questions, the more eager he was to answer them, he said. And there was no limit to the types of questions he got, Zhao added.
'The CPPCC press conference was the first among four main press conferences during the NPC and CPPCC sessions,' he told Umiwi.com on Saturday, comparing the deluge of questions to 'flooding that had been kept back by the Three Gorges Dam for a year'.
This year's questions included one about Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai's former right-hand man, Wang Lijun, who apparently tried to defect at the US consulate in Chengdu, Sichuan, on February 6.
'To prepare for this question, I confirmed that the probe into Wang was ongoing and that I couldn't ask for more details,' he said. 'The results will be made public one day.'
Other questions touched on health-threatening fine-particle pollutants known as PM2.5; deepening political and socioeconomic reforms; the self-immolation of Tibetan monks and hanging Chinese leaders' portraits in Tibetan temples; local governments' land seizures; the alleged privatisation of state-owned firms; media supervision; and the selection of CPPCC members.
Zhao said he prepared by reading news and commentaries about national and international issues for at least an hour a day, and he downloaded important items.
In the three weeks leading up to the press conference, a team of CPPCC staff members, Zhao's doctorate students, and an associate professor conducted daily research and preparations for possible questions.
The team then consulted ministries, presenting hundreds of questions.
Zhao classified the answers into three groups: those concerning long-term issues such as education, real estate and social welfare; topical issues; and issues that have drawn international attention.
Professor Ma Shengrong, dean of the College of Literature and Journalism at Chongqing University, who is also a CPPCC deputy, said: 'Being a CPPCC spokesman requires not only careful preparations, but also one's own understanding of relevant issues.'
Ma said Zhao was quite a good spokesman 'He is very sincere and tries to answer questions in detail.'
Zhao agreed that one of the thorny issues he had to handle was how to separate the official CPPCC lines from his own opinions.
'Because CPPCC deputies don't vote to approve regulations or laws, sometimes I ask myself, 'Who am I?' Do I represent all the deputies, some deputies or myself?'
He said one of the reasons he was appointed director of the State Council Information Office was that he had been in contact with many foreign leaders when he was the first director of the management committee of the Pudong New Area in Shanghai - a position he held for six years, earning him a good reputation.
He also attributed his promotion to meeting a number of leaders who were good judges of character and ability.
'I don't try to hide my merits or flaws in front of them,' he said. 'In this way, they trust me. Personally, I like to hang out with people who are willing to expose their merits and flaws.'