National People’s Congress

Chinese parliamentary sessions 2014

Premier breezes through journalists’ tame questions at close of NPC

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 March, 2014, 10:41pm
UPDATED : Friday, 14 March, 2014, 5:56am

Li Keqiang breezed through a tame and uneventful press conference, thanks largely to the absence of the uncomfortable questions often foisted on his predecessors.

Nine overseas media outlets, including one each from Hong Kong and Taiwan, were called upon to ask questions. But none touched on controversies such as domestic disturbances or ethnic minorities. That was especially surprising, coming just two weeks after five knife-wielding attackers - Xinjiang separatists, according to the government - killed 29 railway passengers in Kunming and injured 143 others.

Six other questions raised by state media journalists concerned the economy or other announced administration priorities.

No Japanese reporters were called upon, nor did anyone ask about Sino-Japanese relations, which are at a new low after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to the controversial Yasukuni war shrine in Tokyo and with a territorial dispute in the East China Sea that shows no sign of cooling.

In contrast, Li's predecessor Wen Jiabao faced a barrage of questions on self-immolation by Tibetans, the Dalai Lama's offer to hold talks with Chinese leaders and the then Chongqing vice-mayor and police chief Wang Lijun's attempted defection to the United States consulate in Chengdu . Wen's detailed answers made headlines around the world.

In his second appearance as premier in the international spotlight, Li showed his amiable side.

He complimented reporters from three foreign media outlets for speaking in fluent Putonghua. Asked about regional diplomacy, Li instead shared anecdotes of how he visited small late-night eating places in Vietnam and discussed the two countries' relations with a stall owner.

Li again showed his preference for self-coined idioms, answering questions with folksy metaphors that made him seem down-to-earth.

Asked how efforts to reduce bureaucracy were proceeding, he replied that "you have to sharpen the axe before cutting the log". He summed up the government's commitment to the task, saying: "There is no return of an arrow once the bow is released."

On the issue of building more affordable housing, Li said: "Talking for one chi is not as good as acting for one cun." A chi is Chinese unit of measurement equal to 10 cun, or 33cm.

While hardly riveting, Li's press conference was well received for the consideration shown - there were even snacks for those who arrived early.