Li Keqiang

Mixed reviews as Li Keqiang takes centre stage as China's new premier

New premier steers clear of sensitive topics in first press conference, devoid of Wen's trademark poetry and sentiment

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 March, 2013, 5:28am

In his first press conference as premier yesterday, Li Keqiang showed a style that starkly contrasted his predecessor, Wen Jiabao, with almost no references to poetry or any sentimental remarks.

The performance gained Li mixed reviews among critics and internet users, with some saying that they preferred his down-to-earth manner to Wen's more florid style, while others said Li's remarks were "flat" and avoided touching on sensitive issues.

Li kicked off the two-hour press conference by vowing that he would remain loyal to the constitution.

He also did not recite any classical Chinese works, which Wen often referenced to describe his personal feelings.

The most notable remark by Li in summing up his philosophy was: "Follow the great way, put the people first and benefit everyone." It is a line he said he has learned through life experience.

In his final press conference as premier last year, Wen recited a line by Lin Zexu, an official from the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), to wrap up his political career.

"I will do whatever it takes to serve my country, even at the cost of my own life, regardless of fortune or misfortune to myself," Wen said.

And unlike his predecessor, who often paused when making remarks, Li addressed questions much faster.

He also used his arms more while talking, and he appeared to not be reading from prepared notes.

Beijing-based journalism professor Qiao Mu said that although Li may not have come across as being as personable as Wen, the new premier "touched on issues that affect the Chinese people".

Hong Kong-based political commentator Johnny Lau Yui-siu noted that Wen generally recited figures in his press conference, showing his familiarity with China's economic development, but Li did not mention many statistics. "But generally speaking, Li's tone was comparatively more natural and less pretentious than Wen, who speaks very slowly," Lau said.

Li stressed that the central government would follow the principle of frugality, and that measures would be taken to narrow the income gap between the rich and poor.

"Li appears to be a moderate and rational official," one microblogger said.

Others commented that Li showed his knowledge of legal principles, as he referred to "presumption of guilt" when commenting on allegations that the Chinese military supported computer-hacking attacks overseas.

However, many people also noted that Li did not touch on any controversial issues.

Among the 11 questions that Li took yesterday, six of them came from overseas media, and the remaining five questions were asked by state-owned media.

Wen was also known for stressing the importance of political reforms, and for rebuking the ultra-conservative campaign of former Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai .

Li also did not comment on hot-button issues, such as rising property prices and declarations of officials' assets.

He gave a brief answer to a question about the re-education-through-labour system, saying only that a reform plan might be unveiled this year.

It was only when a French reporter asked how Beijing would tackle the worsening pollution and food-safety problems that Li said China would not sacrifice the environment for economic growth.

Several major international issues - such as territorial disputes between China and Japan, and North Korea's nuclear test - were omitted from the speech.

The new premier also made no mention of political reform in his address.

"Li refrained from making bold remarks, which may become embarrassments if he were unable to deliver on his pledge," Qiao said.

Additional reporting by Laura Zhou