President uses his first press conference to stress the drive for 'common prosperity' Millions of people must be lifted out of poverty before China can be called an affluent nation, President Hu Jintao said yesterday - emphasising in his first press conference the central government's quest to spread wider the fruits of economic growth. 'While we allow some people to get rich, we must also improve lives of others,' he told foreign correspondents at the closing session of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum in Bangkok. China had made significant progress in reducing poverty, the president said, but many workers had been laid off by state-owned firms and millions of city-dwellers were living in poverty. He said: 'I only want to give one statistic. Twenty years ago when economic reforms began, there were 250 million poor people in China. Last year, there were 30 million who were classified as impoverished. 'In a short time, there has been a dramatic drop in the number of poor in China and this is a great achievement. But we have to admit that in the reform process, not every one of China's 1.3 billion people has benefited. China has made the ideal of common prosperity our objective.' President Hu fielded a wide range of questions during his 45-minute press briefing, running the gamut from regional economics to the Chinese currency to Hong Kong's role in the region. Mr Hu gave a polished performance in one of his first big tests on the international stage, fielding questions comfortably and coming across as knowledgable and compassionate. Asked what was the most difficult challenge he had faced since he took office as China's president in March, he said, with a hint of emotion, that it had been the Sars crisis. 'When thousands of people were threatened by this disease and hundreds were sick or dying, I can tell you that as a state leader my heart was on fire,' he said. 'If I can't effectively control this disease or prevent it from spreading to the world, then as a Chinese leader I cannot fulfil my obligation to 1.3 billion people or to the people of the world.' On the debate about the value of the renminbi, he said the government was studying how gradually to remove capital controls to make the yuan convertible, but he would not give any timetable. 'I believe the renminbi already has become a regional currency, and we are looking at ways, under a stable environment, to expand the renminbi exchange system to gradually become freely convertible,' he said, appearing to repeat the official line. The United States has been pressing China to allow the yuan to be more freely traded. American manufacturers have complained bitterly about the competitive advantage a weak currency gives Chinese exporters. Predictions ahead of the summit were that the issue of exchange rates would dominate discussions. But in the event, US President George W. Bush laid more stress publicly on his 'war on terrorism', despite complaints by some countries that Apec's traditional economic focus had been sidelined. The 21 leaders' summit communique included pledges to work to dismantle terrorist groups and block the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and to try again to get North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions. Mr Hu said he was particularly happy that the declaration included a commitment to pursue global talks on trade liberalisation despite the failure of last month's World Trade Organisation summit in Cancun, Mexico. 'The Cancun talks failed because they did not reflect all interests and needs, especially those of developing nations. I believe if all are sincere and use flexible attitudes, the new round of talks will succeed,' he said. Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa said he spoke to Mr Hu in Bangkok about ways to revive the Hong Kong economy. '[Mr Hu] said he was quite worried about Hong Kong's economy, and [he] promised to help us,' Mr Tung said.