Wednesday, 16 March 2016

What the Premier Didn't Mention

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang addressing the media today in a press conference
Ah, the National People's Congress is over for another year.

Premier Li Keqiang held a press conference, where he was supposedly open to answering all questions from the media -- provided they were screened first.

Foreign media had to submit questions in advance, and only the ones that were approved were allowed to be asked -- if they were chosen in the huge crowd.

Hundreds of journalists were in the room listening to Li
And domestic media are typically given pieces of paper with questions on them, usually softball ones to give the premier a chance to talk about things he wanted to discuss.

But what would stop someone from asking a hard-hitting question -- other than probably being banned from the NPC forever -- at least it would get the premier to actually address an issue that everyone wants to know.

And so from reading news reports of today's press conference, it sounds like a lot of issues were not addressed, making people wonder if the government cares about their welfare, or is actually tackling the country's socio-economic challenges.

Li did not bring how China is tackling air pollution
For example in the past three years, Li answered questions about the environment and what the government was doing to curb pollution, but this year the topic was not raised, even though air quality has been so bad this past year.

This year was also the first time issues about the property market were not addressed either, as prices rise far beyond the reach of ordinary people. Perhaps Li could not think of another way to spin the story...

While he answered questions about economic form and the need to streamline bureaucracy, the massive problem of how to further streamline state-owned enterprises was not mentioned. It's probably too explosive a powder keg to even begin to delve into...

No talk of China's growing presence in the South China Sea
When it came to foreign relations, he did not talk about China's relationship with Africa or Europe, and also its growing presence in the South China Sea. What is going on with that island that China seems to be making bigger and bigger...? And didn't Beijing have good relations with African countries? What happened there?

Human rights is not a topic that is often mentioned at these press conferences, but sometimes previous premiers have talked about it on occasion. Not this time, despite blatant human rights abuses against Uighurs and Tibetans...

It sounds like an extremely tightly controlled press conference, and perhaps even Li could not say much either, which is why he ended it at exactly the two-hour mark, including translations into English. So in the end it was probably one hour's worth of questions.

Thus wraps up another year, with China watchers having to further examine their tea leaves to try to figure out where the country is going.

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