Combining pragmatism and modeled political language, Li Keqiang, the newly installed Chinese premier, promised a cleaner government and less bureaucracy in his first press conference at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People on March 17, 2013.
When asked about pollution that has grappled much of China recently, he said: “Like everyone of you, I also feel pain in my heart”. Since January we have reported on Beijing's record-breaking air pollution, extreme water pollution, China's cancer villages linked to pollution and 12,000 dead pigs being found in Shanghai River.
Followed by the closing of China’s annual parliamentary session that has seen the completion of the once-a-decade leadership makeover, the routine press conference [zh] by the premier, broadcast live on Chinese state TV, was watched by many who hope to get a glimpse into core leadership's policy inclination, which otherwise would been wrapped up in much secrecy given China's opaque politics.
A netizen from Beijing called “Ka Bu Qi Luo” wrote [zh] on the popular Chinese microblog Weibo:
In the press conference by premier Li Keqiang attended by journalists from home and abroad, ( Li) talked about his experience. He said: “ we need integrity, justice and fairness, [we need to] be people-oriented”. He also talked about China's future plans. He hopes the new government can realize the goal of urbanization, and farmers could live a better life, China now has a lot of existing problems, (he hopes) they would be solved (soon), (he hopes) China will be better in the future.
Ramontl, also from Beijing, showed [zh] some skepticism:
After hearing premier Wen’s answer to the journalist, I still couldn’t figure out what urbanization is. Do we let all farmers in, or build the countryside into city-like places? Perhaps big cities have already been built by the predecessors, the new government will build big time in middle and small cities, I hope they won’t bring PM2.5 into the countryside.
Of all the 11 questions [zh] raised at the press conference, four came from foreign news outlets, covering issues of China’s alleged cyber attack towards US, plans to streamline the government, China-Russia relations, pollution and food safety. Chinese reporters focused on re-education through the labor system, urbanization, government goals, Hong Kong and government reforms. Questions by reporters were largely prearranged. Yet, Li failed to offer specifics to make good on the goals he delivered during the 115-minute Q&A.
In a sign to burnish the image of a strong and determined government to build a better future for its people, Li showed much frankness and his determined will. Different from his predecessor, the retired Wen Jiabao, whose past press conferences have been laden with mentions of classic poetry, Li was characterized as being more commanding and straightforward.
Niueyao Cunmin in New York wrote on his Weibo:
There was less bureaucratic tone, and no poetic rhetoric or tears.
China Youth Daily reporter Caolin commented:
Brother Qiang has a faster speech rate than premier Wen and premier Zhu, reporters can ask more questions, the tempo is also good for the audience.
Xudao Shuanlei said:
I am watching premier Li Keqiang’s first press conference attended by reporters from home and abroad, I feel this is a concrete meeting, he is a pragmatic leader! There is no big talk. PS: I sincerely admire the ability of the interpreter. However, there are those who voiced their disappointment.
Social commentator Chen Jieren complained:
［Impression］The first press conference by the New premier of the State Council, I have the following three impressions:1 The premier was very sincere, he answered questions seriously; 2 Reporters were very cautious, the content (of their questions) was very tedious; 3 The whole process was depressing, it was generally disappointing.
Li was born to a local bureaucrat in the less developed southern province of Anhui and rose through the party ranks through the Communist Youth League. He is seen as close to the retired president Hu Jintao. Educated in law and economics in Peiking University, the 57-year-old man is hailed by many as a pragmatic figure. US diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks in 2007 described Li as “engaging and well-informed”.
Now the second in command of the government, he is expected to lead the Chinese State council for the next decade. Li replaced Wen Jiabao on January 15.