Officials broaden engagement with press, but remain silent on some issues

Liu Jiayi, head of the National Audit Office, receives an interview before the closing meeting of the fourth session of the 12th National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 16. Photo: Xinhua

A total of 21 press conferences have been held during the annual sessions of China’s legislative body and political advisory body before they culminate with Premier Li Keqiang’s briefing on March 16.
Chinese officials and ministers gave answers to more than 300 questions during the two-week sessions of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). The Great Hall of the People in Tiananmen Square became a hub of press activity where the government tried to be more open and transparent to media from home and abroad so as to get its voice heard.
The first press conference of the annual two sessions dates back to 1983 when the then foreign minister briefed the media on the sidelines of the first session of the 6th National People’s Congress.
Since then, the foreign minister has never missed the press meeting as China’s diplomacy has become increasingly hot among journalists. South China Sea disputes, military budget and China-US relations were mentioned several times at this year’s meetings.
China will “resolutely defend” its national sovereignty, it's not China that “militarized” the South China Sea, and China’s defense budget will grow at a much slower rate – were remarks made by Foreign minister Wang Yi, NPC spokesperson Fu Ying and CPPCC spokesperson Wang Guoqing at their press conferences.
The highlights of their answers reflected China’s firm stance in the South China Sea disputes and its promise of not threatening international order with military expansion.
The National Development and Reform Commission gave the media reasons to stay confident on China’s economy, which was mentioned more than diplomacy this year.
The speakers blurted out a set of statistics to attest to the claim that there will be no hard landing of China’s economy,” that “China will shift its GDP growth model” and that “entrepreneurship will create more jobs.”
Since smog began to shroud China, the Ministry of Environmental Protection has become a regular speaker at the press meetings, leveling with the finance ministry and the People’s Bank of China.
The new environment minister, Chen Jining, detailed the ministry’s tight supervision of industries to tackle the smog but also admitted that China is only on the second stage of a three-phase anti-smog campaign that lasts 10 years.
China is drafting its first Civil Code to manage civil affairs and protect private rights, marking progress in the legislation of civil laws, said NPC spokeswoman Fu Ying.
"Some standing committee members doubted if limiting private cars on roads violates constitution," said Zheng Shuna, vice-chairperson of Legislative Affairs Commission of the NPC Standing Committee.
In another sign of progress, officials at the NPC supervision press conference tackled questions on how to audit the Communist Party’s budget.
Compared to 2015, work safety administration, industry & commerce administration and ministry of human resources and social security were absent. Another seven ministries, such as education and transport, organized press conferences. But some questions went unanswered.
Finance Minister Lou Jiwei failed to give a clue on local debts. The newly appointed chief of securities watchdog Liu Shiyu impressed the reporters with his charisma but he struck a cautious note on the stock markets. The transport ministry didn’t say anything about the choking traffic. Besides, reporters got nothing from the housing ministry and the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of the State Council.
And people are still waiting for answers about two major incidents that rocked China in 2015, Tianjin blasts and a ship disaster in Yangtze River.

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