China's new premier vows reform

Short on details, Li promises to curb corruption
2013-03-18T00:00:00Z China's new premier vows reformWilliam Wan The Washington Post Arizona Daily Star
March 18, 2013 12:00 am  • 

BEIJING - In his first speech as China's new president, Xi Jinping promised on Sunday to pursue a "great renaissance of the Chinese nation" and to deliver a more equitable society and a more effective, less corrupt government.

But at a rare news conference afterward, China's new premier, Li Keqiang, parried reporters' efforts to get specifics on how the new administration would accomplish those goals, sticking largely to vows to reform.

The news conference - held annually at the close of the National People's Congress - drew widespread attention because it is one of the few times each year when China's top leaders open themselves to public questioning.

Even as Xi and Li are trying to project an image of new transparency, as Sunday's news conference showed, there are clear limits to that effort. All questions at the news conference were carefully pre-screened, and answers were apparently prepared well in advance.

The premier was asked about China's increasing problems with pollution, its widely despised labor camps, the economic slowdown and rampant problems with corruption. The corruption question yielded one of the few detailed responses at the event, with Li saying the new administration planned to further curb signs of ostentation by building no new ornate government buildings and decreasing official receptions and visits abroad.

"Reform is about curbing government power. It is a self-imposed revolution," Li said. "It will require real sacrifice and it will be painful, like cutting the wrist. But this is necessary for development and demanded by people."

He also invoked repeatedly the importance of rule of law - a common complaint among citizens in a judicial system that critics say is often decided by who you know rather than what is right.

On a question about pollution and environmental safety - on a particularly hazy day and after more than 12,000 pigs were mysteriously found dead in rivers that provide drinking water to Shanghai - Li said the pollution "depressed" him and that economic growth shouldn't be pursued at the environment's expense.

Li dismissed one reporter's question about Chinese hacking on U.S. companies and government, calling them "groundless accusations," and he repeated long-standing boilerplates about the U.S.-China relationship being one that should stress mutual interests rather than differences.

Those differences are likely to come up later this week when U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew visits China with the topic of recent cyberattacks on U.S. companies likely unavoidable.

At the conclusion of the two-hour news conference, Li acknowledged general alarm from other countries at China's rise. They are worried about the sustainability of China's growth and its possible use of force and hegemony, he said, referring indirectly to China's pollution and its increasingly aggressive posture in the region.

He tried to allay those fears, saying China would not "force on others what we don't want ourselves."

But for the most part, the premier and president's comments seemed geared to domestic concerns.

Xi has talked repeatedly in recent months of pursuing a new "Chinese dream," and has often characterized it in terms of the nation as a whole - a common theme in a Communist government that emphasizes the collective. But in Sunday's speech, Xi linked that dream more closely to improving the lives of individuals.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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