By abandoning the premier’s yearly meet-the-press, Xi Jinping puts pressure on the State Council.

Those acquainted with China’s Two Sessions etiquette thought it was strange when a Chinese journalist stepped up to inquire whether the Premier will meet with the media following the annual legislature meetings during an opening news conference. The weeks-long conclave was traditionally concluded by the premier, who has been Li Peng more than three decades ago, Zhu Rongji, Wen Jiabao, Li Keqiang, and now Li Qiang. This gave the media a unique chance to hear the man in second place outline China’s policies. Then came the bombshell that caused the 500+ local and international journalists in attendance at the press conference on March 4 to gasp aloud.

 

There won’t be any press conferences with Premier Li Qiang during his last five-year tenure, which concludes in 2028. Details addressing numerous urgent questions will already be included in the three standard reports that will be made public: the budget, the government work report, and the economic planner’s report. Additionally, throughout the Two Sessions, there will be “more press conferences given by more ministers” and chances for delegates to be interviewed, according to Lou Qinjian, spokeswoman for the legislature. The revelation rapidly sparked a lot of “but why?” queries on the Chinese microblogging platform Weibo, but within minutes, news outlets’ comment areas were removed.

 

It may not have been decided to abandon this venerable custom till lately. Before the Chinese New Year, the organizers of the two legislative sessions including the legislature and the highest political advisory body were still asking journalists what topics they would want to hear the premier discuss. The cancellation of the premier press conference surprised the delegates, among them Mr. Xie Feng, the Chinese Ambassador to the United States, who was halted by the media on March 4 outside the Great Hall of the People. International observers bemoaned the loss of this exceptional access to the highest levels of authority, which had further deepened China’s already opaque bureaucracy and left the party-state in a state of disarray.

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