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Publication Date : 18-03-2013
Li Keqiang delivers sharp replies in his first media appearance
“Why do I sense the assumption of guilt in your question just now?” Chinese Premier Li Keqiang genially asked.
An Associated Press reporter had asked pointedly if China would stop its cyber attacks on the United States, as alleged recently by an American Internet security firm.
Li’s retort elicited laughs from the reporters, taking the sting out of the only hostile question at the tightly scripted event yesterday, which the law-trained technocrat breezed through in his first media appearance as prime minister.
Though he rarely quoted from Chinese classics the way his predecessor Wen Jiabao did at these yearly meet-the-press sessions, Li nonetheless delivered more punch with sharp replies.
If top leader Xi Jinping had invoked iron and spoken of going after the tigers as well as the flies in fighting corruption, Li went a step further.
“We need to have the resolve of warriors who would cut off their hands to stop the spread of poison,” he said, using the idiom zhuang shi duan wan in reply to the first question, asked by Singapore Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao.
Despite the strong rhetoric, Li cut a small figure on stage beside his taller Vice-Premiers Zhang Gaoli, Wang Yang and Liu Yandong. They didn’t speak.
Instead, Li, who held his hands up to make a point so often that a reporter later pointed it out to him, was like an academic.
Wen, as I recall, can be rather sentimental. A few years ago, he waxed lyrical about his wish to visit Taiwan and said he would go there even if he had to crawl.
In contrast, Li, in talking of Taiwan, spoke about “concept”.
“The concept of ‘compatriot’ is a deep-seated one in Chinese culture and a key reason why it has lived on for 5,000 years,” he said.
Like a careful researcher, he would also back up a point by referring to what he heard on his “study trips to the villages”.
His replies were shorn of socialist jargon, even folksy. Rather than shouting oneself hoarse, why not throw open one’s shoulders – and take action, he said.
“Wen sounds more calm and steady, whereas Li sounds like his throat is hoarse,” a European reporter told me.
Li spoke Mandarin with little trace of a regional accent. But he wasn’t as easy on the ears as Xi, whom The New Yorker magazine once described as having a “rich radio voice”.
But still Li tried to lay on the charm.
“You translated for yourself. You should be paid double the wages,” he joked to the AP reporter, who spoke in Mandarin, then English.
When the talking was over, Li was all smiles. But as he himself said, what’s said must also be done. There’s no point in shouting oneself hoarse.