Eye rolls and tame questions at China's Congress

Eye rolls and tame questions at China's Congress
From BBC - March 13, 2018

China's National People's Congress is in full swing with dozens of choreographed press conferences on the sidelines. From screening questions to blocking posts, Communist Party officials use these events to manage the message but even in this highly-controlled environment things can spin out of control.

If you get to see a press conference at this Congress, it's likely that reporters selected to ask a question have had it vetted by a government official who will coyly then say something like, "Oh, let's hope you get to ask that".

However, it does not seem hard to find a Chinese journalist who, for example, on the one opportunity each year to face Foreign Minister Wang Yi does not want to know about Syria, North Korea, a potential trade war, the South China Sea and the like.

What they do want to know is

People's Daily: "Thank you moderator, Foreign Minister, hello. Since the 18th Party Congress, China's diplomatic work has made unprecedented important achievements and has won unanimous praise from Chinese people. We know that 2018 was the first year after the 19th Party Congress. What have been the highlights of China's diplomacy this year? Can you tell us about it? Thank you."

Foreign Minister Wang Yi: "Since the 18th Party Congress, under the correct leadership of the Party Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping as the core, we have indeed emerged on a road to great power diplomacy with Chinese characteristics, Chinese style "

Here's another punchy offering from Beijing TV to the foreign minister:

Beijing TV: "Hello, Foreign Minister. A few days ago, Premier Li Keqiang pointed out in his government work report that this year marks the beginning of the full implementation of the spirit of the 19th Party Congress.

This is the 40th anniversary of reform and opening up. It is a crucial year to realize a moderately prosperous society and the implementation of the 13th Five-Year Plan. You have repeatedly emphasized that serving the development of the country has always been the central task of China's diplomacy. I would like to know more about what measures the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will take this year. Thank you."

Foreign Minister Wang Yi: "China is still a developing country and promoting domestic development is part great power diplomacy with Chinese characteristics. In the face of a new historical mission etc"

In another press conference on the sidelines of the Congress, Zhang Huijin - a journalist from China Central Television (CCTV) - asked the chairman of the state-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission in her most perky and enthusiastic voice, "China has more and more state own assets abroad following the Belt and Road initiative. How can we protect them?"

It was too much for a reporter from the business newspaper Yicai who, standing next to her, could be seen rolling her eyes at what a, well, sycophantic offering this was.

The eye-rolling journalist, Liang Xiangyi, was seen on television and filmed on various people's phones.

Her facial expressions are now going viral.

Within hours people were dressing in red and blue, filming themselves imitating the two women.

Liang Xiangyi's expressions have even been turned into a series of gifs, but posts on social media platforms using her name in Chinese are already being censored.

You also have to wonder whether this reporter, who could not control her natural reaction, might now be punished. In other countries this might be just funny. Not here.

This is exactly the type of meltdown the Communist Party does not want to have because it shows what a farce the Congress press conferences can be.

Many will say it's the Party's own fault for stacking these events with ever more gushing questioners who even sound hilarious to Chinese ears which have taken in this stuff for decades.

And, if things can spin out of control with the local media, imagine the concern when foreign correspondents are getting involved.

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