China scraps premier’s press conference as National People’s Congress meets in Beijing

Li Qiang the first premier in three decades not to take questions from the media at end of annual parliamentary session

China is scrapping an annual press conference by its premier, fuelling concerns about moves by the Communist Party to limit public access to information. Li Qiang will be the first premier since 1993 not to take questions from the media at the end of this year’s parliamentary meetings next Monday.

Lou Qinjian, a spokesman for the National People’s Congress (NPC) , said there would be more opportunities for the press to question ministers during the week-long meeting at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People. But the premier’s press conference was a unique annual opportunity for the media, including foreign correspondents, to ask wide-ranging questions of one of China’s top leaders.

Mr Lou made it clear that the annual press conference would not return before the end of the current parliamentary term. “Barring any special circumstances, this arrangement will continue for the remainder of this term of the NPC,” he said.

Foreign investors and analysts have complained that China has limited access to information including court judgments and academic journals over the past year. And a revised counter-espionage law has left many foreign businesses uncertain about the lawfulness of accessing some information.


Mr Lou rejected criticism of the counter-espionage law, saying it helped businesses and investors by clarifying the definition of espionage. And he said the law did not target “normal activities” such as business transactions, scientific research co-operation, and academic exchanges.

“We oppose the distortion of the anti-espionage law to smear and undermine the domestic business environment in China,” he said.

There was a heavy security presence around Tiananmen Square for the NPC and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). With almost 3,000 members, the NPC is China’s legislature while the 2,000-plus member CPPCC is an advisory body that develops policy proposals.

The Communist Party approves all legislative decisions and appointments in advance and the legislature automatically endorses them. Mr Lou had advance notice of all questions at Monday’s opening press conference, including those posed by foreign reporters, and read the answers from written notes.

Mr Li will address the NPC on Tuesday, when he will announce China’s annual economic growth target for 2024. Most market analysts expect the figure to be around 5 per cent, which would be the same as last year’s.

The agenda announced on Monday does not include the announcement of senior appointments, indicating that Wang Yi will continue to act as foreign minister for the time being. Mr Wang, who is the Communist Party’s top foreign policy figure, took on the role of foreign minister last year after Qin Gang disappeared from public view amid rumours of a scandal surrounding his personal life.

Much of the agenda is focused on economic policy and markets will be watching closely for signs that the government is preparing to intervene to support the economy. The post-Covid recovery has been weak and a property slump has damaged consumer confidence but Mr Lou said the overall picture was positive.

“China has more favourable conditions than challenges in its economic development. The underlying trend of a rebound in the economy and long-term growth remains unchanged. We have ample confidence in that,” he said.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times