A Tiny Window Into Chinese Government Has Now Slammed Shut

For more than 30 years, the Chinese premier’s annual news conference was the only time that a top leader took questions from journalists about the state of the country. It was the only occasion for members of the public to size up for themselves China’s No. 2 official. It was the only moment when some Chinese might feel a faint sense of political participation in a country without elections.

On Monday, China announced that the premier’s news conference, marking the end of the country’s annual rubber-stamp legislature, will no longer be held. With that move, an important institution of China’s reform era was no more.

“Welcome to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” a commenter wrote on the social media platform Weibo, reflecting the sentiment that China increasingly resembles its dictatorial, hermitic neighbor. The search term “news conference” was censored on Weibo, and very few comments remained by Monday evening Beijing time.

Although increasingly scripted, the premier’s news conference at the National People’s Congress was watched by the Chinese public and the world’s political and business elite for signs of economic policy shifts and, occasionally, high-level power plays taking place beneath the surface.

“As stage-managed as it was, it was a window to see how official China works and how official China explains itself to the Chinese people and to the wider world,” said Charles Hutzler, a former colleague of mine who attended 24 premier pressers since 1988 as a journalist for the Voice of America, The Associated Press and The Wall Street Journal.

President Xi Jinping at the congress. The cancellation of the annual news conference, led by the premier after the congress, emphasizes his grip on power.Credit…Greg Baker/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

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