Li skips Senkakus but vows to defend territory

March 18, 2013

By ATSUSHI OKUDERA/ Correspondent

BEIJING--In his first public address as Chinese premier, Li Keqiang indicated China will maintain its hard-line stance over sovereignty, but he did not mention Japan or the Senkaku Islands.

“It is China’s firm resolve to walk the path of peaceful development,” Li said at the end of his news conference on March 17 following the close of the National People’s Congress session. “At the same time, it is China’s unwavering determination to defend its sovereignty and territory.”

The remark was believed directed at countries such as Japan and the Philippines, with which China is engaged in territorial disputes. However, Li never referred to the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, which are controlled by Japan but claimed by China.

Dozens of Japanese journalists were among 750 or so media representatives who packed the conference venue. They continued to raise hands to ask questions, but they were never given a chance to do so.

Li did mention the United States, saying Beijing is prepared to establish solid ties with Washington.

“The Asia-Pacific region is where the interest of China and the United States crosses each other,” he said. “We want to build a new type of relationship with the Obama administration as great powers.”

The news conference was the first opportunity for Li to address the general public.

He spent much of the time on issues of concern to the public, such as wealth disparity and corruption. He also touched on air pollution and food safety.

Li also spoke enthusiastically about the need to urbanize farming villages and other issues.

A reporter for a Hong Kong television station noted that Li used hand gestures in response to questions more than 30 times, which prompted laughter from journalists.

Li, who was born in a poor farming village, was asked how he felt about rising from the bottom of society to reach the premiership.

“I received an acceptance notification while I was plowing fields,” Li said about his admission to Peking University’s prestigious law faculty.

He took the entrance examination in 1977, the first year university exams were held after being long suspended due to the Cultural Revolution.

Li said the government will put priority on maintaining economic development.

He said annual growth of 7.5 percent is necessary to achieve the Communist Party’s goal of doubling the gross domestic product and per-capita income from the 2010 level by 2020.

By ATSUSHI OKUDERA/ Correspondent
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Li Keqiang at his first news conference as premier after the end of the National People’s Congress session in Beijing on March 17 (Soichiro Yamamoto)

Li Keqiang at his first news conference as premier after the end of the National People’s Congress session in Beijing on March 17 (Soichiro Yamamoto)

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  • Li Keqiang at his first news conference as premier after the end of the National People’s Congress session in Beijing on March 17 (Soichiro Yamamoto)

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