03/20/2018, 16.32
CHINA

NPC: silence on constitutional amendment, scripted media coverage

John Ai

Spokespeople provide scripted answers to scripted questions. Various “foreign” media are funded by China as propaganda tools. The end of term limits for Xi Jinping is the will of the people even though the people did not know about it.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – Drab speeches and overwhelming yes votes on all proposals as expected mark China's annual National People’s Congress (NPC). The Constitution is revised amid applause with term limits for the president and vice-president abolished.

A reporter's disdainful look towards a woman asking questions at a choreographed press conference highlights the NPC’s sleep-inducing agenda. Live on state broadcaster Central China Television (CCTV), the scene sparked a debate and discussions on social media. 

The woman in red, Zhang Huijun, who claims to be the director of American Multimedia Television (AMTV), asked an unchallenging and long-winded question in which she called China "our country", that drew a frown and contemptuous rolling of the eyes in another woman dressed in blue, Liang Xiangyi, identified as a reporter for the China Business Network. The latter's exaggerated facial expression shows how the Communist Party's propaganda scheme in a highly-controlled environment becomes a mockery of the rubber stamp Congress. It is said that Liang was fired by her company and both reporters' permits to interview the congress were revoked.  

According to its website, AMTV, a Chinese-language television based in California, boasts of its partnership with China's state-run CCTV. However, the rough design and poor grammar of its website drew criticism online. Some reports indicate that AMTV also covered past PNCs with the support of China’s Consulate General in Los Angeles. Zhang's photos with celebrities are also circulating on line, including one with Xi Jinping shaking hand with her. Posts of such so-called "foreign media" supported by Chinese authorities were criticised on Weibo, China's twitter-like service, but were quickly censored and removed. The same is true for discussions about China’s constitution and Xi's life-time tenure. 

Apparently, AMTV and a column of Haiwai Net, website of Communist Party’s mouthpiece People's Daily Overseas Edition, share the same staff. Haiwai Net released a statement on 15 March denying any connection with AMTV and reporter Zhang Huijun. More overseas media funded by Chinese authorities have become propaganda tools in recent years. On line, some people have demanded the White House investigate the broadcaster's tie to Chinese Communist Party.  

Although press conferences are frequently held during the NPC, the questions are deliberately screened. The spokesmen or women read out answers after reporters ask questions vetted by officials.  

Officials also shy away carefully when the issue of Xi Jinping's tenure is raised. State-run media have claimed that the Constitution was revised to meet popular demand, winning unanimous support. However, ordinary Chinese were mostly unaware about the lifting of term limitations until 25 February. The amendment itself was passed by the NPC only two weeks later, with 2,958 votes in favour, two against, three abstentions and one invalid vote. A delegate interviewed by Voice of America said that she did not know there were two negative votes.  

As public opinion concentrates on president's term limit, Chinese authorities has been watering down the discussion and keeping a low profile on the constitution amendment. "Emperor Xi" reminds people the days of Mao Zedong. Some foreign media got a few chances to ask about terms limitations and possible unrest in future power transition. A spokesperson did not confirm or deny that Xi might stay in office for life, only that the Charter of the Communist Party does not impose any term limits on the posts of party secretary and chairman of the military commission. The reporter included the words "Cultural Revolution" and "criticism" in his question and official interpreter self-censored such words meticulously.  

The president and vice president for the next five years will be elected on Saturday. No doubt Xi will rule China in the long term. Xi's aide Wang Qishan, former member of Communist Party's standing committee, has reached the age of retirement according to an unwritten rule. Wang's high-profile appearance caught people's attention and some speculated that he will be chosen as vice president. If so, Wang has also an important role in the coming future and will stay in power for as long Xi does.

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