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Full transcript of Premier’s press conference

Updated: Mar 15,2015 5:47 PM     english.gov.cn

The Third Session of the 12th National People’s Congress held a press conference at the Great Hall of the People on the morning of 15th March 2015. Premier Li Keqiang of the State Council met with Chinese and foreign press and answered questions at invitation of spokeswoman of the NPC session Fu Ying.

At the start of the press conference, Premier Li Keqiang said: Friends from the press, ladies and gentlemen, you have made tremendous efforts to cover the NPC and CPPCC sessions, The two sessions have come to a close, but your work has not. Today is Sunday yet you cannot take the day off. I want to use this opportunity to express my sincere appreciation to you all. Now I would be happy to answer your questions.

Financial Times: Last year, China’s real estate market has been in decline. This has prompted a large number of Chinese to start buying homes overseas. Currently, Chinese customers have become the largest group of home-buyers in New York, Sydney and London. And this has significantly driven up local home prices. Some people have called into question the legitimacy of the money spent there. Are you concerned about a backlash to such massive home-buying by the Chinese overseas? And will the Chinese government introduce new policy measures to boost the domestic real estate market this year?

Li Keqiang: China is working towards full convertibility of renminbi under capital accounts. This shows that China is taking further steps to open up its capital market. You talked about the phenomenon of a large number of Chinese buying homes overseas and said that they have become the largest home-buyers in a number of international metropolises. I suppose more evaluation needs to be done here as to whether that is true. And I’m not in possession of solid information about this. But what I know is that China is still the largest destination of foreign direct investment. And the number last year was 120 billion US dollars. At the same time, the Chinese government will continue to encourage Chinese companies and nationals to make investment and do business overseas. And in doing so, they need to abide by China’s relevant laws and the laws of host countries.

You have a Westerner’s face, but you speak Chinese so well. I wonder if you have bought home in China. You are welcome to do so. China is still a large developing country. Housing is not just an economic issue, but also one that concerns people’s livelihood. The Chinese government needs to help the low-income people resolve housing difficulty. The government will take more steps to rebuild urban rundown areas and dilapidated homes in urban and rural areas. And the plan this year is an additional one million units each. It is the government’s responsibility to meet the people’s basic housing needs.

The real estate market is governed by its own laws. China is such a large country. There are mega cities, medium- and small-sized cities as well as small townships in this big country. Conditions of these different cities and townships vary significantly from one to another. Hence, the central government has required that local governments fulfill their responsibility to exercise appropriate regulation of real estate markets. Differentiated policies will be adopted in the light of local conditions. At the same time, urbanization is still picking up speed in China. Hence the housing demand in China is here to stay. We also encourage Chinese people to buy homes for personal use or improved living conditions. We hope to see steady and sound growth of the real estate market in the long run.

Beijing News: Mr. Premier, on many occasions, you have expressed your strong support for new forms of business, like e-commerce and express delivery service. So I’m very curious. Have you ever shopped online? And, what did you buy? Some people are worried that online shopping will adversely affect physical stores. What is your view about this?

Li Keqiang: I suppose that each and every one of you here has had experience of shopping online. And I’m no exception. Yes, I have bought things on the Internet. Actually, I bought a few books recently. As for what books, I don’t think it will be a good idea for me to spell them out here. No advertisement. Having said that, I would be happy to advertise for those new forms of business like online shopping, express delivery services and e-commerce, because these new forms of business give a strong boost to employment and consumption. And people seem to get quite excited when they shop online.

I am aware of the worry that online shopping will adversely affect physical stores. It was only natural to have such worry at the beginning. But I recall a field trip that I paid to a local village in China. It’s a village home to about 800 families who have opened some 2,000 shops on the Internet. One can well imagine how vast the space for business entrepreneurship there is. And after that I went to a close-by place where there’s a large number of physical stores. And I asked one of the shop-owners that if he was concerned about any adverse effect from online shopping. The owner showed me that he has also opened an online shop and even uploaded a video of his physical shop online to show that the store is real and competitive. Such sound interaction between online and offline has only boosted the vitality of market.

To borrow a popular idea on the Internet that everyone stands a chance to fly when there is a favorable wind blowing from behind, I believe with the tailwinds generated by our “Internet+” strategy, we will be able to get the Chinese economy off to a higher level.

Today, March 15th, is the day for protecting the rights and interests of consumers. I hope all stores, be it online or offline, will do honest business, put quality of products before everything else and protect the rights and interests of all consumers.

Bloomberg News: You once said that the government needs to show utmost determination in reforming itself and this process could be a quite painful one. As the Chinese economy comes under increased downward pressure, do you still have as firm determination as before to carry out this reform, and will the Chinese economy continue to slide? Is more pain to come in the future?

Li Keqiang: You asked about the pain caused by the government’s self-imposed reform to streamline administration and delegate powers. Let me tell you that the pain is still there. Actually the pain is becoming more acute and is being felt in more places. This is a reform targeted at the government itself. As the government sheds its own powers, vested interests will be upset. This is not nail-clipping, but taking knife to one’s own flesh. But however painful it may be, we are determined to keep going until our job is done.

The reform of streamlining administration and delegating government powers helps us get the relationship right between the government and the market. It helps boost market vitality, and puts us in a stronger position to cope with downward pressures on economic growth. Last year, in spite of economic slowdown, we managed to add more urban jobs. Much is attributable to this reform.

We have completed the five-year task of cancelling and delegating State Council review items by one third within just two years. With the reform of the business system, on average, up to 10,000 new businesses get registered each day, an increase of 50%. This fully shows that our people represents the largest source of vitality for economic growth, and this reform, by reducing the powers held in the hands of the government, has actually helped us to tackle the downward pressures on economic growth.

We also recognize that some measures have yet to be fully implemented, and new problems have surfaced. A couple of days ago, I came across a proposal during the two sessions which said that although government review items have been slashed, to get one project approved, which needed up to 100 stamps from different government departments, still requires some 50 to 60 steps nowadays. The long procedures have driven up the cost of business start-up and dampened people’s enthusiasm for making innovations. That is why the government must step up its efforts to streamline administration and delegate more powers.

New steps will be taken this year and our focus is on the following three areas. First, all non-governmental review items will be canceled. We must ensure that government power will not be exercised when it is not stipulated by the law. There are currently over 1,200 review items at the local governments’ level, mandated by the central governmental departments. Our goal is to cut this number by over 200 this year. The government must not secretly hold on to powers that should be delegated, just like releasing the hand brake but still keeping the foot brake on. Second, all provincial-level governments will be required to release their list of powers and list of responsibilities this year. And this task will be assigned to governments in cities and city-level counties next year. We must keep our people well-informed of what powers their governments hold and put government power under public oversight to prevent the abuse of office. And third, we will explore new models for strengthening ongoing and ex-post regulation. We will expand the trials for integrated law-enforcement and we will establish effective models for exercising regulation over such acts as cheating and swindling of marketplace, violating intellectual property rights, making and selling fake and substandard goods, and cases involving food safety.

Just as shoes must suit the feet, our administration must meet peoples’ needs and deliver real benefits.

China National Radio: China’s anti-corruption campaign in 2014 brought down several “big tigers” or high-ranking corrupt officials. I would like to know what more steps will be taken to enhance institution building in fighting corruption? You once said that it is also corruption for government officials to be indolent or sloppy in performing their duties. So what steps should we take to resolve the problem involving those “do-nothing” officials?

Li Keqiang: The Communist Party of China and the Chinese government are committed to combating corruption and upholding integrity. Since the 18th National Party Congress, the Central Committee of the CPC with comrade Xi Jinping as General Secretary has been taking strong efforts to ensure that all acts of corruption will be brought to account. In this process, a number of high-ranking corrupt officials have been investigated and dealt with. Our efforts have yielded good results and won people’s support.

To enhance institution building in fighting corruption helps us to address both the symptom and root cause of corruption. First, we must run the country in accordance with the law, and ensure that every one is equal before the law and no one is above the law. Second, we need to press ahead with the reform of the administrative system. Just now I mentioned the reform of the government to streamline administration and delegate powers. This is to eliminate room for rent-seeking to remove the breeding ground for corruption, as rent seeking is a common feature of various kinds of corruption. Third, supervision and educational campaigns will be strengthened. We must make sure that government power is exercised in a transparent way and subject to public oversight. All civil servants must enhance their self-discipline and government power can only be used for public good, not personal gains. There must be no irresponsible action or inaction on the part of government officials, and there is no room for incompetence or indolence either. No government official should be half-hearted in doing their jobs. Such officials will be held accountable.

Straits Times: Premier Li, my question is about China’s economy. China has set a lower GDP growth target this year of around 7%. Some say that it signals that Chinese economy has entered what they call a “new normal” of slower but better quality growth. What are the benefits knowing there are also downsides of slowing Chinese economy? Can you tell us how this new normal will affect China and the world? How should we view this and can we have the confidence that China is still committed to this new normal and can mange it well?

Li Keqiang: China’s economic development has entered a new normal. This year we have set the GDP growth target at approximately 7%. The GDP growth target has been adjusted downward, but it will by no means be easy to meet this target. Because China’s economic aggregate keeps expanding and now the size of the economy is valued about 10 trillion US dollars. So a seven percent increase in today’s economy is equivalent to the economic aggregate of a medium-sized country. We want to upgrade China’s economy to a medium-high level of development and pursue a growth with improved quality and performance. This will help maintain China’s growth at a medium-high speed and lay a more solid foundation for us to achieve modernization. It will also be China’s big contribution to global economic growth.

I sense some elements of concern in your question about China’s economic growth and when the journalist from Bloomberg asked his questions, there was also such a worry about slowing growth in China. I have said on many occasions that under this new normal, we need to ensure that China’s economy operates within a proper range. And if the growth speed comes close to the lower limit of the proper range and affects employment and increase of people’s income, we will step up targeted macro economic regulation to boost the current market confidence while maintaining the continuity of our macro economic policies to anchor long-term market expectations. The good news is that in the past couple of years, we did not resort to massive stimulus measures for economic growth, and that has given us ample room to exercise macro economic regulation and we still have a host of policy instruments at our disposal.

The latter part of my remarks is about a hypothetical situation. At the same time, I recognize that there is considerable downward pressure on China’s growth and we still face multiple risks. This requires that the government strike a proper balance between maintaining steady growth and making structural adjustments. In Weiqi, a chessboard game invented by the Chinese, one needs to both plan on the big side and get key moves right. When it comes to the economy, we must meet both ends of maintaining steady growth and making structural adjustments. And this way, we can get a handle on the big situation. This requires that we have vision, perseverance and courage. I have confidence that with joint efforts, we are able to maintain the long-term positive fundamentals of the overall Chinese economy.

China Business News: Mr. Premier, you have stressed the importance of mass entrepreneurship and innovation on many occasions, and see it as a new engine fueling China’s economic growth. But some people say that it is a personal decision to start a business and it is a market behavior. So why should the government spend so much time and energy on this?

Li Keqiang: I appreciate your good intention of saving the government time and energy, but this is something the government must do. Mass entrepreneurship and innovation is in itself a reform endeavor. This reform is inspred by the experience we have drawn from the past. Over the past more than 30 years, it is the introduction of household contract responsibility system that has brought into full play the initiative of the vast number of Chinese farmers. It is because our people could move freely across provinces and cities that several hundred million farmers have migrated into cities to find jobs. This has created the miracle of China’s economic development.

Last year when the government launched the reform of the business system to streamline its administration, I recall that I paid a visit to one of the local venues for business registration where I talked with a woman who has retired. As you may know, the government has replaced the paid-in capital registration requirement with subscribed capital registration. This has boosted our people’s enthusiasm to start their own businesses. This woman is one of them. She told me that she wanted to register a wedding service company because she was well-versed in the local traditional wedding customs. She told me that some couples wanted to have a traditional wedding, so she believed that though she had not attended university, she had a competitive edge in providing such services. I also visited some ventures cafes and makerspaces where I see that the young people there all have brilliant ideas. When their ideas are put into practice and produce actual products, they are boosting market demand. I believe there are a large number of such people with outstanding talent in China. We must lift all the restrictions so that they can put their talent to best use.

To boost market vitality, the government must eliminate road blocks and pave the way for people to tap their entrepreneurship. The government plans to do more in this regard this year. Market access will be further relaxed. Business license and all the required certificates will be integrated into one. It would no longer take one so much trouble to register a business in some areas of the services sector. The government also needs to foster more favorable conditions for business start-up. There needs to be low-rent makerspaces to add wings to the entrepreneurship of our people. The government will also fully leverage the national guidance fund to encourage more seed capital to pitch in. Taxes and fees will be further reduced to ensure that all businesses get to forge ahead with a light pack.

A country could achieve prosperity when its people’s initiative is brought into full play. There will be much economic vitality when there are ample business opportunities and choices for consumers. By encouraging mass entrepreneurship and innovation, we want to help more people become better off and enable more to achieve their full potential in life. This will also help us adjust the income distribution structure and promote social fairness. In particular, we want to ensure that young people, especially children from poor families, will have equal access to opportunities for upward mobility.

Huffington Post: Big oil companies like Sinopec and PetroChina have been an obstacle to formulating and implementing the policies on environmental protection, especially in setting the quality standards of gasoline and promoting wider use of natural gas. Is it true that these companies are posing an obstacle to carrying out environmental protection policies? If so, what steps will the Chinese government take to remove such an obstacle?

Li Keqiang: I understand the focus of all your questions is about tackling environmental pollution, especially smog, a concern that is uppermost on all people’s minds. I want to tell you that the Chinese government is determined to tackle smog and environmental pollution as a whole, and tremendous efforts have been made in this regard. But the progress achieved still falls far short of the expectation of our people. Last year, I said that the Chinese government would declare war against environmental pollution. We are determined to carry forward our efforts until we achieve our goal.

We must get the focus of our efforts right. This year, our focus will be to ensure full implementation of the newly revised environmental protection law. All acts of illegal production and emissions will be brought to account. We will make the cost for doing so too high to bear. More support will be given to the law enforcement departments, such as in capacity building. No one must use his power to meddle with law enforcement. The law enforcement departments also need to have the courage to take charge and fulfill their due responsibilities. Laxity in law enforcement will be dealt with and dereliction of duties or abuse of office will be handled in accordance with the law. We must make sure that the law will work as a powerful and effective tool in fighting pollution instead of being as soft as cotton candy.

To tackle environmental pollution is a systemic project that involves a lot of efforts across areas. A few days ago I came across a media report which said that in this year’s government work report, the paragraph addressing environmental treatment came quite in the back. But I want to draw your attention to one big difference in this year’s government work report. That is our targets for energy conservation and emission reduction are put together with all the major targets of economic and social development and they are together put in the front part of the report. Actually, many parts of the report, be it adjusting economic structure or improving the quality of fuel, all have something to do with environmental treatment. To tackle pollution takes a process and requires the joint efforts of the whole of society. It may be difficult for one to change the natural environment he lives in anytime soon, but one can always change the way he behaves.

CCTV: As China’s economic development enters a new normal, people are also thinking how we can bring our demographic scale and structure compatible with the new normal. Last year, married couples can have a second child if one of the parents is a single child. During this year’s two sessions, many people are calling for fully lifting the second-child restrictions and this is also a hot topic during the two sessions. I would like to ask if this is one of the goals on the government’s agenda in reforming its family planning policy. If so, is there a time table for that to happen?

Li Keqiang: About China’s population policy, as you said, from last year married couples can have a second child if one of the parents is a single child. Currently we are conducting a comprehensive review of how this policy has been implemented. Based on the outcome of this review and taking into account China’s economic and social development and changes in our demographic structure, we will weight both the pros and cons, and make improvements and adjustments to our policy in accordance with legal procedures.

Asahi Shimbun: This year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. I would like to ask your outlook on history, Mr. Premier. We have also seen that more Chinese tourists have traveled to Japan and bought a lot of things there, but the number of Japanese tourists visiting China as well as Japanese investment in China have both declined. How do you see such a situation? How do you view the possible impact of China’s planned commemoration activities, including the military parade, on the sentiments of the Japanese people?

Li Keqiang: This year marks the 70th anniversary of the victory of the Chinese People’s War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression and the World Anti-Fascist War. Not only China but also many countries in the world have planned to hold diverse forms of commemoration activities. The purpose of these activities is to firmly bear in mind the hard lessons gained from the past and ensure that that kind of history will never repeat itself. The purpose is to uphold the outcomes of the Second World War and the post-war international order and international laws so as to uphold enduring peace of mankind.

It is true that the current China-Japan relationship is in difficulty. The crux of the issue is how that war and that part of history are viewed. One needs to hold a right outlook on history, meaning one needs to take history as a mirror and look to the future. For leaders of a country, while inheriting the historical achievements made by their predecessors, they also need to shoulder the historical responsibilities for crimes committed by past generations. The war of aggression imposed on the Chinese people by the Japanese militarists brought untold sufferings, and the average people in Japan were also victims of that war. At such a critical moment this year, China-Japan relationship faces both a test and an opportunity. If leaders of Japan can face history squarely and maintain consistency in how they view that part of history, there will be a new opportunity for improvement and growth of China-Japan relations. It will also create favorable conditions for the growth of business relationship between the two countries.

Xinhua News Agency: Since the beginning of last year, the banks’ NPL ratio has been increasing and cases of financial risks of shadow banking have occurred from time to time. Soon many local governments will see their debt come due. As the downward pressure on China’s economy grows, how do you see the growing financial risks?

Li Keqiang: I see financial risks are the focus of your questions. It’s true that there have been individual cases of financial risks in China, but we are fully capable of forestalling systemic and regional financial risks. China’s economy continues to operate within the proper range and there is a fairly high savings rate in China. Moreover, 70% of local government debts are in the form of investment which boasts quite good prospect for yielding returns. We are also regulating the local government financing vehicles to ensure that we will keep front doors open and block back doors. Chinese banks have a fairly high capital adequacy ratio and ample provisions. It’s true that there are non-performing loans and the NPL ratio has risen somewhat. Still, the level is quite low internationally.

Let me make clear here: Individual cases of financial risks will be allowed. We encourage the practice of balancing one’s book in a market-based way to guard against moral hazard and raise people’s awareness of financial risks. This year, we will set up the deposit insurance system and continue to develop multi-tiered capital markets to lower corporate leverage ratio. All these efforts will help ensure that financial services can better serve the real economy.

TVBS: There have been certain developments in Taiwan last year which have affected the business cooperation between the two sides of the Taiwan Straits. As the mainland adjusts its economic structure and as mainland’s economy slows down, business people from Taiwan operating on the mainland have also run into difficulties. My question is, what steps will the mainland take to boost the cross-Straits business cooperation and ensure that businesses and people from Taiwan can continue to have priority access to the mainland’s development opportunities?

Li Keqiang: People on both sides of the Taiwan Straits belong to one big family. As long as we continue to adhere to the one-China principle and the 1992 Consensus, oppose Taiwan independence and uphold peaceful development of cross-Straits relations, we will be able to lay a more solid foundation for cross-Straits business cooperation and expand the room for such business ties. To boost the economic cooperation between the two sides, we need to get both wheels in motion. One wheel is to enhance institution building. For example, the follow-up consultations on ECFA should be advanced. The other wheel is to boost mutual opening-up. As far as the mainland is concerned, closer attention will be paid to the investment made by Taiwan business people on the mainland.

Here I would like to ask you to convey a message to all these people, which I believe will prove to be quite reassuring to them, that is the mainland will continue to protect the lawful rights and interests of Taiwan business people on the mainland and continue to pursue preferential policies towards them as appropriate. In terms of opening-up, we will give priority to Taiwan in terms of both depth and intensity of opening-up steps. We welcome people from Taiwan, including young people, to the mainland to do business. We also want to further enhance personnel interflow between the two sides so as to bring the hearts and minds of people across the Straits closer to each other.

KBS: In the last few months, China’s CPI rise hovered at just about 1.5%, and in January this year, the figure was a mere 0.8%. So are we to conclude that China has entered deflation? And some people argue that China is exporting deflation and this has also affected the ROK. What is your response?

Li Keqiang: About deflation, there are multiple criteria in evaluating deflation. A major criterion is consecutive negative growth of overall consumer prices in a country. And when it comes to CPI in China, last January we had a positive growth and the figure for February further rebounded. So I don’t think there is deflation in China.

Consumer prices in China have been quite low recently, but China is not exporting deflation. The truth is we have been on the receiving end of deflation. Let me give you one example. Last year, China bought some 310 million metric tons of crude oil and 930 million tons of iron ores on international markets. The physical volume has been on the rise, but the value contained has declined because of tumble in international commodity prices. And we are also prepared to cope with such a situation. What we hope to see is that there will be a quicker global economic recovery and the global economy will regain its momentum of robust growth.

China Daily: Some people conclude that China has become the number one economy in the world and now poses a challenge to the leadership status of the United States. But they also argue that China is still free riding in international affairs. What is your response to such a view and what are your views on advancing China-US ties?

Li Keqiang: The first part of your question is about whether China has become the largest economy in the world. I have heard such a view during overseas visits. But I always feel there are some elements of misleading exaggeration in it. According to those authoritative standards, China is still the second largest economy in the world and more importantly, our per capita GDP is still behind about 80 countries. Some time before this year’s Spring Festival I paid visits to places in China’s western region. I visited two rural homes. There are mother and a son in one family who live in a very shabby place where wind can easily be felt in the house. And because the family is so poor, the 40-year-old son has no money to get married. The other home has produced a college student. There is a boy and a girl in that family. To support her brother to go to college, the girl has to work in cities and even couldn’t come home for family reunion during Spring Festivals. It pains me deeply to see our people living in such distress. I’m sure there are many more such families in China. By the standard of the World Bank, we still have 200 million people living in poverty. So I can say that China is still a developing country in every sense of the term.

China must manage its own affairs well and maintain development at a reasonable speed. That in itself is China’s major contribution to the world. Actually, China is assuming greater due international obligations and responsibilities. Talking about free-riding, for such a big country as ours, how could it get a free ride on anybody’s train? What China is doing is to work with other countries to pursue common progress.

Development will remain the top priority for China and we need a peaceful international environment for us to focus on domestic development. When it comes to the China-US relationship, this is a relationship between the largest developing country and largest developed country in the world. We have proposed that China and the United States work together to build a new model of major country relations featuring no-conflict, no-confrontation, mutual respect, and win-win cooperation. This year, President Xi Jinping will pay a state visit to the United States at the invitation of his US counterpart. It will give a strong boost to China-US ties.

Admittedly, there are differences between China and the United States, but what’s more important is that the two countries share extensive common interests. When differences are properly handled, the two sides can channel more energy into expanding the convergence of their interests. One highlight in the China-US relationship is that the two sides are advancing negotiations of a bilateral investment treaty (BIT), and the BIT is built around the pre-establishment national treatment and a negative list. This is to break the ceiling on China-US business cooperation and will open up new dimensions for the growth of China-US ties. Naturally the negotiation will take time, but it has already sent a very clear message to both countries and the wider international community that China-US business ties will get even closer and put the overall China-US relationship on a more solid footing.

Hong Kong Economic Times: My question is about the constitutional reform in Hong Kong, which is of keen interest to the people of Hong Kong. We are getting closer to the date of voting on the constitutional reform plan, but recently there have been some quite tough statements by the central leadership on this topic. This has made many people not optimistic about the prospect for the constitutional reform bill to be adopted. Also for the first time in the government work report, there is such wording that one needs to strictly comply with the Constitution and the Basic Law. Does this mean that the central government is tightening its policy towards Hong Kong and will that affect the relationship between the central government and the Hong Kong SAR and will that add more uncertainties to the cultural and business interactions between the two sides?

Li Keqiang: It is China’s basic state policy to adhere to the principles of “one country, two systems”, “the people of Hong Kong governing Hong Kong”, “the people of Macao governing Macao” and both regions enjoying a high degree of autonomy. Some people are worried if the central government is tightening its policy towards Hong Kong. Such a worry is not necessary. It’s true that this year’s government work report said that one needs to strictly comply with the Constitution and the Basic Law. This actually shows our commitment to ensuring the consistent and full implementation of the “one country, two systems” principle. This principle has been written into the Constitution and the Basic Law of the Hong Kong SAR. They together form the constitutional basis of the Hong Kong SAR. The Basic Law has also provided for what system should be practiced in Hong Kong. The “one country, two systems” principle reflects the will of the country and the people, and cannot be changed at will. Some may feel that I am picking words in answering your question. This is because you asked a question that relates to the law, so I need to answer it with utmost seriousness.

The central government will continue to firmly support the government of the Hong Kong SAR and its chief executive in governing the region in accordance with law. And the central government will give stronger support to Hong Kong for it to play its unique role in China’s reform, opening-up and modernization drive. We hope that both the mainland and Hong Kong will benefit more from their exchanges and cooperation and people of both sides feel satisfied and see their wellbeing enhanced.

Austrian Radio and Television: I have a question on foreign policy that is very burning for the Europeans: the continued presence of Russian troops on the territory of Ukraine. What is the position of China? Does China think that this corresponds to international law? A couple of days ago, Russian President Putin has mentioned on Russian television how he planned the invasion of Crimea. Is Crimea, for China, part of Russia now or is it still part of Ukraine?

Li Keqiang: China follows an independent foreign policy of peace. On the issue of Ukraine, China has adopted an objective and just position. We respect Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity. In my meeting with the President of Ukraine last year when I visited some European countries, I said the same words to him. He then asked me if he could make them public. I said no problem, use my words and publish them in the newspaper. The issue of Ukraine has added to the complexity of the geopolitical situation and had its impact on global economic recovery. We hope that there will be a negotiated settlement of this issue through dialogue. As for Crimea, there are complex causes behind this issue. We also hope to see a political settlement of through dialogue. We hope that there will be harmonious coexistence between neighbors. And we hope to see common development and win-win outcomes between Europe and other countries in the world. I believe that is in the interest of all relevant parties and China as well.

People’s Daily: Just now you mentioned that you bought books on the Internet. My question is related to books. We know that the government work report needs to cover a lot of ground. And each year there are some changes. But for two years in running, to encourage our people to read has been written into the government work report. I would like to know why do you care so deeply about this, and can you share with us your personal experience about reading?

Li Keqiang: Last year, in drafting the government work report, I solicited views from representatives of various circles. And I found that not only people from the cultural and publishing sectors, but also those from the economic and business circles suggested that the government needs to further encourage a love of reading among all the people and should write this into its work report. They also said that they feel deeply concerned that the average per capita amount of reading in China is only about one tenth of that of some other countries in the world. What they said made me think deeply. I believe it shows our people not only want to pursue increase of material wealth, but also long for better nourishments of the mind.

Books and reading have been essential in carrying forward human civilizations. Reading is what I enjoy the most in my spare time. It makes me feel enriched. And reading has been the most rewarding experience in my life. I hope that all our people can foster a love of reading, and as our people’s amount of reading grows, I believe it is also an important symbol of social and cultural progress in China. I hope that more people can make reading a way of living, and find it very useful in work too. Reading can further unlock the potential of innovation and enhance civic morality. That is why I have, for two years running, written this into the government work report, and this will also be the case for next year’s government work report.

After the moderater announced the end of the press conference, a journalist asked about how the Premier views the recent developments in the border areas between China and Myanmar. Premier Li Keqiang said: What happened there was deeply distressing. There was loss of life and property of Chinese residents in the China-Myanmar border areas. And I want to first express my deep condolences for the lost lives and sympathies to the bereaved families. The Chinese Foreign Ministry and the Chinese military have both made stern representations with Myanmar. And we have the responsibility and the capacity to firmly safeguard security and stability in the China-Myanmar border areas and firmly protect the life and property of our people.

The press conference, lasting some two hours, was held in the golden hall on the third floor of the Great Hall of the People. Nearly 900 Chinese and foreign journalists attended the press conference.

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