Japan Institute for National Fundamentals

Speaking out

Akio Yaita

【#773】Chinese Minister’s Extraordinary Press Conference

Akio Yaita / 2021.03.18 (Thu)

March 15, 2021


The National People’s Congress of China attracted attention by passing legislation to revise Hong Kong’s electoral system before it closed on March 11. The legislation to exclude pro-democracy members from Hong Kong’s legislative council represented a decision made last year and its passage was not any surprise to the author who has covered the NPC over more than 10 years. But I felt that Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s remarks pledging his loyalty to President Xi Jinping at a press conference were extraordinary. The remarks apparently indicate an intensifying power struggle within the Chinese Communist Party ahead of its once-every-five-years party congress that would come in the autumn of 2022.

Wang Explicitly Applauded Xi’s leadership

It is an annual event for a Chinese foreign minister to open a press conference during the NPC. In the eighth such press conference for Wang, he reiterated conventional explanations and assertions on China’s foreign policy. I found nothing new in these remarks. But his answer to a question from a reporter of the People’s Daily, an official organ of the party, was unusual.

Questioned about how to understand the significance of the CCP leadership in China's diplomacy, Wang answered, “The major decisions and achievements in China's diplomacy are all attributable to the coordination and leadership of the CCP Central Committee.” Then, he said: “General Secretary Xi Jinping, with his global vision, strategic commitment and a great sense of responsibility, has broken new ground in diplomatic theory and practice, and drawn the blueprint for China's diplomacy. Under his stewardship, China has all along moved on the right course of the historical trend.” Wang thus explicitly praised President Xi.

It goes without saying that the question was planted and prepared by the Foreign Ministry in advance. In China under the one-party dictatorship, it is well known that the CCP effectively controls not only diplomacy but also monetary, fiscal, education and national security policies. None needs to emphasize the CCP’s leadership in diplomacy.

China’s constitution provides that the supreme state executive organ is the State Council, now headed by Premier Li Keqiang. Wang totally ignored Li as his direct boss and applauded only Xi, in an apparent bid to emphasize that he sides with Xi.

Be alert to law enforcement around Senkakus

While Xi is seeking to serve his third term as CCP general secretary, Li resists the Xi quest and has reiterated remarks implicitly critical of Xi since last summer, deteriorating their relationship. As for foreign policy, there is a big difference between Xi who calls for a hardline attitude against the United States and Li who values cooperation with the international community. Wang’s remarks at the NPC press conference can be taken as indicating that China could further toughen its diplomacy.

On the China Coast Guard law over which the Japanese government has expressed concerns, Wang told the press conference: “It is not targeted at any specific country. And it is totally in line with international law and practice.” We should not take the remarks for granted. As the Hong Kong national security law put into effect last year is now used for cracking down on pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong, China may from now enforce the China Coast Guard law in waters around Japan’s Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. Japan should be alert to the possibility.

Akio Yaita is Taipei Bureau Chief of the Sankei Shimbun newspapers.