BEIJING — The reporter’s question was a softball, the sort of long-winded but unchallenging interrogation that we’ve come to expect at the endless news conferences during the annual meeting of China’s National People’s Congress. The reaction of a fellow reporter, dressed in blue, summed up how many journalists, and viewers, were surely feeling, not only about the question but about the whole two-week set-piece event in general.
A frown, a disdainful look across to see who was speaking, a dramatic eye-roll and turn of the head.
Here’s the whole clip.
On Tuesday, the eye-roll went viral on China’s Internet, with close-up clips widely shared on WeChat, the most popular messaging service in the country. By late afternoon, the name of the reporter in blue, identified as Liang Xiangyi of Yicai Media, a financial news service, was trending as one of the most searched items on Sina Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter. That is, until searches were blocked by censors, according to freeweibo.com, a website that monitors censored items on Chinese social media.
The journalist in red who was asking the question was identified as Zhang Huijun, a reporter for American Multimedia Television (AMTV), a Chinese-language television station based in California whose website boasts of its partnership with China’s state-owned China Central Television (CCTV). After introducing herself, she asked, at length, about the state-owned enterprises and the Belt and Road Initiative, a global infrastructure lending and investment project championed by President Xi Jinping.
“My question is: Changing the regulatory functions of state assets by focusing on managing capital is a question that people generally care about,” she asked Xiao Yaqing, director of the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of the State Council (SASAC). “As director of SASAC, in 2018, in this area, what new measures will you introduce?”
And then she went on.
“This year coincides with the 40th anniversary of reform and opening up. Our country will further expand its opening up to the outside world, and General Secretary Xi advocates the Belt and Road Initiative. State-owned enterprises’ investment in countries along the route of the Belt and Road Initiative has increased. So how will the overseas assets of state-owned enterprises be effectively supervised to prevent the loss of capital from state-owned enterprises? What kind of supervision mechanism have we have brought out? What’s the effect of the supervision? Please explain to us. Thank you.”
The answer is not recorded in the clip.
Netizens suggested that Liang’s disdain was prompted by the way some reporters appear to want to use the televised event as a way to grab the spotlight with long-winded questions.
According to the WhatsonWeibo blog, Liang commented in a Yicai chat group, leaked online, that she rolled her eyes “because the woman next to me was being an idiot.”
In another leaked chat to a friend, Zhang reportedly commented: ““What the heck was she doing looking at me like that?!”
Numerous memes were born, contrasting the woman in blue and the one in red, and focusing on the classic eye-roll.
The annual meeting of the National People’s Congress (NPC) prompts two weeks of even-more-fawning-than-usual coverage in state media of the wondrous achievements of Xi and the party. Occasionally, a foreign reporter gets away with a challenging question at a news conference or gaggle with an official, but those moments are rare. For the big events, the topics and who will ask them are largely agreed on in advance.
To ensure a smooth, embarrassment-free session, security in Beijing is stepped up dramatically during the NPC meeting, a crackdown that usually generates some bizarre stories in its own right. This year, so dominant is the paranoia that some restaurants and bars in a popular student neighborhood were told by police that they could admit a maximum of only 10 foreigners at any one time, the South China Morning Post reported.
“Until March 22, every Friday night and Saturday, as requested by local authorities, we can only allow a maximum of 10 foreigners in our store at a time,” a widely circulated notice at one pizzeria said. “We appreciate your understanding during these challenging times.”
The clip also generated curiosity about AMTV, one of a growing number of foreign news organizations with links to Chinese state media.
On its website, AMTV says it has an agreement to transmit CCTV news programs under an AMTV logo, and it also acquires and distributes motion pictures to television stations and other media globally. It says that its primary financiers are “Franklin International Group and American Berkshire International Group,” that it has a press pass issued by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and that it has been a corporate member of the American International Chamber of Commerce since 2004.