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Child journalists grill ministers at China congress
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Nov 13, 2012

China's 18th Communist Party congress
Beijing (AFP) Nov 14, 2012 - China's ruling Communist Party will on Thursday unveil the political figures expected to lead the country for the next decade, after a more than week-long congress involving some 2,200 delegates.

Herewith a factbox on the process involved in appointing China's leaders:


-- The main task for delegates to the congress on Wednesday is to select a new Central Committee that will be made up of about 200 people.

-- The Central Committee will then meet on Thursday to choose the roughly 25-member Politburo and the powerful Central Military Commission, which controls the nation's armed forces.

-- The elite Politburo Standing Committee, China's highest decision-making body, is expected to comprise between seven and nine members and will be chosen from within the Politburo.

-- The party's general secretary, the most important post in the country and currently held by President Hu Jintao, also will be revealed.

-- The congress is widely expected to appoint Vice President Xi Jinping as the new party leader, putting him on course to replace Hu as president next March.


-- In theory, the congress delegates are to elect China's next generation of leaders. But in practice, the appointments for senior posts are decided by top party leaders and retired officials in an opaque bargaining process that intensifies during the months running up to the congress. Elections are only held after congress delegates indicate that they will vote for the pre-chosen candidates.


-- China's Communist Party, made up of 82 million members, is the biggest political party in the world.

-- Its first congress, a small gathering of about a dozen people, took place in Shanghai's French concession in 1929 at a school for girls that was closed for vacation. It is now held at Beijing's Great Hall of the People on Tiananmen Square, the symbolic centre of communist power.

-- Since 2002, the party has insisted congress delegates not only represent the party, but also different social groupings, including capitalist entrepreneurs.

-- Since 1977, the party's congresses have been held once every five years. None was held between 1956 and 1969, a period that saw chaotic political upheavals such as the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.

The innocent but pointed questions from a pair of young reporters to officials at China's Communist Party talks have provided a refreshing break from the usual fare of bland reports and rote answers.

The plucky 11-year-old reporters from Chinese Teenagers News have become a minor media sensation in their own right by highlighting hot-button issues that typically make authorities squirm, including food safety and rising prices.

Zhang Jiahe, press badge around his neck and "junior journalist" embroidered on his clothing, told China's housing minister that rising accommodation costs were affecting disposable income -- including for new toys.

"Our family has not bought a house but a few friends nearby have faced this problem," he said at the normally tightly-scripted gathering which heralds the unveiling of a new leadership on Thursday.

Skyrocketing property prices have squeezed China's growing urban population in recent years even as government controls have slowed their rise.

Meanwhile food safety scandals have put off Zhang's colleague Sun Luyuan and her friends from eating their favourite snacks.

"I love snacks, but I don't dare to eat snacks now because we see so many reports these days of problems with food products," she asked high-level officials, according to the state-run China News Service.

"Why are these kinds of food products available for purchase?"

Many Chinese have become concerned about food safety after a spate of scandals including a vast contamination of milk powder in 2008 that killed six babies and sickened 300,000 others.

"I thought of the question myself," Sun told AFP this week of last Friday's press conference. "I think this issue is very important to us so I really wanted to ask this question."

Sun said the delegates had all been friendly so she was not afraid to put queries to them on behalf of Chinese Teenagers News which is affiliated with the Communist Youth League.

The pair's supervisor told AFP they were selected for the assignment because they were among the best journalists at the paper.

For over an hour during a press conference on Monday, both faced forward and sat up straight, seemingly unfazed by the unending flashes as photographers captured their efforts.

But while the child reporters' inquiries have been acute, they have only received standard answers.

Sun was given a stock response on food standards from officials who pledged the government was addressing the situation and putting proper safety measures in place -- a line repeated for years even as the scandals have persisted.

Zhang had to compete for the moderator's attention in a crowded conference room on Monday, leaping further and further out of his seat each time he shot his hand up to ask a question.

He was not called, but once the last question was fielded he ran to the dais and won the moderator's help, racing to a side door as instructed to be whisked inside to meet the minister.

Zhang said he was told that continuing economic development would hopefully solve his neighbours' problems.

He was "very satisfied" with the answer, he said.


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