, BEIJING, Mar 15 – Nine years after he took office, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao met the press for the last time on Wednesday in the Great Hall of the People.
In a record three-hour-long press conference, the emotional sixth premier of the People’s Republic of China offered self-reflection, regret for work yet to be done, and vows to press ahead with reform “even with my last breath.”
“This is the final time I meet you here after the annual political sessions,” soft-spoken Wen told nearly 1,000 journalists in the place where he made his premiership debut in 2003.
Describing his nine years in office as “difficult but momentous,” Wen said he felt sorry for the problems that had occurred in China’s economy and society during his time in office, blaming his “incompetent abilities and institutional and other factors”.
However, Wen said he had never committed any intentional error in his work because of dereliction of duty.
“In my last year in office, I will be as committed as ever as an old steed,” the 70-year-old premier promised.
Since taking office in 2003, Wen and his government advocated a more balanced approach in developing China’s hinterland regions and advanced policies considered more favourable toward disadvantaged groups.
“Equity and justice shine brighter than the sun,” said Wen, repeating a line he uttered two years ago.
The premier, born to a rural teachers’ family, spent each Lunar New Year festival of his term with ordinary people like miners and farmers in various places across the country.
Before working in the central government, the geologist-turned politician had covered 1,800 counties out of the total 2,500 across the country. Nine years in office has added many new destinations to his list, but Taiwan remains out of his reach.
On Wednesday, Wen expressed his hope to visit Taiwan after retirement as a tourist, echoing what he said three years ago:
“Even if I can no longer walk, I will crawl to Taiwan.”
“It is my 10th consecutive time for me to talk about the Taiwan issue on this occasion, and each time I have not been at ease,” said Wen, whose term in office had seen closer ties forged between the Chinese mainland and Taiwan.
Wen said he hoped people would forget him and that all the concrete things he had done would “fall into oblivion as one day I shall go to my eternal rest.”
Contrary to his hopes, he is at least likely to be remembered for his nickname “Grandpa Wen,” by which the premier came to be known by the nation and the world during the devastating earthquake in 2008.
About two hours after the 8.0-magnitude quake jolted Wenchuan county in northwestern Sichuan, Wen was already en route to the region. Half a day after the first soldiers reached the epicentre town, he landed there by helicopter.
He is best remembered for the scene when he yelled to children during a break in rain showers, “I am grandpa Wen Jiabao. You will certainly pull through and be rescued.”
During his tenure, he has witnessed numerous disasters across the country. At numerous times on such sites, he shed tears for the plight of the Chinese people.
Having experienced war, the Cultural Revolution and three decades of economic boom, the premier knows too well the importance of reform for China’s long-term development.
He warned on Wednesday that historical tragedies like the Cultural Revolution may happen in China again should the country fail to push forward political reform to uproot problems in society.
“Reforms in China have now come to a critical stage,” Wen said. “Reform can only go forward and must not stand still, much less go backward because that offers no way out.”
Summing up his 45 years of service to the country, he said, “I have the courage to face the people, and to face history.
“There are people who will appreciate what I have done but there are also people who will criticize me. Ultimately, history will have the final say.