BEIJING -- Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao had a two-hour online chat with netizens here starting from 3 pm Saturday jointly hosted by the central government website and the Xinhua website.
The two portals, the central government website (www.gov.cn) and the Xinhua News Agency website (www.xinhuanet.com), jointly held the interview with Premier Wen, which was live shown in both texts and videos.
This was the first online chat involving Premier Wen and the public and was the second high-profile online discussion by top Chinese leaders. President Hu Jintao had a brief Q&A with netizens at the website People's Daily in June last year.
Wen's chat with netizens came just days before the annual session of the National People's Congress and that of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference in Beijing.
This year's "two sessions", convened at a time when the global financial crisis is still spreading, is expected to focus on thorny issues such as escalating jobless rate, social security, medical care, and corruption.
These issues are also well reflected in the nearly 90,000 questions thrown to Wen in the chatroom from netizens around the country.
Govt preparing for officials to declare assets
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said the government is making "active preparations" for officials to declare their assets amid efforts to combat corruption.
"We need to promote transparency of government affairs and also need to make public officials' assets," he said.
"Such a declaration system must be established and carried out so as to produce substantial results," he said.
"It should be a major move to fight against corruption." Wen said the most important thing in combating corruption is to establish a good system that can prevent power from being too centralized without restriction.
"Only power is restricted can corruption be prevented fundamentally," he added. Earlier this month, authorities in Altay Prefecture in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region publicly released a list of the assets of more than 1,000 current and retired officials.
It was hailed as forerunner in the country's declaration system of officials' assets.
Also Saturday, China's top legislature approved a number of criminal law amendments including anti-graft moves.
A new amendment bans relatives of or people who have close relations with government employees from conducting corrupt deals between the employee and bribe-givers.
Offenders in "very serious cases" could face a minimum jail term of seven years, according to the amendment.
Proposed punishments also include fines and confiscation of personal property.
People has right to criticize government
People has the right to criticize government policy and government also needs to be open and democratic in its policy-making, Premier Wen said in the online chat with netizens.
"I always think that people has the right to know what the government is thinking and doing, and voice their criticism of government policy," Wen said in the Internet forum.
Wen said he was nervous because this is his first ever online discussion with netizens, though he surfed the Internet everyday for 30 minutes to one hour.
"But I will always remember my mother's words to be sincere with people. I will talk to you with my heart. I will be honest, that is, I will tell you the true situation and listen to your true voices," he said.
Citing an online poll by Xinhuanet, Wen said he is aware of the fact that corruption is still among netizens' top concern even as the nation is struggling to cope with the financial crisis.
"Mentioning of anti-corruption, I think the most important thing is to solve defects in our system. Corruption can only be rooted out when power is supervised," said Wen.
He announced that the government is making "active preparations" for civil servants to declare their properties, a move that has been anticipated for a long time.
Wen said the government has taken measures to ensure people's participation in major policy-making, for example, public hearings are being held in the drafting of major laws and policies.
Good system matters more than good Premier
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao responded to the criticism from Chinese netizens on Saturday, admitting that to have seriously ill children rescued, a good medical system would matter more than a good Premier.
The criticism brewed two weeks ago when media reports said that Wen had personally donated 10,000 yuan to Li Rui and arranged for the two-year-old suffering leukaemia from the rural area in Zhangjiakou of Hebei Province to get hospitalized in the Beijing Chidlren's Hospital.
"I noticed the harsh criticism which says good system matters more than good Premier and understood the argument," Wen said, responding to a question on the treatment of seriously ill children in the on-line chat.
"China has more than four million leukemic children. Treatment for each would cost more than 100,000 yuan. But no medical insurance in China would allow reimbursement for such large medical bills," Wen said.
"Being the Premier, I need to think about how to optimize our medical system and have seriously ill children treated."
"We have already started to work in this direction. But our efforts is far from enough," he said.
Although 90 percent of China's rural residents have been covered by the country's rural medical cooperative mechanism, the per capita reimbursement for serious diseases averages only 100 yuan a year, demanding fiscal expenditure of nearly 10 billion yuan in total.
"The amount will rise to 120 yuan this year. But it will remain to be only a drop in the bucket. The only way is to constantly develop our economy and raise people's income," Wen said.
The Premier said one immediate and viable remedy would be the establishment of a mechanism that can boldly mobilize the masses to come to the rescue of seriously ill children.
Health care reform aims at public interest
Premier Wen said that China will strive to improve the country's health care system to make health care more accessible and affordable.
China's State Council, or Cabinet, passed a long awaited medical reform plan last month which promised to spend 850 billion yuan (US$123 billio) by 2011 to provide universal medical service to the country's 1.3 billion population.
Wen said the plan covers five aspects:
-- Expand the coverage of medical insurance. Increase the amount of rural and urban population covered by the basic medical insurance system or the new rural cooperative medical system to at least 90 percent by 2011.
-- Build a basic medicine system that includes a catalogue of drugs that mostly needed by the public.
-- Improve medical service systems (especially those at the grassroots level). Build another 5,000 clinics at the township level, 2,000 hospitals at the county level and 2,400 urban community clinics in three years.
-- Gradually provide equal public health services in both rural and urban areas in the country.
-- Start to reform public hospitals.
"Health care reform is not easy. Our determination to push forward the reform shows that the government cares about the health of the public," Wen said.
Wen said the principle of the reform is that public medical service must have public good as its goal.
Premier hopes for stable, healthy real estate sector
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said here Saturday he hopes to see a stable and healthy development of the country's real estate sector in the face of the global financial crisis.
China should strengthen management and regulation to keep housing prices and the scale of property construction "at a reasonable level", said Wen during the online chat.
Housing prices have long been under fire in China, as consumers complain houses in large cities are too expensive to afford, giving developers unfair huge profits.
Wen said the government highly values the property industry as it concerns the life of ordinary people and directly affects the national economy.
The government has urged for stronger confidence in the real estate market while pledging more money and energy on meeting the needs of low-income families, he said.
The government fund must be used properly to ensure house buildings are economical, safe and of good quality, said Wen.
He also noted the construction should save land and suit people's needs. "Auditing and supervision should go along with all property projects," said Wen. "Problems must be dealt with whenever they emerge."
The property prices in 70 major Chinese cities fell 0.9 percent in January from a year earlier, a faster fall than the previous month.
In December, the figure saw the first year-on-year drop since the government started to release it in 2005.
Analysts attributed the slump to slack home buying due to grim economic situation and future uncertainties.
The Chinese government announced a stimulus package for the ailing property industry in December, giving favorable tax policies and loan terms on home sellers and buyers while emphasizing low-income housing.
Financial crisis not bottoms out, impact spreading
The global financial crisis has not bottomed out yet and its impact is still spreading, said Premier Wen during the online chat.
The major influence of the crisis on China is on the country's real economy instead of financial sectors, he said.
"We must strengthen confidence in the face of the crisis and be ready to take firmer and stronger actions whenever necessary," he told netizens.
China's stimulus measures have shown initial effects and produced good results in certain areas and fields, said Wen.
"Some key indicators showed the economic situation has somewhat turned better," he said. "But those were just temporary indices and couldn't be fully compared with the past figures."
"We must fully realize we are facing a long-term and arduous task," he said.
The government unveiled a 4-trillion-yuan (US$588 billion) economic stimulus plan in November to boost growth.
Premier confident in China's capital market
Premier Wen said he has confidence in China's capital market, noting the government has the responsibility to establish a fair, equitable and transparent market environment.
The performance of Chinese shares are decided by the economic fundamentals and company profitability, Wen told a netizen grieving over his huge losses in current sluggish stock market during an online chat.
"I have confidence in China's economy and the development of Chinese enterprises and therefore in the country's capital market, too," he said.
Regression in Sino-US relations not in line with historical tide
Premier Wen said that any regression in the relations between China and the United States was "not in line with the historical tide".
He said the 30 years of Sino-US relations have proved that both will benefit from cooperation and both will be hurt by bitter fights.
He said after repeated trials and errors, China and the United States finally found the only correct road, which is mutual respect, equality and constructive cooperation, in promoting bilateral relations.
Premier shows concern over jobless migrant workers
Chatting with netizens at the central government website (www.gov.cn), Premier Wen showed his concern over the country's jobless migrant workers and other unemployed people and encouraged them to start self-employment.
Wen said he had been deeply concerned over the employment issue, including those of migrant workers, college graduates and jobless urban families.
"Employment is not only related to one's livelihood but also one's dignity," Wen said.
Earlier official figures show about 15.3 percent of the 130 million migrant workers had returned jobless from cities to the countryside against the backdrop of the global economic downturn.
While many welcomed Premier Wen's upcoming chat with the public, a great deal of others expressed complaint, warnings and suggestions for government work on the two portals.
One netizen wrote about the tuition fee of roughly 300 yuan (US$44) in local primary schools, which was against the state policy of free nine-year compulsory education. He also mentioned high electricity rates in rural areas, leaving people unable to afford daily use of home appliances even after purchasing them.
One person criticized soaring real estate prices in recent years and asked why macro economic policies did not work for curbing unreasonable price hikes.
One asked for more favorable policies for private business owners and an effective way to protect their interests.
Another asked Wen whether the government will consider introducing more pro-active policies for attracting overseas talent against the backdrop of economic sluggishness in many developed economies.
The websites advise that each question should be no more than 100 Chinese characters to ensure smooth on-line flow.
Netizens also proffered tens of thousands of questions as well as advice for Wen on several Chinese news portals, which organized special bulletins ahead of the legislature and the top advisory body's annual sessions.
A university graduate complained it is too hard to find a job.
Netizen "Dingxinwan" wondered what the government will do to rein in soaring housing prices.
Netizen "Huamei" complained that officials in his/her hometown were too corrupt.
Still, a netizen from Zhejiang Province wanted the government to build a paved road in his/her village.
Officials asked to improve Internet literacy
China's Internet population has dramatically changed the political landscape of the country. President Hu and Premier Wen have said they personally spend time online to gauge public concerns.
In January 2007, Hu, also general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, urged senior officials at a lecture attended by members of the CPC Central Committee Political Bureau, "to improve their Internet literacy and use the Internet well so as to improve the art of leadership".
Chinese world's top netizen group
According to the China Internet Network Information Center, in January, the number of Chinese netizens surpassed 300 million. That is 23.8 percent of the population, or the most web users in the world from any one country.
Beijing-based Renmin University China Media College Vice President Yu Guoming told Xinhua that Chinese officials and scholars felt obliged to notice citizens online views as a way to learn about the social situation and people's thoughts.
"Online opinions have become an indispensable part of public voices," Yu said. "The Internet offers the most convenient vent for the voices of common people, without any editing."
"Conventional media usually convey only one kind of views but the Internet allows dissenting views as long as they are in line with laws," he said.
Noting that online chat is a good way to communicate with the people, the premier said he is willing to do more such chats in the future.
Backgrounder: China's central government website
The website of China's central government, www.gov.cn, dubbed the "24-hour online government" by Chinese netizens, receives more than 4.5 million visitors each day for its Chinese and English versions.
Since it was formally launched on January 1, 2006, the website has been sending out information on the country's government affairs to the world in simplified Chinese, original complex Chinese characters and English.
It has filed more than 900,000 Chinese articles and information items and more than 110,000 English information items.
Daily, it posts 700 Chinese and 100 English articles.
In 2008, the average number of daily visitors to the website increased by 1.65 million.
Directly after the 8.0-magnitude earthquake struck southwest China's Sichuan Province, the number of visitors soared to 20 million a day.
The website invites senior government officials to give online interviews on a regular basis.
Officials from ministries and other central government departments gave more than 190 interviews since early 2006.
"The website used authoritative sources to provide answers to the public as soon as they raised questions on government affairs. This is vital for sustaining stable social order," a netizen from Sichuan wrote in an entry he published on the website.
The site provided a platform for departments under the State Council, and provincial, autonomous regional and municipal governments to release information as well as provide online services.
The building of the central government website was a major step as central authorities strive to build a service-oriented government, according to the State Council.
It plays a significant role in promoting government transparency, improving public services and administrative efficiency, it added.
"As an employee of a grassroots government organization, I found the website very useful in helping me learn about the State Council's recent work and about hot issues in government affairs," said a netizen from the southwestern city of Chongqing.
The website has four sections.
One is information about government affairs, including important policies, regulations and documents.
The service section provides online services to citizens, enterprises and foreigners.
The communication section offers channels for interaction between government and citizens.
The section of applied functions provides surfers with a search engine.
The General Office of the State Council is responsible for the content design, organization and coordination of the website.
Xinhua News Agency is responsible for its operation, content updating and technical support.