Page last updated at 08:57 GMT, Friday, 20 June 2008 09:57 UK

China's leader makes live webcast

By Michael Bristow
BBC News, Beijing

Hu Jintao
Hu Jintao avoided some of the more challenging questions

Chinese President Hu Jintao has made his debut on an online chat forum - but answered just three questions.

President Hu told the forum that he tried to get online as much as possible to find out what ordinary people think.

He spent 20 minutes talking on the Strong Nation Forum, run by the People's Daily, an official Communist Party mouthpiece.

But he avoided some of the more challenging questions posed by internet users, on issues such as house prices.

"My work keeps me rather busy, so I can't go online every day. But I try to find time to do so," Mr Hu told one questioner.

'Important channel'

In his unexpected appearance on the forum, President Hu said that while online he reads the latest news - both domestic and foreign.

The president also goes online to keep in touch with the 1.3 billion people he governs.

"I hope to better understand the opinions and suggestions internet users have of the party and government's work," he said.

Mr Hu said the party needs to listen to the "masses".

"Through the internet we can understand what citizens are feeling and gather people's wisdom, so it is a very important channel," he said.

In China the media is tightly controlled, so the internet offers people one of the few opportunities to publicly express their opinions.

Over recent days, many have complained about an agreement between China and Japan to jointly develop a gas field in the East China Sea.

These postings - some of which accused the Chinese government of "selling out" - were quickly taken down from websites.

But Mr Hu's appearance on a chat forum suggests that the party at least knows the importance of listening to the public.

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