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China PM wraps up annual Congress

By Michael Bristow
BBC News, Beijing

The People's Liberation Army band play at the end of China's NPC in Beijing on March 13, 2009
The global financial crisis dominated this year's NPC

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao says he is so desperate to visit Taiwan that he would be prepared to crawl there if he could not walk.

Chinese leaders have long dreamed of reuniting the mainland with Taiwan, a self-governing island that Beijing considers its own.

And Premier Wen is not the first national leader to express his desire to visit what he called China's "treasure island".

At the start of the country's just-concluded parliamentary session, National People's Congress (NPC) spokesman Li Zhaoxing said he also dreamed of visiting.

'Friendly neighbour'

Premier Wen made his comments at a press conference that marked the end of the annual NPC.

But at the event attended by Chinese and foreign journalists, he had more than just Taiwan on his mind.

He spoke at length about how China was coping with the global financial crisis, which has badly hit the country's export trade.

It was the main topic at the nine-day NPC session, which was five days shorter than last year's meeting.

Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao
Premier Wen is a popular figure in China

Premier Wen also talked about North Korea - a friendly neighbour, he said - and how China hoped to maintain stability on the Korean peninsula.

Inevitably, Tibet also came up.

Mr Wen said the Dalai Lama, Tibetan Buddhism's spiritual leader, should be more sincere.

It was the kind of language that Mr Wen and countless other Chinese officials have previously used.

Chinese leaders do not believe that the Dalai Lama has given up the goal of Tibetan independence.

And if Tibet should never be split from the motherland, then China and Taiwan should be reunited as soon as possible, according to China.

Reunification is one of the country's main goals, one that is obviously dear to Mr Wen, who spoke for nearly two-and-a-half hours at the press conference.

"Although I am already 67 years old this year, if there was a possibility of me going to Taiwan, even if I could no longer walk, I would crawl to the island," he said.

Limited openess

Premier Wen, who is officially the number three in the political hierarchy, is popular in China and is seen as a leader who cares for ordinary people.

His press conference at the end of each parliamentary session is one of the big set-piece events of China's political year.

Foreign journalists get extremely limited access to Chinese leaders, and this offers them one of their few opportunities to ask the premier questions.

Chinese jobseekers fill in forms
China's economy has suffered

But the press conference, which is broadcast live, is not quite the open question-and-answer session that it appears on television.

Many foreign journalists have complained about the "stage-managed" nature of the event.

At the end of each answer, eager journalists raise their hands in the hope that they will be selected to ask a question.

But at least some of the questioners - and the broad question areas - were chosen beforehand.

The Wall Street Journal and the South African Broadcasting Corporation were both approached beforehand to supply question topics.

"We were asked to indicate to [the Chinese Foreign Ministry] what subject areas we were interested in," said Andrew Browne, of the Wall Street Journal.

Mr Browne was the first foreign journalist to ask Mr Wen a question at the press conference.

It was a stage-managed press conference to end a stage-managed parliament.

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