Chinese Media’s Delayed Coverage of Top Regime Official’s Tour Reveals Internal Strife: Experts

August 26, 2020 Updated: September 2, 2020

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visited Chongqing city, which experienced severe flooding following heavy rains, from Aug. 20 to Aug. 21, but state-run media didn’t report on his trip until Aug. 23—an unusual delay for media outlets that typically provide constant coverage of top officials’ public activities.

The media reports also focused on economic development—a departure from the information about Li’s trip that was posted on the Chinese central government’s official website from Aug. 20 to Aug. 25. The website emphasized that Li had observed the effects of the flooding and encouraged locals to unite amid the catastrophe.

China analysts say this inconsistency adds to mounting evidence of disagreements between Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Li, and suggests internal strife within the Communist Party leadership.

“The state-run media intentionally didn’t report on Li’s Chongqing trip, but there was a shocking photo of Li in a cornfield posted on the Chinese central government’s website. The photo forced [state broadcaster] CCTV to report on his trip on the evening of Aug. 23,” wrote U.S.-based China political affairs commentator Zhong Yuan in a commentary published by  the Chinese-language Epoch Times.

The photo, taken in a flooded cornfield at Shuangba village in Tongnan district of Chongqing on Aug. 20, shows Li inspecting a corn crop that was destroyed due to the flooding. Unlike typical official photo ops that show pristine images, Li is shown standing in muddy water with dirtied rain boots.

“The Chinese regime doesn’t want to expose any real catastrophe situations to the public, because the tragic lives that Chinese people have suffered will damage the regime’s image and threaten its ruling,” Zhong wrote.

That’s why China’s state media didn’t report on the visit, “even for an official as senior as premier,” he added.

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According to Party ranking, as premier, Li oversees the country’s economic policies.

During this year’s annual conference of the Party’s rubber-stamp legislature in May, Li spoke about the economic effects of the CCP virus epidemic and the need to recover from the downturn.

But during an economic seminar organized by Xi at Zhongnanhai—the Party’s headquarters—on Aug. 24, Li was conspicuously absent.

State-run media Xinhua reported that Xi invited nine top Chinese economists to the seminar. Xi was accompanied by Wang Huning, head of the Party’s Secretariat and leader of China’s propaganda system, and Han Zheng, the vice premier in charge of Hong Kong and Macau affairs.

“Xi wanted to show that he is the real boss of the Chinese economy by organizing this seminar without Li. He wanted to tell people that Li doesn’t make any decisions,” said U.S.-based China affairs commentator Tang Jingyuan.

Since May, Xi and Li have issued conflicting comments regarding the state of China’s economy.

Xi emphasized that his goal for China is to become “a moderately prosperous society,” and claimed that China is advancing toward achieving that goal, with “400 million people in the middle class.”

During a speech at the May 28 session of the rubber-stamp legislature, Li revealed that 600 million Chinese only earn 1,000 yuan ($140) per month, which isn’t enough to cover monthly rent on a one-bedroom apartment in a midsized Chinese city.

Li also promoted the idea of setting up a “street vendor economy” to alleviate rising unemployment as a result of the pandemic. But state media such as Xinhua later criticized the policy idea, saying street vendors would damage a modern metropolis’s image.

Flood Visits

Central and southern China have suffered historic flooding since June. On Aug. 18, Xi visited areas of Anhui Province, which was inundated after local rivers overflowed. This was his first trip to a disaster zone this year.

But in photos printed in state media, Xi is seen only visiting unflooded areas.

An insider from the Fuyang municipal government in Anhui told The Epoch Times that all aspects of Xi’s trip were well-planned, including where he went, who he met with, and the local people who would talk to him.

The person shared the local authorities’ preparation documents, which revealed that locals were selected in advance to appear on state media. What they spoke about—explaining how authorities’ helped their plight—was also prepared ahead of time.

Li’s Chongqing trip was his second to a flood-damaged region this year. Unlike his first trip to Guizhou Province in July, when floodwaters had receded, Li visited flooded villages and towns on the second trip.