Premier Li's fumbled speech reveals rift with Xi

TOKYO - A slip of the tongue by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang may have inadvertently betrayed behind-the-scenes discord among the country's leaders and the possible instability of the administration.

On March 5, during the National People's Congress, Li read out the Report on the Work of the Government. One of the most important addresses made by China's premier, the report describes past government efforts and lays out future plans for deliberation and approval by delegates at Beijing's Great Hall of the People. This year, it covered such topics as setting China's economic growth target at approximately 7 per cent.

Unprecedented ad-lib

During the speech, Li departed substantially from the prepared text. The move was highly irregular, given the amount of work that had gone into crafting the speech. Numerous people had spent at least six months scrutinizing and rewriting draft after draft, and it was supposed to be "perfect" after the speaker gave his final approval several days ahead of the event.

The irregularity triggered a hubbub among the previously silent audience. At first, it was only a few delegates -- those closely comparing each word Li uttered with the script they had been given -- who noticed the changes. Some of them could not stifle cries of bewilderment, which spread across the hall and lasted nearly a minute.

The major change was an added reference to the remarkable results of the anti-corruption campaign being spearheaded by President Xi Jinping. The campaign is one of the "four comprehensives" proposed by Xi and is seen as his highest priority at the moment.

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