By Ben Blanchard
BEIJING (Reuters) – China kicked off this year’s parliamentary season on Friday with an attack on those in the West who seek to besmirch the country for their own nefarious purposes, with a government spokesman quoting Martin Luther King Jr. in an appeal for understanding.
The highlight of parliament, which opens on Monday, will be the passage of a constitutional amendment that not only further cements the ruling Communist Party’s grip on power but also lifts presidential term limits.
The party made the announcement on Sunday, setting the stage for President Xi Jinping to stay in office indefinitely should he wish, prompting accusations from some in China that it is set to become another North Korea.
The move comes not only as Xi seeks greater power, but as the party increasingly seeks to have its voice heard around the world, especially through state media’s global footprint and in government-run Confucius Institutes meant to teach the Chinese language.
The issue has become particularly controversial in Australia, where Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull last year said he took very seriously reports that the Communist Party had sought to interfere in his country, sparking anger in Beijing.
Asked about criticism that China was seeking “infiltration” of the West, Wang Guoqing, a spokesman for parliament’s largely ceremonial advisory body which meets in parallel with the legislature, dismissed it as a new word “concocted” to besmirch China.
“Regretfully we see that certain people in the West, their bodies are in the 21st century, but their brains are still stuck in the Cold War era,” he told a news briefing, without identifying anyone.
Certain forces in the West have double standards and are full of prejudice against China, Wang added.
As China’s development and rapid changes have attracted the world’s attention, it wants people to see its real face and understand it better, he said.
This has prompted China to step up efforts to tell its story better, he said, adding, “This is beyond reproach.”He called for greater understanding, reciting a quote from the late U.S. civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. to make his point:
“Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they cannot communicate; they cannot communicate because they are separated,” Wang said, quoting King.
However, Wang only took one question from a foreign reporter during the news conference that ran slightly longer than an hour, a Japanese journalist who asked about prospects for Beijing’s relations with Tokyo.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)