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Foreign Ministry opens house to public
By Raymond Zhou (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-04-16 05:49

You would never know Kong Quan had such an effervescent sense of humour if you only ever saw him on the news.

On Friday, 160 everyday people in front row seats usually reserved for foreign correspondents got to know this and much more as they were treated to a very professional yet humorous presentation as the Foreign Ministry spokesman hosted an "Open House."

Minister of Foreign Affairs Li Zhaoxing signs an autograph for visitors to his ministry at its "Open House" on Friday. About 160 everyday people visited the ministry Friday. [newsphoto]

It might have been one of the most unique slide shows ever staged in a government building, at once informative and entertaining, complete with pop-up animation, sound effects and spontaneous jokes, as Kong took the guests on a virtual tour of the long history of China's diplomacy and conducted a lively question-and-answer session.

It was followed by a real tour of the grand lobby of the ministry building and an archive exhibition.

He Qisheng, an IT worker from Beijing's Tongzhou District in the eastern suburbs, took his wife and 6-year-old son along. "We left home at 6:40 am and I'm sure my boy will be interested in State affairs after coming to this event," he said excitedly whilst on the lookout for any photo opportunities with the celebrity spokesman.

Out of a total of 1,000 applicants from 27 provinces, the Hes were among 100 people who successfully applied online. Another 60 were recommended by various departments inside the ministry.

"For the public, this is the third time (they have had a chance to visit) since September 2003 when we had our first Open House day," explained Kong Quan, "but for us this is the fifth because prior to this we had two special tours for students.

"But this was the first time the public could apply online."

Kong and Minister Li Zhaoxing, who joined the guests later for a photo session and pep talk, insisted they were there to "learn from you and listen to your opinions."

"The ultimate goal of China's diplomacy is to protect the interests of our nation and our people," said Minister Li, "and to maintain peace and stability."

This was best illustrated by Zhai Jun, director general of the ministry's Department for Western Asia and Northern Africa, who recounted, in harrowing detail, the true story of the rescue of eight Chinese taken hostage in Iraq last January.

"This is a manifestation of our leadership's policy of putting people first," Zhai said.

Foreign spokesman Kong Quan listens to a questions from an ordinary person. [newsphoto]

Setting the agenda

The agenda of the public tour, as well the selection of diplomats for appearance, was more or less directed by netizens who participated in an online poll.

The survey found the diplomat the public most wanted to see was Li Zhaoxing. Li, with eight events already cluttering his schedule on Friday, gladly found 10 minutes to chat with guests from as far away as the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and aged from 6 to 74.

The topic on the minds of most guests was Sino-Japanese relations. For that, Cui Tiankai, director general of the Department for Asian Affairs, shared his insights into how China has been dealing with its neighbour.

"For hot issues like the Diaoyu Islands, we have been very tough in maintaining our position. But the public may not be aware of it. Maybe we should put more of that kind of information on our website," he said.

Cui Congzheng, from the southern city of Shenzhen, looked as if he had just walked out of the martial arts landscape of a Jin Yong novel. Cui, with a flowing white beard, was sporting a traditional robe embroidered with a huge dragon. "The government, in making its diplomatic policies, should resort more to people power and leverage people's voices," he proposed.

From the other end of the fashion spectrum were 10 students from Peking University Youth Association of Foreign Affairs. Decked out in red T-shirts, they were clearly thrilled to meet their "idols."

(China Daily 04/16/2005 page1)

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