by Xinhua writer Zhou Zhou
BEIJING, March 17 (Xinhua) -- Premier Li Keqiang's press debut on Sunday in the Great Hall of the People grabbed immediate public attention, as many are anticipating how the 57-year-old newly-appointed premier will steer the government of the world's second-largest economy over the next five years.
In an almost two-hour-long press conference, Li tried to lend answers with his characteristic ease and cadence to a wide array of concerns, including urbanization, corruption, pollution and food safety.
With a clear-cut, dark-skinned square face, Li pledged to maintain a government that is obliged to serve the people, as well as make brave advances to benefit the people in building a prosperous country.
Before taking his oath, Li stretched out his arms to introduce four vice premiers, a move that implies the cabinet's endeavors in teamwork.
The size of the government will see no chance of inflation, as the ongoing round of institutional restructuring Li champions is set to streamline government functions and decentralize power over the market and society -- a painful move he described as a "self-imposed revolution" that demands a conviction to "chop off one's own arms."
Noting that reform in China "has entered deep water and will find it extremely difficult to break blocks set by interest groups," Li insisted on "sailing in a head tide despite all dangers," as he believes these efforts are closely linked to "a nation's destiny."
Li's firm resolution is accompanied by his down-to-earth style of work. He has tried to "strike a balance between ideal and reality," and pushed for reform in a gradual but sure way.
"We do what we say and brook no lip service," Li told reporters, pledging to cut the number of administrative approvals by one-third during his tenure.
At the first session of the 12th National People's Congress, lawmakers adopted a cabinet restructuring plan that reduced the number of ministries under the State Council from 27 to 25.
Li also considers a clean government to be a guarantee for maintaining economic growth, improving people's livelihoods and safeguarding social justice, which comprise the top three tasks of the newly-installed government.
"I swear that the Chinese government stands firm in fighting corruption," said Li.
He warned officials that "once you are devoted to public service, you have to abandon the idea of becoming rich." He also expressed a willingness to "accept supervision from the public and the media."
Li holds dual academic degrees in law and economics. He urged "building a modern economy, modern society and modern government with the spirit of the rule of law," and vowed in his opening remarks to "be loyal to the Constitution and the people."
The economically savvy Li became head of central China's Henan Province in 1998, followed by a post as head of northeast China's Liaoning Province. The agricultural province of Henan was struggling to modernize its agriculture and push ahead with urbanization, while industrial Liaoning was facing the painful transformation of its outdated economic structure.
His rich provincial working experience helped him to put forward a theory of new urbanization, a human-centered theory that does not allow "a co-existence of high rises with slums" and calls for building cities "with clean sky and safe drinking water and food."
"It is the duty of the government to bear the living costs of disadvantaged groups," Li said.
During Li's tenure as vice premier over the past five years, over 12 million dilapidated urban homes were renovated at his call. In February, he called for initiating a second round of slum renovation, aiming to bring another 10 million households into new homes over the next five years.
Li pledged at the press conference to fight pollution and food safety "without mercy and with an iron fist." These problems have resulted in widespread public unrest in recent years and sparked heated debate at this year's annual national congress.
On a snowy December day, Li climbed up a muddy slope during an inspection tour in central China's Hunan Province, grabbing some soil in his hand in the way ordinary farmers do.
Now China is on an uphill journey of its own, with many obstacles ahead waiting to be overcome. The premier has vowed to devote himself and show respect to the people.
"Helping people realize their future expectations is the duty of this government," Li said.