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China's Leader Says Journalists Are Like Broken Cars

The White House spent the months leading up to President Obama's visit to China negotiating not just greenhouse gas emissions and other issues, but also whether President Xi Jinping would host a news conference in a country notoriously restrictive for journalists.

When Xi did, even Obama looked like he was waiting to see what would happen.

New York Times reporter Mark Landler initially asked Obama a long question about anti-American rhetoric in China in recent weeks — so long that Obama at one point joked, "I'm not sure I remember the question."

Before Landler sat down though, he turned to Xi and said, "I want to make sure I grab my chance with the president of China." Landler asked Xi — again in a long-winded, two-part question — whether he was concerned about the U.S. apparent strategic pivot in the region to shore up support of other Asian countries and then about the lack of press freedom in China.

Obama answered his question from the reporter and then turned to Xi. The Chinese leader faced the room of reporters, waited a beat and then took a new question from a state-run media organization. You can see Obama's raised eyebrows about a minute into the CBS News video on YouTube at the top of the page.

The question from the Chinese reporter didn't seem to surprise the Xi, whose response sounded as though he was reading from a Wikipedia page.

"The strategic significance of the China-U.S. relations is on the rise," he said, continuing on for several minutes. "China is a participant in, builder of and contributor to the international system."

Just when it seemed all hope was lost for Landler and his question, Xi turned to the group of journalists and blamed them for their press freedom problems.

"When a car breaks down on the road, perhaps we need to get off the car and to see where the problem lies," Xi said. "And when a certain issue is raised as a problem, there must be a reason. In Chinese we have a saying: The party which has created a problem should be the one to help resolve it."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Laura Sullivan is an NPR News investigative correspondent whose work has cast a light on some of the country's most significant issues.

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