China’s Defense Ministry on Thursday allowed foreign media to attend its monthly news conference for the first time in what is seen as a significant step toward greater transparency in government affairs, a Reuters report said.
The media briefings first began in 2011 and were restricted to Chinese reporters, an unusual practice since most countries grant access to foreign press reporters at such meetings. China’s growing military expenditure -- standing at $131 billion this year -- along with its increasingly assertive military stance in the region over territorial disputes has been a cause of worry for many sovereign governments in the region. And, tensions have also been exacerbated by a lack of openness on the part of the Chinese government about its intentions.
"We hope that attending the regular Defense Ministry press conference will help you in your reporting in China and hope that you can help the world understand more objectively and more truthfully China and China's military," Geng Yansheng, a ministry spokesman, said at the beginning of the conference.
Eight reporters from different foreign news agencies were invited by the ministry to attend the conference for an initial six-month trial period. Officials may decide to invite foreign reporters from other media outlets for subsequent meetings.
Geng answered 18 questions during a 90-minute session on a variety of sensitive topics including the ruling Communist Party’s crackdown against corruption, but gave no details about investigations involving two senior Chinese officials.
Last month, China said it would court-martial Xu Caihou, one of its senior-most former military officers on charges of corruption. Xu retired in 2013 as vice chairman from the powerful Central Military Commission.
Xu has been held for months under house arrest and is helping the government to probe the role of another senior officer, Gu Junshan, Reuters reported. Gu, who was the deputy director of the logistics department of the Chinese Army, was sacked after being investigated on charges of corruption earlier this year.
The probe into Gu’s corruption charges is proceeding and the military has backed President Xi Jinping’s fight against graft and corruption, Geng said.
Geng also fielded several questions about Chinese military drills in the last few days, which have reportedly caused widespread inconvenience by disrupting flights in eastern China.
The Chinese government was looking to “optimize” use of its airspace, Geng said in response, and added that the military was working with the civil aviation regulator to reduce civilian flight disruption, but gave no further details.