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A minor tiff between reporters at China's annual "Two Sessions" political meeting has set the country's social media alight and highlighted the sometimes farcical environment journalists covering the event have to work under.
- Liang Xiangyi reacted to a question from a journalist working for a state-affiliated network
- Media conferences at China's annual "Two Sessions" political meeting are often highly staged
- Chinese social media platform Weibo has censored discussion of the incident
It all began during one of the daily "delegate corridor" events, where roped-off journalists supposedly get to freely ask questions to those attending the meeting.
A "foreign media" reporter working for American Multimedia Television, Zhang Huijun, was selected by the moderator to ask a question to the head of China's State Assets Supervision and Administration Commission.
She asked a softball question about President Xi Jinping's signature initiative — the Belt and Road infrastructure plan, specifically about supervising investment for it.
Like many TV reporters, her delivery was all about the performance — formal, smiling and confident.
But her question didn't appear to go down well with the woman standing next to her — journalist Liang Xiangyi from Chinese finance outlet Yicai.
The session was being broadcast live on state TV, and within minutes clips and gifs were widely circulating on China's pre-eminent social media platform WeChat.
Imitators quickly popped up, and screenshots of private chats purporting to show Ms Liang's disdain for Ms Zhang also spread.
As did completely unverified claims that Ms Liang had been reprimanded by her company and had even been stripped of her press pass.
China's army of netizens also started to unearth details about Zhang Huiyun — that she supposedly claimed to have turned down an Indonesian prince, and that she refers to herself as "Miss China" on her social media profile.
But more revealing were details about her employer.
According to its own website, American Multimedia Television claims to be the first local American television on the US West Coast to have signed a cooperation deal with China's state broadcaster CCTV.
Through this deal, AMTV says it broadcasts Chinese state television programs in the US.
Some web users also highlighted Ms Zhang's wording of her question, referring to China as "our country" — pointing out it would be a strange term for an American journalist to use.
Many users on the public platform Weibo appeared to be supportive of Ms Liang, with some believing she was taking a stand against planted questions from a "fake" foreign media journalist.
The annual political sessions give both Chinese and foreign reporters a rare chance to ask questions of senior officials, but media conferences are usually highly staged affairs where only pre-selected journalists get to ask questions.
Organisers sometimes give opportunities allocated for the foreign media to non-Chinese reporters from Chinese media outlets.
Or, as what appears to have occurred in this case, to Chinese reporters working for overseas-based media groups affiliated with China's state propaganda outlets.
As the clip took over social media headlines, China's ever-present censors began to cool things down.
Searching for the women's names on Weibo brought up a message that said "according to relevant laws and policies, results for this search can't be shown".