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Choreographing our China congress coverage

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Beijing, China

By Petar Kujundzic

Is there anyone against? – “Meiyou” (There is no one)

The last time I covered an important Communist Party congress was in my own country almost 23 years ago. I was the only photographer for Reuters there, shooting black and white and sending a few pictures to the wire using a drum analog transmitter. The last congress of the Yugoslav Communist Party, which ruled the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia from 1945 until 1991, ended with a split within the League of Communists and ushered in years of violence and civil conflict... but that is a totally different story.

Last week’s 18th Chinese Communist Party Congress, by contrast, was a highly choreographed affair — no drama. In fact, during the preparation, the question arose: How do you cover one of the world’s top stories when it’s considered visually “boring.” At the same time, how do you deal with the difficulties of restricted access, especially if you are a foreign journalist in China?

On the other hand, the congress represents a rare opportunity to cover a once-in-a-decade leadership swap in one of the world’s superpowers, just a week after the dramatic and colorful presidential election in the United States. This time, as Chief Photographer in China, it was my turn to organize the coverage.

China, a single-party socialist republic, covers an area of 9,598,094 square kilometers with a population of more than 1.3 billion people, of which only 6 percent are members of the CPC. The Communist Party of China says this is a collective leadership and in theory the congress was due to choose seven men from among equals to serve on the Standing Committee — the pinnacle of power. Even though these decisions are made behind closed doors, there was nothing secret about who would take over as party chief — Xi Jinping.

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