The questions that are chosen -- and those that are not -- can be as revealing as the answers they receive.
There was, of course, no mention of the detention of scores of lawyers, human rights and labor activists, and of Hong Kong booksellers; no mention of the growing weight of censorship that has fallen on Chinese journalism and social media.
The Reuters news agency was granted the first question and chose to ask about financial reform and the economy -- but not why its own website remains blocked in China.
As the South China Morning Post noted, Li failed to mention several other touchy subjects, including North Korea's missile tests, soaring property prices in China’s main cities, last year’s stock market turbulence, reform of China’s mammoth state-owned enterprises, ethnic tensions or terrorism.
So what was on the officially approved agenda? Here are a few of the main issues raised, what answers were given, and what issues were ducked.
Reform and the economy was a major theme of this year’s National People’s Congress annual meeting, and the choice of questions reflected that.
Li said China’s economic performance this year would provide a "warm breeze” for the global economy, and that the government had enough policy instruments in its “tool kit” to cope with any swings.
"It would be absolutely impossible for me to side with you that we are unable to meet our major economic growth target for this year," he said. “As long as we stick to reform and opening up, China’s economy will not see a hard landing."
“We will press ahead with cutting overcapacity while avoiding massive job losses,"
Last year, Li had said reforms would be as painful as “taking a knife to one's own flesh.” Now, he is downplaying the pain. The government is also sticking to a growth target that many people feel is unrealistic, and that will only encourage more wasteful government spending and, perhaps, some cooking of the books. Many experts are unimpressed.
“The government still shows little willingness to tolerate the pain associated with significant change,” wrote Julian Evans-Pritchard of Capital Economics. Instead of job losses, the focus “will be on mergers, reorganization and restructuring of debt. That might help paper over some of the cracks but will not drive the reallocation of workers and capital to more productive sectors, which is the key benefit that structural reform can bring.”
U.S.-China relations also come up regularly at the annual news conference.
Li said the underlying trend has been positive ever since China and the United States first established diplomatic relations. Last year, China became the United States’ main trading partner, with two-way trade reaching $560 billion, he said. Business cooperation has “always been of mutual benefit,” Li said.
“There are broad common interests between China and the United States. There are also some differences between the two countries, and some differences could be quite sharp. There's no denying this,” he said, adding: “The common interests far outweigh the differences.”
Li mentioned negotiations for a Bilateral Investment Treaty with the United States, promising that U.S. investors would gradually be given wider access to Chinese markets, provided Chinese companies received similar treatment.
“As for the ongoing general election in the United State, it has been lively and has caught the eye of many. No matter who in the end gets into the White House, the underlying trend of U.S.-China ties will not change."
Li papered over an increasingly fractious business relationship and brushed aside a question about concerns raised by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and others that trade with China was costing American jobs. He also failed to specifically mention acrimony over the South China Sea, North Korea and cyberespionage. For a contrasting view of the outlook for ties, see this column by David Ignatius in The Post today.
The South China Sea was asked about, but other nations’ concerns were barely addressed.
"Let me say that China all along believes in pursuing harmonious coexistence with its neighbors and we always believe in having a stable neighborhood environment," he said. “It is also natural that some differences may arise between neighbors, but as long as we all treat each other with sincerity and seek peaceful settlements to resolve differences with diplomatic means, regional stability will be maintained."
"We will remain committed to the path of peaceful development, but we will not waver in our resolve to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity," Li said. "The two are not contradictory."
The United States and many rival claimants to territory in the South China Sea are concerned by what they see as the region’s growing militarization. Many express frustration at China’s intransigence over sovereignty and worry about Beijing's refusal to accept international arbitration. Li did nothing to assuage those concerns.
The future of Hong Kong under Chinese rule got some attention, but no mention of protests and tensions in the former British colony.
“We believe that the Hong Kong government has the abilities and Hong Kong people have the wisdom to deal with complicated problems and situations facing Hong Kong," Li said. “I have confidence in a bright future for Hong Kong.”
The recent disappearance of several Hong Kong booksellers has sparked widespread concern that China did not respect its own “One Country, Two Systems” model and was impinging on the territory’s autonomy. But Li offered only a bland assurance that the model of Hong Kong’s autonomy under “One Country, Two Systems” would be maintained.
China makes a big show of openness at the National People's Congress, with ministers and provinces holding many news conferences. Although many questions appear scripted, and chances for impromptu interactions limited, Li said he had asked his ministers for more openness this year:
"I told them you can't just wave and walk away when reporters ask you questions. Open your mouths and directly answer questions on the spot," he said. "I heard the ministers' performance has been rated highly by reporters, right?"
The reality is somewhat different, as these posts by the China Digital Times and Wall Street Journal explain in more detail. In fact, as Bloomberg reported, participants at the meetings in Beijing this year "have been cautioned against impromptu discussions with foreign media that might stray from the script."
A Chinese reporter from state-run Science and Technology Daily claimed to have been scolded for asking "negative questions" and then threatened by one delegate at the parallel China People's Political Consultative Conference. "You can't write whatever you want about companies involved in military industry," the reporter said he was told. "If you still want this job, you better watch out. I've noted down your press number; better watch out or some relevant department might lock you up."
On Wednesday, Li got 98.4 percent support for his annual economic work report from the National People's Congress, the largely ceremonial legislature.
As Bloomberg noted, that was actually the highest disapproval rate he has received since taking office in 2013, but it is still a support level a U.S. president could only dream of in Congress. What remains a mystery is who voted against him, and whether they did so voluntarily, or just for show.
Xu Yangjingjing contributed to this report.