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Der wöchentliche Presserückblick der Schweizer Botschaft in der VR China
The Weekly Press Review of the Swiss Embassy in the People's Republic of China
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  3-7.4.17, No. 666  
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Foreign Policy

Trump launches massive cruise-missile attack on Syria, then calls on 'civilised nations' to end carnage (SCMP)
2017-04-07
US President Donald Trump called on all civilised nations” to join the US in seeking an end to the carnage in Syria, after he ordered the launch of a massive barrage of cruise missiles into the country in retaliation for this week's gruesome chemical weapons attack against civilians. It was the first direct American assault on the Syrian government and Donald Trump's most dramatic military order since becoming president. Dozens of US cruise missiles hit the Shayrat air base in central Syria, where US officials say the Syrian military planes that dropped the chemicals had taken off. The US missiles hit at 3.45am Friday in Syria. Trump said the attack was in the vital national security interest” of the US. He said the United States must prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons”, and there is no dispute that Syria used banned chemical weapons.” He added that peace and harmony will prevail” so long as the US continues to stand for justice. The surprise US assault marked a striking reversal for Trump, who warned as a candidate against the US getting pulled into the Syrian civil war, now in its seventh year. But the president appeared moved by the photos of children killed in the chemical attack, calling it a disgrace to humanity” that crossed a lot of lines”. About 60 US Tomahawk missiles, fired from warships in the Mediterranean Sea, targeted an air base in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack that American officials believe Syrian government aircraft launched with a nerve agent, possibly sarin. The president did not announce the attacks in advance, though he and other national security officials ratcheted up their warnings to the Syrian government throughout the day Thursday. I think what happened in Syria is one of the truly egregious crimes and shouldn't have happened and it shouldn't be allowed to happen,” Trump told reporters travelling on Air Force One to Florida, where he was holding a two-day summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The strike came as Trump was hosting Xi in meetings focused in part on another pressing US security dilemma: North Korea's nuclear programme. Trump's actions in Syria could signal to China that the new president isn't afraid of unilateral military steps. even if key nations like China are standing in the way. Trump has advocated greater counterterrorism cooperation with Russia, Assad's most powerful military backer. Just last week, the Trump administration signaled the US was no longer interested in trying to push Assad from power over his direction of a conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and led to the worst refugee crisis since World War II. US military officials sought to portray the strikes as an appropriate, measured response. But the assault still risks plunging America into the middle of Syria's conflict, complicating the safety of the hundreds of US forces fighting a separate campaign against the Islamic State group in the north of the country. If Assad's military persists in further gas attacks, the Trump administration might logically pursue increased retaliation. Russia and Iran, Assad's allies, pose other problems. Russian military personnel and aircraft are embedded with Syria's, and Iranian troops and paramilitary forces are also on the ground helping Assad fight the array of opposition groups hoping to topple him. Before the strikes, US military officials said they informed their Russian counterparts of the impending attack. The goal was to avoid any accident involving Russian forces. Nevertheless, Russia's Deputy UN ambassador Vladimir Safronkov warned that any negative consequences from the strikes would be on the shoulders of those who initiated such a doubtful and tragic enterprise.” Trump's decision to attack Syria came three-and-a-half years after President Barack Obama threatened Assad with military action after an earlier chemical weapons attack killed hundreds outside of Damascus. Obama had declared the use of such weapons a red line.” At the time, several American ships in the Mediterranean were poised to launch missiles, only for Obama to abruptly pull back after key US ally Britain and the US Congress balked at his plan. He opted instead for a Russian-backed plan that was supposed to remove and eliminate Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles. Thursday night's strikes were launched from the USS Ross and USS Porter and landed in the early morning Friday in Syria. The world learned of the chemical attack earlier in the week in footage that showed people dying in the streets and bodies of children stacked in piles. The international outcry fueled an emotional response from Trump, who appeared to abandon his much-touted America First” vision for a stance of humanitarian intervention, akin to that of previous American leaders. I think what happened in Syria is a disgrace to humanity,” he said Thursday. Trump seemed to rapidly reconsider his feelings about Assad, saying: He's there and I guess he's running things, so something should happen.” The drama played out as Trump and his top national security aides were meeting Chinese President Xi at a Florida summit, which was supposed to focus on another pressing U.S. security dilemma: What to do about North Korea's missile and nuclear programs. Thursday's action in Syria could also send a message to China. Washington is trying to persuade Beijing to adopt a tougher approach to its North Korean ally, much like the U.S. pressure campaign with the Russians on Syria. And the strikes in Syria show the Chinese that Trump isn't afraid of unilateral military steps to advance American interests, even if key nations are standing in the way. The show of force in Syria raises legal questions. It's unclear what authority Trump is relying on to attack another government. When Obama intervened in Libya in 2011, he used a U.N. Security Council mandate and NATO's overall leadership of the mission to argue that he had legal authority — arguments that many Republicans opposed. Trump can't rely on either justification here. Unclear also is whether Trump is adopting any broader effort to combat Assad. Under Obama, the United States largely pulled back from its support for so-called moderate” rebels when Russia's military intervention in September 2015 led them to suffer a series of battlefield defeats. Instead, Obama sought to work with Russia on a negotiated transition. Trump and his top aides had acknowledged in recent days the reality” of Assad being in power, saying his ouster was no longer a priority. But the chemical weapons attack seemed to spur a rethink. In Florida on Thursday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said of Assad: There's no role for him to govern the Syrian people.” ^ top ^

China supports comprehensive, fair probe into use of chemicals as weapons in Syria: envoy (Xinhua)
2017-04-06
China supports the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and related UN entities in carrying out comprehensive, objective and fair investigations into uses of chemicals as weapons in Syria, said a Chinese envoy here on Wednesday. Liu Jieyi, China's permanent representative to the UN, made the remarks at a Security Council emergency meeting on alleged chemical weapon attack in Syria. It is reported that at least 70 people were killed, 200 others were wounded Tuesday in a gas attack in a rebel-held area in Syria's northwestern province of Idlib. Liu said that China is "profoundly shocked" by the suspected use of chemicals as weapons which has resulted in enormous civilian casualties. He said there have been several cases of use of chemicals as weapons in Syria, and therefore China supports OPCW in conducting the probes into all cases so as to reach conclusions based on evidence that can "stand the test of time and facts." "China firmly opposes the use of chemicals as weapons by any country, any organization or any person under any circumstances," said Liu. "We strongly condemn any attacks against civilians." "It is essential to hold to account all the related perpetrators and responsible parties in cases of chemical weapons," he added. Liu also reiterated that political settlement is the only way out substantiveof the Syrian question. "It is the hope of China that all the parties will create conditions for the political settlement rather than creating trouble or difficulties," he said. The 15-nation council is working on a draft resolution which asks for an inquiry into the alleged attack. However, due to disagreements among Security Council members, more time is needed for negotiations on the text before it is put to a vote. ^ top ^

Trump says he's developed friendship with Xi as first day of US-China summit ends (SCMP)
2017-04-07
US President Donald Trump said at his first summit meeting with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping that he expects to have a strong relationship with Xi and the two men have already developed a friendship. Trump's comments came towards the end of the first day of meetings between the two heads of state in Florida, just ahead of the host's announcement that the US has launched a surprise cruise missile attack on targets in Syria. During a photo shoot for the press before the two presidents dined at Tump's Mar-a-Lago estate, the US president said: It is a great honour to have the President of China and his incredibly talented wife. We had a long discussion already. So far, I have gotten nothing. Absolutely nothing, but we have developed a friendship. I think, long-term, we are going to have a very, very great relationship and I look very much forward to it,” he said. A number of the president's top aides were present, including his son-in-law Jared Kushner, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, chief strategist Stephen Bannon and Ivanka Trump. Kushner was seated by Xi and his wife, Bannon near the end of the table. It is not known if the two presidents discussed the Middle East in discussions on Thursday. Formal talks are due to take place on Friday. It was widely expected that North Korea and trade issues would be the major topics the two heads of state would discuss. The massive barrage of cruise missiles into Syria on Thursday night was in retaliation for this week's chemical weapons attack against civilians, US officials said. Trump ignored shouted questions from reporters about Syria and North Korea at the dinner photo opportunity for the press. Xi was earlier greeted at Palm Beach airport by the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. US Defence Secretary James Mattis and Trump's daughter Ivanka, who recently became an unpaid federal employee in the capacity of special assistant to her father, are also now in Palm Beach. Ivanka arrived with her three children on Air Force One with her father and First Lady Melania Trump. This week's meeting in Mar-a-Lago [between Trump and Xi] is arguably the most important foreign policy gathering of the still-young Trump administration,” Richard Haass, president of the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations, said in an op-ed piece published a day ahead of the meeting. There is a school of thought that predicts this relationship will become adversarial. So far, the two countries have proved the historical pessimists wrong.” Xi arrived at 1:35 pm EDT (1:35 am HK), and was greeted by Tillerson, who arrived ahead of the US president. Among the most difficult issues on Friday will be trade and economic reform in China. With Pyongyang conducting missile tests nearly every week, Xi's delegation may be more inclined to strike some kind of agreement on a new approach toward its militaristic neighbour than it will be on trade. The US has recorded massive trade deficits with China for many years, which helped build support for Trump during the US election last year. Trump hammered China and his political opponents for allowing trade regulations and currency policies that limit how much the US can sell in China, leading to job losses at home. The chief goal of our trade policies is the prosperity of the American worker,” Tillerson said in a statement issued after his arrival in Florida. To that end, we will pursue economic engagement with China that prioritises the economic well-being of the American people.” The US trade deficit with China has exceeded US$300 billion for each of the past five years, according to US Census Bureau data. At US$54 billion already in the first two months of 2017, that trend appears to be intact for this year also. In its most recent annual report to the US Congress, the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission said China' economic liberalisation has fallen far short of global expectations.” It has become increasingly apparent that under the leadership of Chinese President and General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Xi Jinping, China's domestic reform agenda is aimed at strengthening the hand of the state and maintaining CCP control— not promoting economic liberalisation,” the report said. Trump, having stumbled in his effort to convince enough lawmakers to pass a health care overhaul promised as part of his presidential campaign, can't afford to ignore expectations that he'll get compromises from China on trade. Their meeting comes after several days of escalating tension as a result of military provocations by North Korea. The inclusion of Mattis and Tillerson, who arrived separately from the president, earlier in the day underscores the importance that security issues related to North Korean missile tests will play in the series of meetings scheduled to run until Friday afternoon. Because the [Trump] administration is still researching what it's China policy is going to be, I expect this to be very much a getting-to-know-you kind of meeting,” Steve Orlin, President of the National Committee on US China Relations, said in an interview. With the US administration's focus on North Korea, I expect there will be some fairly detailed discussion about how China can work more closely with the United States to prevent the North Koreans from going further, especially to prevent them from having the capability to reach the mainland US with its missile technology and nuclear capability,” Orlin added. A series of formal meetings between the two delegations, including a working lunch, will take place at Mar-a-Lago on Friday. ^ top ^

Why China's Asian neighbours are so nervous over the Xi-Trump summit (SCMP)
2017-04-06
China's neighbours in Asia will be watching the Sino-US summit to see if the role of the United States as a key security player in the region will be reduced, observers said. The analysts said Asian nations were concerned that US leadership in the region might be traded off” if China gave concessions to President Donald Trump on trade, but were also worried about being forced to take sides if ties between China and the US worsened. President Xi Jinping and Trump on Thursday will begin their first meeting at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, during which the two leaders are expected to discuss issues including trade, North Korean nuclear development and economic cooperation. While there is a very limited expectation of specific outcomes from the Mar-a-Lago summit, it will shape the discourse of the emerging regional trade and security architecture in Asia,” said Rajeev Ranjan Chaturvedy, a research associate at the Institute of South Asian Studies at National University of Singapore. He said many Asian countries such as Singapore would be watching the outcome of the summit, which could lead to a recalibration of external relations and strategic equations in Asia”. Lee Chih-horng, a research fellow at the Longus Institute for Development and Strategy in Singapore, said there were concerns the two leaders' meeting would end on a sour note, and that a trade war would develop. If Sino-US relations break up, Singapore will be forced to take sides between the US and China. This would be a nightmare for the city state, which is used to conducting a diplomacy equidistant between the world's two great powers,” he said. But a positive outcome, such as China agreeing to address trade disputes or invest in US infrastructure, could mean that the US would be less inclined to provide security back-up. This would affect nations such as Japan, which has a security alliance with Washington and territorial disputes with Beijing. There is always a concern when the US talks bilaterally with China that it can affect Japan,” said Yuki Tatsumi, director of the Japan programme at the Washington-based Stimson Centre. Particularly with President Trump, whose approach to all policies including diplomacy seems to be 'transactional'.” Stephen Nagy, a professor of politics and international studies at International Christian University in Tokyo, said: Any compromise by the US or what is seen as prioritising China-US relations over Japan-US relations will sound alarm bells in Tokyo, and strengthen momentum towards normalising Japan's military capabilities so that it can stand alone.” But Nagy said Japan could offer support to the US to help manage China's rise to ensure that the US has a strong security footprint” and maintain political and economic engagement in the region. The meeting between Xi and Trump came after North Korea fired a ballistic missile off the coast of the Korean Peninsula. Japanese and South Korean analysts said their two countries were the most worried about Washington's commitment to protect its allies in the region at a time of escalating crisis, and whether Beijing would be willing to make any concessions in stopping Pyongyang's nuclear programme. Japan wants to see Trump clearly communicating to Xi the US commitment to defend its allies,” said Tatsumi. Lee Kyu-tae, an economic and geopolitical observer from South Korea's Catholic Kwandong University, said Seoul would be watching whether China will carry out tighter sanctions against Pyongyang or play other types of hardball with North Korea”. Lee said the results from the Xi-Trump summit could also have implications for bilateral relations between China and South Korea, which have become strained since Seoul's decision to deploy a US-developed anti-missile system. ^ top ^

Economy, border top visiting Myanmar president's agenda (Global Times)
2017-04-07
Economic cooperation and border management will be high on the Myanmar president's agenda as he makes his first visit to China amid an economic slowdown at home and increased fighting with armed ethnic groups, Chinese analysts said. Myanmar President U Htin Kyaw left Nay Pyi Taw for Beijing on Thursday for a six-day visit to China. The visit is aimed at enhancing mutual understanding and promoting friendly relations and cooperation between Myanmar and China, according to the Xinhua News Agency. Experts pointed out that U Htin Kyaw's visit to China symbolizes an era of rapid development for the Sino-Myanmar relations. "Although the government that took office in March 2016 has proposed a set of economic policies, they failed to achieve their goals as expected. On the contrary, foreign investment, especially from the US and Europe, has been declining. Therefore, during this visit, Myanmar's president may intend to seek more cooperation with China in bilateral trade and investment to ease economic pressures," Zhu Zhenming, a professor at the Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times. The amount of foreign direct investment approved between April and December 2016 stood at about $3.5 billion, down 28 per cent from the same period a year before. The full-year amount through March 2017 is likely to show the first year-on-year decline in four years, the Financial Times reported in January, citing Myanmar's Directorate of Investment and Company Administration. China's investment reached $2.8 billion this fiscal year 2016-2017, down by nearly $500 million compared with the previous year. However, China still ranks first overall in total foreign investment, with $18.53 billion since 1988, the commission said. Experts noted that joint cooperation in border management will be a hot issue, along with discussions on the Belt and Road initiative, the Myitsone dam project, the Sino-Myanmar oil pipeline, and the construction of a deep-sea port in Kyaukpyu. "Cross-border crimes, including drug-trafficking, human trafficking and telecom fraud, have been sharply rising in recent years. The two countries will discuss how to better fight against cross-border crimes and safeguard border peace," said Zhu. A total of 370 Chinese nationals suspected of involvement in telecom fraud were transferred to the public security bureau of Southwest China's Yunnan Province by authorities of Myanmar's Wa State on Sunday following a joint crackdown. And according to a report published by the office of the National Narcotics Control Commission under the Ministry of Public Security in March, Southeast Asia's Golden Triangle remains the main source of heroin and methamphetamine in China and about 44,333 hectares of opium poppy were cultivated in northern Myanmar during the 2015-16 growing season, an increase of 3.7 percent from the previous year. The report said that cross-border drug trafficking occurred continuously and frequently. Cartels from provinces like Southwest China's Sichuan and Guizhou provinces and countries like Myanmar played a particularly big role in drug trafficking. Zhu added that severe armed conflicts that broke out in November 2016 in northern Myanmar have been threatening the stability of the Sino-Myanmar border. Myanmar may also ask China to play a role as a constructive mediator, providing support for peace talks among the parties concerned. U Htin Kyaw arrived in Sichuan Province on Thursday. He was reportedly received at the airport by Sichuan vice governor Yang Hongbo. In recent years, Myanmar has deepened economic and trade cooperation with Sichuan and the president's visit might be related to the purchase of the Joint Fighter-17 (JF-17) Thunder (also named FC-1 Xiaolong), Liu Yun, an analyst on Myanmar issues, told the Global Times. Myanmar's Air Force has confirmed that the purchase of JF-17 fighter jets was approved. ^ top ^

China blocks visit by Australian MPs because of rights criticism, say sources (SCMP)
2017-04-06
China called off a visit by two Australian politicians after it took offence to a letter that called on it to address allegations of human right abuses, two sources familiar with the planned tour said on Thursday. The members of parliament, one from the ruling coalition government and one from the opposition Labor Party, were scheduled to visit as part a parliamentary investigation into a rising tide of synthetic drugs trafficked from southern China. But after the receipt of a letter from 11 countries including Australia, Canada and Japan – calling on Beijing to investigate allegations of torture against human rights lawyers – the tour was cancelled, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorised to talk to the media. They were told from Beijing that their visit could not be accommodated and following advice from Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the tour was cancelled,” one source said. Chinese President Xi Jinping's administration has tightened control over almost every aspect of civil society since 2012, citing the need to buttress national security and stability. During that time, China has detained or questioned hundreds of human rights lawyers and other government critics, international rights groups have said. It routinely accuses rights lawyers of collaborating with foreign hostile forces” to undermine state power. Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was last week forced to hold an emergency meeting with the Chinese ambassador to head off any possible diplomatic fallout after Canberra failed to ratify an extradition treaty with China. The failure was a rare dent to Sino-Australia relations, which have improved in recent months, culminating in the spate of trade agreements signed in March following a visit by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. ^ top ^

China, Australia to prepare for FTA upgrade talks: ministry itre (Xinhua)
2017-04-06
China and Australia will prepare to begin talks on upgrading a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) between the two nations, a commerce ministry official said Thursday. Sun Jiwen, spokesperson of the Ministry of Commerce, made the remarks at a press briefing in response to a question over a statement of intent signed during Premier Li Keqiang's official visit to Australia in late March. The two sides will start reviewing the China-Australia FTA (ChAFTA) chapters on service trade and investment, as well as a memorandum of understanding on investment facilitation this year, according to the statement of intent. This will pave the way for starting ChAFTA upgrade talks "when appropriate," said Sun. ChAFTA took effect in December 2015. In 2016, 85 percent of bilateral goods trade benefited from tariff reductions, while Chinese enterprises made 3.68 billion U.S. dollars in direct investment to Australia, up 56 percent year on year. China and New Zealand will start the first round of talks on upgrading the China-New Zealand FTA, which took effect in 2008, from April 25 to 27 in Beijing, according to Sun.  ^ top ^

Xi sends congratulatory message to new Timor-Leste president (Xinhua)
2017-04-06
Chinese President Xi Jinping has sent a congratulatory message to Francisco Guterres, also known as Lu-Olo, on being elected president of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste. In the message sent Monday, Xi said that as friendly neighboring countries, China and Timor-Leste have witnessed substantial progress in the development of bilateral relations since the two countries forged diplomatic ties 15 years ago. China and Timor-Leste have set a good example for a relationship between a big and small nation based on equality and mutual benefit, he said. "I attach great importance to the China-Timo-Leste relations and am willing to work with you to cement the traditional friendship and deepen pragmatic cooperation between the two countries, so as to lift China -Timor-Leste comprehensive cooperative partnership featuring good-neighborly relations, mutual trust and mutual benefit to a new level," said Xi in the message. The Chinese president expressed hope that the people of Timor-Leste will continue to see achievements in their national development drive under Lu-Olo's leadership.  ^ top ^

Norwegian deputy oil minister to meet China's CNOOC, as Oslo-Beijing relations thaw (SCMP)
2017-04-06
Norway's deputy oil minister will meet top executives of China's biggest offshore oil producer, China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), on Thursday to discuss possible cooperation ahead of the first visit by a Norwegian prime minister to China in a decade, officials said. CNOOC, which operates the 140,000 barrels per day Buzzard field offshore of Britain via its subsidiary, Nexen, said in 2010 it would be interested in coming to Norway. A row over the Nobel Peace Prize award to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, chosen by a Norwegian committee that same year, froze relations between the two countries. Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg will be in Beijing from Friday until next Monday to meet President Xi Jinping, Prime Minister Li Keqiang and other Chinese officials. It will be the first visit by a Norwegian prime minister since the countries resumed full diplomatic relations in December. Norway's deputy oil minister Ingvil Smines Tybring-Gjedde would meet the number two executive at CNOOC on April 6, the oil ministry and business lobby group Norwegian Energy Partners said. We have had a very good relationship with Chinese oil companies, and we want to get back to the situation before the Nobel peace prize and all the problems with China,” said Haakon Skretting from Norwegian Energy Partners. Solberg will take executives from several top Norwegian companies, including oil firm Statoil, to China. Statoil, which has had an office in Beijing since 1982, said China was a key market, with sales to its refineries at roughly 100,000 barrels per day. Companies such as Kuwait's Kufpec and Russia's Gazprom have also recently shown an interest in Norwegian oil assets and technology. Norway provides opportunities to gain know-how and learn about new technologies, in order to bring them back home later,” said Daniel Rennemo, head of PricewaterhouseCoopers's Norway oil and gas transactions team. It remains attractive due to it resource potential, highly qualified workforce, stable geopolitics and attractive tax regime, while companies like Statoil have also managed to cut costs significantly.” ^ top ^

Rail link part of broader 'Belt, Road' initiative (Global Times)
2017-04-05
A consortium of Chinese and Indonesian companies on Tuesday signed a contract with PT Kereta Cepat Indonesia China (KCIC), which will oversee a high-speed rail project linking Jakarta to Bandung. The engineering, procurement and construction contract was signed in the premises of Indonesia's state-run construction company Wijaya Karya, according to a statement posted Wednesday on the website of the National Development and Reform Commission, China's top economic planner. The 142-kilometer line, the nation's first high-speed railway, is being developed by the China-Indonesia joint venture KCIC. Using full Chinese standards, the railway is expected to be built in three years, and trains may run at 350 kilometers per hour. After completion, the travel time between Jakarta and Bandung is expected to be reduced to 40 minutes from more than three hours, which will effectively relieve traffic pressure and drive the development of businesses and tourism along the route, according to the People's Daily. The railway is one of the major early projects of the China-proposed "One Belt, One Road" initiative, said the People's Daily. The initiative was put forward by President Xi Jinping in 2013 to enhance connectivity, trade and investment among Asian, European and African countries. The signing of the contract was witnessed by Chinese Ambassador to Indonesia Xie Feng and Indonesia's Presidential Chief of Staff Teten Masduki. Xie said that with the full support of the Chinese and Indonesian governments and hard work of contractors, the project can be finished on time. The project received construction permits for the entire length on August 21, 2016, seven months after ground was broken, according to media reports. In February, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi talked with his Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi over strengthening bilateral cooperation. The discussions took place on the sidelines of the G20 ministerial meeting in Bonn, Germany, the Xinhua News Agency reported. Wang said he hoped that both sides could work together to carry forward the Jakarta-Bandung railway project, said the report. Retno said that her country is willing to better connect its national development strategy with China's Belt and Road initiative. ^ top ^

Philippines, China restore direct talks to discuss security, trade issues (Global Times)
2017-04-05
The Philippines and China have re-established direct talks for the first time in six years to discuss security and trade issues, the Philippines' top diplomat said Tuesday. Philippine Acting Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo said the biggest fruit of President Rodrigo Duterte's visit to Beijing in October last year was the re-opening of the lines that pave the way for direct consultations between the two countries. "I think one of the benefits that have arisen from the president's visit last October is that we have restored various mechanisms to talk to China, not only on trade but also on political and security issues," Manalo told a forum in Manila. "The key here is how to talk, how to settle or how to manage tensions in a peaceful way," Manalo said. He said bilateral talks are the key because dialogue and cooperation will foster peace and prosperity in the region. The Philippines and China are in talks to establish a bilateral consultation mechanism on the South China Sea. Manalo said that the mechanism will provide the Philippines and China a good forum to have frank exchanges on vital issues. "We're discussing with China in the context of trying to improve our relationship," he said. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said last week that China is willing to strengthen dialogue with the Philippines to properly manage and control divergences and advance maritime cooperation to create a favorable atmosphere for pragmatic cooperation as well as the sound and stable development of ties. ^ top ^

New Delhi using Dalai as diplomatic tool harms Sino-Indian ties (Global Times)
2017-04-05
The 14th Dalai Lama has been invited by New Delhi to Tawang, a disputed region on the China-India border this week. The Dalai Lama is expected to be received by India's Junior Home Minister Kiren Rijiju this time, a move that gives the trip some official implications. Beijing has voiced concerns over the issue, but New Delhi claimed that China shouldn't intervene in its "internal affairs." This is absurd. The Dalai Lama has long been active in anti-China separatist activities under the guise of religion. New Delhi inviting the Dalai Lama to sensitive region gravely damages the China-India relationship. Unlike his predecessors, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems to have taken a different stance on the Dalai issue, raising public engagements with the monk and challenging Beijing's bottom line. The Dalai Lama was received by Indian President Pranab Mukherjee in December, and invited by Pema Khandu, "chief minister" of "Arunachal Pradesh," to Tawang this month. "It's a behavioral change you are seeing. India is more assertive," Rijiju openly said in an interview with Reuters earlier. Amid Beijing-New Delhi conflicts, the Dalai Lama is now openly used by India as a diplomatic tool to win more leverage. New Delhi is dissatisfied with Beijing's stance over its membership bid to the Nuclear Suppliers Group and its request to name Masood Azhar, head of Pakistani militant group, to a UN Security Council blacklist. Therefore, Delhi attempts to play the Tibet card against Beijing. In fact, China has never thought of making trouble for India, and is handling these issues in accordance with international practices and UN regulations. India is also exploring the option of linking the strategic border district of Tawang with a railway network, another provocation against Beijing. India has also invited a "parliamentary" delegation from Taiwan in February. New Delhi may have underestimated Beijing's determination to safeguard its core interests. Many countries have pledged not to extend invitations to the Dalai Lama. As the two largest emerging economies, China and India have great potential for cooperation. New Delhi should overcome its suspicions against Beijing. China doesn't allow India to free ride on its economic growth while jeopardizing Beijing's core interests. ^ top ^

Xi seeks to extend B&R initiative in Finland (Global Times)
2017-04-04
While it may seem surprising that Chinese President Xi Jinping has chosen to visit Finland's northern climes right now, there is sound logic in terms of China's interests. There is also a connection with the One Belt and One Road initiative, which aims to link Asia with Europe through Russia by land and by sea. In 2016, Chinese companies began to intensify their activity in the Arctic, which contains about 20 percent of the Earth's reserves of natural resources. For instance, Greenland (which is administered by Denmark) attracted bids from Chinese mining consortiums with an interest in lead, zinc and rare-earth metals. With ice continuing to melt, the Northern Sea Route reportedly saw a 35 percent year-on-year increase in trade between Asia and Europe in 2016. Since approximately 90 percent of global trade takes place in the Northern hemisphere, there is good reason to develop the shorter route around Russia even further, and this represents an opportunity for Chinese shipping firms. Chinese scientists have also established a research station in the Norwegian Svalbard archipelago. The Yellow River Station in the Arctic conducts research on glacier monitoring and the atmosphere, aiding understanding of the effects of climate change in the frozen north. China National Petroleum Corporation owns 20 percent of the $27 billion Arctic Yamal liquid natural gas project, while 9.9 per cent is held by China's $40 billion Silk Road Fund. These funds have been invested as part of the Belt and Road initiative, marking the northernmost point of China's grand plan to improve Eurasian connectivity. The Yamal project aims to supply liquid natural gas to China via the Northern Sea Route, with full capacity to be achieved by 2021. Novatek, Russia's largest independent natural gas producer, owns a majority 50.1 percent stake in the budding operation. This means that win-win synergies are emerging without any notion of China impinging on Russia's sovereignty over its territory. As for Finland, the country is perceived as a tech and innovation hub and borders China's close Belt and Road partner, Russia. In addition, the country is already familiar to Xi, since he visited as Vice President in 2010, when he took a trip to a reindeer farm and Father Christmas' hometown of Rovaniemi. Finland was among the first Western countries to recognize the People's Republic of China in 1950 and signed a bilateral trade agreement in 1953. Beginning in the early 1990s, there has been at least one ministerial visit from Finland to China each year. One area of potentially synergistic collaboration is in environmental protection. Finland is seen as a leader in this area, while Chinese companies are actively investing in what is seen as a long-term growth industry. China, with its rapid development and equally rapid increase in pollution in recent decades, is keen to develop green solutions to environmental problems. Working hand in hand with Finnish innovators, perhaps with the investment of Chinese capital, would help in China's current drive to tackle problems such as climate change head on. Thus, on all fronts, it is natural that Xi should seek to enhance ties with Finland to promote China's long-term interests while also finding ways to benefit Finnish partners. This is likely to be the main incentive for the visit this week. Furthermore, enabling Chinese engagement in the Arctic as an offshoot of the Belt and Road initiative means making sure that China presents an image as a powerful business partner rather than a potential menace. The Chinese president needs to ensure that regional media convey as positive an impression of his visit as possible as he seeks to build ties. It is on this task of economic diplomacy and soft power enhancement that President Xi and his team have turned their attention in Finland in the first week of April. Xi's whirlwind Finnish jaunt should thus be perceived as something rather more substantial and significant than merely a casual stopover on the long road to Mar-a-Lago. ^ top ^

Opinion: why the Xi-Trump summit in Florida will be one for the history books (SCMP)
2017-04-03
And so, at long last, Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet his unconventional and bombastic US counterpart Donald Trump. The two leaders will meet at an informal summit hosted on Thursday and Friday at Trump's estate in Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida. With the stakes as high as ever in the relationship between the world's foremost superpower and its burgeoning rival, the Mar-a-Lago summit stands to be historic. Although neither side has exactly clarified the agenda for the Trump-Xi talks, we already have a good idea of what topics the two leaders may be broaching. First, Trump took to Twitter last week, as is his trademark, to set out a first offer” of sorts for Xi: The meeting next week with China will be a very difficult one in that we can no longer have massive trade deficits and job losses. American companies must be prepared to look at other alternatives,” he said. Trump, the self-proclaimed master negotiator, has laid down the line for Xi that massive trade deficits” will no longer be tolerable. Incidentally, on Friday, the office of the United States Trade Representative released its 2017 National Trade Estimate Report, which outlines a range of Chinese anticompetitive and unfair trade practices, ranging from continued complaints over excess capacity to online piracy to cybersecurity. Chinese official representatives have so far said little of substance on how they plan to handle the Trump administration's almost dogmatic commitment to enforce existing trade deals and crack down on what are perceived as a deeply unfair trade balance. Chinese State Councillor Yang Jiechi has met with Trump's Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, with the two vowing to maintain a mutually beneficial economic relationship between the two largest economies in the world”. Either way, the issue of trade promises to sit at the top of the US agenda when Xi comes to Mar-a-Lago. Second, expect North Korea to appear on the agenda. During the presidential transition, Trump, who was famously averse to receiving intelligence briefings at the frequency of former presidents-elect, specifically requested briefings on North Korea, suggesting a notable degree of presidential interest in the topic. Despite the complexity of the North Korean problem today, with the country's parallel nuclear weapon and ballistic missile programmes marching on, Trump sees China as the source of a solution. Moreover, Pyongyang may decide to butt in uninvited on the diplomatic proceedings at Mar-a-Lago, as it did during Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to the US in February when it tested a new missile. Recent satellite imagery analysis suggests the country's sixth nuclear test may be imminent. North Korea has shown little deference to China's diplomatic calendar before. It fired three missiles last year as Beijing hosted the G20 leaders in Hangzhou. While North Korea and trade no doubt will sit at the top of the agenda, the breadth of the US-China relationship leaves several possibilities open. For instance, will Trump insist on voicing support for freedom of navigation and overflight in the South and East China Seas in accordance with decades of US policy? Will the United States even broach the topic of human rights or Taiwan? Finally, on Taiwan, will Trump make any attempt to touch the raw nerve of putting the United States' one-China” policy on the negotiating table as a bargaining chip? Any attempt to broach the topic with Xi in town could quickly sour the summit. Beyond these substantive questions, observers should look for answers to some of the higher-level questions about the US-China relationship. Namely, will Trump and Xi make any attempt to set up even the appearance of a good personal rapport? Will they attempt to reach some sort of conceptual basis on which to base their great power relationship? Will Xi push for Trump's acquiescence to China's new type of great power relations” concept, which was originally proposed to former US president Barack Obama back at the 2013 Sunnylands summit in California, a similarly casual affair to the Mar-a-Lago summit. For Trump, the Florida meeting will not only be closely observed by regional partners and allies, looking for assurance that the United States will continue to deal with China in a principled manner, but also by his domestic supporters - perhaps the most important audience for Trump, the showman. Trump's supporters will be looking for signs that he successfully conveyed to Xi the urgency of action on trade and North Korea. Come what may at Mar-a-Lago, this summit will be one for the history books. ^ top ^

Blocked academic returns to Australia, vowing to return to mainland (SCMP)
2017-04-02
Subjected to daily interrogations and blocked from leaving China for more than a week, Australia-based academic Feng Chongyi arrived home in Sydney on Sunday, vowing to return to the mainland later this year to complete his research. Feng, an Australian permanent resident who retains his Chinese passport, was conducting field interviews for a project on Chinese human rights lawyers and their political aspirations. If they wanted to scare me they failed miserably,” Feng, a well-known China Studies expert at the University of Technology Sydney, said via telephone. I'm not scared of them. I did not do anything illegal.” The project, which is partly government-funded via the Australian Research Council, touches on sensitive subject matter for the Chinese government. In a video provided to the South China Morning Post by his lawyer Chen Jinxue, Feng described the questioning row as a minor incident in life” and vowed to return to China in future. I'll return and fight together until constitution has been realized in China,” Feng said. President Xi Jinping's administration has tightened control over almost every aspect of civil society since 2012, citing the need to buttress national security and stability. During that time, China has detained or questioned hundreds of human rights lawyers and other government critics, international rights groups have said. It routinely accuses rights lawyers of collaborating with foreign hostile forces” to undermine state power. Feng said his case, as well as interviews he conducted before being interrupted, showed the space for government criticism or dissent had been tightened further. He said he had been unmolested when he met with what he described as sensitive contacts” on a trip to China a year ago. In terms of rule of law and human rights it's getting worse and worse. It's clear their control of Chinese citizens has become harder and harder,” he said. It's a reflection of their [the Chinese government's] insecurity. They can shut you down.” China's Ministry of Public Security and its Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Sunday. Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said on Thursday that Feng was being prevented from leaving on national security” grounds, without elaborating. Feng arrived in China a month ago for his work and was first held for questioning in Kunming, the capital of southwestern Yunnan province, before being barred twice from boarding flights from Guangzhou on March 25 and 26, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters previously. Feng said he was informed on Saturday morning by the state security officers who had been questioning him daily that he was free to leave. He was made to sign a statement pledging not to divulge details of his interrogation sessions as a condition of his release. The case had prompted Australian government intervention and sparked concern among international academics over the research environment in China. Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said last week the Australian government was monitoring developments closely and has raised this case with senior Chinese officials”. It did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Sunday. ^ top ^

 

Domestic Policy

Anger in China grows along with questions over death of teenager (SCMP)
2017-04-07
The mysterious death of a high school pupil in a remote part of the southwestern mainland has turned into a national controversy, with even state media criticising local officials for their handling of public concerns. The furore over the death of 14-year old Zhao Xin, in Lu county in Sichuan province, has also led to media commentary on deep public distrust of the authorities. Zhao's body was found near Taifu Middle School dormitory on Saturday. Videos of grieving relatives surrounding his bruised body were soon circulating on social media, along with messages said to be from the boy's parents. According to those messages and local media reports, Zhao's parents suspect their son was beaten to death after failing to pay a protection fee to sons of local officials or other school bullies. Police said the boy fell from the fifth floor of the dormitory, and ruled out the possibility of murder. In the days that followed Zhao's death, disgruntled crowds started gathering outside the school demanding an explanation from authorities. They were met by police in riot gear. Police later said they had arrested four people for spreading rumours. Five days after Zhao's death, police in Luzhou city, which administers Lu county, called a press conference. Police chief He Shaopeng denied there was school bullying involved in Zhao's death, and said an autopsy was under way in the presence of a third-party expert and a lawyer hired by the boy's family. I promise that all investigation will be fair and just, and I'm saying this in my capacity as deputy mayor and police chief,” He said. As the controversy continued to brew, a man from the Sichuan city of Nanchong was detained for rallying people online to stage a protest on April 15, according to a leaked internal police circular. There are still many people gathered outside the school today,” said one local, who refused to be named, on Wednesday. Everyone is talking about the death of the boy but no one really knows what happened,” he said. An elderly woman said police were everywhere” in the town where Zhao died. Some bystanders [on Wednesday] were taken away and beaten up badly,” she said. Local party officials had offered us 50 yuan [HK$57] each to become witnesses saying the boy had committed suicide.” In an article published on Wednesday, Xinhua criticised local authorities for blocking reporters from speaking to the boy's family, and for failing to address public concerns over the cause of the boy's death. The article asked how police could rule out the possibility of murder just one day after the death. The article also decried local officials for failing to explain if bullying had been involved or why local residents had been told not to speak to journalists. A People's Daily commentary on Thursday hit out at local authorities for a lack of transparency, and said excessive social control measures made conflicts worse. An article on the news portal affiliated with the national prosecutor's office asked why so many members of the public did not believe what Lu county authorities had said, and criticised the conservative” attitude of local officials in addressing public concerns. ^ top ^

Senior court official calls for more judicial fairness (China Daily)
2017-04-07
Judges told to learn a case's background and to take social effects into account A senior official of the Supreme People's Court underscored the importance of judicial fairness on Wednesday and called on all courts to improve their performance in criminal trials. "People's increasing legal awareness has brought higher requirements to our judicial work, urging us to uphold justice and improve the quality of case hearings," said Shen Deyong, executive vice-president of the SPC. Shen made the comment during a seminar on criminal trials on Wednesday in Shandong province, where a 22-year-old man's case recently aroused heated discussion. Yu Huan, from Liaocheng, was convicted of intentional injury and given a life sentence on Feb 17 after he stabbed four debt collectors who confronted him and his mother last year. One of the injured later died. Yu claimed he attacked the debt collectors after one of them exposed himself to his mother. The case quickly went viral on social media, with many saying Yu's penalty was too harsh, as well as some criticizing how police handled the incident. The Shandong High People's Court has accepted an appeal from Yu, while some police officers involved in the case were probed for alleged misconduct in the case. "Courts should take initiative to echo public concerns when some rulings stir the public," Shen said. Some controversies lie in the courts' unclear explanations of laws, while some are attributed to a lack of transparency in judicial procedures, according to Shen. He compared the handling of such disputes to open classes, asking courts to use them to educate people about the law. "What we can do is to improve our ability and efficiency of tackling cases and avoid verdicts that are obviously contrary to common sense," he said. While clarifying the facts of a case, judges should learn to understand the background behind an incident and take the social effects that a judgment may cause into consideration, Shen said. "But it doesn't mean making rulings contrary to laws or facts," he added. In November, the top court approved the execution of a man named Jia Jinglong, who was convicted of murder in Hebei province, despite his case sparking controversy. Jia was sentenced to death in 2015 after he killed his village chief with a gun. Although some legal experts said Jia deserved a lenient penalty as the village head also committed wrongdoings in demolishing his house, the top court still approved the ruling by the lower court, as it had clear facts and sufficient evidence. "The village chief's improper behaviors couldn't excuse Jia's actions and didn't mean he could be leniently punished for homicide," the court added. ^ top ^

China announces year-long inspection of air quality in northern cities (Global Times)
2017-04-06
In the largest national-level inspection on record, more than two dozen cities in north China will face a strict one-year inspection over air pollution prevention, China's Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) announced Wednesday. Some 5,600 environmental inspectors will be sent to Beijing, Tianjin, and 26 smaller cities in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region and nearby areas to check on implementation of pollution control targets and emission standards, said the ministry. They will also inspect the investigation and closure of polluting businesses, the seasonal reduction or halting of production in certain industries, and the installation and operation of pollution monitoring and control devices. The MEP vowed "systematic" inspections with high pressure on local authorities and promised zero tolerance for those who violate environmental laws and regulations. In a separate statement, the ministry named and shamed a number of local governments and enterprises following its latest investigation of 7 inspection teams to cities such as Beijing, Tianjin and Shijiazhuang. Several enterprises, including a rubber plant under Sinopec Beijing Yanshan Company, were criticized for "inadequate pollution control efforts," while some governments, including those of Tangshan City and Yutian County, were slammed for inaction and neglect. The MEP also exposed enterprises with false information and governments with inadequate pollution response plans. China has started to intensify the fight against air pollution as cities suffered from more smoggy days in January, with northern areas the worst affected. The worsening trend in air quality has been checked since the MEP ordered a special air quality inspection in the first quarter of this year, according to the ministry. ^ top ^

SPP to increase supervision of local police stations (Xinhua)
2017-04-04
China's Supreme People's Procuratorate (SPP) has urged all procuratorial agencies to increase supervision over criminal investigations conducted by local police stations. The move will improve cooperation between public security organs and procuratorates so as to deepen the country's judicial reform, said the SPP. Since 2015, the SPP has carried out a pilot program in 10 provincial level regions involving 1,064 local procuratorates and 8,370 police stations, it said. Procuratorial agencies have supervised 5,243 cases filed by police stations in the program since 2015, and made suggestions on dealing with criminal investigations that violated the law, it said. Such supervision should spread across the country by the end of 2017, it added. Deputy Procurator-General Sun Qian said that the supervision will ensure the validity of evidence and improve effectiveness of investigations. ^ top ^

Threshold lowered for foreign graduates seeking jobs in China (China Daily)
2017-03-30
Four months before getting his master's degree in computer science, Irish student Gareth Lacey got a job offer from a Chinese tech startup in Beijing's equivalent of Silicon Valley. It might not sound like a big deal to a postgraduate science student in Beijing, but the offer did not come easily. China only recently dropped the work experience requirement for foreign postgraduates, opening a floodgate of opportunities, especially for foreign students pursuing higher education degrees in China. It had been almost impossible for foreign students to be employed right after graduation. Two years of work experience were mandatory in most cases, foreign students said. Lacey, who has been studying at Beijing Institute of Technology, will be among the first to benefit. He described the policy as a "welcome change" for himself and many foreign graduates in similar positions. According to a January circular issued by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Education, foreign students with a postgraduate degree or higher from Chinese or "well-known" foreign universities can be offered employment within a year after graduation. Successful applicants will be given a one-year work permit, which can be extended to no more than five years on renewal. Lacey said the Chinese job market is a big draw for foreign job seekers due to competitive salaries and relatively low living costs. Wang Ying, director of the international student office at Beijing Institute of Technology, said Beijing's Zhongguancun high-tech zone started piloting the policy last year and it was well received. Postgraduates jumped at the opportunity, Wang said. Last year, his school organized 11 job affairs for international students. Each was full. Tech giants like Huawei were among the hiring firms. The appeal of a Chinese job is not confined to metropolises like Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen. Ayaz Ali, a Pakistani doctorate degree candidate studying at the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Northwest Institute of Eco-Environment and Resources, said it is his dream to work in Lanzhou, Gansu province. Ali said that in addition to participating in the world's leading cryospheric research, he finds the local culture accommodating to Muslims like himself. The province has a relatively large Muslim population, and Islamic rituals and practices are observed. Ali said many Pakistani students come to study in China, but until now, few have been able to stay on after graduation, which remains a cause of concern among Pakistani students in China. "After all, it is also very hard to find a good job back home," he said. Ma Xiaolei, director of the international student affairs office at Beijing Language and Culture University, said lowering the employment threshold for foreign students will help to reinvigorate China through the development of human resources. He said foreign employees will help Chinese enterprises gain an advantage as they expand overseas. To open its market, China has also been easing the residence and entry policies for foreigners. Last year, 1,576 foreigners obtained permanent residence in China, a rise of 163 percent compared with 2015. ^ top ^

In 'China's Jerusalem', 'anti-terror cameras' the new cross for churches to bear (SCMP)
2017-04-03
Christians and government officials have come to blows over demands that churches in a city known as China's Jerusalem” install surveillance cameras for anti-terrorism and security purposes”. The Zhejiang government issued the orders to churches in Wenzhou late last year and began implementing them before the Lunar New Year holiday in January. The confrontation with the city's Christian community, which is estimated to number roughly one million, comes three years after the authorities ordered the removal of crosses on top of church buildings, on the grounds that they were illegal structures. Opponents called the 2014 campaign religious persecution. Government officials came to the churches and put up -cameras by force. Some pastors and worshippers who didn't agree to the move were dragged away,” a Christian in Wenzhou said, without specifying when the conflict occurred. Some people needed to be treated in hospital after fighting the officials.” Pastor Yan Xiaojie, a missionary in the city, said the cameras had been installed in a number of churches, reminding him of the cross demolitions” in 2014. During that controversial campaign, which made international headlines and drew criticism from religious rights organisations around the world, about 360 crosses were removed and one church was demolished, according to China Aid, a US-based religious rights group. Wenzhou pastor Huang Yizi was detained and then jailed for a year in 2015 for protesting against the cross removals. Huang said he had been closely monitored since informing overseas media about the installation of the cameras last week. China Aid said churches were told to install cameras at gates, rostrums, offering boxes and other places, despite strong opposition from churchgoers who claimed the surveillance infringed their privacy. An official notice circulated widely among church members at the end of last year said that all churches would have to install the cameras, Christians said. One churchgoer said officials had installed the cameras one by one but they had yet to be set up in his place of worship. I don't support the government's decision and I hope they will not put monitoring equipment inside our church,” the churchgoer said. We Christians do good deeds and we don't do anything to endanger the public. I don't understand why the government wants to monitor us. The government's pressure on us will not deter us from our beliefs and will not affect the proliferation of our religion,” the churchgoer said. The tougher the persecution, the more people will be encouraged to follow the religion.” Many other missionaries declined to comment on the camera orders due to the sensitivity of the issue. Wenzhou, a manufacturing hub of eight million people, has the highest concentration of Christians on the mainland. Crosses from more than 2,000 churches dotted the city's skyline before the 2014 campaign to bring them down. The depth of opposition to the forced installation of the surveillance cameras was reflected in a widely shared article written and posted online by Wenzhou Christian Liao Enxin. Wenzhou's surveillance camera drive comes amid tighter controls on religious activities across the country. Last week, the far western - region of Xinjiang - home to more than 10 million mostly Muslim Uygurs – passed new rules targeting what it called religious extremism. The rules, which took effect on Saturday, prohibit such manifestations of extremism” as wearing veils or abnormal” beards, refusing to watch state television or listen to state radio, or preventing children from receiving national education”, according to the official news website News.ts.cn. Under the rules, special task forces to curb extremism would be set up by regional, prefectural and county governments and local leaders would be evaluated annually on their achievements on the matter. ^ top ^

 

Beijing

Beijing's air quality 'best' among China's northern cities despite frequent smog woes (SCMP)
2017-04-06
Beijing's air quality was the best among 28 cities in northern China over the first three months of this year, according to the nation's environment ministry. The capital often grabs headlines for its heavy smog, but its air quality index ranked top from January to March among 28 cities in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region and the neighbouring provinces of Henan, Shandong and Shanxi. Shijiazhuang, the capital city of Hebei province, ranked bottom. Baoding, the city closest to the Xiongan New Area, a zone designated by President Xi Jinping to develop a new city, had the second worst air quality reading in the first quarter, only slightly better than Shijiazhuang. The central government declared war on pollution in China four years ago, but progress has been limited. The environment ministry said last week it found that thousands of polluters had faked emissions data or resisted checks made by inspectors from mid-February to mid-March. Many local governments still don't act, or act blindly” to clean up air pollution, the Ministry of Environmental Protection added. The three-month average reading in the 28 cities of PM 2.5, the small particles in smog deemed most harmful to health, was 103 micrograms per cubic metres, the ministry said. This was a rise of 12 per cent from a year earlier. Readings over 101 are ranked as unhealthy for sensitive groups and members of the public are urged to limit the amount of time they exercise outdoors. Levels of PM10, slightly larger particles of pollutants, averaged 160 micrograms per cubic metres in the cities from January to March, unchanged from the same period last year, the ministry said. The ministry said in a separate notice published on Wednesday that it would send 5,600 inspectors on a year-long investigation into the sources of air pollution in major northern cities, the largest such campaign ever undertaken nationally. Beijing's Mayor Cai Qi introduced ten iron fist” measures in January to try to control smog, including replacing coal with clean energy sources in rural suburbs and cutting emissions from the electronics industry. Hebei, with the among the worst air pollution in China, announced last week that it planned to shut down more coal-fired power plants. The environment ministry has developed a hot spot grid network” with satellite remote sensing technology to identify the regions with the highest concentration of PM 2.5. Cities in northern China are likely to be hit by a further round of smog this week as many factories made idle during the winter to curb emissions resume production. ^ top ^

Xiongan New Area restricts housing purchase, construction (Xinhua)
2017-04-04
The preparatory committee of the Xiongan New Area in north China's Hebei Province said Tuesday night to control illegal land and housing purchase as well as construction. China announced on Saturday to establish the Xiongan New Area, a landmark new economic zone near Beijing designed to integrate the capital with its surrounding areas. The announcement attracted investors to swarm into the counties of Xiongxian, Rongcheng and Anxin in the new area, and drove up housing prices there, the committee said in a statement. The committee warned all forms of illegal trade of properties are not protected by law, and vowed to crack down on illegal construction and trading of second-hand houses. The committee said it will strictly implement the central authorities' guideline that says "houses are for living in, not for speculating with."  ^ top ^

 

Shanghai

12 missing as Kiribati-registered ship sinks in East China (China Daily)
2017-04-06
A foreign vessel carrying 14 people sank near the Yangtze estuary Thursday, Shanghai maritime authority said. The ship carrying 4,850 tonnes of coil steel overturned early Thursday morning after a suspected collision, according to an official with the Shanghai maritime bureau. The 97-meter-long vessel is registered in Kiribati, an island country in the west Pacific Ocean. Two crew were rescued by a nearby Panama-registered vessel. The search continues for the remaining 12. A total of 17 vessels have been mobilized to assist the search. ^ top ^

 

Hongkong

Hong Kong's next leader prepares for Beijing trip and formal appointment (SCMP)
2017-04-06
Hong Kong's leader in waiting, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, will fly to Beijing on Sunday for her appointment to be formally confirmed by Premier Li Keqiang, as state leaders list their expectations for the new chief executive who has vowed to heal the city's political divide in the next five years. It will be Lam's first official trip to the -capital since winning the city's leadership race on March 26 with 777 votes from the 1,194-member Election Committee. Lam is also expected to meet President Xi Jinping during the four-day trip, which will conclude on Wednesday. Last Friday, Li expressed confidence that Lam could unite Hong Kong, as he signed an official letter to formally appoint her as the next chief executive on July 1. In a statement released on Thursday, Lam's office said she would receive from Li the signed instrument of appointment”. The chief executive-elect's husband, Mr Lam Siu-por, will join the visit,” the statement said. Professor Lau Siu-kai, vice-chairman of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, said Xi and Li were likely to set out to-do lists in meetings with Lam. They will expect her to implement 'one country, two systems' comprehensively and accurately,” Lau said. This is likely to be their first personal meeting with [Lam] too, so they will assess her stance, capability and style.” Lau expected Lam to discuss forming her new cabinet with officials from the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office. Because Lam was not the most popular candidate in the election, Beijing will hope the new cabinet will be credible enough to strengthen the government's authority,” he added. Chinese University political scientist Ivan Choy Chi-keung said Hongkongers would be interested in whether the state leaders' messages for Lam would include the concepts of social harmony and solving the city's deep-rooted problems”, such as its reliance on financial industries. In 2012, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, who was the newly elected leader in waiting at the time, met then-premier Wen Jiabao, who called for a clean government amid an outbreak of corruption scandals involving top officials. The following day, then-president Hu Jintao pinned high hopes on Leung's vision of governance and called for unity in the city after a divisive election. Meanwhile, Lam had a meeting with about 30 civil service and disciplinary forces union representatives on Thursday. She praised the civil servants for serving Hong Kong diligently and reiterated her promise to extend the retirement age from 60 to 65. Currently, government employees joining the civil service after 2000 have to retire at 60. Lam also said she would review the practice of creating time-limited” contract posts, as well as whether the government's services had been affected by the internal policy that bureaus and departments must cut their growth in spending on existing programmes by 1 per cent annually for two years from 2016. The policy was introduced when Lam's leadership rival, John Tsang Chun-wah, was financial secretary. ^ top ^

 

Economy

Premier Li: Unleash productivity through thorough reforms (Xinhua)
2017-04-05
China is prioritizing reforms to bring better economic vitality and higher living standards for its people. The State Council's executive meeting on Wednesday came with an outline for specific plans for this year's economic reform, short-listing areas that require focused reform. The meeting was presided over by Premier Li Keqiang. "Chinese economy is fundamentally motivated by the country's reform efforts," Li said. "To deliver results we have projected for the year, it is still down to how well we carry on with reforms." He pointed out that reforms will inevitably touch the cheese of vested interest, and joint efforts are called from all government departments. Efforts in deepening economic reform will be carried out in several aspects in 2017. Improvements were urged in areas such as cutting overcapacity, destocking, deleveraging, reducing corporate costs and shoring up weak links through using force of the market and law-based measures, aiming for a more effective economic growth with high quality. Efforts in transforming government functions and streamlining administration will continue with stricter and more comprehensive regulation, creating a more inviting business environment for the real economy. Innovation and entrepreneurship will be further encouraged with an incentive mechanism. The government will also come out with wider and more effective regulation on private property protection. Fiscal and tax reform as well as reform in state owned enterprises (SOEs) were also urged. The country will also enhance reform measures on furthering opening up, environmental protection as well as the agricultural supply-side structural reform. The new guideline also suggested inviting private capital participation in social welfare, including medical care, education reform, and social organizations. "The government needs to focus on key reform steps that catches greater traction. This is similar to clenching our fist firmly when holding something vital," Li pointed out. "The key to reform is to unleash the hitherto pent-up productivity," Li added. "Our job is to make big businesses stronger, small businesses more vibrant, through means firmly adhered to market principles and the rule of law. Given greater latitude for their own initiatives, all businesses, big or small, will work together to invigorate the Chinese economy." ^ top ^

Beijing's strict capital controls are delaying belt and road project approvals (SCMP)
2017-04-04
China's strict capital controls are delaying the approval process for mainland companies to finance projects under the government's One Belt, One Road” initiative, according to industry players. Mainland private companies now need at least three to six months to get approval from Beijing for them to get the money out of the country to finance many of the One Belt, One Road projects,” said Clement Chan Kam-wing, managing director of accounting firm BDO. China has not banned such investment but the authorities have demanded more documentation and explanation as to how the money would be used, particularly for large amounts, above US$5 million.” He said that before the government toughened its rules on capital flight, it could take just two months to get the green light to finance a simple project. Beijing does not want companies using these types of investment as an excuse to bring money out of the country to hedge against the loss in the valuation of the yuan. This has naturally delayed the approval process and is likely to continue this year until China reviews its capital control policies.” The yuan's 7 per cent deterioration last year against the US dollar spurred many companies to go on a shopping spree overseas to park their currency offshore as a hedge. That prompted China's currency regulator to enforce stricter scrutiny of overseas payments exceeding US$5 million, and to ban deals of more than US$1 billion that are deemed to be outside the investor's core business”, according to regulatory documents. This has hurt belt and road projects. Initiated by Beijing in 2013, the belt and road plan is aimed at building railways, ports, airports, roads and other infrastructure in 60 countries neighbouring China and in other parts of Asia, the Middle East and Europe to boost trade flow and economic growth. John Yeap, a partner at Pinsent Masons, an international law firm specialising in infrastructure financing, said many Chinese companies are interested in investing in belt and road projects but they now face tougher scrutiny to get the go-ahead. Mainland companies now need to structure their investment appropriately if they want to get approval from the authorities to invest in One Belt, One Road projects, under the tougher scrutiny of the capital control measures,” Yeap said. As an example, he said several years ago mainland companies could easily get approval to invest in power plants with no need to provide much explanation. Nowadays, they need to show the authorities that their proposed investments are sensible. This may include proving that the power plant is in an ideal location, that the investment amount is reasonable and that local people will be able to afford to pay their electricity bill once the plant is operational. I do not see a slowdown of investment in One Belt, One Road from mainland firms but they would all need to show that they are making sensible investment in these projects,” Yeap said. ^ top ^

 

DPRK

Trump tells Abe that US will boost defences against North Korea, with 'all options on table' (SCMP)
2017-04-06
The United States will continue to build its military defences against North Korea, Donald Trump told Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday, pledging all options are on the table. The pair spoke by phone a day after Pyongyang fired a ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan, in what analysts said was a warning ahead of Trump's summit with China's Xi Jinping at which North Korea is set to dominate the agenda. Trump made clear that the United States will continue to strengthen its ability to deter and defend itself and its allies with the full range of its military capabilities,” the White House said in a statement about the call. The president emphasised that the United States stands with its allies Japan and South Korea in the face of the serious threat that North Korea continues to pose.” Though the White House has previously made similar statements, the call came hours before Trump hosts Chinese President Xi for a two-day summit at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. Trump has said the United States is prepared to go it alone in bringing Pyongyang to heel if China - North Korea's top ally - does not step in. In Tokyo, Abe said Trump reaffirmed that he is prepared to consider all possibilities in dealing with North Korea's nuclear and missile programs. I told (President Trump) that Japan is watching closely how China will cope with this North Korean issue,” Abe told reporters after the 35-minute conversation. President Trump then made a strong remark, saying all options are on the table.” Abe said the two leaders agreed that North Korea's latest ballistic missile launch was a dangerous provocation and poses a great threat to Japan's national security.” Japan sees itself as particularly vulnerable to North Korean missile launches, some of which have landed uncomfortably close to its northwestern coast. Trump, since coming to power in January, has been careful to assure Japan that the US, which guarantees Tokyo's security, has its back in the face of North Korean provocations. Abe and Trump were meeting at the Mar-a-Lago estate in February when North Korea launched a rocket, setting off a controversy when the leaders set up an impromptu situation room” in full view of the resort's guests. That time the US leader responded by pledging 100 per cent” support for Japan, which along with South Korea is Washington's key regional ally Following North Korea's test of four missiles last month, Trump affirmed Washington's ironclad commitment” to Japan and South Korea. Trump's top diplomat, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, last month during a trip to the region vowed a fresh strategy to counter the North Korean nuclear threat, admitting that all previous efforts had failed. Wednesday's missile, launched days after Pyongyang warned of retaliation if the global community ramps up sanctions, flew 60 kilometres, South Korea's defence ministry said. A US defence official later said that the missile was an extended range Scud and had suffered an in-flight failure. A Scud ER (extended range) flew about 60km before suffering an in-flight failure and crashing into the Sea of Japan,” also known as the East Sea, the official said on condition of anonymity. ^ top ^

EU adds to NK nuclear sanctions (Global Times)
2017-04-07
The EU on Thursday imposed additional sanctions on North Korea over nuclear and ballistic missile tests which it said threatened international security. The move comes at a time of increased tensions as North Korea presses ahead with nuclear and missile programs which have badly rattled the US and its allies Japan and South Korea. North Korea is high on the agenda of the first summit later Thursday between Chinese President Xi Jinping and his US counterpart Donald Trump, with Washington pressing Beijing to do more to rein in Pyongyang. In a statement, the EU called on North Korea to resume talks with the international community, "to cease its provocations and to abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs as well as other weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs." It said it imposed the new sanctions because North Korea's actions "violate multiple UN resolutions and constitute a grave threat to international peace and security in the region and beyond." ^ top ^

Latest NK missile test further fuels tensions in region (Global Times)
2017-04-05
North Korea tested another ballistic missile from its eastern port of Sinpo, which fell into the Sea of Japan Wednesday morning. South Korea said the missile flew about 60 kilometers. The launch in a sensitive period will further intensify tensions on the Korean Peninsula and could lead to conflicts, Chinese analysts said. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said on Wednesday that all relevant parties should practice restraint and refrain from escalating the situation. "North Korea would say the launch is to celebrate the 105th anniversary of the Flower Festival on April 15 (the late Kim Il-sung's birthday). But it's clear that the country is demonstrating its uncompromising attitude toward UN sanctions, at a time when joint military drills by the US, South Korea and Japan are ongoing," Lü Chao, an expert on Korean studies at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, said. Washington has intensified its rhetoric against North Korea, with President Donald Trump saying the US will act alone on North Korea if necessary in an interview with the Financial Times published on Sunday, and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson saying all options are on the table to resolve the North Korea issue, including military action, when he visited South Korea last month. However, Hua said at the daily briefing that a fundamental solution to the problem needs to comprehensively balance the needs of every party involved, and China is willing to cooperate. In retaliation, North Korea stepped up its missile tests, with the latest one of several in recent months since Trump took office. "The Trump administration is prone to taking risky actions, which is totally different from the Obama administration's policy of strategic patience on North Korea. If North Korea takes its own course on nuclear and missile tests, it could provoke possible conflicts," Lü told the Global Times. In an unconventionally terse response to North Korea's latest missile test, the US State Department cited Tillerson as saying, "North Korea launched yet another intermediate range ballistic missile. The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment." Lü said China has accelerated its economic sanctions against North Korea since early 2016, after witnessing an increase of military tests from the latter. The sanctions include banning exports of industrial chemicals and aviation fuel to North Korea and stopping the coal trade, as well as financial sanctions. "The economic sanctions are effective in the long term. But the US only wants immediate results, which is not pragmatic in dealing with the North Korean issue," Lü said. The only way to resolve the Korean Peninsula issue is to return to the Six-Party Talks, he said. "Notwithstanding Trump's tough talk, the US has to consider the reaction of China and Russia if it plans to take military action against North Korea. On the other hand, North Korea is holding back its nuclear test to leave room for talks with the US," Lü said. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has proposed a double suspension resolution to the issue, which recommends that the US and South Korea halt their joint military drills in exchange for a halt in nuclear tests by North Korea. But this was rejected by the US, which triggered a strong reaction from North Korea. ^ top ^

 

Mongolia

Parliamentary spring session opens (The UB Post)
2017-04-07
Parliament's Spring Session opened on April 5, beginning with opening speeches from President Ts.Elbegdorj and Speaker of Parliament M.Enkhbold. The President underlined that to overcome the nation's economic challenges, the state needs to stop operating as if the state's authorities are doing business. He said that the signatures, seals, and orders of state officials are being used for silent business agendas. President Elbegdorj said that the government should not make this business model” successful, and that the system will be destroyed by using the state's legal powers. He added that processes for all government tenders should be transparent and open to anyone who wants to review them. Speaker of Parliament M.Enkhbold pointed out that Parliament needs to resolve delayed matters concerning railway projects to expedite mining megaprojects during Spring's plenary sessions. He added that implementing the government's Gold-2 Program, increasing foreign investment in domestic banks to meet international standards, adopting a law on a national payment system, dramatically developing the livestock industry to improve herders' lives, amending the law on state officials, increasing the quality of public services, and enhancing the legal and regulatory environment for doing business in Mongolia are the highest priorities for the spring session. During Thursday and Friday's parliamentary sessions, MPs will be reviewing a final draft of amendments to the 2017 state budget. ^ top ^

Mongolia and UN bound by Statement of Cooperation for disaster risk reduction (Montsame)
2017-04-06
Session of the ISDR Asian Partnership (IAP) Meeting is kicking off today in Ulaanbaatar. It is being organized by the Government of Mongolia, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and the United Nations International Strategy For Disaster Reduction (UNISDR). Deputy Prime Minister U.Khurelsukh received Mr Robert Glasser, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Disaster Risk Reduction, who is visiting Mongolia to take part in the ISDR Asian Partnership Meeting in Ulaanbaatar. During the meeting, the dignitaries signed the Statement of Cooperation on organization of the UNISDR Asian Ministerial Conference, to take place in Ulaanbaatar in 2018. The main purpose of our cooperation, according to the Statement, is forwarding the mobilization of Sendai Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction in Asian region and improving collaboration within the region and between governments on sophisticating the monitoring and evaluation system, underlined the Deputy Premier. Mr Glasser said, while highlighting that the ISDR Asian Ministerial Conference is by-far the most prestigious regional event in the field of disaster risk reduction, that Mongolia is recognized for its commitment to diminishing risks of emergencies. He pledged to collaborate with Mongolia in reducing disaster risks by all means.  ^ top ^

Robert Glasser: Mongolia is putting words into action when it comes to disaster risk reduction” (Montsame)
2017-04-06
The Asia Partnership Meeting of the International Disaster Risk Reduction (IAP) has been officially launched in Ulaanbaatar. Present at the opening were, Deputy Prime Minister of Mongolia U.Khurelsukh and UN Secretary General's Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction Robert Glasser. At the opening session, the Mongolian side presented the observance of duties before the New Delhi Declaration, adopted at the latest Asian Ministerial Conference held in India, and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. The delegates have exchanged views on the preparation for the next Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, expected in Ulaanbaatar next year. Deputy PM U.Khurelsukh highlighted in the opening credit that IAP is the first meeting succeeding the last Asian Ministerial Conference. I recognize Mongolia as one of the countries, which are putting efforts into actions in the field of disaster risk reduction. One proof of this would the fact that Mongolian parliament has recently revised its Law on Disaster Safety”, said Mr Glasser. He also expressed gratitude for Mongolia's commitment for agreeing to host the next Asian Minsterial Conference at home. Mr U.Khurelsukh is the Deputy Prime Minister of Mongolia, the position that also generally administer the matters of emergency preparedness and disaster safety.  ^ top ^

Italian government reps meet Deputy Prime Minister of Mongolia (Montsame)
2017-04-06
On April 6, Deputy Prime Minister of Mongolia U.Khurelsukh met with Mr Ivan Scalfarotto, Undersecretary of State at the Ministry of Economic Development of the Republic of Italy and the head of Italian side of the Mongolia-Italy Intergovernmental Commission. Mr U.Khurelsukh expressed his satisfaction with the growth of relations between Mongolia and Italy in the recent years and noted that two countries have a capacity to enrich ties with new contents of commercial, economic and cultural cooperation. The second meeting of the Intergovernmental Commission is being carried out these days in Ulaanbaatar, concerning a wide range of issues, such as cooperation in food, agriculture, light industry, education, culture, road and transport under the vision to deepen economic and trade ties. Deputy PM U.Khurelsukh promised that the Mongolian government will assist by all means in realizing the follow-up actions to this meeting. As of 2016, a total of 52 Italian-invested companies are operational in Mongolia, making investment of USD 36.8 million in public catering, commerce and animal-origin raw materials processing fields. In 2016, Mongolia traded with Italy in a turnover of USD 65.5 million, 33.5 million was constituted by exports and 32.0 million – by imports.  ^ top ^

Central bank allotting MNT 25-35 billion for housing mortgage program (Montsame)
2017-04-04
Following the revised regulation of financing of housing mortgage program, the Bank of Mongolia is allocating mortgage loan funding to commercial banks every month. The public has issued complaints to the central bank concerning the rumors which implied the Bank of Mongolia has discontinued funding for the 8 percent loan. In order to continue mortgage funding during today's economic difficulties, the Bank of Mongolia is allocating around MNT 25-35 billion funds to commercial banks for a housing mortgage loan every month. Therefore, the Bank of Mongolia requested commercial banks to prevent from false rumors which could affect public confidence towards the policies implemented by the Government and Bank of Mongolia by conveying genuine information to the general public. The regulation of financing housing mortgage was approved on October 25, 2016, according to which, repayments of mortgage loan are granted by the central bank every month. During the period from October 2016 to February 2017, the Bank of Mongolia has funded MNT 142.3 billion in total within the 8 percent mortgage loan program. ^ top ^

World Bank delegates on a visit (Montsame)
2017-04-04
On April 3, Monday, Ts.Sandui, Chairman of Citizens' Representative Khural of Ulaanbaatar received representatives of the World Bank to exchange views on possible directions for cooperation in the frames of a technical assistance project, co-implemented by Government of Mongolia and the World Bank. A delegation from the World Bank is on a working visit to Ulaanbaatar on April 3-7. The World Bank delegates got acquainted with the measures to be taken under the scope of the project which concentrates on investment plan and public transport service evaluation in Ulaanbaatar. Financed by Public-Private Infrastructure Advisory Facility (PPIAF), the technical assistance project aims to improve the financial capability of Ulaanbaatar by producing handbooks and leaflets on how to make investment planning, and enhance public transport sector financing by developing stable financial strategy. ^ top ^

 

Ms. Corinne Estermann
Embassy of Switzerland
 

The Press review is a random selection of political and social related news gathered from various media and news services located in the PRC, edited or translated by the Embassy of Switzerland in Beijing and distributed among Swiss Government Offices. The Embassy does not accept responsibility for accuracy of quotes or truthfulness of content. Additionally the contents of the selected news mustn't correspond to the opinion of the Embassy.
 
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