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
La revue de presse hebdomadaire de l'Ambassade de Suisse en RP de Chine
  22-28.2.2014, No. 513  
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Table of contents

DPRK and South Korea


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Foreign Policy

US Army chief of staff announces regular high-level talks with PLA (SCMP)
China and the United States will establish regular high-level dialogue between their armies to promote better understanding and avoid possible conflict, US army chief of staff General Raymond Odierno said yesterday. Such communication was crucial because any mishap between them could significantly affect stability in the Asia-Pacific region, Odierno said after meetings his Chinese counterparts in Beijing. "This is really about expanding co-operation and, frankly, managing competition," Odierno said as he wrapped up his two-day visit. He had been asked whether China's rise had affected US interests. "We want to expand our co-operation at a very high level, and then manage our differences constructively," Odierno said. Although Odierno's trip focused only on land forces, he expected similar high-level contact would be set up between the navies and air forces. Details would be finalised when US defence chief Chuck Hagel visited China in April, Odierno said. Odierno met Central Military Commission vice-chairman Fan Changlong, People's Liberation Army chief of general staff Fang Fenghui and deputy chief of general staff Wang Ning. He also toured the headquarters of the Shenyang military region. The American's visit came as both nations are boosting their presence in Asia-Pacific, raising tensions between the two. Captain James Fanell, director of intelligence for the US Pacific Fleet, told a conference this month in San Diego that the PLA was preparing for a "sharp, short war" to "destroy Japanese forces in the East China Sea" and seize the disputed Diaoyu Islands, called the Senkakus in Japan. But Odierno played down the comments, saying there was no indication of such a move by the PLA. He called on China and Japan to resolve the dispute through dialogue. To that end, he urged them to improve communications to "ensure there is no miscalculation along the way". Yue Gang, a retired PLA colonel, said China and the US wanted prompt communications in case of emergencies, like the near collision between the US cruiser Cowpens and a Chinese landing vessel in the South China Sea during exercises involving the aircraft carrier Liaoning on December 5. ^ top ^

China plays down Indian politician's claim to disputed border region (SCMP)
The foreign ministry sought to play down on Monday remarks by Narendra Modi, after the frontrunner to become India's next prime minister asserted at the weekend that the disputed territory of Arunachal Pradesh was an integral part of India. India and China fought a brief border war in 1962 over the region at the eastern end of the Himalayas. The nuclear-armed neighbours signed a pact in October to ensure that differences on their shared border do not spark a confrontation. India regularly holds elections in Arunachal Pradesh, which has been administered as part of the Indian state for decades. China questions India's claim to the territory and calls it South Tibet. Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, asked about Modi's comments, said that China was dedicated to promoting friendly relations with its neighbours and to resolving disputes through talks. “The China-India border issue is one that has been left over from history. That being said, it is quite a complex and sensitive problem. It cannot be resolved by one or two rounds of talks,” she said. “What is important is that China and India have both expressed many times their determination and desire to peacefully resolve the dispute through talks, dialogue and consultation,” she added. Before a final resolution is reached, both sides should work hard to maintain peace and tranquillity on the border, Hua said. “The fact that there have been no shots fired in so many years really shows that both sides have the desire and ability to maintain peace and stability on the border.” Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party is expected to win more seats in the lower house of parliament than any other party at a national election due by May, giving the Hindu nationalist leader a chance to become prime minister. President Pranab Mukherjee described Arunachal Pradesh as an integral part of the country on a visit last November, sparking a heated exchange. China urged India not to aggravate problems on their shared border. Last May, the two armies were locked in a three-week standoff in the western Himalayas after Chinese troops set up a camp at least 10 kilometres inside territory claimed by India, triggering a public outcry and calls that India should stand up to its powerful neighbour. ^ top ^

China, Vietnam vow more substantial progress in joint maritime cooperation (Xinhua)
China and Vietnam on Monday vowed to jointly promote their cooperation in areas including maritime, onshore and finance, and achieve more substantial progress. The pledge came out of a meeting between Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and visiting President of the Vietnam Fatherland Front (VFF) Central Committee Nguyen Thien Nhan. Li said he hoped the two sides would give full play of mechanisms such as the guiding committee for bilateral cooperation and three working groups on joint maritime development, infrastructure and financial cooperation, to achieve substantial progress. The establishment of the three working groups was a consensus reached by China and Vietnam during Li's visit to the country in November of last year, which was important breakthrough for the two countries on their way to peacefully handle maritime disputes. Li called on the two countries to push forward joint development of larger scale in the South China Sea, appropriately handle disputes through negotiation and consultation, and maintain the peace and stability of the South China Sea with common efforts. ^ top ^

China, Trinidad and Tobago pledge cooperation (Xinhua)
China and Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday pledged to enhance cooperation in areas including infrastructure construction, security, culture and people-to-people exchanges. The pledge came out of talks between Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who is the first female prime minister of the country. Speaking highly of the cooperation the two countries carried out during the 40 years since the establishment of ties, Li said China will work with Trinidad and Tobago to beef up exchanges, consolidate mutual trust, and deepen cooperation to lift the bilateral relations to a new high. He called on the two sides to expand their infrastructure construction cooperation to include large operational projects such as ports and industrial park, as well as projects related to people's livelihood, such as hospitals. He urged the two countries to increase direct trade in natural gas, build up a long-term and stable cooperative partnership, and jointly produce high value-added new energy products. With regard to security work, Li said the Chinese government supports Chinese companies to join the construction of a national emergency command center for Trinidad and Tobago. China also wants to cooperate with the Caribbean country in shipbuilding, for equipment made by China has a good international reputation, according to the premier. He also called for more exchanges between the two countries in culture, health, sports and tourism. Persad-Bissessar echoed Li, saying Trinidad and Tobago is grateful for China's assistance in its social and economic development. The country wants to strengthen cooperation with China in infrastructure, energy and tourism, and enhance coordination in international and regional affairs. Li also hailed the role of Trinidad and Tobago as the biggest economy among English-speaking Caribbean countries, and eyed further progress in overall cooperation between China and the region. He said China is ready to make joint efforts with Caribbean countries, using the China-Latin America cooperation mechanism to develop their political and economic engagement. Persad-Bissessar said Trinidad and Tobago will play a positive role to deepen the relationship between China, Caribbean and Latin American countries, and promote their common development. After the talks, the two leaders also witnessed the signing of bilateral cooperation deals that cover areas ranging from energy, health, and sports to aviation. Persad-Bissessar was invited by Li to pay this official visit from Feb. 24 to 28. This is also her first China visit. China's top political advisor, Yu Zhengsheng, also met with the Trinidad and Tobago prime minister on Tuesday afternoon. ^ top ^

Key Apec meeting switched from Hong Kong to Beijing (SCMP)
Hong Kong has been replaced by Beijing as the venue for a meeting of Apec finance ministers and central bankers later this year. The surprise move by the central government, described by one Apec official as "rare", led to wild speculation about the reasons for the switch. Some politicians linked it to a radical political rally planned to take place in the city's main financial district in the summer. But the organisers dismissed that theory yesterday. Officials of the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation forum (Apec) said the decision was made because US President Barack Obama asked for the leaders' meeting to be pushed back from October to November. Obama needed to be at home for campaigning in the US mid-term elections, said an Apec official, who asked not to be named. The leaders' summit, including a meeting between Obama and President Xi Jinping, will be the highlight of the event. "Such a big change is indeed rare and we haven't seen it for years. This reflects that China and the US are working really hard to ensure the meeting [between Xi and Obama] will take place," said the Apec official. Because of the change, the meeting of finance chiefs originally scheduled for September - and which would have worked out the broad economic issues for the political leaders to ratify later - has been postponed by a couple of weeks as well. The organisers said this would cause logistical problems, such as hotel bookings, and it would be easier to manage the meetings if all the events were held in Beijing. About 800 people were expected to attend the Hong Kong meetings. David Dodwell, executive director of the Hong Kong-Apec Trade Policy Group, said the idea of a switch had been circulated for about three weeks. "Clearly this is upsetting because we were looking forward to hosting a meeting that is a natural fit for Hong Kong," Dodwell said. Discussions are still taking place on whether it will be possible to keep some of the planned business meetings here to discuss issues of international financial stability and market regulation being tackled by the Asia-Pacific Financial Forum. The explanation did not stop politicians in Hong Kong from linking it to the Occupy Central movement. The protest group is urging people to block traffic in Central unless "genuine universal suffrage" is guaranteed for the 2017 chief executive election. Executive councillor Cheng Yiu-tong believes the venue switch "could be related" to the movement and said this would affect the city's reputation. "It is worrying, because you won't know how serious Occupy Central will get … so it could be safer [to hold the Apec meetings in Beijing]," he said. Democratic Party lawmaker Albert Ho Chun-yan said he was worried the decision could indicate that Beijing was bracing for the worst and may adopt a hardline stance that would be likely to trigger angry protests in the city. But Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury Professor Chan Ka-keung said the switch was "purely due to co-ordination and time concerns". He said "only a small amount" had been spent in preparation, with the HK$63 million fund granted for the event still intact. Macau's chief executive, Dr Fernando Chui Sai-on, said the city's Apec tourism ministers' meeting had received "no notice of changes" and the preparatory work would go ahead. ^ top ^

China, ASEAN to discuss DOC maritime principles (Xinhua)
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said on Wednesday that China and other parties concerned will meet on March 18 to discuss a key maritime code of conduct. The 10th Joint Working Group Meeting on the Implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) will be held next month, according to the working plan approved last year, said Hua Chunying. According to the spokeswoman, China has always held an open mind and is maintaining smooth communication with countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on the issue. She said China is willing to work with ASEAN countries to maintain momentum in the negotiation, continue to effectively implement the DOC and push forward consultation on the code of conduct. ^ top ^

China, France hold strategic dialogue in Paris (Xinhua)
Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi Wednesday met French President's Diplomatic Advisor Paul Jean-Ortiz in a new round of strategic dialogue between their two countries. Chinese-French ties made big stride forward since they forged diplomatic ties five decades ago, Yang said. During the past 12-month period, French President François Hollande, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and National Assembly Speaker Claude Bartolone visited China respectively, marking a rapid growth of China-France ties, he said. Yang said China is willing to work with France to continue to view and deal with bilateral relations from strategic and long-term perspectives and respect each other's core interests and accommodate each other's major concerns. The Chinese State Councilor said China stands ready to work with France to enhance strategic mutual trust and to promote the bilateral ties to a new step at the new historical starting point. Both sides should intensify high-level exchanges, and expand cooperation fields, create new highlights in their pragmatic cooperation and expand common interests in an innovative, win-win manner, Yang said. He also called on both countries to further personnel and cultural exchanges, make the commemorations marking the 50th anniversary of their diplomatic relations a success, and enhance mutual understanding and friendship between the two peoples, especially the young. Moreover, Yang said both sides should strengthen communication and cooperation in international affairs, and further coordination in issues of climate change, counter-terrorism and peacekeeping, thus contributing to world peace, prosperity and development. For his part, Jean-Ortiz said the two countries enjoy good ties, and France attaches great importance to ties with China. He said France is willing to take the 50th anniversary of France-China diplomatic relations as a good opportunity to further enhance high-level exchanges and all-around dialogues between the two countries. France is ready to work with China to improve their cooperation mechanism and expand their cooperation, thus making the comprehensive strategic partnership between the two countries more substantive, Jean-Ortiz said. ^ top ^

China ratifies anti-Japanese war victory day (Xinhua)
China's top legislature voted on Thursday to formalize September 3 as Victory Day of the Chinese People's War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression. The decision was made at the three-day session of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) which ended on Thursday. The Chinese People's War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression was a just war against Japanese imperialists and was an important part of the World Anti-Fascist War. It was a war of national liberation, the first in modern history in which China won complete victory over foreign aggressors. The victory became a historical turning point in the Chinese nation's march toward rejuvenation and laid an important foundation for the independence and liberation of the Chinese people, according to the decision. The Chinese people made great contribution and sacrifices toward anti-fascist victory for people all around the world and in the great cause of world peace, it said. After the foundation of the People's Republic of China, the central government designated September 3, the day after the Japanese government officially signed the surrender document on September 2, 1945, as victory day. The NPC's Standing Committee decided to ratify September 3 as the victory day to keep history firmly in mind, recall the Chinese people's arduous resistance against Japanese aggression, and commemorate heroic martyrs in the war as well as all the people who contributed to the victory, the decision said. The ratification was also aimed at displaying the important role of China's anti-Japanese war in the World Anti-Fascist War, expressing China's firm stance of safeguarding national sovereignty, territorial solidarity and world peace, while carrying forward national spirit with its core of patriotism and inspiring the joint drive to realize the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation. The country will now hold national memorial activities on September 3 every year. ^ top ^

China slams Philippine move over Huangyan Islands (Global Times)
China on Thursday slammed a Philippine move over the Huangyan Islands in the South China Sea, saying it was groundless and made no sense. "Our will and resolve in safeguarding territorial sovereignty is unswerving, and China resolutely opposes any move that will complicate and expand the situation," Defense Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun told a press conference. "China has indisputable sovereignty over the Huangyan Islands," he reiterated. The Philippines have contested China's ownership of the islands. According to media reports, the Philippine defense ministry is to place the Huangyan Islands under the jurisdiction of its western command, and the country's armed forces will act when the time comes. ^ top ^

Direct phone line for China, Vietnam defense ministries (Global Times)
China and Vietnam have agreed to establish a direct phone line between their defense ministries, said Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun here on Thursday. "This will help the two sides strengthen their military mutual trust, strategic communication and cooperation," Yang told a regular press briefing. He said China has sent a delegation to Vietnam to discuss establishing the line, and both sides agreed to try to put it into use within this year. ^ top ^

China replaces South Korea as East Asia's largest defence equipment importer (SCMP)
China overtook South Korea as East and Southeast Asia's largest importer of defence equipment last year as imports in the region rose more than eight times faster than global trade of defence equipment. Regional growth in imports was led by China as the world's second-largest economy faces territorial disputes with neighbours in the East China Sea and South China Sea, according to figures released on Thursday by the consultancy IHS in its annual Balance of Trade study. China's imports increased 52.6 per cent to US$2.3 billion last year. They stood at US$1.5 billion in 2012. The study predicted Chinese imports would grow by 13.8 per cent this year to US$2.6 billion. Chinese defence-related exports reached US$1.9 billion last year, up 4.4 per cent. Paul Burton, Singapore-based defence content director for IHS, said imports from Russia had ballooned the People's Liberation Army's spending abroad. “Russia increased its exports from roughly US$3.5 billion to US$4.5 billion, mostly due to increased engine and fighter jet trade with China,” he said. Deliveries and upgrades of air defence equipment, such as aircrafts and helicopters, have driven the regional market overall, he added.South Korea, which two year's ago was the region's largest arms importer, has benefitted from this trend. Last year, the Philippines expressed its intent to buy 12 T-50 Golden Eagle fighter jets from South Korean. Earlier this month, Indonesia put to use a first squadron of 16 such jets. South Korea's exports of defence equipment rose 91.6 per cent to US$613 million last year. IHS estimates that the country is set to overtake China as the region's largest exporter of such equipment by next year. “South Korean industry is reaching a 'tipping point',” said Burton. “Its indigenously produced defence equipment has reached sufficiently high quality to be competitive in the emerging markets,” he said. “This will likely supplant some of the major Western companies in the process.” However, Burton cautioned that China might lead the ranking regionally in the more distant future. “China's export capabilities are still emerging,” he said. Defence-related imports in East and Southeast Asia reached US$12.2 billion last year, according to IHS, up 24.5 per cent compared to 2012. This compares to a global increase of 3 per cent to US$67.6 billion in trade of defence equipment last year. Indonesia's imports grew 167.7 per cent to US$1.7 billion. Malaysia's increased 40.6 per cent to US$610 million. Cambodia's, while relatively low, rose a staggering 850 per cent, to US$95 million. Taiwan's imports fell by 17.4 per cent to US$928 million. The US is still the region's largest supplier of defence equipment. Globally, nine out of the 10 leading defence equipment manufacturers were based in the US, the report said. Ben Moores, the study's author and senior analyst with IHS Jane's Aerospace and Defence Forecasting, noted that global arms trade saw another tidal change last year with India surpassing Saudi Arabia as the US' largest defence market. “India's growth has been dramatic,” he said. The world's second-most populous nation bought US$1.9 billion of American defence equipment, eight times more than it did in 2009. Globally, India's armed forces bought equipment worth US$5.9 billion last year, more than twice as much as China did. “India has become a major player for the US,” said Burton. “US companies have started to make inroads into India after a long time of not working with the market”, he said. Burton expected the country to remain a dominant importer due to its failure to establish a domestic defence industry and a backlog on ordered imports. He cautioned, however, that its defence spending wasn't fully thought-through. “Despite massive imports there are crucial gaps, especially in the maritime domain where India continues to fall behind.” Earlier this month, China held a rare naval exercise in the eastern Indian Ocean, alarming Indian observers. ^ top ^

Abe reconciliation attempt seen as tactic (Global Times)
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has struck a conciliatory note following diplomatic rows over his visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, noting he would like to mend ties with related countries "in a humble manner." However, analysts indicated the leader's softening stance is only a tactic to ease both domestic and external pressures for the time being. They also warned of lingering tension between Tokyo and Beijing, a result of Abe clinging to right-wing notions. According to Kyodo News, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga on Thursday told a news conference that Abe will endeavor to calm the situation caused by his visit to the shrine last December. The visit to Yasukuni, which among others, honors the souls of 14 Class-A war criminals convicted after World War II, has outraged China and South Korea. Washington, Japan's ally, also expressed disappointment over the visit. Suga said Abe wants to directly communicate with leaders of related countries in a "sincere" and "humble" manner. "The prime minister hopes to express his real intentions through diplomatic channels, and will repeatedly engage in communication with countries who said they couldn't understand [his visit]," said Suga. Liu Jiangyong, vice dean of the Institute of Modern International Relations at Tsinghua University, said that that Abe's conciliatory message purely aims to woo the US, which has shown growing discontent toward Tokyo's recent defiance over historical issues. Seiichi Eto, special adviser to Abe, earlier this month said he was "disappointed" by the US statement on the prime minister's Yasukuni visit, adding to strains with Washington. "Japan's strains with South Korea and China have also undermined Washington's strategic pivot to Asia, therefore the US must have been exerting pressure for Abe to make peace with his neighbors," said Hu Lingyuan, a professor with the Center for Japanese Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai. On Thursday, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, China's top legislature, approved national remembrance days to commemorate the Nanjing Massacre, in which more than 300,000 people died, and Japan's defeat in World War II. Hu said that Abe is also pressured by Japan's business sector to mend ties with Beijing. "This seemingly conciliatory gesture is a trick... Abe will not alter his political agenda, which is based on support from nationalists," Hu said. "The conditions for talks is Tokyo's acknowledgment of disputes over the Diaoyu Islands and Abe's pledge of no more Yasukuni visits," Hu said. "Sadly, Abe is not going to accept either of them." In response to the Yasukuni row, the Chinese foreign ministry said "Abe has himself shut the door on talks with Chinese leaders." Liu said Abe's denial of disputes over the Diaoyu Islands is in fact a refusal of dialogue with China, which demonstrates his hypocrisy with regard to resolving disputes. "Japan should take all the blame for freezing the summits," he said. ^ top ^


Domestic Policy

China reports 4 more H7N9 cases (China Daily)
Four more people were confirmed to be infected with H7N9 bird flu in two Chinese provinces on Friday, local authorities said. A 50-year-old man from Changchun City in Northeast China's Jilin province was confirmed to have the virus by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, according to the provincial government's information office. The man, surnamed Liang, is a poultry breeder, and is in a stable condition in hospital. It is the first human H7N9 bird flu case in the province. Another three H7N9 cases were also confirmed on Friday in south China's Guangdong Province, including one death. A 46-year-old woman from Zhaoqing City and a 69-year-old man in Jiangmen City are in hospital receiving treatment. A 64-year-old man from Guangzhou City died on Tuesday, according to the provincial health and family planning commission. There have been more than 120 human H7N9 cases reported in China so far this year and at least 32 deaths, according to latest official figures. ^ top ^

CPC meeting underlines further reform (Xinhua)
Participants at a meeting of the Communist Party of China (CPC) on Monday decided that deepening reform would help China reach its economic and social development targets this year. The meeting of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee was convened to discuss the government work report to be submitted for deliberation at the annual plenary session of the National People's Congress, the top legislature, in early March. China achieved better-than-expected results last year, despite experiencing more difficulties than expected, according to the meeting. Participants concluded that China will continue to implement a proactive fiscal policy and prudent monetary policy, stabilize and improve its macro-control policies, keep economic growth "within a rational zone" and elevate growth quality and efficiency in order to achieve this year's goals. The country has a solid foundation to attain medium and high-speed economic growth in the near future, according to the meeting, presided over by General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee Xi Jinping. A decision was made to strive for new breakthrough in major areas of reform, construct an open economy, push forward "high-level" opening up and foster new world-class competitive edges, with the emphasis on restructuring the economic system. It was also decided that the role of domestic demand as a "major engine" to drive economic growth should be bolstered, agricultural modernization and reform should be advanced, and more efforts should be devoted to protect the environment and fight air pollution. The meeting also stressed the importance of urbanization, innovation, healthcare reform, the development of education and cultural sectors, and improving people's living standards. ^ top ^

Citizen sues Hebei govt over pollution (Global Times)
A resident of North China's Hebei Province has filed a lawsuit against his local government for its failure to curb air pollution, possibly the first of its kind in the country. Li Guixin, from Shijiazhuang, filed the case against the city's environmental protection bureau to Yuhua District People's Court Thursday, requesting the bureau fulfill its obligation to curb air pollution based on the law, local newspaper Yanzhao Metropolis Daily reported Tuesday. Shijiazhuang, about 300 kilometers southwest of Beijing, is the capital of Hebei, one of China's most polluted areas. Li also asked for compensation of 10,000 yuan ($1,630) from the bureau for economic and health damage caused by air pollution. The court has said it will make a decision on hearing the case within seven days. Every resident that has to live in the smog is a victim that suffers from health threats and economic losses, Li said. As the government is the regulator, it should pay the damages, since it benefits from companies paying taxes. "The smog is engulfing the city and complaints are plenty, but no one really protects their own rights using the law. I'm doing this to awaken people's civic awareness and push the government to take strong measures to tackle the issue," the report quoted Li as saying. A staffer from the Shijiazhuang environment protection bureau told the Global Times Tuesday that it has taken steps to curb air pollution, but declined to comment further. Cheng Gang, a senior official and chief engineer of the bureau, told the Xinhua News Agency that citizens have the right to appeal through legal means and that the lawsuit reflects increasing public environmental awareness. "No matter what the result of the lawsuit turns out to be, the city's environmental authority will work scrupulously to fulfill its duties in combating air pollution," Cheng said. Since late 2013, State and local governments have issued ambitious five-year plans to cut emissions, but dissatisfaction and complaints are growing as the number of severely polluted days increases. "If more citizens stand up to protect their rights and hold the government responsible, it would push the government to fulfill its obligations much more diligently," Wang Wenzhang, a professor at the Institute of Social Development at Peking University, told the Global Times. He noted that environmental authorities have unavoidable responsibility regarding air pollution and the problem has been partly caused by long-term lax law enforcement. Zhang Yuanxun, a professor of resources and environment at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said environmental bureaus have not acted to the letter of the law as the government put more stress on economic development. He noted that the mentality is changing and the awareness of protecting the environment is being strengthened. Shijiazhuang put its emergency response plan into action from Saturday, closing construction material companies, 146 open cast mines and 1,270 coal fired boilers to reduce the pollutants by 50 percent. The government also limited production at 551 companies. Curbing smog and lowering GDP growth has dominated the agenda of the annual sessions of legislative and political consultative bodies at provincial level since January. "But aside from raising people's awareness toward the issue, suing the bureau won't make a big difference in tackling the problem, as it's only an executive body and unable to control the issue from the source," Zhang said. Wang said energy-intensive and highly polluting companies such as the steel industry have long been concentrated in Hebei, and its environment can no longer stand the burden. "Promoting industrial upgrading and making reasonable action plans for highly polluting companies is key in tackling the issue. This needs authorities from the central to local level to make up their minds to gradually push the process," Wang said. ^ top ^

Shanxi official with ties to ex-security tsar Zhou Yongkang's son dismissed (SCMP)
A local party official from Shanxi province has been removed from office, apparently as part of an investigation into the son of retired public security tsar Zhou Yongkang, mainland media have reported. Officials in Luliang city announced the removal of city mayor and deputy party chief, Ding Xuefeng after a meeting on Thursday. A report on the action by the official Luliang Daily gave no reason for the move. But the China Business Journal said, citing anonymous sources, that Ding had a close relationship with Zhou Bin, who is the elder son of Zhou Yongkang and believed to be under investigation for corruption. Zhou Bin was one of a group of businessman who contributed to a fund to help Ding run for the mayor's office in January 2012, the newspaper said. Ding later distributed the cash raised among his allies, it said. He was formally confirmed as mayor in March 2012. Ding last appeared in public on December 25, when he attended a briefing on the development of city infrastructure. He was absent from a city-level party meeting held five days later and he did not attend any official Lunar New Year celebrations. Ding's profile has also been removed from the city government website. Many businessmen from Luliang have been questioned by the authorities investigating Ding, the China Business Journal said. Dong Yan, a deputy party chief from Changzhi, has been transferred to Luliang and is the top candidate for replacing Ding in the mayor's office. The Beijing News reported last month that Ding was implicated in a corruption investigation against the former deputy public security minister Li Dongsheng. Li was a close ally of the elder Zhou, a retired member of the supreme Politburo Standing Committee. The newspaper, citing anonymous sources, said Li had helped to advance Ding's political career. The South China Morning Post reported in August that President Xi Jinping and other top party leaders had authorised an investigation into the elder Zhou, as part of a broad nationwide anti-corruption campaign. Rumours have been rife in recent months that authorities will soon formally announce the investigation into Zhou's affairs. Central authorities began briefing officials last month on the findings of the corruption case centred on Zhou, but the investigation has never been acknowledged publicly by the government or reported openly by the mainland media. ^ top ^

China strives to better handle petitions (Xinhua)
China's State Bureau for Letters and Calls has hailed a set of new rules on the country's petition system as it highlighted the rule of law and protection of petitioners' rights. While confirming the role of petitions in enabling the government to solve conflicts, a bureau statement released on Wednesday noted "plenty of problems" in the petition system as "some local departments and authorities harm people's interests and hurt their feelings." A set of guidelines on reforming the petition system, revealed on Tuesday by the general offices of the CPC Central Committee and the State Council, stipulated that authorities must stick to lawful means to dissolve conflicts and disputes, and any malpractice that constrains the public from legal petitioning will be rectified and prohibited. Moreover, petition cases will be diverted to courts if they involve lawsuits, and government policy and decision-making will become more transparent and enlist more public participation, according to the guidelines. The new rules will help to better handle civil disputes and protect citizens' legitimate rights and interests, the bureau statement said. They will also help facilitate improvements and further reforms in this system, it added. Petitioning, also known as letters and calls, is the administrative system for hearing public complaints and grievances. Many complaints are filed each year in China, in which petitioners generally see injustice in land acquisition, social security, education, healthcare or environmental protection. Petition system reform should be carried out in the spirit of rule of law, said law professor Yang Xiaojun with the Chinese Academy of Governance. "When we push the reform in petition system, we must also ensure that judicial and procuratorial bodies are exercising their respective powers independently and impartially in accordance with the law." "With the rapid economic and social development in China, people's awareness of protecting their rights is growing and their interests and appeals are diversifying, a fact that has pushed up the number of petitions," said Yan Jirong, a professor with Peking University's School of Government. "Moreover, some cases that undermined judicial justice and independence have impaired the public's confidence in the judiciary and fueled the rise of petitions," Yan noted. Xin Ming, a professor with the Party School of the CPC Central Committee, said that the petition system has long been a very important channel for the public to vent their grievances. "However, as the number of petitioners was once considered a gauge to evaluate the performance of local governments, some local officials are trying everything they can to stop petitioners from lodging a complaint to a superior authority, a 'disgrace' for the originating place's government," Yan said. Under the new rules, improvements will be made in the assessment of governments regarding the handling of petitions, by placing more stock in the effectiveness of reasonable settlements. ^ top ^

Food safety crimes (Global Times)
Chinese prosecutors are planning an eight-month crackdown on environmental and food safety crimes after detaining 13,495 suspects for such offenses last year. This is a year-on-year rise of 12 percent, figures from a Thursday press conference showed. Senior Supreme People's Procuratorate (SPP) official Wan Chun said a nine-month campaign against lax investigation and prosecution was launched in April 2013. It led to thousands of criminal cases related to people's livelihoods being transferred from police and other law enforcers to prosecutors. More than half of these cases involved food safety and environmental issues, while others concerned agriculture, health and education, labor insurance and other fields, Wan said. In one case revealed earlier by the SPP, suspect Liu Liguo sold "gutter oil" made from kitchen waste worth 100 million yuan ($16.31 million) between December 2007 and July 2011. Some 9 million yuan's worth of the unsafe oil entered the market. Liu was given a life sentence in 2013. ^ top ^

Xi heads Internet security group (Xinhua)
President Xi Jinping will head the central Internet security and informatization leading group, according to a statement released after the first meeting of the group on Thursday. Xi presided over the meeting, stressing that Internet security and informatization is a major strategic issue concerning a country's security and development as well as people's life and work. "Efforts should be made to build our country into a cyber power," he said. Premier Li Keqiang and Liu Yunshan, who are both members of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, are the group's deputy heads. The group is designed to lead and coordinate Internet security and informatization work among different sectors, as well as draft national strategies, development plans and major policies in this field, Xi said. Members of the group adopted the group's work rules and its working plan for this year at the meeting. China has the world's largest number of Internet users but it still lags behind in development of Internet technologies, the president noted. The digital gap between rural and urban areas remains large and the average bandwidth enjoyed by each Chinese is far less than that in some developed countries, he added. By the end of 2013, China reported about 618 million Internet users, but only 28.6 percent of them live in the countryside. "We should be fully aware of the importance and urgency of Internet security and informatization," Xi said. China has to balance its needs of developing IT technologies and safeguarding Internet security, the president said, describing the two issues as "two wings of a bird and two wheels of an engine." ^ top ^

Groups push for standards on PM2.5 anti-smog masks amid concern over fakes (SCMP)
A national standard for anti-smog masks is likely to be set next year, the Beijing Youth Daily reported, amid concerns that some masks on the market are not effective and leave citizens vulnerable to health risks. The China Non-Wovens Industrial Textiles Association has finished the first draft of a proposal which it will submit to the national standards commission. It is hoped the standards could come into effect next year and help regulate the booming market. Demand for the masks to keep out PM2.5 - the finest pollutant particles, which can cause the most harm to health - has soared since 2012, with 2.53 billion of them sold last year. Sales are expected to reach 3.92 billion next year. The US Environmental Protection Agency says the particles measuring less than 2.5 micrometres can be easily inhaled "deeply into the lungs", where they can damage tissues - a worrying fact in China, where PM2.5 readings often reach hazardous levels. There is no national standard for civilian masks. Most industrial masks on the market follow US and European standards. How to standardise PM2.5 masks was one of the main issues at a forum on air pollution management and prevention in Beijing on Wednesday. The rapidly growing market is full of low-quality fakes that do not protect against PM2.5. Blue skies reappeared over the capital yesterday after a week of thick smog. The US embassy's air quality monitor posted a "good" PM2.5 reading of 42 micrograms per cubic metre of air at 9am, a level which "poses little or no risk" to health. But the reading was still above the World Health Organisation's guideline of 25 micrograms per cubic metre. The Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Centre blogged that the city had a PM2.5 count of just 6 to 11 at 7am, due to cold air and a northerly wind. "Today it's suitable to open your window and let the air in," the centre added. ^ top ^



FM slams Dalai Lama for seeking 'independence in disguise' (Global Times)
China's foreign ministry Saturday slammed the Dalai Lama's "Middle Way" approach as the pursuit of "independence in disguise" and urged the US to take steps so as to avoid further damage to China-US relations. "The Dalai Lama, who states that he is not seeking 'Tibet independence,' has never stopped his anti-China separatist activities. By touting the so-called 'Middle Way' approach and fantasizing about a historically groundless 'Greater Tibet' that takes up one quarter of China's territory, the Dalai Lama is essentially pursuing 'independence in disguise,'" said China's foreign ministry spokesperson Qin Gang. This is what the Chinese government and people will under no circumstances accept, Qin added. Defying protest from China, US President Barack Obama held a closed-door meeting with the Dalai Lama at the White House Friday morning. Obama reaffirmed that his country recognizes Tibet as part of China and does not support "Tibet independence," while urging China and the Dalai Lama to resume direct dialogue to resolve their long-standing differences. China viewed this meeting as a "gross interference in China's internal affairs" and said the move had severely violated basic norms governing international relations and caused grave damage to China-US relations. "We urge the US side once again to correct mistakes, cease to connive and support anti-China separatist forces that seek 'Tibet independence,' stop interfering in China's internal affairs and take steps to remove the adverse impact so as to avoid further damage to China-US relations," said Qin. It was the third meeting between Obama and the Dalai Lama since Obama took office in 2009. "The 'Middle Way' demands 'a high degree of autonomy,' leaving all affairs but military and diplomacy under the control of the Dalai Lama. This amounts to the overthrow of China's State system on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau," said an opinion article released by the Xinhua News Agency on Saturday. The article also pointed out that the "Middle Way" requires the Chinese government to pull the army out from "Greater Tibet" and turn the area into an "international peace zone" as well as drive all other ethnic groups out of it. ^ top ^

China urges US to correct mistakes on Tibet (Global Times)
Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Qin Gang on Saturday evening urged the United States to correct its mistakes after President Barack Obama met with the Dalai Lama. "We once again urge the US side to correct mistakes," Qin said in a press release. He said the United States should stop conniving and supporting anti-China, secessionist force which pursues "Tibet independence," halt interference into China's internal affairs, and adopt measures to offset negative influence, in order to avoid further damage to the China-US relations. Qin pointed out that Tibet is an inseparable part of China's territories and that the affairs of Tibet are totally internal affairs of China. Qin said the US side has done serious damage to China-US relations by allowing the Dalai Lama to visit the country and meet with the US leader despite objection of China. He said such a wrong move gravely interfered in China's internal affairs, seriously violated the US commitment of recognizing Tibet as part of China and of not supporting the "Tibet independence," and gravely violated basic norms governing the international relations. "Facts have proved that the Dalai Lama is definitely not just a religious figure, but a political exile who has long engaged in anti-China secessionist activities in the name of religion," he said. Qin said the Dalai Lama has never stopped secessionist activities though he proclaimed not to seek "Tibet independence." He accused the Dalai Lama of attempting to pursue independence in a disguised way by advocating the so-called "middle way" and a "Greater Tibet," which in fact is nonexistence in history. "This is what the Chinese government and people will never accept," Qin said. He said the central government of China has always kept the door open for contact and discussions with the Dalai Lama. "If the Dalai Lama really wishes to achieve progress in contact and discussions, he must reflect on his own words and deeds in a thorough way and stop all activities of separatist and destructive nature," Qin said. Qin said the Chinese people have the biggest say on the situation in Tibet. Since the peaceful liberation of Tibet more than 60 years ago, Tibet has experienced tremendous changes. Serfs of the old time Tibet have long become the master of their own destiny while unprecedented progresses have been achieved in all fields, he said. "These are facts that won't be denied by anyone without political bias," Qin added. ^ top ^



Xinjiang establishes new city amid trade hopes (Xinhua)
A new city under the direct administration of the regional government and built by the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC) was formally opened on Wednesday in far-west China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. Situated near China-Kazakhstan border, Shuanghe is the seventh urban center built since the XPCC was established 60 years ago. The other six cities or towns are Shihezi, Wujiaqu, Alaer, Tumushuke, Beitun and Tiemenguan. The XPCC maintains military structural titles such as divisions and regiments, and has its own administrative and judicial bodies. It now has over 4,000 enterprises and a total population of more than 2.45 million. XPCC Commander Liu Xinqi said Shuanghe will become an important gateway city for China in the forging of economic ties with Eurasian countries. The Silk Road Economic Belt that links cities in western provinces has much potential to promote economic relationships and trade in the region, said Liu Yilei, deputy secretary general of the XPCC. In a speech in Kazakhstan last September, Chinese President Xi Jinping proposed establishing a Silk Road Economic Belt, a modernized version of the ancient Silk Road of more than 2,000 years ago. Relying on the highways, railways, gas pipelines and airways that link China and Central Asia, Shuanghe City is expected to become a regional processing production base, a commodity distributing center, an imported energy corridor and a significant trade center, said Jin Junbiao of the Shuanghe City government, which currently governs about 50,000 residents.x "The Silk Road Economic Belt will bring a valuable opportunity for Shuanghe City by introducing more talents, amassing more population and fostering new sources of economic growth," Jin said. ^ top ^

Uygur groups condemn charge against academic Ilham Tohti (SCMP)
Rights groups condemned China on Wednesday for charging a prominent Uygur critic of government policy towards the mostly-Muslim minority with separatism – which can carry the death penalty. Ilham Tohti, an economics lecturer at a university in Beijing, has been formally accused of the offence, his wife Guzaili Nu'er said. Tohti has been one of the most prominent critics of Chinese policy in Xinjiang, the vast western region where most Uygurs live and which is periodically hit by violent clashes between locals and China's security forces. China maintains that unrest in the region is caused by terrorist groups seeking an independent state, an account denied by Uygur rights groups who complain of widespread religious repression and economic discrimination. Rights group Amnesty International urged people to send letters to Chinese leaders demanding Tohti's immediate release. “He is a prisoner of conscience, detained and arrested solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression,” the group said on its website. Dilshat Rexit, a spokesman for the World Uygur Congress, an exile group, said that “China's accusations of separatism are merely an excuse for suppression of those with different political opinions”. “We call on the international community to monitor China and free this Uighur scholar,” he added in a statement. The US-based Uygur Human Rights Project said in a statement that the charge against Tohti “reflects not only a zero tolerance policy to Uygur dissent, but also the growing intractability of China towards international criticism of its ethnic policies”. The group also called on China to account for the whereabouts of Tohti, who has not been allowed to contact his family or see a lawyer since his arrest last month. Li Fangping, a lawyer appointed by Tohti's family, said the scholar was being held at a facility in Xinjiang's capital Urumqi, adding he had lodged a formal request to meet his client and was awaiting a response. Beijing's foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters: “China's judicial authorities will deal with the relevant case in accordance with law since China is a country under the rule of law.” Tensions in Xinjiang, a strategically important region which abuts central Asia, have risen in the past year with a series of deadly clashes. Police also blamed suspects from the region for apparently deliberately crashing a car in Beijing's central Tiananmen Square in October, killing two tourists and the three people in the vehicle. The incident led President Xi Jinping to call for a security push in Xinjiang. Tohti had challenged the government's account of the crash. The United States and the European Union have both condemned Tohti's arrest. China's courts are tightly controlled by the ruling Communist party, and have previously handed down lengthy jail sentences to intellectuals who have spoken out against the authorities. ^ top ^



Hong Kong journalists take to streets for press freedom (SCMP)
Leaving behind their pens and voice recorders, journalists switched roles yesterday to march in defence of press freedom. The "Free Speech, Free Hong Kong" protest was organised by the Hong Kong Journalists Association, which said 6,000 took part. Police put the figure at 1,600. "Such a big number of people illustrates that the public has started to feel that press freedom is at risk," association chairwoman Sham Yee-lan said. The association claims recent events threaten freedom of the press and speech in the city. It says these include the dismissal of Commercial Radio host Li Wei-ling, an outspoken critic of the government; claims by Chinese-language newspapers Apple Daily and AM730 that mainland-backed firms and banks had pulled advertisements because of their editorial stances; and Ming Pao management's decision to assign a Malaysian to take over as the paper's chief editor. Nick Kwok Hing-fai, a photojournalist at Ming Pao who took his two-year-old daughter on the march, said he came because of the next generation. "I'm afraid my daughter will grow up regarding the June 4 incident as only a riot," he said. "If we don't tell the truth now, there will be nothing we can say tomorrow." Protesters marched from Chater Garden to the Chief Executive's Office in Admiralty, where they rallied to urge Leung Chun-ying to uphold free speech. Among those marching were former civil service chief Joseph Wong Wing-ping, former legislator Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee, Foreign Correspondents' Club representatives, and survivors of the Manila hostage shootings and Lamma Island ferry disaster. "Without freedom of speech, victims like us would have no means to fight for justice," a woman whose son died in the ferry tragedy said on stage. Emmanuel Cheng, who emigrated to Toronto in 1971, said the situation in his old hometown had greatly deteriorated. "I don't want to see Hong Kong turning into Shenzhen," he said. Meanwhile, 80 people attended a forum organised by the Council on Media Conduct Supervision - formed by three pro-government groups - to "explore the conduct of Hong Kong media". Leticia Lee See-yin, convenor of Justice Alliance, denied the forum at the piazza of the government headquarters was organised to counter the main rally. A government spokesman said it "would not and could not interfere with" editorial freedom and free speech. ^ top ^



Cross-Strait compatriots told to be vigilant: spokesman (Global Times)
Compatriots from across the Taiwan Strait should be vigilant against Japanese proposals that may interfere with cross-Strait affairs and alienate relations between the two sides, a mainland spokesman said on Wednesday. Ma Xiaoguang, State Council Taiwan Affairs Office spokesman, made the remarks when answering a question on the island's opposition Democratic Progressive Party's positive response to a Japanese proposal on a "Taiwan relations law." Ma expressed hope that the two sides maintain peaceful development of cross-Strait ties. At the press conference, Ma said the mainland has always insisted on cross-Strait cooperation in relation to waters surrounding the East China Sea and South China Sea. As to Taiwan's leader Ma Ying-jeou calling on relevant parties to solve airspace disputes over the East China Sea in a peaceful way, Ma Xiaoguang said both sides of the Strait are of one family and it is a common responsibility to safeguard the fundamental interests of the Chinese nation. ^ top ^

Beijing, Taipei sign science pacts (SCMP)
Top negotiators from the mainland and Taiwan are due to sign two more agreements today in a further sign of warming cross-strait relations. The officials will sign meteorological and earthquake monitoring co-operation pacts in Taipei. The agreements come after the two sides held the first government-to-government talks in six decades in Nanjing earlier this month. Beijing will be represented at the signings by Chen Deming, the president of semi- official body the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait. "Our two sides have a lofty mission, that is to make relations between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait closer every day in order to realise our dream of a Chinese renaissance," Chen said yesterday in Taipei. Chen's comments echoed remarks by President Xi Jinping that he hoped relations between the mainland and Taiwan would be like those of a family and that he wanted to produce a renaissance in China. Chen will meet Lin Join-sane of Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation at the signing ceremony and the pair will later hold talks. One of the issues they will discuss is smog, Straits Exchange Foundation officials said. Air pollution is a major problem on the mainland and has begun to affect Taiwan as smog is blown towards the island. "Leaders of our two sides will make certain decisions on air-pollution control during their talks," the foundation's vice- chairman, Chang Hsien-yao, told a news conference in Taipei yesterday. He said the two sides started discussing the pollution issue two years ago. The data-sharing meteorological and earthquake pacts signed today will be the 20th and 21st non-political co-operation agreements signed by the two sides since President Ma Ying-jeou took power in Taiwan in 2008 and adopted a policy of pushing for closer ties with Beijing. Lin has called for further co-operation between the two sides to increase the well-being of people across the Taiwan Strait. "The agreements on meteorological exchanges and earthquake monitoring will have a real influence on the lives and property of the people from both sides," he said. At the Nanjing talks earlier this month, Zhang Zhijun, head of the State Council's Taiwan Affairs Office, met his Taiwanese counterpart Wang Yu-chi of Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council. Official contact between the two sides had until then been limited to talks between semi-official bodies since Kuomintang forces fled to Taiwan at the end of the civil war in 1949. Chen is scheduled to meet Wang for talks at a hotel in Taipei after signing the agreements today and address him by his official government title, an act made possible after agreement at the Nanjing talks to set up a direct communication mechanism to discuss cross-strait issues. Taipei has treated the matter as a major breakthrough, given that Beijing regards Taiwan as a breakaway province of the People's Republic. Beijing has stressed the arrangement is limited to just the Mainland Affairs Council, the Taiwan Affairs Office and semi-official bodies, which remain the representatives for cross-strait talks despite the new engagement. More than one hundred police officers were deployed at Taipei's international airport when Chen arrived yesterday in case of protests. Fewer than a dozen protesters, including pro-independence activists, gathered outside the terminal. ^ top ^



Politburo focuses on growth ahead of Li Keqiang's first work report (SCMP)
Top leaders in Beijing have pledged to keep the economy growing within a "reasonable range" while forging ahead on economic reforms, setting the tone for Premier Li Keqiang's first annual work report next week.The government will continue to maintain "proactive fiscal and prudent monetary policies", the Politburo, the Communist Party's decision-making body, said. It did not provide a forecast for economic growth. The central government is trying to rebalance the economy to rely less on exports and government-debt-fuelled spending by increasing the country's domestic consumption. A meeting of top Communist Party leaders in November outlined a series of economic reforms, including opening up more sections of the economy to private enterprise. The Politburo meeting, chaired by President Xi Jinping, discussed the government work report Li will deliver to the annual session of National People's Congress, the national legislature, on March 5. Shen Jianguang, chief China economist at Mizuho Securities Asia, said the statement suggested the government was committed to maintaining steady economic growth, despite saying at the party plenum in November that priority would be given to the reform programme. "A reasonable range means an annual growth rate in GDP of between 7 and 8 per cent," Shen said. The Politburo statement said the government aimed to improve the quality of growth and achieve breakthroughs in major reforms. The nation's economic development faced a complex international environment, but there was still a good base to maintain medium- to high-speed growth, the statement said. Li has previously said a gross domestic product increase of 7 per cent to 7.5 per cent a year constituted a medium- to high-growth rate. In his policy address to lawmakers, Li is expected to announce his government's target for economic growth this year. Some analysts have speculated that the government may lower the annual growth rate target to 7 per cent from last year's 7.5 per cent. Li has signalled his determination to sacrifice some short-term growth to focus on economic reforms. The economy grew at 7.7 per cent last year, matching the growth rate in 2012. People's Bank of China governor Zhou Xiaochuan said at a G-20 meeting of finance ministers and central bankers in Sydney that the government was taking a cautious approach towards encouraging bank lending, and that it was looking for steady, controlled growth. "China will work on balancing the need for economic growth, reforms and stability," Zhou said in a statement. "Growth of 7 to 8 per cent is not only suitable for China, it is also good for advancing world economic growth and sustaining the global economic environment," he said. Shen said Li would probably announce more details about economic reforms in his policy address next week. ^ top ^

China's 'black box' economy deserves Group of Seven peer scrutiny (SCMP)
China's thought police have a new target in their sights: economists. The Communist Party's assault on cyberspace and the international media is well known. But now, it is turning on foreign researchers who dare challenge the official narrative that China can grow 7 per cent forever and cannot crash. That is the gist of a new effort detailed by the South China Morning Post, one that aims to discredit and blacklist overseas researchers. Expect the world's biggest banks to start self-censoring themselves to avoid upsetting Beijing. That could happen simply by some strategist warning about the shadow banking industry. Will those now voicing scepticism about Chinese data on everything from exports to bad loans to pollution be muzzled by top executives? It is a huge problem that the world's second-biggest economy is becoming more and more of a black box. What can the world do about it? To me, this is a job for the Group of Seven. It is time the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy and Canada stepped out of their nostalgic cocoon and welcomed China into the ultimate members-only club. China is the biggest trading nation, the largest holder of currency reserves (US$3.8 trillion), the No 1 polluter and a fast-rising geopolitical power. Yet there is no regular or manageable forum in which peers can sit across from Chinese officials to glean intelligence on what is really afoot. It is vital for peers to be able to query Finance Minister Lou Jiwei on the true state of reforms - and central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan on China's efforts to rein in a bad-loan crisis that could dwarf Japan's - and form a united front against China's opacity. Sure, these kinds of exchanges happen on a bilateral basis now and again and at meetings of the Group of 20 nations. But the G20 is proving to be a bit too unwieldy for the task. It is also awash in countries from South Africa to Brazil to Indonesia that, frankly, might fear retribution if they demanded Chinese officials open their real books to the world. The G7 is a better forum for fact-finding and co-ordination. There are a couple of snags, of course. One is who to toss out. Sorry, Italy, but it is you. No disrespect is meant here. But you are part of a greater whole in Europe, shackled for better or worse to a single currency and central bank. Canada's economy may be smaller, but its success in avoiding the crises of recent years gives it more street cred in financial circles than Italy. The other problem is China might demur. China wants the benefits of its rising clout but hopes to put off the responsibilities that accompany it. The G7 should insist. The importance of China's economy is growing in sync with its opacity. Foreign journalists are finding Chinese travel visas hard to come by. China's internet censorship apparatus is growing apace to keep up with new microblogging and chat offerings. The government also has been working to help mainlanders doing business in Hong Kong conceal the residential addresses and full identification numbers that journalists and analysts use to discern who owns or runs what. Why open accounts in the Cayman Islands when those looking for places to stash ill-gotten gains can do it in Hong Kong? Going after researchers will further obscure China's outlook. When economists like Stephen Green of Standard Chartered in Hong Kong say China's credit system is "a big black box, and it's quite scary", he's not exaggerating. What happens now, as such comments might put economic truthers on Beijing's blacklist? Won't top executives at Standard & Poor's and Moody's Investors Service trying to sell ratings to Chinese companies and municipalities tell analysts to tread carefully when assessing debt risks? Even before China's clampdown on economists, Patrick Chovanec of Silvercrest Asset Management was worried growth is being driven by runaway credit fuelling giant projects designed to inflate economic statistics; former Fitch Ratings analyst Charlene Chu cautioned about global risks emanating from Beijing; Pacific Investment Management Co's Bill Gross was calling China "mystery meat"; and George Soros was talking about a "debt disaster that's unfolding in plain sight". China will be even less transparent if economists are under pressure to be nice to Beijing. That is, unless the G7 can talk China out of it. ^ top ^

China Focus: Shanghai FTZ lifts foreign-currency deposit rates cap (Xinhua)
China's central bank will remove interest rate ceilings on smaller foreign-currency deposits in the Shanghai Free Trade Zone (FTZ) from March 1, the latest in a spate of long-anticipated financial reforms. The relaxation applies to deposits of less than 3 million U.S. dollars owned by businesses and agencies registered in the zone or by individuals who have worked in the zone for more than one year, said the Shanghai headquarters of the People's Bank of China (PBOC) on Wednesday. Currently, regulatory caps apply to one-year or other shorter-term deposits in U.S. dollars, Japanese yen, euros and Hong Kong dollars. Deposits worth more than 3 million U.S. dollars are not subject to ceilings. The move marks the full liberalization of interest rates on foreign-currency deposits in the FTZ and could be promoted nationwide after experimentation, said officials and experts. The reform will help to test the market and to gain experience, laying a firm foundation for the deepening of interest-rate liberalization nationwide, said Zhang Xin, deputy director of the PBoC's Shanghai headquarters. Wang Xinhao, governor of the Shanghai branch of the Shanghai Pudong Development Bank, said the latest move came as the FTZ speeds up innovation in financial systems, which could be copied in other parts of the country. The foreign-currency deposit rate liberalization is not expected to exert heavy pressure on the country's monetary controls and financial stability due to the little sum of smaller foreign-currency deposits, said economists. There are risks of cross-border arbitrage as the deposit rates on major foreign currencies in China are higher than in their home countries due to easy credit. Foreign-currency deposits in the zone totalled 4.8 billion U.S. dollars. Among this, only 1.2 billion U.S. dollars is in smaller deposits, official data showed. "The interest rate liberalization in the zone is being pushed forward in a gradual manner, rather than being achieved in one go," said Zhu Jianfang, chief economist of Citic Securities. "The gradual approach is within market expectations." The central bank is cautious as it seeks to contain risks, said Lian Ping, chief economist of the Bank of Communications. "Possibly bearing in mind cross-border arbitrage risks, the cap on Renminbi deposits rates in the zone still has not been lifted," said Lian. The local currency already has higher deposit rates and liberalization could push them higher, carrying the risk of encouraging more cross-border arbitrage by cheap foreign money. Among other reforms, the central bank on Friday unveiled details of trans-border yuan regulations in the zone. Companies set up there can now borrow offshore yuan without previous restraints. The Shanghai FTZ was launched last September when China is tackling challenges that have emerged from its upgrade to a more value-added and consumption-driven model. It is viewed as a test bed for China's drive of deepening market-oriented reforms and boosting economic vitality. The FTZ is built to seek institutional arrangements that can be copied and rolled out nationwide, according to Jian Danian, deputy director of the FTZ's managing committee. ^ top ^


DPRK and South Korea

Beijing 'exploring whether to change tactics' over North Korea relationship (SCMP)
China is exploring whether to change tactics in engaging with North Korea, which is becoming increasingly unpredictable since Kim Jong-un came to power, observers and analysts say.The development comes as the foreign ministry in Beijing sent two delegations to Pyongyang in less than a month - a move that scholars and government think tanks say is aimed at seeing whether North Korea still holds China as its staunchest ally. The motives behind Pyongyang's actions over the past year - from nuclear tests to the high-profile execution of Kim's uncle Jang Song-thaek - have mystified many in the region, including China. Many Chinese scholars and government think tanks say they are being kept in the dark about its latest developments. Contact between Beijing and Pyongyang under the younger Kim is not as high profile as under his father Kim Jong-il, and the execution of Jang - a key figure in North Korea's economic engagement with China - has triggered worries that North Korea no longer highly regards its ties with China, said Cai Jian, deputy director of Fudan University's Centre for Korean Studies. The visits to Pyongyang by the Chinese delegations - one headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin - will help Beijing gauge whether Pyongyang is still politically stable in the wake of the purge. They also signal that Beijing may seek changes in how it engages North Korea. The International Department of the Communist Party is the main organisation behind cultivating ties between Beijing and Pyongyang, but Cai said the foreign ministry may now become more involved in contact with North Korea. "Communications with the International Department usually stresses more on the relationship between the ruling parties … and that usually conveys a sense that the two are brothers or allies," Cai said. "With the involvement of the foreign ministry, it is more like nation-to-nation routine exchanges, stressing less on brotherly ties." Jia Qingguo, an international relations professor at Peking University, said "nation-to-nation" ties would allow Beijing to deal with North Korea in a more "normal" way, focusing more on China's national interests instead of heavily emphasising ideology. That would clearly spell out under what conditions Beijing would continue to provide aid to Pyongyang. "China is very upset with the younger Kim," Jia said. "China had expectations he would further open up the North Korean economy, but now it is not sure if such expectations can continue." One of the accusations made against Jang was that he sold Pyongyang's valuable resources to another country, widely believed to be China. Before the execution, Pyongyang also put China in an embarrassing spot by launching nuclear tests, raising doubts over whether Beijing still held significant influence over Kim's regime. Pyongyang has recently said it was willing to return without preconditions to the stalled six-nation talks on its nuclear programme. But Zhang Liangui, a professor of international strategic research at the Communist Party's Central Party School, said Pyongyang's real intentions were unpredictable. "North Korea has not resorted to provocation mainly because it wants economic aid and for the international community to recognise its nuclear development," Zhang said. "It will make provocative moves again when it has other strategic aims." Cai said China's access to inside knowledge about North Korea was now limited. On some occasions, Beijing even had to rely on information from non-governmental organisations and politicians from Seoul, making it difficult for Beijing to make accurate judgments about the situation in Pyongyang and to formulate its strategy, he added. "What North Korea reveals to us is just too little," he said. ^ top ^

North Korea fires four missiles into sea amid US-South Korea drills (SCMP)
North Korea fired what were believed to be four short-range missiles into waters off its east coast yesterday, South Korean defence officials said. The action appeared to be a protest at annual US-South Korean military exercises that Pyongyang calls a rehearsal for invasion. The launch was not expected to raise tensions, as North Korea routinely tests short-range missiles and has recently sought better ties with South Korea in what outside analysts say is an attempt to win badly needed foreign investment and aid. The rival Koreas this month held their first reunions in more than three years of families divided by the Korean war. The projectiles fired were believed to be missiles with a range of more than 200 kilometres, South Korean Defence Ministry officials said. The officials said they were trying to learn exactly what the North launched, and that the South had bolstered its cross-border monitoring. Yonhap news agency, citing an unidentified military official, reported the North Korean projectiles were suspected to be Scud missiles or an upgraded version of its newly developed surface-to-ship KN-02 missiles. Kim Yong-hyun, a professor of North Korean studies at Seoul's Dongguk University, said their launch would not be a prelude to provocation. He said the North appeared to have intended to protest at the South Korean-US military drills that began on Monday, or to grab international attention as there had been little progress over a push to resume disarmament-for-aid talks. "It's mainly about sending a message - about the drills and also its anger over the recent UN rights report," Kim said. A United Nations panel earlier this month recommended the North Korean regime be referred to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity in its political prison camps. Last year, North Korea reacted furiously to the same military drills by issuing a torrent of fiery rhetoric and threats to launch nuclear missiles against Seoul and Washington. Those drills came after North Korea conducted its third nuclear test. North Korea has not issued any harsh rhetoric against the current drills since their start. Pyongyang earlier threatened to scrap the family reunions in anger over the drills, but later allowed them to proceed after high-level talks with Seoul. South Korea on Monday offered to send vaccines and disinfectants to the North after the country recently reported its first outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease since April 2011. Officials from the Japanese and North Korean Red Cross would hold talks next week on the return of the remains of Japanese nationals from North Korea. Japanese national broadcaster NHK said the talks would be held in Shenyang in northeastern China, but Atsuhiko Hata of the Japanese Red Cross said the site had yet to be finalised. ^ top ^



Economic Forum to take place fifth time (Montsame)
Under auspices of the Prime Minister, the fifth edition of Mongolia Economic Forum is to take place this March 24-25. This time, the main discussion topics will be smart government policies, business environment reforms and industrialization projects in Mongolia. The gathered, representing governmental and non-governmental organizations, are supposed to seek solutions to ongoing economic matters. The Mongolia Economic Forum is a non-political and non-governmental organization designed to provide a platform for constructive discussion among key stakeholders, including Government, business, civil society and academia, with added input from potential foreign investors and donors. An annual conference of the Forum invites leaders and representatives from public, private sector, academics and civil society to discuss economical and social issues impacting the development of Mongolia, and seeks ways to implement development policies in the country. The first conference of the Mongolia Economic Forum took place in March of 2010 under a "Together We Can" motto. ^ top ^

Honorary Consuls gather in Foreign Ministry (Montsame)
A meeting of Honorary Consuls of foreign countries to Mongolia was held Monday at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The meeting gathered 24 Honorary Consuls of 32 countries. A director of the Ministry's Department of Policy Planning and Research Ts.Batbayar gave a report "Implementation of the 2013 Foreign Relations Policy of Mongolia; the 2014 Foreign Relations Policy" to the participants. A director of the Consular Department Sh.Sukhbaatar took the floor to report on present activities of his Department. The Consuls were also received by the Minister of Foreign Affairs L.Bold. They want to closely cooperate with the Foreign Ministry in increasing both foreign investments and tourists to Mongolia, easing inter-citizen visiting terms and expanding friendly ties with the countries, they said. A Honorary of Consul of Thailand L.Lhagva was appointed the chief of the Union of Honorary Consuls. ^ top ^

Views shared on pension reforms (Montsame)
Member of the parliamentary Standing Committee on social policy D.Arvin MP Tuesday received Ms Coralie Gevers, a Country Manager for the World Bank (WB) in Mongolia. The latter introduced to Ms Arvin WB's social development projects and programs in Mongolia and joint efforts of WB and the Ministry of Population Development and Social Protection to build balanced social policies and to reform the current pension system. Ms Gevers also detailed results of WB's survey on the pension reform and shared views with D.Arvin on the matter. Present at the meeting were also Mark Dorfman, Senior Specialist at WB Core Course on Pensions, Richard Hinz, a Pension Policy Advisor at WB, and others. ^ top ^

Mongolia Economic Forum to be held in March (
The Annual Mongolia Economic Forum is scheduled to be held on March 24th and 25th at Government House. This year`s main agenda will be on “Smart state policy”, the reform of the business environment, largest re-construction and challenging issues of development. The socio-economic trends for Mongolia until 2040 that were issued by the World Economic Forum will also be discussed at the annual Mongolia Economic Forum. Last year the Mongolia Economic Forum discussed the issues of the state budget reform, the environment, green economy, reforms of state registration, reforms of the stock market, competitiveness and reforms of the business environment. ^ top ^


Mrs. Ludivine Candiotti
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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