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
  29.3-4.4.2014, No. 518  
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Foreign Policy

Chinese president calls for win-win cooperation between China, EU (Xinhua)
Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday met with Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, and called for developing win-win cooperation between China and the European Union (EU). Against the backdrop of economic globalization, China and Europe has become a community of a shared destiny with their interests highly interwoven, Xi said, adding that win-win cooperation is the key to cementing the China-EU relationship. The two sides should grasp the opportunities for cooperation created by China's development and Europe's economic recovery, implement the Strategic Agenda 2020 for China-EU Cooperation, and turn the current pattern of cooperation, which has trade as the major driving force, into one that is more comprehensive, robust, high-end and driven by multiple engines. China and the EU should respect each other's path of development and social system, strengthen dialogue and exchange on reform, enhance mutual understanding and trust, and always uphold the principles of mutual respect, equality, seeking common ground while putting aside differences,and win-win cooperation, said the Chinese leader. The two sides should work together to manage trade and economic problems through equal dialogue and friendly consultation, Xi said, expressing the hope that the EU will keep its market open and take a very cautious approach while considering trade remedy measures. He also called for closer bilateral cooperation in international affairs and joint efforts to promote the building of just, reasonable and effective international rules. Hailing the momentum of the EU-China strategic relationship, Barroso said the EU appreciates China's support to the EU in times of difficulties. The EU also supports China's efforts to achieve development and prosperity, keeps a close eye on China's reform and opening up, and is willing to be China's comprehensive strategic partner, he said. The EU stands ready, with the Strategic Agenda 2020 for China-EU Cooperation as a guide, to promote trade and investment with China as they are negotiating an investment agreement and a free trade deal, the EU leader said. He expressed the hope that the EU and China will expand cooperation in areas such as urbanization, innovation and people-to-people exchanges, adding the two sides should properly resolve trade disputes over wireless telecommunication equipment and other products through negotiations. The EU is willing to maintain communication and coordination with China on such issues as climate change and global governance, said Barroso. ^ top ^

Xi Jinping brings panda diplomacy to Brussels (SCMP)
President Xi Jinping will use two pandas to break the ice and soften European opposition to a free-trade deal with China during his visit to Belgium which began yesterday. As the first Chinese leader to visit the European Union's headquarters since Brussels established ties with Beijing four decades ago, Xi will also seek to send a message that China is a less confrontational partner, ready to resolve trade disputes. "Our common interests far outweigh our differences," said Yang Yanyi, China's ambassador to the EU. "We need to explore ways to deepen our partnership." Dozens of royal horsemen escorted Xi and his wife Peng Liyuan as they arrived at the Brussels palace to be greeted by King Philippe and Queen Mathilde as more than 300 people, including many flag-waving Chinese, looked on. In the palace's Empire Room, the king bestowed the Order of Leopold on Xi, who is on the last leg of his maiden swing through Europe as president. Xi will say hello to China's two ursine envoys Xing Hui and Hao Hao, loaned to Belgium last month, at a wildlife park near Brussels, part of a Chinese tradition of using pandas to foster better relations around the world. Officials hope the "panda diplomacy" will strike a different tone from a year ago when China and the EU narrowly avoided a trade war and help Xi tackle difficult issues ranging from human rights to the West's tug of war over Ukraine. At the top of Xi's list is pushing the European Union to consider a multi-billion-dollar free-trade deal, a step that would dramatically deepen ties between two of the world's largest markets. Europe is China's most important trading partner. For the EU, China is second only to the United States, but the relationship has been bedeviled by a series of damaging trade rows ranging from steel and wine to solar panels. "We should look at the broader picture. It will eventually benefit not only China but Europe," Yang said. British Prime Minister David Cameron told officials in China in December he was a strong advocate of such a free-trade deal. But most of Europe is wary. EU diplomats say most of the EU's 28 nations have resisted pressure from Beijing to include a reference to a free-trade pact in the joint statement due to be released after the Sino-European summit in Brussels today. Daily trade between China and Europe has doubled since 2003 to more than €1 billion (HK$10.6 billion). But Europeans say Chinese state-owned enterprises receive unfair subsidies that allow them to undercut foreign competitors. The European Commission has said there must first be progress on an "investment agreement" to make it easier for Europeans to do business in China. Still, trade tensions have lessened since last year when the commission threatened to impose duties on €21 billion of Chinese solar panels imports and Beijing retaliated with its own measures. In the past two weeks, China has ended its own complaints against imports of European wine and polysilicon used in solar panels. ^ top ^

Despairing Chinese families of MH370 passengers seek answers in Malaysian mission (SCMP)
A group of angry relatives of Chinese passengers on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 arrived in Kuala Lumpur yesterday demanding to meet top officials involved in the hunt for the doomed airliner. They carried banners that read, "We want evidence. We want truth. We want our family", while demanding to meet officials from Malaysia Airlines, the government, search and rescue teams and the aircraft's US manufacturer Boeing. "We didn't get a single satisfactory answer from meetings with the so-called high-level Malaysian delegation in Beijing," said Jiang Hui, a spokesman for the relatives. "We have no choice but to come here." The plane disappeared in the early hours of March 8 en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur. Of the 239 people on board, two-thirds were Chinese. Several countries and some of the world's most advanced aircraft, ships and satellites have been searching for signs of wreckage to narrow the hunt for the "black box" flight recorders since Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said a week ago the flight had "ended" somewhere in the southern Indian Ocean. Objects spotted by aircraft in the search zone and recovered by Australian and Chinese vessels turned out to be fishing equipment and flotsam, a spokeswoman for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said. Relatives have become increasingly frustrated with answers from Malaysian representatives in Beijing who can't explain why the plane did not send distress signals, or how a Boeing 777 can vanish without trace. Time is crucial as the battery-powered beacons that help locate the black boxes have an estimated six days of life left. ^ top ^

Urgent hunt for black box a race against a battery (China Daily)
It is presumed that the black box will run out of battery power around April 7, or April 12 at the latest, and its signal will then vanish, said Wang Ya'nan, deputy editor-in-chief of Aerospace Knowledge magazine. "I don't want to be pessimistic," Wang said, "but the fact is that without the signal, it will be virtually impossible to find it". In the case of the search for Air France Flight 447, which crashed into the Atlantic Ocean on June 1, 2009, nearly two years were required for retrieval of the black box, even though the crash site was located within a week of the accident. "The French detected the signal sent from the black box before it lost power and determined the approximate site," Wang said. "The reason so much time was needed to raise it was that the water's depth made it very difficult to finalize the precise location." Even if every nation involved in the search put all their deep-sea submersibles into the operation, there would not be enough of them to cover the enormous swath of ocean where the small device could be, he said. To quickly narrow the search for MH370, searchers need to find surface debris, he said. The black box consists of two separate pieces of equipment: a flight data recorder and a cockpit voice recorder. The boxes are usually kept in the tail of an aircraft. The flight data recorder is able to store up to 25 hours of information, including airspeed, altitude, vertical acceleration and fuel flow. The cockpit voice recorder, by contrast, can record only two hours of the crew's interactions - with each other and with air traffic controllers. The recordings overlap, with newer ones erasing previous ones. Each black box is fitted with an underwater locator beacon that starts emitting a pulse if its sensor touches water, meaning it "pings" once per second for 30 days before the battery runs out. Even though Malaysian officials declared that MH370 had crashed, no physical evidence has been found, despite a massive hunt involving seven countries. The jet carried 239 passengers and 12 crew members. Hopes raised by debris sightings have repeatedly been crushed as the items turned out to be random sea junk such as fishing gear. The massive search effort continued on Monday across a sweeping expanse of the southern Indian Ocean the size of Norway, with 10 planes taking to the skies and an equal number of ships scouring the desolate seas for clues 1,850 kilometers west of the Australian coast. The Australian vessel Ocean Shield, fitted with a device known as a "towed pinger locator" and an autonomous underwater vehicle that can comb the seabed using electronic sensors, left Perth on Monday morning local time and is expected to arrive at the search area within three days. Known as the TPL-25, the pinger locator measures 76-by-89 centimeters and weighs 34 kilograms. It is generally towed behind a ship at a slow 1 to 5 knots. It has highly sensitive listening capabilities and can pick up pings from a black box up to 6,000 meters away, Commander Chris Budde, a US 7th Fleet operations officer, said in a statement. The torpedo-shaped Bluefin-21 autonomous underwater vehicle can operate to a depth of nearly 4,500 m beneath the waves and is equipped with a variety of sonar and cameras that can detect debris at great depths on the ocean floor. It transmits locations to nearby ships on the surface, according to the United States Naval Institute. However, US Navy Captain Mark Matthews said the crash site must be narrowed for effective use of the equipment. "It is critical that we find surface debris so we can reduce the area in which we need to conduct an underwater search," Matthews told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. "Right now the search area is basically the size of the Indian Ocean, which would take an untenable amount of time to search." David Barry, an aviation specialist at Cranfield University, said pings may continue 10 days longer than expected, but the signal will gradually weaken. "Given the remoteness of the site and the depth of the water and the weather down there, the black box will be almost impossible to find," he was quoted by The Telegraph as saying. "It will then be a case of digging through the wreckage field, possibly for a couple of years." ^ top ^

Commentary gives China's reasons for refusing arbitration on South China Sea issue (Xinhua)
China will neither accept nor participate in international arbitration unilaterally pushed forward by the Philippines on the South China Sea disputes, said a commentary published on Tuesday's People's Daily. The act of the Philippine side is against the international law and the historical truth as well as against morality and basic rules of international relations, said the commentary. On January 22, 2013, the Philippines presented a note to China, saying it would submit the South China Sea dispute to the compulsory dispute settlement mechanism under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). On Sunday, the Philippines filed a formal plea to an international tribunal on the dispute. The Chinese government had reiterated on several occasions that the core of South China Sea dispute between China and the Philippines is about the sovereignty over part of the isles of the Nansha Islands and overlapping claims of jurisdiction of waters in the South China Sea, said the commentary. The dispute over territory sovereignty does not apply to the UNCLOS, the commentary said. In addition, China had made a statement in accordance with the UNCLOS in 2006, noting that such disputes as ocean boundary and historical rights are not subject to UNCLOS compulsory dispute settlement mechanism. As is widely known, the South China Sea Islands, including the Nansha Islands, have long been China's territory since ancient times, a fact that has been accepted or acquiesced in by many countries including the Philippines. In the 1970s, the Philippines sent troops and invaded some of these islands, severely violating the Charter of the United Nations and the international norms. Instead of withdrawing from the invaded Chinese territory, as China had been requesting, the Philippines further provoked China and pushed forward the so-called international arbitration, a move that is both illegal and unreasonable, the commentary said. China has consistently contended that the disputes surrounding the South China Sea should be solved through consultations and negotiations of directly involved parties, a consensus also agreed on by the Philippine side. The attempt to push forward the dispute to the arbitration by the Philippines is an act lacking credibility, the commentary said. By doing so, the Philippines attempted to solicit international sympathy through disguising itself as a small and weak country, it said. Meanwhile, the Philippines tried to defame China by allegedly safeguarding the international rule of law, and attempted to legalize its invasion of Chinese islands through the arbitration. The Chinese government has firm resolution to safeguard its sovereignty, and it is in accordance with the international law that China refuses to accept the arbitration, the commentary said. While the Philippine side tried to shut the door of bilateral talks by unilaterally pushing forward the arbitration, China has kept its door of negotiations open all the time. China urges the Philippine side to correct its mistake, adhere to its promises, and come back to the right track of bilateral negotiations, said the commentary. The arbitration move pushed by the Philippines will not impair China's determination and willpower to safeguard national sovereignty and maritime interests and rights, nor will it change China's constant stand and policy in dealing with the South China Sea issue, said the commentary. ^ top ^

Policy paper charts China-EU cooperation in next decade (Global Times)
China on Wednesday issued a policy paper to define its policy objectives towards the European Union and blueprint comprehensive bilateral cooperation in the next five to ten years. The document, consisting of ten parts, reviews the progress of China-EU strategic partnership in the last decade and suggests how to deepen collaboration covering politics, trade and economy, urbanization, finance, agriculture, science and technology, education, culture and other sectors. China's Policy Paper on the EU: Deepen the China-EU Comprehensive Strategic Partnership for Mutual Benefit and Win-win Cooperation is the second of this kind, following the first one issued in November 2003. China is the EU's second largest trading partner. The EU has been China's top trading partner for 10 years. The annual trade volume has exceeded 550 billion US dollars and there have been over 5 million visits between the two sides each year, the paper said. China and the EU have worked together to tackle the international financial crisis and advance global governance reform, stepped up communication and coordination on major international and regional issues, and contributed significantly to world peace, development and cooperation, the paper said. China vows to build partnerships for peace, growth, reform and civilization with the EU, the paper said. On economic cooperation and trade, the paper said China will actively advance negotiations of an investment agreement between China and the EU, and strive to achieve an agreement as soon as possible to facilitate two-way investment. "China views the EU as one of its most important trade and investment partners and hopes that both sides will contribute to the long-term, steady and in-depth development of their economic and trade relationship," it said. "China will continue to urge the EU to ease its restrictions on and facilitate high-tech product and technology export to China, so as to release the great potential of bilateral high-tech trade, " it said. China also expressed the will to enhance cooperation in such areas as quality supervision, inspection and quarantine, and e-commerce. Concerning fiscal and financial cooperation, China expressed welcome for financial institutions from EU member states to start business in China under relevant Chinese laws and regulations. China and the EU will strive to expand the interflow of students between the two sides to 300,000 person times per year by 2020, the paper said. China hopes that the EU could take credible steps to protect the safety and lawful rights and interests of Chinese citizens in Europe, and make it easier for Chinese nationals to travel to Europe by, among other things, streamlining visa, immigration and residence procedures. On tourism, both sides will push for the establishment of China-EU tourism cooperation mechanism, further explore each other's tourism market, maintain exchanges of tourism policies and statistics, and work for the early signing of the Memorandum of Understanding on Bilateral Tourism Cooperation, the paper said. China and the EU seek to explore judicial cooperation in anti-corruption, combating organized transnational crimes, extradition, transfer of sentenced persons and criminal assets recovery, and promote experience sharing on legal supervision, it said. ^ top ^

Chinese president meets Sudanese national assembly speaker (Xinhua)
Chinese President Xi Jinping met Fatih Ezzedine al-Mansur, speaker of the National Assembly of the Republic of the Sudan, here on Thursday. Xi called the two countries "good friends, good brothers and good partners" with equity, mutual support and reciprocal cooperation. He hailed their close exchanges, political mutual trust, mutual support on issues involving each other's core interests, and fruitful cooperation in areas including energy, trade, culture and healthcare. China always treat the relationship with Sudan from a strategic and long-term view, and is ready to work with it to deepen bilateral cooperation in all areas, according to Xi. He expressed support for more exchanges and cooperation between the National People's Congress (NPC), China's top legislature, and the Sudanese National Assembly, saying the friendly engagement between legislatures is an important part of the bilateral relationship and a major channel to enhance the two people's friendship. Xi called on the two legislatures to make bigger contributions to strengthening understanding between the two peoples and promoting the two countries' cooperation. Fatih thanked China for assisting Sudan's economic and social development. He said Sudan is ready to strengthen its cooperation with China in such areas as energy, mining, and infrastructure construction, as well as in regional and international affairs. Fatih added that the Sudanese National Assembly supports the two governments to sign cooperation deals. Fatih is visiting China from March 31 to April 4, at the invitation of Zhang Dejiang, chairman of the NPC Standing Committee. ^ top ^

Chinese vice-premier meets Kazakh counterpart (China Daily)
Chinese Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli on Thursday met with Kazakh Deputy Prime Minister Aset Isekeshev on seeking stronger economic collaboration between the two neighbors. Zhang reviewed Chinese President Xi Jinping's state visit to Kazakhstan last year and said the leaders' meeting this year will inject vitality into bilateral relations. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev is scheduled to visit China this May to attend the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA). Hailing Kazakhstan as China's important neighbor and strategic partner, Zhang said China gives priority to developing ties with Kazakhstan and regards it as a vital partner in building the new silk road economic zone. Zhang said the two countries have a broad prospect for collaboration in energy, transportation, communication, investment, agriculture, finance and tourism. He called on the two countries to facilitate their peoples' visits and promote common prosperity. Isekeshev, who is also minister of industry and trade, said China has become Kazakhstan's most important trade and investment partner. Kazakhstan will implement the consensus reached by the two heads of state and further deepen the comprehensive strategic partnership between the two countries, he said. He said that Kazakhstan is willing to learn from China's successful experience of economic development and will continue to introduce China's investment and high-tech into Kazakhstan to promote already fruitful cooperation in various fields. ^ top ^


Domestic Policy

China issues guide for government information disclosure (Xinhua)
The Chinese government Tuesday issued a guideline to improve transparency in several key areas such as environmental protection and land use. China will step up its efforts in tracking and disclosing information concerning environmental protection, said the State Council document published on the central government's official website. According to the document, the government will inform the public better about air quality, water quality and details of environmental impact assessments for planned big projects. It will also push forward information disclosure related to nuclear safety and press big polluters to actively publicize information about their pollutant discharges, it said. The calls come in the wake of Premier Li Keqiang's opening address at the annual session of the National People's Congress in March, in which he "declared war" on pollution. But aside from pollution, Tuesday's guideline also covered other areas of government work in which improved information disclosure is needed. They include management of public land, a topic which has triggered a number of disputes and protests in recent years. Under the guideline, governments will better disclose information about requisition of public land as well as transfer of use rights of farming land and public land for construction projects and mining. The government will allow the public to check and inquire about land requisition and do a better job to inform concerned parties in a demolition program about compensation policies, according to the guideline. Information concerning administrative approval, budgets and final accounts, government spending on receptions, cars and overseas trips is likewise highlighted in the statement. It also urges more concerted actions between government departments to avoid "official rumors," referring to inaccurate and contradictory information released by different departments. ^ top ^

Heavy rain hits in S.China (Xinhua)
At least 21 people have died and four are reported missing after a weekend of heavy rainfall in south China. This is according to China's Ministry of Civil Affairs on Tuesday. Over one million people have been affected in six provinces including Fujian, Jiangxi, Guangdong, Guangxi, Hunan, Guizhou and Chongqing. The strongest rainfall so far this year has been accompanied by hailstorms, with precipitation reaching as much as 300 milimeters in one day in Guangzhou. Guangzhou's waterlogged main street in the middle of Monday morning's rush hour. The rain couldn't have hit at a worse time. "I am late by half an hour because of the rain. The bus can't move, during the morning commute.” A Guangzhou commuter said. Waterlogging increasing the danger on the highway. And with the water level one meter high in some places, it wasn't unusual for cars to break down. Warnings for drivers became all the more necessary in these conditions. In Zhongshan city, civil service workers have been working 24 hours a day to remove the blockages in drains. Dozens of pumping machines have been deployed. "You get wet working in the rain. Most of the drains are blocked because of leaves.” Civil service worker in Zhongshan, Guangdong said. The flooding season in south China has this time come ahead of time. "The flooding season has come one week earlier than the regular date compared to previous years. South China will see frequent rain and storm in the next few days.” Zhang Fanghua, forecaster with Central Meteorological Station said. But South China is also facing hailstorms. Some hail stones reaching a diameter of 5 centimeters destroying cars. A large number of flights in the city of Shenzhen were delayed on Monday, stranding thousands of passengers. Weather authorities say heavy rainfall, with hailstorms, will continue in the next few days in South China. ^ top ^

PLA senior generals back Xi's orders (Global Times)
High-ranking officers of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) have voiced group support to President Xi Jinping's instruction of building a strong military. The PLA Daily on Wednesday published articles by chiefs of seven military area commands, the air force and the armed police as well as senior leaders of the navy, the second artillery force, the general political department and general staff departments. Comments on national defense and building strong armed forces made by Xi, who is chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), were all echoed by the chiefs and senior leaders. The use of air force at sea must be strengthened to safeguard China's maritime rights and tackle various threats from the ocean, according a piece by Air Force commander Ma Xiaotian. He highlighted enhanced information support, systematic combat capacities and exercises in real war situations at sea. "(We must) ensure to fulfill our mission effectively as soon as Chairman Xi and the CMC give an order," Ma said in his article. Zhang Shibo, Beijing Military Area commander, said the rule of law in military construction must be implemented and anyone violating laws and regulations must be punished severely. Military leaders must be subject to strict management and take the lead in obeying laws to build a strong army, Zhang said. Shenyang Military Area commander Wang Jiaocheng and Guangzhou Military Area commander Xu Fenlin emphasized the importance of establishing and implementing standards for combat capacities, while Liu Yuejun, Lanzhou Military Area commander, pledged to consolidate border defense in northwest China. Military reform, strategic thinking and being prepared for combat were also discussed by chiefs of the military area commands in Jinan, Nanjing and Chengdu. The navy will step up developing new combat platforms and weapons for strikes, and improve information support during maritime wars, said Tian Zhong, deputy commander of the navy. The navy will strengthen exercises under the electromagnetic environment in unfamiliar and complicated sea waters, he said. The second artillery force is striving to improve informatization to build strong missile troops, said Wang Jiurong, the force's deputy commander. Yi Xiaoguang, assistant to the chief of staff, underscored military and civilian integration, with cooperation in sea, air and space as well as information, of which the country is in urgent need. Integration will be at higher levels and in a more coordinated way. The leadership of the Communist Party of China over the armed forces must be guaranteed as it is important politically for the nation and is aimed at maintaining the interests of the people, said Wu Changde, deputy director of the general political department. Wu warned of caution against challenges to the leadership, including hostile forces' infiltration into the military as well as the changing social environment and construction of the PLA. Efforts to improve theoretical work, supervision of senior officials and style of working should be made to ensure the CPC's absolute leadership, Wu said. ^ top ^

Shenzhen becomes third city to join protests over Maoming PX plant (SCMP)
Demonstrations against a planned chemical plant in the Guangdong city of Maoming have spread to Shenzhen. About 20 protesters braved heavy rains to stage a rally in Shenzhen yesterday, demanding authorities scrap the plan to build a 3.5 billion yuan (HK$4.4 billion) paraxylene (PX) plant. A similar protest, joined by about 200 people, was staged in Guangzhou on Tuesday. PX is a chemical essential to the process of manufacturing plastic bottles and polyester clothing, but can be dangerous if inhaled or ingested. At about 10am the protesters, all originally from Maoming but now living in Shenzhen, gathered in front of the Grand Theatre and marched to neighbouring Deng Xiaoping Portrait Square. Many wore masks and held signs saying "PX project get out" and "No PX in Maoming". They also demanded the provincial government release people detained by armed police during the first protests in Maoming on Sunday and that it apologise to the public. The Shenzhen protest lasted only 10 minutes before the demonstrators were taken away by police. The Maoming authorities held a second press conference yesterday, and said public opinion would be heeded when decisions on the future of the project are made. Zhou Peizhou, a deputy public security director in Maoming, admitted police officers had "accidentally injured" protesters in scuffles during the first protests on Sunday. More than 1,000 people took part in the demonstrations. Zhou denied reports that 15 people were killed and more than 300 were injured in clashes. Fifteen people, including four police, have been treated in hospital for injuries and as of yesterday all were in a stable condition. Police have so far detained 18 protesters accused of disturbing social order, said Zhou. Residents fear the PX plant, planned at a petrochemical complex run by the local government and the state-run oil giant Sinopec in Maoming, will bring environmental and health risks. They also allege local people are unlikely to gain any economic benefit from the plant given the corrupt record of Maoming's government. Several hundred Maoming residents staged another protest outside the city's government headquarters yesterday afternoon. "There is no timetable yet for the PX project. We won't kick off construction without reaching a consensus among residents," deputy mayor Luo Yueliang said at the news conference. He emphasised that the scheme would boost Maoming's economy. Some residents said they did not believe the authorities' assurances that protesters' voices would be heard. "If they are telling the truth, why has not a single official dared to come out to talk to us face to face?" said a Maoming resident who was at the demonstration yesterday. Messages on the internet called on people in Shenzhen to join another rally today near the Luohu customs checkpoint bordering Hong Kong. Residents in Maoming and Guangzhou were also planning protests in the two cities over the weekend, the Global Times reported yesterday. ^ top ^

City starts emergency response to Malaysian kidnapping (Xinhua)
Shanghai tourism authorities started emergency procedures on Thursday following the kidnap of female tourist in Malaysia. A statement published at about 2 p.m. on Shanghai's microblog asks all travel agencies to warn outbound tourists of safety concerns. A woman named Xu went to Shanghai police at about 12 a.m. on Thursday, claiming she lost contact with her daughter, now believed to have been kidnapped when travelling in the Malaysian state of Sabah. The girl Gao, 29, has been granted admittance to a British university and recently quit her job with a Japanese company. She was travelling independently in Malaysia. Her uncle confirmed she was travelling with a friend: "She travelled a lot recently and booked her flight before Spring Festival. She left Shanghai on Tuesday afternoon and phoned her mom to report her safe arrival on Wednesday evening." A staff member at the Malaysian consulate general in Shanghai told Xinhua that they heard the news this morning, but did not receive any details. He said Sabah was a hot tourist destination, but "a few dangerous things" had happened there before. Last year, Taiwanese businessman Li Min Shu, 58, was killed on Pom-Pom Island Resort in Semporna and his wife Chang An Wei, 57, taken by gunmen while they travelled in Sabah. ^ top ^

China invests in farms overseas as development and pollution threaten its fields (SCMP)
(…) Motivated by the search for big expanses of land with abundant supplies of clean water, the Chinese are looking far afield - to the United States, Chile, Brazil, Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria and Australia. "We're the world's fastest-growing economy, with a huge demand for agricultural products," said Ma, who works as an analyst for a Beijing-based trade association, CnAgri. (…) From an economic standpoint, Chinese investment in farmland has impeccable logic. One widely repeated statistic is that China has 20 per cent of the world's population and just 9 per cent of its arable land. (…) China suffers from chronic drought and desertification, and has compounded its problems in recent decades by polluting the land or building on it in a headlong rush towards economic development. The Ministry of Land and Resources in December revealed the results of a previously secret five-year study: 3.2 million hectares of farmland, or roughly 2 per cent of the country's arable land, are too polluted for farming. From exploding watermelons to cadmium-tainted rice, both the result of excessive fertilisation, domestic food scandals have made foreign-grown foods more popular in China. (…) Chinese companies are acquiring farmland where they can; many countries ban the sale of land to foreigners. Some companies are forming partnerships with farming enterprises overseas. When China's largest pork producer, Shuanghui International Holdings, last year paid US$4.7 billion for its US counterpart, Smithfield Foods, it also acquired farmland in Missouri, Texas and North Carolina. Smithfield didn't disclose how much farmland was covered by the purchase, but just one subsidiary had reported it owned more than 40,000 hectares in the three US states. (…) These investments are contentious both at home and abroad. The Chinese government is sensitive to criticism that it has allowed too much farmland to be paved over for apartments and shopping malls, and that it has dragged its feet on long-overdue changes to modernise agriculture. Communist Party doctrine maintains that the country should provide itself with 95 per cent of its grain. Mao Zedong let people starve in the 1960s rather than import food. Although President Xi Jinping has backed away somewhat from quotas for grain self-sufficiency, the underpinning ideology remains. "The historic notion of food security and self-sufficiency is an incredible source of legitimacy for the Communist Party. This is, after all, a party of peasants that came to power during times of famine," said Jim Harkness, former president of the US-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. In a paper published in 2012, the Canada-based International Institute for Sustainable Development confirmed the existence of 54 Chinese projects overseas covering almost 4.9 million hectares. (…) China's farmland investments take many forms. Large state-owned enterprises are investing in plantations in Tanzania, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Zambia, among other countries, to grow corn, rice, cassava and sesame. Some products are sold locally and some are exported to China. Smaller Chinese entrepreneurs have leased farms across the border in Russia as part of a deal with Moscow. Unlike in Africa, where the employees are local, Chinese have crossed the border into Russia as well. At least 30,000 Chinese farmers were reported to be working last year in Birobidzhan, the Siberian region carved out in the 1930s by Josef Stalin as a Jewish autonomous region, according to figures released during a trade fair last year in the northeastern Chinese province of Heilongjiang. (…) But China's interest in farmland often provokes anxiety, amid fears it will devour the world's resources to feed its 1.3 billion people. A furore erupted when the South China Morning Post reported that a Chinese state-owned grain conglomerate (and quasi-military company) had signed an agreement to farm up to three million hectares of Ukraine, long referred to as the breadbasket of Europe. That's an area the size of Belgium. "China 'land grab' sees it given control of 5 per cent of Ukraine, accused of 'neo-colonialism'," read a headline several months ago in The Daily Telegraph in Britain. (…) The arrangement has, however, proceeded but with a far smaller amount of land being farmed under a 50-year lease. The Chinese agreed to develop irrigation systems in exchange for favourable terms on importing crops, mostly wheat, grown on the land. (…) Many countries prohibit foreign ownership, and in others there is strong opposition to selling land to the Chinese. So new Chinese investments are increasingly being structured as long-term leases or with promises to use China's economic muscle to build infrastructure in exchange for favourable purchase prices. (…) Its direct foreign investments in the sector that includes farming - along with fishing and forestry - totalled nearly US$5 billion at the end of 2012, almost double where they were two years earlier, according to Commerce Ministry data. ^ top ^



Beijing officials bid adieu to five-star treatment (SCMP)
Beijing municipal officials who have acquired a taste for the good life will now have to downgrade their expectations after the city's five-star hotels were ruled off-limits for meetings, local media reported. As part of the nationwide campaign against extravagance and corruption, the city's 27 top hotels are absent from a list 318 designated venues drawn up by the municipal procurement department for the 2014-2015 fiscal year, the Beijing Daily and Beijing Times reported. The cheapest room on the list costs 80 yuan per head per day. In accordance with Xi Jinping's “eight rules” to rein in excessive bureaucracy and extravagance, the capital vowed to control its conference budget, one of the items most often cited as a source of corruption and wasteful spending of public funds. The municipal government has been ordered to strictly monitor compliance with conference budget, the Beijing Times quoted an official from the procurement department as saying. The government would also consider using cinemas for government meetings, the official added. The budget of a municipal level conference is 550 yuan per head per day, including 300 yuan for accommodation, 150 yuan for meals and 100 yuan for other expenses, according to municipal finance bureau directives issued in January. While leisure facilities including saunas, gyms or bowling were considered pluses for bidding venues, today walking distance to bus and subway stations is main advantage. The directives also require all conferences, except those held by the municipal government and party committee, to last no more than two days. The city has also put a cap on the number of attendants. “A conference that used to have more than 200 attendants will now have a quota of around 50. Bureau-level conferences with fewer than 50 attendants should use the conference facilities in their own office buildings,” Beijing Daily quoted an official from the procurement department as saying. According to the municipal finance bureau, the city's budget this year for receptions, business trips and limousines shrank to 6.45 million yuan from 7.5 million yuan last year. ^ top ^



Maoming PX protests spread to Guangzhou (Global Times)
Protests against paraxylene (PX) project in Maoming, Guangdong Province continued into a third day Tuesday despite local government pledges to conduct a public consultation before giving the project a green light. The protests also spread to Guangzhou, the provincial capital of Guangdong, claimed local demonstrators, who uploaded pictures to social media, although there has been no confirmation from local authorities. Around 1,000 protesters took to the streets in Maoming around 5 pm on Tuesday although the crowd dispersed peacefully shortly after. Some protesters lingered in the area, several witnesses told the Global Times. There was no repeat of the scuffles that marred earlier protests when some threw eggs and water bottles at police. However, Maoming police released a stark warning Tuesday, saying that some people have violated the law when they damaged public facilities and disturbed social order. It also urged the lawbreakers to surrender themselves. In a separate protest in Guangzhou, hundreds rallied near the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall around midday Tuesday, close to the Guangdong provincial government building. They wore masks and held posters, but were dispersed by police, according to several of the Maoming protesters. Maoming government said late Monday that they would not go ahead with the project if the majority of local residents opposed it. Another notice was released on the official Sina Weibo account of Maoming government on Tuesday, reiterating that there is no timetable for the PX project construction. "Rumors have affected people's lives and many demand a firm reaction to maintain stability," read the notice, calling on people to express their opinions in accordance with the law. It vowed to severely punish illegal activities that disturb order. However, some residents reached by the Global Times on Tuesday regard the response as a delaying tactic. Others claimed that a public approval letter, which urges support for the project, has been allegedly circulating in the city since Friday, with many workers and students forced to sign their approval. Copies of the letter have been uploaded on Sina Weibo. PX is a major raw material for making polyester products. However, since 2007, PX projects planned in Xiamen, Dalian, and Kunming have been shut down after residents protested, as they believed the facilities would threaten the local environment. Han Zhipeng, a delegate to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference Guangzhou Committee, told the Global Times that the PX project is simply a trigger of the pent-up discontent among public that is bound to break out sooner or later. "To maintain stability in Maoming, authorities must on the one hand listen to public opinions on the PX project itself. But more importantly, they should work to solve the anger among people, which would be hard with its poor credibility," Han noted, suggesting Maoming should cancel the project. Han pointed out that Maoming is no longer suitable for a PX project due to its notorious management on pollution control of local enterprise and long-existing corruption issues, even though the city is known for its petrochemical industry. Li Tianfu, former deputy director of the local public security bureau, was sentenced to 16 years in prison on charges of offering and accepting bribes. However, the offense of corruption was dropped, according to China National News. ^ top ^



People in Tibet celebrate Serfs' Emancipation Day (China Daily)
More than 3,000 people from all walks of life attended a flag-raising ceremony in Lhasa, the capital of the Tibet autonomous region, on Friday morning to mark the 55th anniversary of the abolition of serfdom in Tibet. Residents enjoyed themselves with Tibetan songs and dances in Lhasa's Dzongyab Lukhang Park. "I am so pleased to attend the flag-raising ceremony of Serfs' Emancipation Day, and I wish Tashidelek (the commonly spoken salutation of Tibetans) on this very special day," said Trinley, a nomad from Tibet's Nagqu prefecture. "Tibet has achieved a dramatic leap in the fields of science, economics, education, culture and the society over the past half-century," the 39-year-old added. An elderly man from Tibet's Damxung county, also named Trinley, said he couldn't agree more. "Fifty years ago, the living condition of Tibetans was miserable. Nowadays, Tibetans enjoy a wealthier life with improved living conditions such as new houses and upgraded infrastructure condition, I wish our great motherland will be increasingly prosperous and powerful." "March 28 is a day to remember for Tibetans," Lobsang Jamcan, chairman of the Tibet autonomous region, said during a televised speech on Friday. "Fifty-five years ago, Tibet ended the history of feudal serfdom and returned freedom to the more than 1 million serfs under the leadership of the Communist Party of China," he said. Now, more than 2.3 million farmers and herdsmen in the region have moved into new homes thanks to an eight-year housing project that was completed in 2013. Tibet's GDP exceeded 80 billion yuan ($13 billion) in 2013, 12.1 percent higher than the previous year. ^ top ^

10 monks pass highest Tibetan Buddhism exam (China Daily)
Ten monks passed the annual debate defense exam and were accredited as Geshe Lharampas - the highest academic degrees of the Tibetan Buddhism - at Jokhang Temple, Lhasa, on Thursday. The 10 new Geshe Lharampas are from 10 different key monasteries in the Tibet autonomous region. Geshe Lharampa represents the highest level of attainment of monks of Tibetan Buddhism. The annual exam usually has the candidates seated, with the exam board members standing and walking among them. When one candidate raises a point, the exam board members will counter to keep the debate going on. If the candidate wins the debate, he passes the exam. Ngagwang Ziji, from Drepung Monastery, won first place on Thursday. He said to pass the exams took him more than 30 years of hard study and five major exams. "First I want to pay my great appreciation to my masters who have been leading me in the right direction, and secondly to my study mates who supported me in the course of my growing up," said the 46-year-old. "What I achieved today only means a small progress for me, and I will regard this as an encouragement to myself, and I will continue to work hard," he said. "I wish Buddhism will be prosperous, all living beings are free of disasters, and the global world has no war." ^ top ^



Giant hailstones batter Hong Kong as the Observatory hoists Black Rainstorm warning (SCMP)
Giant hailstones pounded parts of Hong Kong last night as thunderstorms echoed around the city and the Black Rainstorm warning was issued for just the second time in two years. Hailstones the size of golfballs were reported as festivities to mark the end of the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens were washed out. Thunderstorms were accompanied by near constant flashes of lightning as the Observatory stated that more than 70 millimetres of rain had fallen in some parts in less than an hour. The Observatory calculated that lightning had struck a total of 2,041 times in just one hour from 9pm, including 482 hits on Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. Windows at the Festival Walk shopping mall in Kowloon Tong were smashed by the hail, causing widespread flooding inside the centre, with shoppers up to their ankles in water. One video (see below) showed a huge piece of ceiling crash to the floor, narrowly missing a shopkeeper. A stack of more than 20 cargo containers collapsed at the container terminal in Kwai Chung. Flooding was reported in areas including Cheung Chau, Tuen Mun, Mong Kok and Sheung Shui, while a landslide was reported in Sai Kung. MTR stations at Kowloon Tong and Wong Tai Sin also reported flooding. Flights were disrupted, with 65 departures delayed and 61 arrivals delayed, while nine inbound flights were diverted to other airports in China and Macau. Paul Kwok, who was having dinner in Tseun Wan when the storm hit said: "It was like the end of the world out there for a while. "Hail was raining down causing people to run for shelter. It stopped after about 10 minutes." The Observatory said gusts of wind up to 100kmh had been recorded. Two people were hospitalised with storm-related injuries, the Hospital Authority said. One was a truck driver hurt when a row of cargo containers toppled onto his lorry. Sandy Song Man-kuen, a senior scientific officer at the Observatory, said the bad weather was due to a trough of low pressure that brought thunderstorms, hail and rain to coastal areas of Guangdong. The last Black Rainstorm warning was issued in May 2013. The bad weather came a day after the first big storms of the year soaked crowds at the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens. Black clouds darkened the stadium before lunchtime Saturday, forcing organisers to switch on floodlights and leading to sodden conditions. The Observatory said earlier this month that up to seven typhoons were expected to hit the city this year. It added that as climate change progresses, Hong Kong would see more extreme weather in the future. ^ top ^

Occupy Central students and under-fire pollster receive support from HKU's new head (SCMP)
University of Hong Kong students who join the civil disobedience movement Occupy Central can expect the support of their new vice-chancellor - as can the institution's under-fire pollster. "I support students' right to peaceful protests. I support free speech and I'll stand up for those core values. I also respect the law," Professor Peter Mathieson said on his first day in office yesterday. "The university will help any student who … gets into any trouble in Occupy Central, but always within the boundaries and respect of the law." Mathieson, who surprised an audience with greetings in fluent Cantonese, also vowed to protect academic freedom, saying he had been following the controversy surrounding HKU's top pollster Dr Robert Chung Ting-yiu. Chung has been criticised by Beijing loyalists for his surveys that return results unfavourable to the central and local governments. His detractors want to set up a patriotic organisation to conduct its own polls. "I'll do everything to uphold HKU's core values," Mathieson said. "My understanding of the opinion poll issue is that the university supports Chung's methodology and respects the academic freedom of the staff to promote those results." Taking over from Professor Tsui Lap-chee, Mathieson, 54, was officially appointed in October, becoming the university's first expatriate chief in a decade. His appointment was criticised by some staff and students who claimed Mathieson would be unfamiliar with affairs in Hong Kong and the university. The British scholar, previously dean of the University of Bristol's medicine and dentistry faculty, said he respected those opinions and was "even more determined" to convince critics he was worthy of the position. He said his first priority after taking over was to spend time with the staff, students and alumni and learn from them. Professor Chan Yuen-ying, director of HKU's Journalism and Media Studies Centre and one of Mathieson's former critics, said she hoped he would act as he had promised. She said he had not arranged to meet her. Head of Surgery Professor Lo Chung-mau said he still questioned Mathieson's suitability for the post but wished him a good career at the university. He said he did not plan to arrange a meeting with the new chief. HKU student union president Yvonne Leung Lai-kwok said she hoped Mathieson would allow students to be more involved in the procedures of selecting the vice-chancellor and deputy vice-chancellor. Alison Lee Ho-yan, a third-year social sciences student, hoped Mathieson would support student movements, while Yiu Chun-hin, a second-year business student, said he believed the criticism of Mathieson did not represent the majority opinion. ^ top ^

Hong Kong named 'best city in the world for commuters' (SCMP)
Hong Kong is the best place in the world for people to travel around, but falls behind in cycling paths and air quality, a study has found. The study, involving 84 major cities across the globe, found the city had developed “the most advanced urban mobility system in the world”, with public transport being the main mode of commuting and the number of registered vehicles per head of population is one of the lowest. Hong Kong, which also topped the list in the last survey in 2011, scored 58.2 out of 100 this year, followed by Stockholm with 54.7, Amsterdam third and Copenhagen fourth. Singapore is in sixth place, after Vienna. London ranked ninth in the study, with Tokyo 19th and Beijing 28th, followed by Guangzhou. The Urban Mobility Index report, compiled by international consultancy company Arthur D Little, found Hong Kong's railway system “impressive”, and the high use of Octopus cards also played an important part in securing the top spot. “MTR has turned Hong Kong's high population density into an opportunity rather than a threat,” it said. It described the city as “a striking example of a city entering into a virtuous system”, but it noted that its mobility had been shaped by “one dominant operator” – the railway. “Further improvement of the mobility system will require more co-operation with other stakeholders in the ecosystem and the introduction of innovative mobility services”. Although the city fares well in most indicators of the study, its score in cycle path density was the lowest in the top 11 cities. Hong Kong only has 187 kilometres of cycling paths for every 1000 square kilometres of land, compared to 4,041 in Stockholm, 3,502 in Amsterdam and 280 in Singapore. The city also did not do well in the air quality indicators. The annual average transport-related emission of nitrogen dioxide stood at 50mcg per cubic metre, and there was 50mcg per cubic metre of particulate PM10. Government figures show the roadside nitrogen dioxide level has increased by a quarter since 2006. Hong Kong Cycling Alliance chairman Martin Turner said Hong Kong had great potential to become a bicycle-friendly city because of the compact urban area, and the government should stop treating cycling only as a leisure activity. He welcomed the government's initiatives to improve and build cycling tracks in the New Territories but said more effort would be needed to extend the network to other areas. “We shouldn't use [the high ranking of Hong Kong] as a reason for the absence of cycling.” Friends of the Earth's Melonie Chau Yuet-cheung said poor air quality score could be attributed to the bad planning in Hong Kong, with buildings creating a wall effect. The many traffic lights also made cars stop and go frequently, generating exhaust fumes. She said the government should considering road charging in the busiest parts of the city or banning cars from entering certain districts. The study said 38 per cent of Hongkongers used zero emission modes of transport – cycling and walking. The organisation noted that it was much higher than the general public perceived. The Transport Department said it strived to promote bicycle-friendly environment in rural areas, new towns and new development areas and was carrying out a comprehensive review of the city's cycling policy. The Environmental Protection Department said it was pleased with the survey. It had taken measures to reduce roadside pollution by phasing out some 82,000 pre-Euro IV diesel commercial vehicles, subsidising franchised bus companies to test hybrid and electric buses, and other schemes to control emissions. It would also work with Guangdong authorities to reduce emission in the region, it said. ^ top ^



Protests blot Taiwan image (Global Times)
Thousands of protesters on Sunday took to the streets in Taipei in renewed protest against a cross-Straits service trade agreement, amid an ongoing student campaign that paralyzed Taiwan's legislative authority. The campaign, which saw a clash between students and riot police outside the "Executive Yuan" a week ago, has caused second thoughts over the island's democratic system by some Chinese mainland intellectuals and members of the public, who viewed Taiwan as a "laboratory of democracy." The sit-in began at 1 pm on Sunday when the crowd, dressed in black shirts, gathered along Ketagalan Boulevard and nearby streets close to the office of Taiwan leader Ma Ying-jeou. More than 110,000 people from different social backgrounds attended, local police said on Sunday afternoon. Lin Fei-fan, a student leader and organizer of protestors, claimed that the number exceeded 500,000, Taipei-based Eastern Television reported. Su Tseng-chang, chairman of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), along with Tsai Ing-wen, former chairwoman of the DPP, and several other major DPP members also put on black shirts and arrived to support the protest, Eastern Television reported. Not far from the demonstration, another group of people holding carnations also rallied outside Taipei's main railway station on Sunday, calling for an end to the occupation and for social stability. Ma Ying-jeou on Saturday addressed the student demands in a televised speech. He accepted the demands to review the trade pact clause by clause and introduce a mechanism to oversee all cross-Straits deals, but declined to retract the pact altogether. However, the response was seen as inadequate and Lin noted that they were left with no alternative but to launch a "peaceful but firm" rally, reported the Taipei-based Central News Agency. "As our leader, Ma should listen to public opinion instead of following suggestions from a few officials. Only those with vested interests would support the agreement. I am here to show my support to our campaign so that Taiwan will not be economically controlled by the mainland," Chiang Kun-hung, a 33 year-old protester, told the Global Times on Sunday. There has been much criticism since the occupation of the "Legislative Yuan" started two weeks ago. Some analysts pointed out that the protests are a result of disputes over the status of Taiwan instead of economic concerns, given some political factions' growing wariness over the mainland's influence in the island due to closer exchanges. "Protest organizers are trying to incite support for Taiwan's independence. That is their real political appeal," said Li He, a deputy director of the Beijing-based National Society of Taiwan Studies. Li told the Global Times that the ideological conflicts between pro-mainland and anti-mainland factions have long afflicted Taiwan's politics, making it more complicated than divided opinions over policies. Some also see the violent and chaotic movement as street politics that reflect flaws in Taiwan's democracy. "Ma has obviously made concessions to negotiate with protesters and give consideration to public opinion about the agreement. Politics is the art of comprise in exchange for consensus. The student reaction is not in line with the common rule of a democratic society," Tong Zongjin, a law professor at the China University of Political Science and Law, told the Global Times. Some in the mainland have viewed Taiwan as a "laboratory of democracy." During the island's leadership election in early 2012, mainland intellectuals and Net users closely followed the poll with curiosity, and some of them marveled at the qualities exhibited by both Ma and his opponent Tsai during the election. Zheng Dongyang, a mainland media commentator, was among those who went to Taiwan to observe the 2012 leadership election. In an opinion piece posted on news portal, Zheng said the occupation of Taiwan's "Legislative Yuan" has caused some reflections on social media in the mainland. "There are a number of people like me who love Taiwan. We often ponder over the reform that Taiwan has gone through and sum up experience for the mainland's development. However, we are disappointed by the protest this time," Zheng wrote. ^ top ^

Taiwan cabinet's plan for vetting cross-strait pacts fails to convince foes (SCMP)
The Taiwanese cabinet swiftly approved draft legislation yesterday that would increase scrutiny of future agreements with the mainland - a move aimed at ending student-led protests raging for more than two weeks. The Statute for the Processing and Monitoring of Agreements Between the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area, however, was not expected to be enough to convince protesters to stop their fight against a services trade pact with the mainland. Claiming that the pact would kill Taiwanese jobs and endanger the island's democracy by cementing ties with the mainland, about 200 students stormed the legislative chamber in Taipei on March 18 to block its legislative review. The students have vowed to remain in parliament until Beijing-friendly President Ma Ying-jeou withdraws the pact and enacts a law to oversee future cross-strait agreements. The new statute - proposed by Taiwan's top cross-strait-policy body, the Mainland Affairs Council - will soon be sent to the legislature for review and approval. It calls for the establishment of a "four, plus two" mechanism. Four refers to the number of stages of development for all cross-strait deals. Those include the recognition of the need for an agreement, the start of negotiations, preparations for signing and a post-signing review. The two refers to the two bodies - the cabinet and the National Security Council - that must approve any pact before it can become law. Officials involved in the negotiations for a proposed pact must brief lawmakers, opinion leaders, the media and other concerned sectors before and after it is signed. Public hearings would be held after each pact is cleared by the National Security Council, which must agree that the deal poses no risks to the island's security, according to the draft. However, student protesters and the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party yesterday cast doubt on whether the statute would increase scrutiny on such agreements, saying that lawmakers should revisit their own proposals instead. Lin Chun-hsien, a DPP spokesman, said that the bill did not contain rules on aborting an agreement. "What [the government] has drafted contains no binding regulations that could stop a pact in question from being signed and ratified," Lin said. Mainland Affairs Council chairman Wang Yu-chi, however, said that the negotiation or signing of an agreement would be called off if any party with oversight raised an irreconcilable objection. Wang said it would be difficult for the cabinet to accept the opposition camp's proposed draft, as it would likely leave all potential agreements unsigned. According to the version proposed by the students and the opposition, public hearings must first be held to decide whether a potential pact should be signed, and all content must be disclosed to the public during talks. It defines cross-strait agreements as those between the Republic of China, Taiwan's official title, and the People's Republic of China, something Beijing was likely to oppose. Some Taiwanese media wryly called the students' version "the regulation [whereby] no cross-strait deals could be signed". ^ top ^



China's Bank of Communications profits up 6.73 pct in 2013 (Xinhua)
Bank of Communications, China's fifth largest lender, said on Sunday that its net profits reached 62.3 billion yuan (10.13 billion U.S. dollars) in 2013, up 6.73 percent year on year. The bank said that its profits mainly came from net interest income, service charges and commission, according to its annual business report filed with the Shanghai Stock Exchange. The Shanghai-headquartered bank said its customers' deposit balance stood at 4.15 trillion yuan as of the end of 2013, up 11.52 percent; its outstanding loans stood at 3.26 trillion yuan, up 10.83 percent. As of the end of 2013, the bank's total assets reached 5.96 trillion yuan, up 13.04 percent from year-beginning, while its non-performing loan ratio stood at 1.05 percent, a slight increase of 0.13 percentage point compared to the start of 2013, the report showed. ^ top ^

'First lady effect' a possible boon for ZTE (China Daily)
ZTE Corp, the Chinese cellphone maker, may get an unexpected boost in sales thanks to first lady Peng Liyuan. During President Xi Jinping's ongoing trip through Europe, Peng was spotted taking pictures with the Nubia Z5 Mini handset, one of the latest models by the world's fourth-largest maker of cellphones. "China Dream starts from 'Made-in-China'," said a post published on ZTE's micro blog after pictures of Peng using the device went viral on the Internet. Netizens criticized Peng for using an iPhone on a trip to the US last June. The recent pictures could be a boon to the company only two days after it announced 50 percent growth in shipments this year. Despite having a bulk of China's mobile phone market share, ZTE has been under pressure to expand its product line, which has mostly been stocked with affordable phones, with more high-end devices. But ZTE has good reason to feel confident that sales will rise. Peng's fashion choices have driven up sales for various Chinese companies and her popularity at both home and abroad is soaring. Her choice of outfits during a trip last year to Russia created a nationwide frenzy for domestic apparel brands. After sporting various bags and coats from ready-to-wear line of clothing called Exception de Mixmind from designer Ma Ke, bags and coats from the Guangzhou-based brand sold out on Tmall, a business-to-customer online marketplace in China, just days after the Russia trip. Xiang Ligang, founder of IT and telecom portal CCTime, said the "first lady" effect has the potential to invigorate domestic brands. "It's heartening to see Peng Liyuan using the ZTE device. The phone will definitely become a hot item for ladies," he said. Chen Zhimin, dean of the School of International Relations and Public Affairs at Fudan University in Shanghai, said it helps that Peng exudes an easy grace, a sincerity toward charities and has a confident grasp of conversational English. "She promotes rural education and campaigns against tuberculosis for the World Health Organization. Her warm, friendly public image is helping to usher in a kind of openness and approachability that are fresh to the world," he said. During her visit to Germany late last week, Peng said her Chinese dream is that everybody has equal access to first-class education. "I wish all students around the world, especially girls, could receive as fine an education as you do," Peng said to art and science students in Essen, Germany. A Chinese celebrity endorsement can help build trust with current and potential customers and attract a new kind of audience within China, said Zhu Shuangcheng, senior brand strategy consultant at Labbrand Enterprise Management Consulting. "Peng, as an emerging political star, could help popularize the use of China-designed products, especially within the government circle, that many will follow suit," Zhu said. He said that US President Barack Obama's preference for Blackberry has sparked a greater interest in Blackberry in the White House, and Russian President Vladimir Putin's selection for a phone co-developed by ZTE and a Russian company has helped the device successfully penetrate the Russian market. ^ top ^

ADB forecasts moderation in China's growth (Xinhua)
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) said on Tuesday that China's economic growth may further moderate in the next two years as the nation adjusts to more balanced growth. China's economic growth will grow by 7.5 percent in 2014 and 7.4 percent in 2015, further slowing from a 7.7-percent growth in the previous two years, ADB forecast in a report on Asian development. The slowdown will offset to some extent the stronger demand expected from developed economies, including the United States, Europe and Japan, the report said. China's economy slowed in the previous two years due to impacts from tightened credit growth, pared industrial overcapacity, deepening local government debt, currency appreciation and the continuing shift in the government's development priorities away from quantity toward quality. These factors will persist in the next few years, the ADB said. China has set its GDP growth target at 7.5 percent for three consecutive years since 2012, as the country's export-driven growth was thwarted by flagging demand from developed economies and the government push for more balanced and sustainable growth. "China's growth is set to slow somewhat in the years ahead as policy promotes growth that is more equitable, sustainable, and balanced," according to the ADB's report. However, the bank sees its 45 Asian members extending steady economic growth, with their aggregate growth rate accelerating from last year's 6.1 percent to 6.2 percent this year and 6.4 percent in 2015. "Developing Asia is successfully navigating a challenging global economic landscape and is well positioned to grow steadily over the next two years," said ADB President Takehiko Nakao. ^ top ^

Economists cautiously optimistic on PMI lift (Global Times)
Activity in China's factory sector picked up in March, official data showed Tuesday, the latest sign of a possible improvement in the country's economy. But analysts warned that the figure shows only a regular seasonal rebound, and that the outlook remains dubious. The official Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) was announced by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) to have edged up 0.1 percentage points to 50.3 in March, the first rebound since November 2013. The official PMI reading for large enterprises expanded 0.3 percentage points to 51 in March, while the PMIs for small and medium-sized enterprises were 49.3 and 49.2 for the month, compared to 48.9 and 49.4 in February, according to the bureau. A reading above 50 indicates an expansion in manufacturing, while a score below 50 points to contraction. But Tang Jianwei, a senior macroeconomic analyst at the Bank of Communications in Shanghai, told the Global Times Tuesday that the data simply shows a seasonal rebound rather than an all-round recovery. Last month's reading was actually the lowest on record for official PMIs in March, when manufacturing activity quickens as it recovers from the impact of the Spring Festival holiday, when workers return home to their families, according to the Bank of Communications. The HSBC PMI, focusing on small and private enterprises, also offered a mixed picture of the economic situation, with its reading falling to 48 in March from the previous month's 48.5, the bank said Tuesday. Concerned by the discrepancy between the two figures, Zhang Zhiwei, chief China economist at Nomura in Hong Kong, said in a research report sent to the Global Times Tuesday, "We are not convinced the economy has passed a turning point and growth will recover from here." However, Hong Kong-based economists at Barclays Capital noted Tuesday the official PMI with a larger industry coverage and a sample size of 3,000 "gives a better picture of overall economic conditions" than the HSBC survey of only about 420 enterprises. The improvement in last month's official PMI is noteworthy, as it comes at a time when domestic restructuring efforts were under way as the Chinese government tries to combat overcapacity across some major sectors, including steel and cement, they told the Global Times in a note. But the rebound remains seen as "tentative signs of improvement" by the economists at Barclays Capital, who suggest the country's policymakers may be only granted a temporary relief. "The Chinese economy is likely to bottom out during the second quarter, but it will face greater risks this year as there may be more bad news about Chinese enterprises' debt defaults throughout the year," Chen Wei, an analyst at Beijing-based brokerage firm China Minzu Securities Co, told the Global Times on Tuesday. Premier Li Keqiang said last week that that economic growth must be maintained at a reasonable range and the government has policies in store to counter any volatility this year. Both monetary and fiscal policies are expected to be loosened in the second quarter to prop up the economy, Nomura's Zhang forecast. ^ top ^

Turkey expects China's investment in high speed rail (China Daily)
Turkey expects China to invest in its high speed railway project from the eastern tip to the western part of the country, which would constitute an important part of the modern Silk Railroad, said the General Director of Turkish State Railway Suleyman Karaman here on Wednesday. Karaman made the remarks at the 11th International Union of Railways UIC, European Rail Traffic Management System ERTMS, World Conference held in Istanbul. The three-day meeting has drawn some 600 railway specialists and professionals from 38 countries under the theme of "Optimizing Rail Investments Worldwide" and they discuss the development of rail systems across the world. The modern Silk Railroad in the 21st century becomes one of the topics at conference. The discussion focused on the new railroads that would link Europe to the Silk Road, like Baku, Tbilisi, Kars railroad projects and inside Turkey the 2,000 km long Kars-Edirne project. "We would like to build railroads with our Chinese partners in Turkey or throughout the world," Karaman said. Meanwhile, Chinese Ambassador to Turkey Gong Xiaosheng said at another conference in Istanbul on Tuesday that China would like to help Turkey build the Edirne-Kars high speed railway which will link China with central Asian countries, Turkey and Europe. "The project will surely provide good opportunities to many countries for social and economic development in the region." The Edirne-Kars railway is designed to pass through 29 provinces from the far east province of Kars, near the border with Armenia to Istanbul where it would connect to Europe through the Marmaray rail tunnel and continue to Edirne, near the border with Greece and Bulgaria. Turkey attributes significant importance to the project as it would be the country's largest railway. With the completion of the Edirne-Kars railway projects, the total length of high-speed rail inside Turkey is expected to reach 10,000 km by 2023. Karaman pointed out that the construction works have been continuing on one hand. "But if we will solve the financial problems its process would continue in a more efficient way," he added. Turkish Minister of Transport Lutfi Elvan said at the conference that with the accomplishment of Edirne-Kars railway project, not only Turkey but also all the countries located on the modern silk railroad would derive a profit out of it. ^ top ^

CNOOC eyes private capital for expansion (Xinhua)
China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) plans to bring more private capital into its sales business, especially its gas station network. General manager of the oil producer's marketing arm Sun Dalu said the corporation will accelerate mixed-ownership to increase vitality and expand business without necessarily taking a leading role in joint ventures. China's third-largest oil producer wants a larger share of a petroleum market dominated by PetroChina and Sinopec. Nearly half of CNOOC's marketing businesses and 76 percent of its gas stations are co-owned with private shareholders. CNOOC posted 56.5 billion yuan (around 9 billion U.S. dollars) in net profits last year, 11.4 percent less than in 2012, the corporation's financial report said. ^ top ^

Beijing's mini-stimulus fails to excite market (SCMP)
Mainland investors gave the thumbs-down to a raft of measures rolled out by the State Council on Wednesday to stabilise growth. Apart from an expansion of tax cuts to more small businesses, the other measures failed to inspire enthusiasm in a market that had been expecting more significant policy easing to stem the slowdown, analysts said. The Shanghai Composite Index slipped 0.74 per cent yesterday, led by a broad-based slump in property stocks. The Hang Seng Index fared slightly better with a 0.18 per cent gain. "Much of Premier Li Keqiang's new plan is mere implementation of the government's earlier stated plan. This shouldn't be treated as fresh stimulus at all," said Ding Shuang, a Hong Kong-based economist with Citigroup. The State Council decided at a meeting chaired by Li to halve the income tax for more small enterprises, from the 1.2 million companies currently covered, and extend the preferential policy to the end of 2016 to prop up the private sector and stabilise the job market. Beijing also pledged to renovate more shanty towns as part of efforts to boost housing supply for the poor and migrant workers. Railway construction, particularly in the poorer central and western regions, would be sped up, supported by a new development fund and railway construction bonds, the cabinet said. HSBC maintained its forecast for the mainland's gross domestic product growth at 7.4 per cent this year, slightly below Beijing's target of about 7.5 per cent. "The scale of the stimulus is modest, likely aimed at smoothing GDP growth at around the 7.5 per cent target, rather than another round of massive stimulus," said HSBC's Qu Hongbin and Sun Junwei in a note. "This should buy time to implement reform measures, which could involve some short-term pain." They said the first quarter was likely to see a trough for sequential, or quarter-on-quarter, growth while "modest improvement" was expected in the coming quarters. Weak demand dragged down growth in industrial output, retail sales and fixed-asset investment in the first two months after the economy expanded 7.7 per cent last year. Beijing has said it will tolerate more slowdown as it focuses on reforming the economic system by correcting distortions in resource allocation, reducing state dominance and cutting pollution. But party leaders have also expressed concern in the past weeks about the downside risks of growth, fuelling expectations of further policy easing. There was also speculation about a cut in banks' reserve requirement ratio to free up more cash. Hong Hao, chief China strategist at Bocom International, said Li's latest "mini-stimulus" did not have anything new. Lowering the reserve ratio, while likely to do little to boost real demand, could have lifted market sentiment, he said. Even the railway construction plan was a bit of a dampener as the planned investment was trimmed to 630 billion yuan (HK$792 billion) this year from 650 billion yuan last year, although the length to be built would be 1,000 kilometres longer, Hong said. Still, analysts welcomed the more market-oriented approach to raise funds for railways and social housing. The cabinet plans to establish a fund with an annual size of 200 billion to 300 billion yuan, and issue 150 billion yuan worth of bonds to support railway construction, while China Development Bank is authorised to set up an institution to issue special bonds to finance social housing development. ^ top ^


DPRK and South Korea

Japan, N.Korea hold first government-level talks since 2012 in Beijing (Global Times)
Japan and North Korea on Sunday held the first formal government-level talks since 2012 following a shift in Pyongyang's handling of past abductions of Japanese citizens. The two-day meeting in Beijing came after diplomats held informal talks on the sidelines of a humanitarian conference in the Chinese city of Shenyang between Red Cross officials from the two countries earlier this month. "We would like to have serious and frank discussions over a broad range of outstanding issues for both sides," Junichi Ihara, head of the Japanese foreign ministry's Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, told Japanese broadcaster NHK. At the North Korean Embassy, the venue of the first day of the meeting, Song Il-ho, North Korea's ambassador for talks to normalize relations with Japan, expressed hope that relations between the two countries will start moving "in a positive direction," the Kyodo news agency reported. The meeting comes amid recent mixed signals from Pyongyang over its willingness to re-engage in diplomacy. Talks were suspended in 2012 when Tokyo reiterated its demand that Pyongyang come clean on the abduction issue. The talks were officially called off in December 2012 when Pyongyang launched a long-range missile, drawing international condemnation. Also on Sunday, North Korea vowed not to rule out a "new form" of nuclear test if the United States continues its hostile policy towards Pyongyang. The announcement came after the UN Security Council condemned its latest ballistic missile launch amid simmering tensions over neighbor South Korea's joint military drills with the US. South Korea also warned after the North Korean announcement that if the North Korea would conduct another nuclear test, Pyongyang will have to pay the price for it. ^ top ^

Unidentified drone falls in ROK island (China Daily)
An unidentified unmanned airplane fell in one of the five Republic of Korea (ROK)'s islands near the inter-Korean western sea border, Yonhap News Agency reported Tuesday, citing a government source. The unmanned aerial vehicle crashed at around 4 pm Monday local time in the Baengnyeong Island, just south of the Northern Limit Line (NLL), or the disputed maritime border between the two Koreas, said the source. The ROK's military took the pilotless airplane from the border island to identify where the unmanned aerial vehicle(UAV) came from. The UAV, detected Monday, was the same kind of the one found on March 24 in Paju, 50 km northwest of Seoul, the ROK's capital. The source said that the ROK's intelligence and military officials were probing whether the two airplanes came from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK). The DPRK conducted its live-fire drill Monday afternoon, firing around 500 rounds of shells and projectiles with its artillery and multiple-rocket launchers from its shoreline gun positions in the DPRK's southeastern region near the NLL. Some 100 of them landed in ROK's waters 2-3 km south of the NLL, the scene of the recent inter-Korean naval skirmishes. In November 2010, the DPRK shelled the Yeonpyeong Island, one of the five border islands near the NLL, with its shoreline artillery, killing four people. ^ top ^

China supports improved ties between DPRK, ROK (Global Times)
China supports improved relations through dialogue between the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) and the Republic of Korea (ROK), said a Foreign Ministry spokesman on Thursday. Spokesman Hong Lei made the remarks at a regular press briefing when asked to comment on ROK President Park Geun-hye's speech in Dresden, Germany on March 28. In the speech, Park unveiled a package of proposals for the DPRK and the ROK to work toward unification, with the ROK increasing humanitarian aid to the DPRK before expanding economic cooperation. Park called for regularizing the reunions of families separated since the Korean War. Humanitarian projects would also include health care for pregnant women and infants during their first 1,000 days. She also proposed more exchanges in areas such as history, culture and sports to renew a sense of homogeneity between the people of the two Koreas, and joint projects in infrastructure and exploration of natural resources. Hong Lei said China has always supported improvements to relations between the DPRK and the ROK through dialogue, and hopes the two sides push forward with reconciliation and cooperation, with the ultimate objective of peaceful reunification. China will work to ease tensions, push for progress in the six-party talks, and seek the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsular for regional peace and stability, said the spokesman. ^ top ^



Mongolia to act as co-founder of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (Info Mongolia)
The regular Cabinet meeting of the Government of Mongolia was held on March 28, 2014, where one of the issues revised was to accept the proposal of the Government of China to participate in the creation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) as Founder. The initiation to create the AIIB was announced by the President of the PR of China Xi Jinping just before the October 2013 APEC meeting in Bali that aims to promote the economic integration of Asia Pacific and provide financial support for infrastructure construction in developing countries in Asia. In order to create the Bank some developing economies in Asia such as Mongolia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka were invited to act as co-founders of the Bank and the Government of Mongolia at its Friday Cabinet meeting resolved to accept the proposal, where Mongolia's Minister of Finance Ch.Ulaan is entrusted to submit relevant documents for further steps of approval. According to the OECD estimation made in 2011, it was calculated the global infrastructure requirements over the next two decades would cost around 50 trillion USD and the Asian Development Bank estimates that developing Asian economies need to invest 8 trillion USD from 2010 to 2020, just to keep pace with expected infrastructure needs. In October 2013, the Government of China proposed setting up an Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and if it happens the benefits could be enormous for everyone and in time the impact could be greater than both the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank. ^ top ^

JETRO and MNCCI agreed to collaborate on accelerating the intergovernmental agreement of free trade between the Japan and Mongolia (Info Mongolia)
On March 31, 2014, Chairman of Mongolian National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MNCCI), Parliamentarian S.Demberel received in his office in Ulaanbaatar the newly appointed Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) country officer in Bejing Mr. Yoshihisa Tawata. During the meeting, parties discussed the partnership expanding issued and negotiated to collaborate in the following spheres: In the frameworks of accelerating the intergovernmental agreement of free trade between the Japan and Mongolia, JETRO and MNCCI are to conduct a joint training and seminar on studying Japan's and other nations' experience on free trade, JETRO to assist on Product Development Program on selecting appropriate export product, to organize reciprocal joint exhibition, JETRO to support MNCCI organizing partnership development with Hokkaido Prefecture, Japan, MNCCI will release all supporting information in Japanese language from the second quarter of 2014 that would helpful to exchanging information and broadening cooperation between JETRO and MNCCI. ^ top ^


Mrs. Lauranne Peman
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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