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
  9-13.3.2015, No. 563  
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Foreign Policy

China and Canada seal deal for 10-year visas (SCMP)
China and Canada will grant each other's citizens visas valid for up to 10 years, Beijing's foreign minister announced yesterday. The agreement, which goes into force today, comes as Western countries increasingly seek Chinese business and investment, and mirrors one with the US announced last year. "China and Canada have just reached an agreement issuing visas to each other's citizens with the validity period of up to 10 years," Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on the sidelines of the National People's Congress, the country's Communist-controlled parliament, in Beijing. No other details were immediately available. Ottawa last year cancelled a permanent residency visa scheme for foreign investors popular with wealthy Chinese, thousands of whom reportedly had applications pending. Every year mainland Chinese travellers make more than 100 million "outbound" trips, tourism authorities say. While most travellers go to Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, they represent a growing and increasingly coveted source of high-spending visitors in destination countries. Beijing and Washington announced in November a reciprocal deal to extend student visa validities to five years, with business and tourist visas stretched out to a decade, up from one year now. The announcement came during a visit to China by US President Barack Obama. There were 1.8 million Chinese visitors to the US last year, Obama said, adding US$21 billion to the economy and supporting more than 100,000 jobs. "This agreement could help us more than quadruple those numbers," Obama said at the time, describing it as an "important breakthrough which will benefit our economies, bring our people together". ^ top ^

China vows cooperation with Russia despite West's sanctions (SCMP)
China vowed Sunday to plough ahead on economic and diplomatic cooperation with Russia despite Western sanctions against Moscow over the conflict in Ukraine, stressing their relations are based on “mutual need”. “The practical cooperation between China and Russia is based on mutual need, it seeks win-win results and has enormous internal impetus and room for expansion,” said Beijing's foreign minister Wang Yi. As well as sanctions, Vladimir Putin's Russia is facing a sharp decline in its ruble currency amid an economic crisis fuelled largely by plunging oil prices. Both countries are permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, where they have in the past jointly used their veto power against Western-backed moves such as in the civil war in Syria. Wang told reporters on the sidelines of the National People's Congress, China's Communist-controlled parliament, that Beijing and Moscow will “continue to carry out strategic coordination and cooperation to maintain international peace and security”. Wang's comments signal that Putin, assailed by the West over the annexation of Crimea and the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine, can count on continued Chinese economic and diplomatic support. Beijing and Moscow, allies and then adversaries during the Cold War, have over the past quarter century often found common ground internationally, frequently taking similar stands at the UN. They have also forged increasingly closer economic ties, with China hungry for Russia's vast hydrocarbon resources. Western sanctions have made seeking stable markets an urgent need for Putin, whose economy has been hit hard by the fall in prices for oil, a major source of revenue. Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping, who met five times last year, have a close personal relationship. Xi told visiting Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov in February that the two countries' “cooperation grows ever deeper”. In the economic arena, the two sides will “work hard” to increase bilateral trade to $100 billion, while intensifying cooperation in the financial, oil and gas and nuclear power sectors, Wang said, after China-Russia trade totalled $95.3 billion last year. Among other results, he said they would begin “full construction” of an eastern natural gas pipeline and also sign an agreement on the western route. Wang added that they would “accelerate joint development and research” on long-range wide body passenger jets, begin working together to develop Russia's far eastern region and step up cooperation on high speed railways. ^ top ^

Chinese media say visit by Prince William holds out hope for improved relations (SCMP)
Until recently the mainland's state media often decried Britain as a petty-minded, selfish and declining empire that uses eccentricity to disguise its embarrassment and arrogance. But last week, it threw open its arms to welcome Prince William, as the second-in-line to the throne made his first visit to the mainland by a member of the royal family since 1986. The Duke of Cambridge focused his three-day trip on culture, sports and activities promoting the protection of wildlife. "The engagement of Prince William in promoting Britain's cultural, creative and educational sectors in China will help boost cultural and people-to-people exchanges and friendship between the two countries," Xinhua said in a commentary. Both China Daily and Global Times, a tabloid affiliated to the People's Daily, the ruling party's mouthpiece, hailed the visit as "signalling the UK government's strong desire to push for a better relationship with China". Yet, bilateral relations have often been trapped in a state of ambiguity and contradiction. Both sides are eager to explore the business opportunities from their cooperation, while at the same time agonising over problems due to Britain's support for Hong Kong's quest for democracy, a visit to Britain by the exiled Dalai Lama and China's human rights record. For instance, British Prime Minister David Cameron's encounter with the Dalai Lama in 2012 resulted in Britain being politically frozen out of China for about 18 months. Prince William's visit is seen as having offered one of the few real chances to forge diplomatic, commercial and cultural ties between the two nations. Despite their great divide on politics, there has been an upsurge of economic cooperation and cultural exchanges in recent years, with a record-breaking bilateral trade volume of more than US$80 billion last year. Chinese views over the great empire have been mixed. Chinese historians believed that Britain's two opium wars weakened China, as the Qing government ceded Hong Kong to British rule and China became a semi-colony of Western powers. Every Chinese child also knows that under Queen Victoria's rule, the British army looted and destroyed the fabled Summer Palace in Beijing. Still, many Chinese also regard many aspects of British life positively. The English Premier League, British TV dramas such as Downton Abbey and the classic works of great writers such as William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens are all well received by generations of Chinese. Britain has also become the second largest destination for mainlanders going overseas for education, following the United States. The British may no longer have an empire but many Chinese see the more enlightened, open-minded current generation of royals as more like an icon. For years, the Chinese people have shown great interest in news relating to the British royal family. Even as early as the 1990s, they paid great attention to the stories of the late Princess Diana, William's mother. The visit by a member of the apolitical royal family might be safer and more productive than formal state diplomacy. China Daily noted that "Royal Diplomacy is a signature dish of British public diplomacy and the Prince - with a good public image and a great appeal to the younger generations in China - will see his trip boost goodwill between the two peoples and help eliminate misunderstandings". It is perhaps owing to China's fast rise and Britain's dwindling international influence in recent decades that the first trip to the mainland by a senior British royal in a generation might symbolise a new beginning for relations between China and the British royal family, and thus help push the two historically antagonistic countries much closer. ^ top ^

Foreign policy in 2015 to focus on 'Belt and Road' initiatives (Global Times)
China's diplomatic thrust for 2015 will focus on promoting the "One Belt, One Road" initiatives, China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on the sidelines of the ongoing national legislative session on Sunday. Analysts believe Wang's statements further explain Chinese President Xi Jinping's view on China's foreign policy as China is expected to enhance exchanges with neighboring countries and adopt a more proactive approach toward major issues. "The operative term for China's foreign policy in 2015 will be 'one focus and two main themes,'" Wang said. On the progress of the "Belt and Road" initiatives, Wang said China will further enhance dialogue with other countries, expand shared interests and explore possible areas of mutual benefit. Two main themes will be peace and development, the minister added. As this year is crucial in promoting and carrying out the "Belt and Road" initiatives, China's development of a new-type of international relations in 2015 will focus on interacting with neighboring countries, including China-Japan-South Korea trilateral cooperation, North Korea, India and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, said Liu Jiangyong, vice director of the Modern International Relations Institute at Tsinghua University. "The 'Belt and Road' initiative will not only focus on infrastructure to physically connect [these countries], but also to explore free trade agreements," Liu said. On Thursday, Premier Li Keqiang said in the government work report that efforts will be made to achieve further progress in diplomatic efforts with neighboring countries and work to create a community with a common future. Summing up China's diplomatic accomplishments in 2014, Wang said China focused on building a new type of international relations featuring win-win cooperation and has taken a new path of external relations characterized by partnerships rather than alliances. "The new type of international relations means a shift in China's foreign policy from creating more favorable conditions for China's growth to taking greater responsibility over international issues," Chen Zhimin, dean of the School of International Relations and Public Affairs at Fudan University, told the Global Times. Chen said Wang's statements reflect the characteristics of "a more engaging attitude" in "Xi-style diplomacy." Wang's speech also stressed that diplomacy should "embrace the essence of traditional [Chinese] culture," as he used metaphors from traditional Chinese medicine to describe China's approach to international issues, Hong Kong-based newspaper Ta Kung Pao reported. On Sino-Japanese relations, Wang asked Japanese politicians to use their own conscience in judging history 70 years after Japan lost a war with China. "Seventy years ago, Japan lost the war. Seventy years afterwards, it should not lose its conscience," Wang said. "We will extend the invitation to the leaders of all relevant countries and international organizations. We welcome the participation of anyone who is sincere about coming," Wang said in response to a question about whether Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe would be invited to China's military parade to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the WWII victory. Abe called Sunday for deeper discussion on revising Japan's pacifist Constitution as his party held its annual convention. Wang also said China cherishes its traditional friendship with North Korea and will seek to sustain the normal development of bilateral relations. "The China-North Korea relationship has a strong foundation. It should not and will not be affected by temporary events," he said. As to when the two countries' leaders will meet, Wang said "it will have to suit the schedules of both sides." ^ top ^

Sri Lanka is not anti-China but mainland firms won't get 'carte blanche', finance minister says (SCMP)
Sri Lanka's new leadership is not targeting China and only wants its help to fight corrupt deals orchestrated by the last government, the island nation's finance minister said, even as he ratcheted up rhetoric against Chinese companies he said were once given “carte blanche” in his country. “Sri Lanka is trying to do what Xi Jingping is doing: Root out corruption. We are not against China but against the Chinese companies manipulated by the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime into corrupt deals that are bleeding the taxpayer. The Chinese government might have been unaware of the activities of Chinese companies here,” Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake told the South China Morning Post in an exclusive interview, referring to the former president. “Our relationship with China goes back to the 1950s, when we defied the West to forge the rice-rubber pact with China. But Chinese investment is as good as any other investment, we cannot give it preferential treatment. “You can't come here and demand carte blanche, as the last government gave them. If a project costs 1 million dollars, you cannot make the taxpayer pay 6 million dollars,” said Karunanayake, who is scheduled to head to Beijing soon as part of Colombo's efforts to renegotiate the contracts the Rajapaksa government signed with Chinese companies and financing bodies […]. Karunanayake said the fears over China losing its investments in Sri Lanka were misplaced. “These are not Chinese investments. These are loans, it's we who are paying for it.” On whether his government will try to renegotiate the loans, he said: “That's what we are asking China: 'Please help us'.” Chinese funding has come under scrutiny since Rajapaksa was dislodged from power in an election in January in the South Asian nation that Beijing considers an important component of its Maritime Silk Road plan, linking China with Europe via the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. Billions of dollars of Chinese money have flowed into Sri Lanka since the end of a three-decade civil war in 2009 between Colombo and Tamil separatists, with Chinese state-owned companies building massive infrastructure projects such as ports, power stations, airports and highways. The new government, headed by President Maithripala Sirisena, alleges widespread corruption by the previous administration, particularly those involving big-ticket Chinese-funded projects. The cabinet last week suspended the controversial US$1.5 billion Colombo Port City project, a luxury real estate development on reclaimed land the size of Monaco. President Xi Jinping in September inaugurated the project, which is being built by China Harbour Engineering Company, a unit of state-controlled China Communications Construction Co (CCCC), which is listed in Hong Kong. The alliance now in power had criticised the project and others like it before the election, saying these entailed exorbitant interest rates that deepened Sri Lanka's debt to China. According to the finance minister, there is no record of the mandatory environmental impact and feasibility studies for the project, nor is there any document that shows the government cleared it. “That's why we have asked them (CCCC) to show us any document that they may have been issued illegally, which they have failed to do so far.” CCCC maintains all necessary project studies had been conducted and approved by the previous government. Asked if any foreign company can start a project of this scale without a go-ahead from the Sri Lankan government and if blocking the project is tantamount to reneging on contractual obligation, Karunanayake put the onus squarely on CCCC. “There was no clearance. And, I am told this company is blacklisted in other countries. You cannot just jump into the Indian Ocean and start filling it up. “We want to work with China to fix the problems with projects like these and move on.” ^ top ^

China supports EU in playing constructive role in maintaining Int'l peace, security (Xinhua)
China encourages and supports the European Union (EU) in continuing to play a constructive role in maintaining regional and international peace and security, said a Chinese envoy here on Monday. Wang Min, China's deputy permanent representative to the UN, made the remarks at a Security Council meeting on the cooperation between the UN and the EU in maintaining international peace and security. Wang said in recent years, in cooperation with the UN and the Security Council, the EU has taken an active part in efforts to address regional hotspot issues, such as the Iranian nuclear issue, the Middle East, Mali, Central African Republic, and Burundi, to which China expresses its welcome. "We hope that in carrying out cooperation with the UN and the Security Council, the EU would first of all uphold the basic principles of the UN charter, such as sovereign equality and peaceful settlement of disputes and commit itself to addressing hotspot issues through mediation and good offices," said Wang. He also said China hopes that the EU would respect the sovereignty and conditions of countries when it comes to human rights and engage in dialogue and exchange on the basis of mutual respect and equality, thus playing a constructive role. In addition, Wang noted that the EU should leverage its resource advantage to provide economic and social assistance according to the needs of countries concerned on the basis of respect for national ownership so as to enhance their self- development capacity in order to address the root causes of the conflict. "China will continue to support EU in further strengthening cooperation with the UN in maintaining regional peace and stability and promoting economic development so as to effectively complement the work of the UN," he added. ^ top ^

French writer lauds Xi's book on governance of China (SCMP)
Chinese President Xi Jinping's new book "The Governance of China" marks a milestone for the country and the Communist Party of China (CPC), said French writer Sonia Bressler in an article. As one of the symbols of Xi's new policies, the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road Initiatives, which involves land, sea, even air routes, will enable China to further broaden international collaboration, friendship and partnerships, according to the article posted on the website on March 2. And the Belt and Road Initiatives will also bring the world broader imagination space in economic, ecological and intellectual areas. Numerous details of the policy deserve deeper review and discussion, said Bressler. Xi's book, which is currently distributed worldwide in multiple languages including Chinese, English, French, Russian, Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese, German and Japanese, is "showing surprising principles of simplicity and authenticity," she noted. At a time when Western policies lean more towards virtual spaces, it is pleasant to read a real book like this one that sounds like a work on general policies and whose content invites you to dream, develop your interest and open up to humanity, she wrote. The book is a compilation of Xi Jinping's major works from Nov. 15, 2012, to June 13, 2014. It comprises 79 speeches, talks, interviews, instructions and correspondences across 18 chapters. Each item is accompanied by relevant notes about China's social system, history and culture for readers' reference. In the West, people don't know much about the new president of China, noted the French writer. However, after being elected head of state, Xi has established an intelligent power in China and has led the country toward deeper essential reforms. From the first chapter to the last, the book has always been emphasizing the importance of political stability. "Stick to and develop socialism with Chinese characteristics" and "Improve the CPC leadership," both of which ensure the party's political primacy and thus assure social stability, wrote Bressler. Through his speeches, Xi outlines the Chinese Dream, based on a "political stability" enabling far-reaching reform, which in turn promotes economic development, the article said. The chapter on the Chinese Dream unveils the great mission of contemporary China: national rejuvenation and personal well-being, it said. After the chapter on the Chinese Dream, readers see some chapters on deepening reform and enhancing economic development, which lead to chapters on rule of law, advanced culture, social undertakings and ecological progress. In his book, Xi affirms very clearly that the fight against corruption is fundamental to China's future, Bressler wrote. On China's development path, Xi emphasized peaceful development as it constitutes a strategic choice made by the CPC taking into account the trends of the times and the vital interests of China, she wrote. ^ top ^

German envoy cites need for clear law on investment (Global Times)
German Ambassador to China Michael Clauss, who attended the opening session of China's National People's Congress (NPC) since he took office in 2013, follows the plenary session in order to get an idea to what extent the NPC will advance China's reform, especially in the field of the rule of law, Clauss said in an e-mail interview with the Global Times Tuesday. Germany pays close attention to China's moves of further opening up, and policies laid out in Premier Li Keqiang's government work report that may point to the policy direction, he said. "Premier Li Keqiang's remarks on further easing foreign investment, i.e. the investment catalogue and law, were very important. I hope that relevant government departments will follow this up without delay. Foreign companies need clear laws and equal treatment more than ever if they are to bring more high-tech and research investments to China," he said. "China faces the formidable challenge to restructure the economy and to maintain a relatively high level of growth at the same time. Reform of State enterprises will be a crucial yardstick to see how far the leadership is willing to go towards a true market economy. This will not be possible without a certain slowdown in growth but it will bring long-term rewards for growth in the future," said the ambassador. Germany follows the "One Belt, One Road" initiative of China closely and sees great potential in this initiative to increase stability and prosperity, he said. "With regard to Europe, I hope that Europe-China relations will receive fresh energy with this year's summit in Brussels and that China will focus on forging a consensus with the EU as a whole." ^ top ^

Sri Lanka should thank China, not attack it, ex-president Rajapaksa says (SCMP)
Sri Lanka's new government is being unfair to China by unnecessarily dragging it into domestic politics, Mahinda Rajapaksa told the South China Morning Post in a rare interview after his defeat in January's presidential elections. "They should be thankful to China for the help they extended; instead these people are treating China like a criminal," said Rajapaksa. "But I would urge China not to take it personally. It's me they are after. They are only using China to get me. China should not feel hurt and stop helping Sri Lanka." Since 2009, when a three-decade civil war between Colombo and Tamil separatists ended, Beijing has pumped an estimated US$4 billion into Sri Lanka. This has come in the form of aid, soft loans and grants, with almost 70 per cent of infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka now funded by mainland financial institutions and executed by mainland companies. Once considered invincible because of his popularity among the Sinhalese majority after wiping out Tamil militancy, Rajapaksa lost power in a shock defeat to former Sri Lanka Freedom Party colleague, Maithripala Sirisena. During the election, Sirisena attacked the alleged lack of transparency surrounding Beijing-backed projects and Sri Lanka's growing dependence on China to fund them. "They say I am pro-China. I am not pro-China, or pro-India, or pro-America," Rajapaksa said. "I am pro-Sri Lanka. I wanted development for Sri Lanka and China was the only one which had the resources and the inclination to help me. "Take, for example, the Hambantota port and airport. I had offered both to India, they were not interested. So who would I go to? Only China could bring in the money I needed." These two giant infrastructure projects in southern Sri Lanka were attacked by the opposition as white elephants built with Chinese money that would also bring expensive debt. Rajapaksa rejected the new government's charge that the Colombo Port City, a controversial luxury real estate project on reclaimed land, did not have the required feasibility or environmental impact study reports. Unlike most infrastructure projects undertaken by Chinese companies, Colombo Port City, inaugurated by President Xi Jinping in September, is financed by equity from state-controlled and Hong Kong-listed China Communications Construction Co (CCCC), or funds raised through it, with no commitment from the Sri Lankan government. Under the deal, CCCC would reclaim 233 hectares of land off Colombo. Of this, 108 hectares would be given to CCCC, including 20 hectares outright and the rest on a 99-year lease […]. Rajapaksa blames election defeat on US and European interference : Sri Lanka's ex-president Mahinda Rajapaksa has blamed the US and European governments as well as India's secret service for his loss in January's election. "It was very open, Americans, the Norwegians, Europeans were openly working against me. And RAW," he told the South China Morning Post, referring to India's Research and Analysis Wing. "I asked the Indians, 'Why are you doing this? It's an open secret what you are doing.' I had assured them that I would never allow the Sri Lankan soil to be used against any friendly country, but they had other ideas." In the run-up to the presidential election, Sri Lanka had expelled the Colombo station chief of India's spy agency, Reuters reported at the time, citing various political and intelligence sources. Never confirmed officially by either side, New Delhi reportedly recalled the agent in December when the Rajapaksa government accused him of galvanising support for a joint opposition ticket for Maithripala Sirisena after persuading him to split from Rajapaksa's cabinet. The agent supposedly played a vital role in convincing the main leader of the opposition and former prime minister Ranil Wickremasinghe not to contest the presidential race and stand aside for a more electable Sirisena. "Both the US and India openly used their embassies to bring me down," Rajapaksa said. Asked if the docking of two Chinese submarines in Sri Lanka last year had raised India's hackles, Rajapaksa said: "Whenever Chinese submarines come to this part of the world, they always inform India. The Chinese president was here, so the subs were here. Find out how many Indian submarines and warships came to our waters when the Indian prime minister came for the SAARC South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) summit [in 2008]." ^ top ^

China focuses on long term relations with Sri Lanka: new ambassador (Xinhua)
China will continue to be a staunch friend of Sri Lanka with long term engagement to promote a stronger economic partnership between the two countries, new Chinese Ambassador to Sri Lanka Yi Xianliang told local media here on Wednesday. It was important for the new Sri Lankan government to support Chinese investment and honor agreements made by the state, said the ambassador during talks with the local media. "We believe that the Sri Lankan side will reciprocate our goodwill. China has confidence in our bilateral relations because in the past decades we always stood by each other, in good or bad times," he said. "China is willing to continue as a trustworthy and reliable partner of Sri Lanka and its people. No matter how the situation changes, the two sides should cherish the long standing bilateral friendship, and unswervingly stick to warm bilateral relations, advancement of bilateral mutually beneficial cooperation, as well as mutual support on international and regional affairs," the ambassador added. He was referring to the 1.4 billion U.S. dollar port city project in the capital constructed by a Chinese company, which has been suspended for two weeks on alleged transparency issues by the Sri Lankan government. The project, which is the largest foreign direct investment to the island, has caught much attention with the Sri Lankan government reassessing the environmental impact and land ownership issues by the Chinese company. Ambassador Yi mentioned the extensive projects undertaken by Chinese companies since the end of a three decade war in Sri Lanka in 2009, which include a 360 million U.S. dollar port and 1.2 billion U.S. dollar coal power plant. He emphasized the important role played by these projects, which is estimated to be worth around 5 billion U.S. dollars, in developing post-war Sri Lanka. "China will, together with Sri Lanka and other relevant countries, commit to enhancing the capability for self-development with the joint construction of the 21st-century Maritime Silk Road, " he said. Both sides are also looking forward to the visit of Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena to China later this month. ^ top ^

Nation open to US pivot (China Daily)
China is ready to welcome the United States strategic rebalancing to Asia-Pacific if it is constructive to the region's peaceful cooperation, but will oppose it if it is counterproductive, the Chinese ambassador to the US said on Wednesday. Cui Tiankai made the comment when summarizing China's position on the issue in an interview with China Daily. Beijing acknowledges and respects the US interests and existence in the region, said Cui, who is attending the annual meeting of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference in Beijing. Fears have been voiced by some people that China's rise will "squeeze" the US presence in Asia-Pacific, and that even if China has no such intentions, its development will pose a challenge to the US leadership. Cui said China's development is aimed at raising its people's living standards, but not to the detriment of any other country's interests or global influence. "From China's cultural traditions to its diplomatic philosophy, it has never harbored the goal of being a world leader." China doesn't want other countries to follow its orders, he said. Cui said he is looking forward to President Xi Jinping's visit to the US later this year at the invitation of President Barack Obama. He said Xi's first state visit to the US as Chinese president will feature "a rich agenda", but he did not give further details. "We're still talking (with the US).It's also hard to predict what will happen in the world in the next six months "before Xi's visit, which is planned for September. "But we'll make ample preparations for a successful meeting between the two heads of state," said Cui. He said the two countries have always had cooperation as well as contradictions. But more recently the relationship has featured working together, rather than contradicting each other. "Cooperation should always be greater than contradiction," Cui said. "Of course, I wouldn't like to hear the US make groundless criticisms of China from time to time. But if it has questions or concerns, let's talk. We have many channels to communicate, to clarify the basic facts and to enhance mutual understanding." On the other hand, so-called microphone diplomacy, or making hasty media statements, evades the real issue and is better avoided, the ambassador said, without mentioning Obama's criticism of China's planned counterterrorism rules in an interview with Reuters on March 2. China and the US should work together by managing disagreements constructively, he said. Such management of disagreements by China and the US in the past two years had "not been bad" even though progress had fallen short of his expectations, he said. Despite their historical, cultural and political differences, the two nations have tackled some difficult issues together, sharing an attitude of constructive cooperation, he said. This year, China and the US are poised to continue dialogue and communication in many areas, including the military, Cui added. ^ top ^

China urges ASEAN secretary-general to stay neutral on South China Sea issue (Global Times)
China on Wednesday refuted ASEAN Secretary-General Le Luong Minh's recent accusation that China had complicated the situation in the South China Sea, saying the comments departed from the neutral role that the ASEAN Secretariat should play. "Mr. Le Luong Minh has repeatedly made biased comments on the issue of the South China Sea, which were untrue and incompatible with his capacity as ASEAN secretary-general," said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei at a routine press briefing. In an interview with the Manila Times, Le Luong Minh said China's nine-dash line policy was "not binding", adding China's expansion and "illegal occupation" of islands affected the status quo and complicated the situation. "China has abundant historical and legal evidence in its sovereignty and claims in the South China Sea," Hong said, adding the country's position on the issue was clear and consistent. China supports the building of ASEAN community, Hong said, however, ASEAN is not a concerned party in the South China Sea dispute, he added. "ASEAN belongs to the ASEAN family not a certain country," he said, adding Le's comments had damaged ASEAN's image as a regional organization. "We advise Mr. Le Luong Minh do his part as ASEAN secretary-general, stick to ASEAN's neutrality on the South China Sea issue, and do more to promote the healthy development of China-ASEAN relations," said the spokesperson. ^ top ^

China, Brazil can cooperate extensively in energy: Brazilian expert (Xinhua)
China has other options to invest in Brazil's energy market even if the recent fall in oil prices makes pre-salt oil exploration in the country unviable, Brazilian expert Severino Cabral said. Cabral, head of the Brazilian Institute of China and Asia Pacific Studies, told Xinhua that it remains to be seen whether oil prices will stabilize between 60 to 70 U.S. dollars a barrel, which makes the exploration of both pre-salt and shale oil viable. "It is not only pre-salt exploration that is at risk," he said. However, Cabral stressed that a bigger scenario must be taken into consideration when it comes to the energy market -- if oil prices fall, renewable energy sources will seem expensive; if oil prices increase, those sources become more attractive. "Renewable sources will only be taken into consideration when oil and other fossil fuels get too expensive," he stressed, adding that "if oil prices remain between 60 dollars to 70 dollars, it is inevitable that countries will invest in it." Brazil produces both pre-salt oil and regular oil. Currently prices are still convenient for pre-salt oil exploration, and the country will still have the chance to invest in less expensive regular oil production if prices fall to levels which make the pre-salt exploration unviable. Besides, the country can also explore other energy sources, especially the renewable ones such as ethanol fuel, solar power and wind power. It is also worth noting that Brazil has a high potential in hydroelectric power which supplies most of the country's energy. Cabral said Brazil's energy versatility is an advantage for China, a great consumer in the energy market which can invest in many power sources in Brazil if oil prices make pre-salt investments less profitable. He observed that China is consuming more energy and "Brazil is a natural and strategic partner of China as it has a huge stock of natural resources." Cabral believes that, if oil prices fall too much, which he thinks unlikely, and producers place their bets on cheap oil, investments in the more expensive pre-salt oil will get harder. However, he said there is a simple solution for Brazil. "We can place our bets on ethanol and biofuel resources and produce them in large scale for export," Cabral said. He added that "Brazil is rich in natural resources, which will only become valuable in the international market through investments." Cabral believes oil prices will stabilize between 50 and 70 dollars a barrel, which makes the exploration of pre-salt exploration and shale oil in the U.S. viable. But Brazil can seek alternatives if prices continue to fall, and China can be a great partner in that aspect. Other opportunities in the oil field for Chinese companies are also open as Brazil's state-controlled oil giant Petrobras is seeking partners abroad, he said. Chinese companies can either sign contracts with Petrobras directly or join local companies in partnership, a move that benefits both sides, Cabral noted. Petrobras, mired in a scandal since investigators revealed late last year that construction and supply firms had been paying high-level executives kickbacks in exchange for major contracts, has suspended many of its local suppliers. Regardless of the sector of the industrial field China chooses to invest in Brazil, the two countries can develop together, Cabral added. "China will remain the locomotive of global growth and Brazil must become part of this development," he said, adding that "it is a challenge to adjust the country's finances for an accelerated growth." Cabral said China is interested in boosting partnership with Brazil, which is mutually beneficial. Brazil still lacks some courage to find out in which areas the trade and relations can be tightened but that can be improved. "We are in a period with opportunities and we have four or five decisive years ahead to take advantage of the ones open to Brazil," the expert said. "If Brazil can seize them, it will benefit China as well," he suggested. ^ top ^

China pools strength on Belt and Road strategy (Xinuha)
The Belt and Road initiatives, China's ambitious trans-Eurasia and across-ocean trade strategy, are among the most extensively referenced topics during the ongoing annual parliamentary session. Regardless of difficulties, there are clear signals that China is determined to implement the initiatives, which Chinese officials claimed represents a golden opportunity to forge greater cooperation between countries. "China's diplomacy in 2015 will focus on making progress in the Belt and Road initiatives," Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Sunday at the session. China announced Thursday that the board of directors and the senior management team have been formed in the country's 40 billion-U.S. dollar Silk Road Fund, which will start investment soon. The fund will invest mainly in infrastructure and resources, as well as industrial and financial cooperation, in an effort to achieve common development and prosperity, Jin Qi, chair of the fund, said at a press conference on the sidelines of the session. Proposed by President Xi Jinping in 2013, the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road initiatives aim to improve cooperation with countries in a vast part of Asia, Europe and Africa. The National People's Congress (NPC), or the parliament, is a platform for the country to create consensus and pool strength for major tasks. This year, it hopes to do so for the Belt and Road initiatives. "NOT MARSHALL PLAN" : In a story published at the end of last year, U.S.-based bi-monthly magazine "Foreign Policy" had listed the Belt and Road initiatives as the first of "six trends from 2014 likely to burst into international headlines" for China in 2015. It's premise was correct, but the story became flawed after trying to compare the Chinese strategy to the U.S.-sponsored Marshall Plan. China has denied the accusation, saying that the initiatives are not exclusive and not a tool for geopolitics like the Marshall Plan, which led to the start of the cold war. "China's Belt and Road initiatives are both much older and much younger than the Marshall Plan. Comparing one to the other is like comparing apples to oranges," said Wang Yi. The initiatives are older because they embody the spirit of the ancient Silk Road, which had a history of more than 2,000 years. The Silk Road was used by people of many countries for friendly exchange and commerce, and the country must renew the spirit and bring it up to date, Wang said. The initiatives are younger because they are born in the age of globalization. "They are the product of inclusive cooperation, not a tool of geopolitics, and must not be viewed with the outdated cold war mentality," Wang said. The Silk Road Fund is not an aid agency, said Jin Qi, who expects market-oriented principles in operation and reasonable returns for shareholders, including China's foreign exchange reserves, the China Investment Corp., the Export-Import Bank of China and the China Development Bank. The fund will comply with market rules and the international order of finance, welcoming participation by domestic and overseas investors, such as the China-Africa Development Fund and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, Jin said. NATIONAL STRATEGY: The Belt and Road initiatives are also an important part in the government work report, delivered by Premier Li Keqiang to the nation's lawmakers at the opening of the parliamentary session. Li said China will work with the countries linked by the initiatives to develop them. "We will move faster to strengthen infrastructure connectivity with our neighbors, simplify customs clearance procedures and build international logistics gateways," Li said. The government work report highlights strategies such as the Belt and Road as key in terms of stabilizing growth while the country further opens and improves the economy, said Zhao Yang, chief China economist of Nomura, Japan's leading financial institution. As such, the report encourages Chinese firms to actively participate in overseas infrastructure investment and to export machinery equipment. Li Chunhong, a deputy to the NPC and head of the Guangdong Provincial Development and Reform Commission, said the south Chinese province has completed formulating the implementation plan for the Belt and Road strategy. Li said Guangdong has selected a number of significant projects to support the implementation of the strategy. Included were a 5-million-tonne oil refining project invested by a private company of Guangdong in Myanmar; a power plant project invested by China Southern Power Grid in Vietnam; and a few banana plantations in the Southeast Asian countries. Li said Guangdong is playing a vital role and in a good position in the construction of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. The transaction between Guangdong and ASEAN has exceeded 100 billion yuan. A map covering the major countries along the Silk Road Economic Belt has been published this month to push the plan. According to the Shaanxi Administration of Surveying, Mapping and Geoinformation, the atlas includes geographic, transportation, culture and economic information covering 16 countries and regions including China, Kazakhstan, Iran and Turkey. The atlas is the first comprehensive profile of the major countries along the silk road. "People on the silk road are 'family members', and the frequent exchanges between them will promote business and trade," said Chen Zixuan, a NPC deputy from Fujian province, another gateway of the road. The province has established a free trade zone to boost cooperation between nations. Zhao Yang expects a detailed roadmap of the initiatives this month. He says the plan should help mitigate the severe overcapacity problem in upstream industries and boost overseas investment, led by policy financial institutions and large State-owned enterprises (SOEs). Moreover, it could also promote the internationalization of the Chinese currency Renminbi, Zhao added. SYMPHONY FOR ALL:"If I may use a musical metaphor, the initiatives are not China's solo, but a symphony performed by all relevant countries," Foreign Minister Wang Yi said. As a major infrastructure equipment exporter, China has been pooling efforts to provide badly-needed funds to infrastructure construction, a hindrance to growth of many developing countries. BRICS countries alone have about 1 trillion U.S. dollars each year in infrastructure needs, according to World Bank's calculations. Such funding gaps also exist elsewhere. Foreign assistance is a tiny piece of it and they have to rely on their own resources. The Belt and Road initiatives are a testament to joint efforts by countries involved to overcome funding shortages and improve infrastructure connectivity. Greater cooperation between nations could sustain economic growth through investing in infrastructure and guaranteeing energy security, said Asanga Abeyagoonasekera, executive director of Sri Lanka's Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute for International Relations and Strategic Studies. Amin Babar, Consul General of Pakistan in southern China's port city Guangzhou, agreed. The historic initiatives provide an unprecedented opportunity to the global community to share the fruits of China's economic development, he said. It is a mark of big thinking by the Chinese leadership to give a share of its hard earned prosperity, particularly to the developing countries of South East Asia, South Asia, Middle East and Africa, in order to achieve a "win-win" prospect. Abeyagoonasekera said more cooperation under the initiatives will also be a demonstration of the regions' willingness to jointly find solutions to non-traditional threats such as climate change, terrorism and piracy which are issues of global significance. Wang Yi said that China and Russia will sign an agreement to work on the Silk Road Economic Belt, adding that the practical cooperation between China and Russia is based on mutual need and has enormous internal impetus and room for expansion. Zhou Xiaochuan, governor of China's central bank, said Thursday that China and Russia are exploring novel financial cooperation along the route of the Silk Road. […]. ^ top ^

Top diplomats set to meet to discuss China, Japan, South Korea summit (China Daily)
The foreign ministers of China, Japan and South Korea are preparing to meet this month for their first talks in nearly three years, in a bid to discuss a three-way summit. Japanese media reported that the foreign ministers would probably meet in Seoul on March 21 and 22, while China's foreign ministry said it would be in late March. South Korea said a ministers' meeting is planned for this month, without confirming the dates. The last three-way summit was held in Beijing in May 2012. An "initial consensus" on the foreign ministers' meeting had not been reached easily, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said. "China pays great attention to this foreign ministers' meeting, and hopes it can be arranged in a spirit of proactively promoting cooperation, yet not avoiding problems," Hong told a daily news briefing in Beijing. Japan's ties with China remain frosty despite Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping for the first time last November on the sidelines of an Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. "If the trilateral foreign ministers' meeting is held soon, it will undoubtedly give us the opportunity to re-establish the groundwork for trust-building and common prosperity," South Korea's deputy foreign minister Lee Kyung-soo said. Lee hosted a meeting of his counterparts in Seoul on Wednesday, saying their goal was to make "preparations for a successful foreign ministers' meeting, upon which we may pave ways for the next step of trilateral cooperation". South Korea has accused Japan of trying to "undermine" an apology issued in 1993 to Asian women forced to work as wartime "comfort women" in Japanese brothels by conducting a review of it last year. Abe has yet to have a formal two-way summit with South Korean President Park Geun-hye, although they sat down with US President Barack Obama a year ago on the sidelines of a nuclear summit to discuss responses to DPRK's military threats. Both China and South Korea have been angered by visits by Japanese government ministers, including Abe, to the Yasukuni Shrine, which were seen as a symbol of Japan's past militarism. Ties have also been strained by territorial rows as China and Japan are disputed over uninhabited islets in the East China Sea, known as Diaoyu Islands; and South Korea and Japan both claim ownership over islands that lie between their mainlands, called Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japanese. ^ top ^


Domestic Policy

New environment chief vows tougher legal enforcement, innovation for smog-choked China (Global Times)
For China's academic-turned environment chief Chen Jining, the first thing to consider after waking up every morning is no longer his students, but the color of the sky. The new Chinese environmental protection minister, who was appointed last week, is tasked with spearheading his country's uphill drive to resolve a conflict between environmental protection and economic development that he has described as "unprecedented in human history." One year after the world's second-largest economy "declared war" on the pollution that has taken a heavy toll on its air, water and soil during its three-decade dash for growth, Chinese leaders are resolved to alleviate the environmental woes. On Friday, President Xi Jinping asked Chinese people to protect the environment like "caring for one's own eyes and life." "We are going to punish, with an iron hand, any violators who destroy ecology or environment, with no exceptions," said Xi while reviewing the work report of the State Council together with National People's Congress (NPC) deputies from Jiangxi Province. In his annual report at the National People's Congress (NPC), Premier Li Keqiang compared pollution to "a blight on people's quality of life" and promised that the world's biggest emitter of carbon dioxide will cut such emissions by at least 3.1 percent this year. On Saturday, Chen, a 51-year-old environmental scientist and former president of the prestigious Tsinghua University, echoed the leaders' rhetoric and gave his suggestions for easing the development-environment conflict that he believes is more severe than that Germany and Japan faced in their early industrialization. He pledged tougher environmental law enforcement, innovation and market leverage to help the world's most populous country cut pollution. The environmental issues "cannot be addressed with undue haste, but neither should they be allowed to go unchecked," he told a press conference on the sidelines of the country's ongoing NPC session. A new law also went into effect on Jan. 1, giving the country more powers to punish officials breaking environmental regulations. It follows allegations of corruption in the watchdogs that are supposed to enforce rules on environmental standards. In response, the novice minister warned that graft in environmental impact assessments should never be tolerated, vowing to crack down on illegal mediation between polluting enterprises and the watchdogs. Chen promised to speed up China's pollution control with economic leverage including legislation on environmental protection tax. Environmental protection is an important growth driver for China, he said, stressing that the demand for investment will be huge in years to come. According to the minister, the market for environmental protection in China will be worth around 8 trillion yuan (1.3 trillion US dollars) to 10 trillion yuan in the next few years. Such investment provides "good momentum" for economic growth, he added. Currently, the government provides about 30 to 40 percent of the funding for environmental protection. Experts believe the private capital needs to be given fuller access to this market. Chen said that his ministry will advance price reform to build a mechanism for measuring project returns and ease market access by means such as public-private partnerships. He also said that China will cooperate with other nations and international organizations in the battle against pollution. His remarks came months after Beijing and Washington, the world's two leading emitters, reached a historic climate deal, in which China is committed to increasing the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 20 percent by 2030. Chen's promise also came in advance of a new universal climate agreement expected to be inked in Paris in December. The minister urged developed countries to take the lead and offer more capital and technological assistance to developing countries to tackle climate change. He voiced hope that parties attending the Paris climate conference will respect the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and follow the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities to reach an agreement as soon as possible. Pollution has remained a hot topic at China's annual sessions of the top legislature and political advisory body. Talking about the smog that has been blanketing most of China, Chen said "extra efforts" should be made. More than 80 percent of about 300 monitored cities failed to meet the official standard of air quality last year, with smog most frequently hitting the Yangtze River and Pearl River deltas as well as the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region. "No country in the world is making such great efforts as China to combat air pollution," Chen said. The government will strengthen implementation of the revised environmental protection law and improve pollution controls, he vowed. As China is gearing up for a slower but more self-sustaining growth, observers have warned that as the country's coastal regions turn against pollution, low-end manufacturers and factories may be relocated to the poorer central and western regions that are desperate for investment. Chen pledged not to let this happen: "We will not allow the central and western regions to become a harbor for polluting enterprises." He also vowed to pay more attention to pollution in China's countryside, where the the amount of pollutants is also on the rise. The central government allocated 25 billion yuan to deal with rural pollution at the end of 2014. While the fund is expected to cover 59,000 villages and benefit 110 million people, it still looks inadequate compared with spending on urban pollution. "Problems such as administration loopholes, weak public awareness and lack of supervision still exist," said Qin Dahe, an academic with the Chinese Academy of Sciences. He suggested long-term planning with a focus on promoting green techniques. ^ top ^

China seeks bigger role as a peace broker (SCMP)
China aims to expand its influence abroad by mediating in international conflicts and having a more active role in the United Nations, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said yesterday as he outlined the nation's diplomatic agenda. Observers said the remarks reflected Beijing's growing ambition to set the rules in global diplomacy, even though Wang stressed that China was not seeking to create a new world order. On the sidelines of the National People's Congress meeting in Beijing, Wang said China would defend its national interests and play a bigger role in issues ranging from conflict in Afghanistan to climate change. "We are seeking a unique Chinese approach to settling hot-spot issues," Wang said. "We will continue to put forward Chinese solutions." China's top diplomatic priority was to push forward its "One Belt, One Road" initiative - a plan to boost infrastructure and trade links with countries from Asia to Europe - and marking the 70th anniversary of the end of the second world war, Wang said. It would also actively take part in UN environment and development conferences. "China supports reforming the international order, but such reform is not about overturning the current system," he said. He also said that unlike the Marshall Plan - the flood of US economic support to rebuild Europe after the second world war - the "One Belt, One Road" scheme was not based on geopolitics. "The 'One Belt, One Road' plan is a product of inclusive cooperation … and must not be viewed with an outdated cold war mentality," Wang said. His remarks come as China pursues a more proactive diplomatic approach not just within the region but on the mediation front in places like South Sudan and with lucrative economic deals in Latin America. On Sino-US ties, Wang said there were still tensions despite agreement to build a new type of major power relations. Closer to home, Wang insisted that China would continue reclamation work around disputed waters in the South China Sea. "We are not like some countries, that engage in illegal construction in another person's house," Wang said, without referring to a specific country. "We are building facilities in our own yard. We have every right to do things that are legal and justified." Zhang Baohui, a security analyst at Lingnan University, said China wanted its agenda - including its opposition to alliances and conflict resolution through regime change - to have more international weight. "China has a different approach to the Western world, and Beijing believes it has the strength now to counterbalance the West and set its own rules," Zhang said. On North Korea, Wang said the leaders of China and North Korea would meet at a suitable time. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has not visited China since assuming office in 2011, but he is going to Russia in May, triggering concerns that Beijing and Pyongyang are not on good terms. ^ top ^

Chinese leaders urge efforts on poverty eradication, economic restructuring (Xinhua)
Chinese President Xi Jinping and other leaders Sunday urged more efforts to be made on poverty eradication, faster development in areas with concentrations of ethnic minorities, implementing the "Four Comprehensives" and economic restructuring. While speaking with lawmakers from south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in a panel discussion during the annual session of the National People's Congress (NPC), Xi said targeted measures should be taken to help people lift themselves out of poverty and poverty alleviation work should be done in a timely and down-to-earth manner. Stress should be laid on economic restructuring, building an open economy full of vitality, as well as expanding and deepening cooperation with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Guangxi, Xi said. Efforts should be made on advancing the rule of law to create a fair and orderly legal environment for the economy and development, and the legitimate rights of people in the areas with concentrations of ethnic minorities should be protected in the framework of the rule of law, he added. The Chinese government aims for reducing the poor population by more than 10 million this year, according to the government work report delivered Thursday by Premier Li Keqiang to the NPC annual session. About 52 million Chinese poor, who are struggling below the poverty line of 2,300 yuan (370 U.S. dollars) per year, were lifted out of poverty in the past four years, official figures showed. While speaking with lawmakers from southwest China's Sichuan Province during a panel discussion, Li also called for bigger efforts on the battle against poverty and improving people's living standards. Sichuan should play a leading role in increasing effective market demand, growing the economy, improving the economic growth quality and profitability, and promoting industrial upgrading in global competition, Li said. When speaking with lawmakers from northeast China's Liaoning Province, China's top legislator Zhang Dejiang said that the Chinese economy is confronted with both opportunities and challenges after the economy entered the "new normal." Opportunities are bigger than challenges, and great efforts should be made on economic restructuring with the focus on improving economic growth quality and profitability, said Zhang, chairman of the Standing Committee of the NPC. Meanwhile, other Chinese leaders highlighted the implementation of the "Four Comprehensives" strategic layout in order to realize economic and social development targets. The "Four Comprehensives" refers to a political concept which comprises comprehensively building a moderately prosperous society, deepening reform, advancing the rule of law, and strictly governing the Communist Party of China (CPC). During a panel discussion with lawmakers from northwestern China's Qinghai Province, top political advisor Yu Zhengsheng called on authorities to uphold the rule of law during their work, including resource development, environmental protection and social governance. Authorities must also turn to the CPC for leadership "throughout every process and aspect of their work", Yu stressed. Liu Yunshan, a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee, joined discussion with deputies from the southwestern Guizhou Province as he called for governing the Party strictly. The key to governing the Party strictly is to govern the Party officials strictly. Efforts must be made to curb misconduct in personnel selection and promotion and to implement the Party rules strictly, said Liu. While speaking with lawmakers from south China's Hainan Province in a panel discussion, Wang Qishan, head of the CPC Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, said disciplinary inspections are an important means of intra-Party supervision, calling on local authorities to make greater efforts to find loopholes and address them in a timely and serious manner. Joining a panel discussion of the delegation from northwestern China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli urged authorities to focus on social stability and lasting peace in the region to build a stable and prosperous Xinjiang. Authorities should uphold the "Four Comprehensives" strategic layout initiated by President Xi Jinping, and priority should be given to lasting stability in the region and the building of a core area in the Silk Road Economic Belt in Xinjiang, said Zhang. Development should be sought after on the basis of stability, and stability should serve to contribute to development, Zhang added. ^ top ^

Foreign extremists seek inroads in northwest (China Daily)
Local officials are concerned about increasing attempts by extremist forces with global ambitions to penetrate China's northwestern frontier region, but they say they are equipped to deal with them. Some of the officials are attending the annual National People's Congress session in Beijing, representing the Muslim communities in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region. Zhang Chunxian, the autonomous region's top official, said the most effective weapons against extremism are a good culture, strict laws and law enforcement. In Hotan prefecture, in southern Xinjiang, some people have been influenced by newly emerged foreign religious extremists, said Eziz Musar, the prefecture's commissioner. That influence is also felt in some other parts of the autonomous region, he said. External extremist forces use the Internet to spread their ideas, fan hatred and propagate terror, he said. Their messages are downloaded by a very small group of local people who use different communication tools to pass them on to others. "Authorities have to put this extremist content on their watch list without delay and enforce the law by accelerating the crackdown on people who spread such illegal information," Eziz said. Hotan is on Xinjiang's front line in the fight against religious extremism, which has spawned an increasing number of terrorist attacks in the region and other parts of China in recent years. Eziz said he will propose in this year's NPC that China enact legislation against extremism. Xinjiang has made notable progress in eliminating religious extremism since it revised a regional regulation on religious affairs in January. "People can now draw a clear line between legal and illegal religious activities," he said. Merdan Muget, commissioner of southern Xinjiang's Aksu prefecture, said the region must face the stern reality of the newly religious extremist forces from the Middle East trying to reach out to the region, because it has a large Muslim population and some who have not seen major improvements in their daily lives may be vulnerable to their message. "There will always be new seeds of extremism spreading to Xinjiang one way or another. The key is to make sure the region doesn't have the soil to support their growth," he said. According to a recent Xinjiang Academy of Social Sciences report, villages in underdeveloped corners, where people lack a good basic and religious education, are the most likely targets for extremist penetration. "We must do our best to provide for the villagers' needs and answer their demands. People are more easily manipulated by the extremists when they are unhappy," said Ismayil Metiniaz, Party chief of Amanxia, a village in east Xinjiang's Shanshan county. Most of the video and audio propaganda promoting terrorism is brought to his village by outsiders who don't stay long, Ismayil said. "So we provide villagers with lessons about the original spirit of the religion and law." ^ top ^

Good law indispensable to "Four Comprehensives" (Xinhua)
The Legislation Law, as about 3,000 national legislators are mulling its revision, is not only for the legislature's concern. Good legislation is a pillar for good governance in any country. For today's China, it is particularly pivotal. Whether the country is able to make good laws and make sure their implementation will greatly affect the drive to realize the strategic layout of "Four Comprehensives" put forward by the country's central leadership. Listed as one of the four priorities, the drive to advance the rule of law has accelerated since the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee adopted a comprehensive legal reform plan in last October. Only if the country has a properly designed legislative process that incorporate interests of all citizens and minimize influence from vested interest, can it make a solid step towards the rule of law. Also, without the legislature effectively checking on legitimacy of government regulations and policies, which is a key content in the Legislation Law, the country will miss an effective tool to keep the administrative power in line with the law. But the significance of the bill goes beyond the legal system. The role that legislation plays in the country's political life has notably changed. Decades ago, a reform would start without the law's endorsement since the country's legal system was hardly in place. A new law would be drafted or an existing one be revised based on successful results of government policies. Now, as the country has more than 240 laws, about 700 government regulations and around 8,600 local laws, any administrative action needs to be endorsed by the law, even the latest and most urgent reform policies, as the overall reform blueprint adopted in November 2013 stressed. Legislators are under a new pressure that their work should be a step ahead, showing the direction and guiding the practice. Such a change requires them to streamline the legislative process and the bill fully embodied the intent. Most of reform areas now are about taking down old barriers, breaking up vested interests and rearranging stakes. Sometimes, a policy is not powerful enough and legislation is needed. In fact the lawmaking process is a natural and more efficient platform for different interest groups to be negotiated and consensus to be built. Many believe this round of reform will not achieve essential progress if it steers clear of legislation. Good legislation is also a strong support to the strict discipline of the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC), another priority in the "Four Comprehensives" strategy. The CPC is seeking to "lock up the power in the cage of system", which includes the legal system. Systematic political design to deter corruption will be incomplete and weak without legislation. The attention the bill drew from the top leadership is a clear indication. In February, before it was tabled for the national legislative session, the seven-member Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of CPC Central Committee heard a brief about it and gave instructions. As the CPC decided in its legal reform plan that it should govern the country in line with the law, naturally its key strategy will need the endorse and support of the law to be fully and effectively implemented. The revision to the Legislation Law is an important piece of the grand plan. ^ top ^

China fights corruption with no pause (Xinhua)
China's commitment to purging corruption did not cease when the country's political high season began this month. The annual sessions of the National People's Congress (NPC), the top legislature, and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), the top advisory body, kicked off last week to discuss ambitious plans for the new year. However, it was widely believed by political observers in China that news about corrupt officials was unlikely to be published during such major meetings as the "two sessions" or the Communist Party of China (CPC)'s national congress. Evidence of such occurrences may be found in the past, but is no longer the case since the current leadership took office in 2012 and declared a high-profile anti-graft crackdown that has ensnared top generals and party officials. Much to the public's surprise, military authorities released a list of 14 generals convicted of graft or placed under investigation on March 2, one day before the opening of the CPPCC session. Those under investigation include Guo Zhenggang, deputy political commissar of the Zhejiang provincial military area command, the son of Guo Boxiong, the retired former vice chairman of the Central Military Commission. The exposure of military corruption did not come alone. China's top anti-graft body announced that Jing Chunhua, a senior official in Hebei Province, has been put under investigation for "suspected serious discipline and law violations" on March 3, the first day of the CPPCC annual session. Meanwhile, local anti-graft bodies continue to name corrupt officials as the political sessions continues. Whether it is during the major fourth plenary session of the 18th CPC Central Committee held last October or the ongoing "two sessions," China's anti-graft drive has maintained momentum, investigating and punishing corrupt officials as usual. The authority's fight against high-ranking "tigers" as well as lowly "flies" has showed the drive is not merely a sweeping campaign. Instead, the leadership is pushing a permanent mechanism to limit power and curb corruption. China plans to develop national legislation to fight corruption, according to a report delivered by top legislator Zhang Dejiang on Sunday. The country will work out revisions to the Law on Administrative Supervision, said Zhang, chairman of the NPC Standing Committee, while delivering a work report at the annual session of the top legislature. The anti-graft legislation should be introduced as quickly as possible and the system of sanctions and prevention improved with a goal of being a mechanism that means "officials dare not, cannot and do not want to be corrupt," according to the decision. Furthermore, the top legislature is mulling harsher punishments for those committing crimes of embezzlement and bribery. Heavier penalties will be imposed on those offering bribes, according to a draft amendment to the Criminal Law submitted to the NPC Standing Committee for a first reading in October last year. ^ top ^

Censorship clouds signals of resolve to tackle China's air pollution (SCMP)
Just a week after its release, former television host Chai Jing's viral film on air pollution, Under The Dome, was the elephant in the room at the new environment minister's press conference. None of the 12 reporters - all from local media - who were picked to ask questions at Saturday's conference made mention of the documentary and the way it was censored online on the mainland. "I'm sure the documentary is on everyone's mind. How weird that no one raised a single question about it," a Japanese reporter told me. Another reporter for a Beijing-based newspaper said the questions had been "coordinated" beforehand to avoid any embarrassment. Also missing at this year's meetings is the sense of urgency to tackle China's air pollution problem that was present at previous annual national parliamentary sessions. Top officials, lawmakers and political advisers alike seem to have toned down their comments on the now-sensitive issue. For instance, when Premier Li Keqiang delivered his report to the National People's Congress on Thursday, he made no mention of the word "smog" in explaining the government's plans to improve China's environmental quality. He appeared far more comfortable with the word just a year ago. "The scope of the smog problem is expanding," Li said in his report last year, pledging that the government would take action and focus efforts on cities "frequented by smog". Then, he even referred to PM2.5 - the tiny particulate matter in polluted air that is most harmful to health - a major cause of China's smog. At this year's parliamentary sessions, the most open and direct reference to the nation's choking air pollution problem may have come from the newly appointed environment chief Chen Jining. Chen told reporters he often felt "ill at ease" on days of poor air quality. But he added that every ordinary Chinese person was both a victim and perpetuator of the smog crisis. His comment appeared to be an attempt to justify the government's pollution control measures imposed on the public, such as bans on vehicle use and some odd proposals to cook less often. Even some typically outspoken experts seem to be refraining from further playing up the hype over the smog. Zhong Nanshan, a respiratory expert known for exposing the government cover-up of the outbreak of the severe acute respiratory syndrome in 2003, told reporters on the sidelines of the meetings that there was not yet any proven link between smog and the rocketing lung cancer rates in Beijing and other cities, the Southern Metropolis News reported. Just two years ago, Zhong, who is also a political adviser, said "the smog is even scarier than Sars". China's opaque censorship practices make it hard to gauge just how serious the government is about tackling the smog crisis. Environmentalists had hoped that rising public appeals for the government to tackle the issue - this time driven by Chai's film - would give Chen more leverage to take on the state's biggest polluters, its powerful energy companies. But it turns out that even Chen's personal support for Chai - he had earlier texted her his thanks over the film - has been censored. ^ top ^

Criticism of Beijing electoral ruling 'missing' from Law Society's report (SCMP)
The professional body of solicitors is suspected of omitting members' criticisms against Beijing's electoral reform criteria from a report submitted to the Hong Kong government last week. Members of the Law Society had criticised Beijing's framework on the city's 2017 chief executive election as "regressive" and said the society was "disappointed" with it. Those comments were contained in an internal report that the society's constitutional affairs and human rights committee prepared last year, according to two sources. But they were nowhere to be found in the society council's submission on Friday, which instead recognised Beijing's authority to lay down restrictions on the 2017 ballot. "None of those comments from the earlier unanimous draft had made it into the submission," committee member Mark Daly, a human rights lawyer, said. "[The submission] is misleading to the public. It does not reflect my views." Society vice-president Thomas So Shiu-tsung, who also heads the committee, denied there was any political consideration behind what was - or was not - stated in the submission. He declined to acknowledge the draft, citing confidentiality, but stressed that no committee papers would represent the society's views unless endorsed by the council. "The council considers the recommendations from the respective professional committees and publishes submissions from the perspective of general policies," So said. The allegation is the latest confronting the society, which in recent years has been accused of shying away from upholding principles such as the rule of law. The sources said the original draft had been made in response to the National People's Congress Standing Committee's decision, announced in August. The society's committee had criticised the decision as being "contrary to the Law Society's prior proposal" in 2007 and being "inconsistent with the 'broadly-representative' principle enshrined in Article 45" of the Basic Law. The society was, according to the draft, "disappointed by the decision as it is regressive". But the council left out the criticism in its final paper and cited no authority from international law, Daly noted. "There are systematic problems with the way the council operates," he said. "The rule of law and human rights are becoming topics that are too sensitive. It's unfortunate for the Law Society to be a party to it." Daly said he got only a weekend's notice of the final paper recently, when two other members sought to gauge views for it. In that paper, the society suggested a lower nomination threshold and called for voters to be given a genuine choice. It defended the Standing Committee as the supreme body in the mainland's legislative hierarchy while expressing disapproval of some of its decisions. Society president Stephen Hung Wan-shun said its submission did not deviate from its previous stance. ^ top ^

China faces arduous task of ensuring employment: minister (China Daily)
China is faced with a more complex and arduous task of ensuring employment in 2015 against the backdrop of an economic slowdown, China's human resources minister said on Tuesday. About 15 million young students need to find jobs in 2015, consisting of 7.49 million college graduates and a similar number of those graduating from technical schools or middle schools, said Yin Weimin, the minister of human resources and social security. Another 3 million surplus labor force in the rural areas will be seeking employment elsewhere, according to the minister. Yin made the remarks at a press conference on the sidelines of the National People's Congress annual session. China aims to create more than 10 million urban jobs and ensure that the registered urban unemployment rate does not rise above 4.5 percent in 2015, according to a government work report last week. ^ top ^

Chinese government pledges to step up crackdown on selling fake goods online (SCMP)
The State Administration for Industry and Commerce has pledged to intensify the crackdown on the sales of fake products online in China. The remarks by the regulator's head, Zhang Mao, came after a high-profile spat between the government body and the e-commerce giant Alibaba earlier this year. “Market order can only be regulated if we increase the penalties for selling fake goods, making traders who sell such goods unable to continue operations, or go bankrupt,” Zhang said during a press briefing at the National People's Congress in Beijing today. The cost of breaking exiting rules was too low, which resulted in many illegal practices in selling counterfeit goods online, he said, in response to a question on the sale of fake goods on Alibaba's online shopping platform, Taobao. A credit record system for traders would be established, he said, with shops selling fake or poor quality products subject to restrictions in their business operations. “[The credit record system] will force firms to be more disciplined, addressing the root of the problem,” Zhang said. He said many online stores made exaggerated claims about their goods and the authorities needed to put more regulations in place to ensure a healthy online shopping market. E-commerce platforms should also take the responsibility to ensure credibility of online shops, Zhang said, urging them to strengthen internal controls. Regulating an online shopping market was difficult as it “breaks time and space”, and more communication between the government and firms was necessary, he added. Online shopping transactions in mainland China reached 2.78 trillion yuan (HK$3.5 trillion) last year, representing 10 per cent of consumer product retail sales. The administration in January accused Alibaba's Taobao of selling counterfeit goods, but the company said the government body's sampling methods were unfair and misleading. Zhang also commented on the disputes over “parallel trading” in Hong Kong, where mainland vendors buy goods cheaper in the territory and then sell them over the border. Critics say it creates shortages of goods in Hong Kong. Parallel traders' consumption patterns have been a thorn in the side of Hongkongers recently, with many people protesting against mainland shoppers in the territory. The dispute has given rise to calls for Hong Kong to restrict the multi-entry travel scheme for mainlanders. “The bulk purchase by those parallel traders has created inconvenience to people in China,” Zhang said. “This also disrupted market order, and the operating space for other firms is also being squeezed.” The country's anti-smuggling department had joined hands with relevant authorities, including the commercial regulator, to seriously crack down on such trading, he added. ^ top ^

Chinese leaders urge battle against poverty, corruption (Xinhua)
Senior Chinese leaders called for greater efforts to be made to fight poverty and corruption Tuesday as they joined the country's lawmakers in discussion during the ongoing annual legislative session. Top legislator Zhang Dejiang urged local authorities to bring more benefits to the people and lift more out of poverty. He made the remarks while joining lawmakers from northwest China's Gansu Province in a panel discussion during the annual session of the National People's Congress (NPC), China's top legislature. Zhang called on local authorities to ensure the basic life requirements of the needy so that they can simultaneously usher in the moderately prosperous society along with others in the nation by 2020. "We should provide more timely help to the people," he said. Top political advisor Yu Zhengsheng participated in a panel discussion with deputies from northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. Yu urged local authorities to speed up industrial restructuring and upgrading amid a "new normal" of the world's second largest economy, with greater attention given to education, employment and poverty reduction. Efforts should be made to safeguard ethnic unity, social stability and national integrity, Yu said. Religious affairs should be handled in line with the law and religious extremism should be firmly rejected, he added. Wang Qishan, head of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, told deputies from the corruption-plagued Shanxi Province that graft should be contained with resolute measures. A string of corruption cases have been reported in Shanxi amid China's ongoing anti-corruption campaign. Wang called on local authorities to implement the goal of comprehensively strictly governing the CPC. The senior official also urged the authorities to rebuild a desirable political ecology in the province. Joining a panel discussion with deputies from south China's Guangdong Province, Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli called on local authorities to spearhead the innovation-driven economic development and lead their way in the strategic economic restructuring.  ^ top ^

China to roll out plans to raise retirement age within two years to cope with ageing population (SCMP)
China will roll out a detailed plan by 2017 to raise the retirement age as it copes with the costs of its rapidly greying population. There will be an average of 1.3 people of working age for every retired person in China by 2050, human resources and social security minister Yin Weimin told a press conference at the National People's Congress yesterday. There are currently just over three working-age people for each retired person. And by 2050, people aged over 60 will make up 39 per cent of the population compared with the current 15 per cent, Yin said. The ratio by 2050 would put huge pressure on the country's pension system, he said, and it was inevitable that the retirement age would be raised. The current system, which was formulated in 1953, allows men to retire as early as 60 and women at 55. Yin said any adjustment would be "gradual", the retirement age raised by only a few months each year. But he did not say when the plan was likely to take effect. "The public has yet to reach a consensus on raising the retirement age... The plan will be released to the public well in advance," he said. National pension funds still had an accumulated surplus of more than 3 trillion yuan (HK$3.8 trillion) by the end of last year, but regional imbalances were significant, the minister said. A Chinese Academy of Social Sciences report showed that in 2012, two-thirds of provincial government pension funds failed to balance the books, with Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces the worst off, each chalking up more than 20 billion yuan of debt. Heilongjiang governor Lu Hao said during a group discussion at the national parliamentary meetings in Beijing yesterday that the province had an average of only 1.42 workers to support each pensioner. NPC Standing Committee member Liu Binjie said at another press conference yesterday that China still had to further assess its population structure before deciding when it would allow all couples to have a second child. The nation partially eased its stringent one-child policy in late 2013, but the relaxed rules have yet to result in a baby boom. ^ top ^

China's law reform: delegating central power in exchange of local wisdom (Global Times)
The city of Wenzhou is at the last step of a two-decade persistent pursuit as a draft revision to the Legislation Law expands legislative power from 49 Chinese cities to at least 284 nationwide. Zheng Xuejun, a deputy to the National People's Congress (NPC) from east China's Zhejiang Province and newspaper editor based in Wenzhou city, has taken it a personal mission to lobby for the city's legislative power. "I feel a responsibility to carry on what previous lawmakers from Wenzhou worked hard for," Zheng said. She raised the issue three times in person to top legislator Zhang Dejiang. Known for its vigorous private business and strong entrepreneurship tradition, Wenzhou is often at the frontline of trying bold economic reform policies. A pilot project of legalized private lending, in operation in Wenzhou, had not been endorsed by the State Council until a local credit crisis caused by underground lending in 2011 and a provincial regulation only came out after two years of the trial. "New businesses come up and so do new problems. National and provincial laws are a bit late to respond to our city's situation," she said. The bill, tabled for the third reading at this NPC annual session, is likely to be put for a vote this weekend. Liang Ying, a member of staff with the Legislative Affairs Commission of the NPC Standing Committee, told Xinhua that the provision indicates a changing perspective towards the national and local governance. "It is not a simple change of a statute but shows that the central authority is delegating its power in exchange of local wisdom and dynamics, in face of serious economic restructuring and social reform," he said. For a country ruled for more than 2,000 years by a powerful central authority, where even a county chief was directly appointed by the emperor at the faraway capital, the change is significant. It accompanies the government easing control over the market. In this year's government work report, Premier Li Keqiang promised to exchange less government power with more market vitality. However, the bill stirred a mixed feeling of excitement and worry among other lawmakers. South China's Guangdong Province, also a test ground for reform attempts, is likely to see 17 more city legislatures empowered to make local laws. "It can be a very good thing. It can be messy," said Wu Qing, an NPC deputy and veteran lawyer, at a panel discussion about the bill at the ongoing national legislative session. Citing Dongguan City in the province known for its booming export industry, Wu said local legislative power might help the city to take a full advantage of a ministry-supervised pilot project on soil pollution treatment. "If the city legislature can turn successful policies in the pilot project to a local law, the policies will become more permanent arrangements and benefit the city that has suffered serious soil pollution. Otherwise, it might take a very long time for a local pilot project to be incorporated into a national law," she said. However, she also worried that not all cities are prepared for the new power. "If, as the bill regulates, the provincial legislature is to review city laws, provincial lawmakers would be pretty busy and should start preparing themselves," she said. Zhang Guifang, a deputy and senior lawmaker from Guangzhou city legislature, also noted that city laws may cover a wide range of topics and it is hard to draw a line between what is within their power and what is not. Responding to the concerns, Zheng Shuna, deputy director of the Commission for Legislative Affairs of the NPC Standing Committee, told a press conference Monday that the bill set up "five lines of defense" against possible abuse. The bill only allows the cities to issue local laws about "rural and urban development and management, environmental protection, and preservation of historical heritage and cultural values." It also regulates that the power should be granted step by step and the provincial legislature will decide which city is suitable. City laws, which should not contradict with national, provincial laws and central government regulations, must be approved by the provincial legislature. As the last resort, the NPC Standing Committee will examine their legitimacy and correct improper ones. Besides the delegation of legislative power, the bill also underlines statutory taxation, tightens check on administrative power and improves participatory legislative process. Considered a foundation of China's legal system, the Legislation Law regulates how national laws, government regulations and local laws come into shape and which organizations hold the legislative power in the country. The bill indicated a changing role of legislation since the law was adopted in 2000, Liang Ying said. A decade ago a law was often an abstraction out of what have been done but now it is expected to be a step ahead the practice, accumulate consensus and help remove barriers for upcoming reform measures, he said. Being reviewed by all NPC deputies indicated the significance of this bill, said Prof. Ying Songnian with China University of Political Science and Law. "Without a properly-written Legislation Law, there is thin chance to make good laws. Without good laws, where should we start to realize the rule of law?" he said. ^ top ^

NPC session sees more motions, higher quality (China Daily)
The number of motions introduced by deputies to China's top legislature has risen this year, and they've focused heavily on economics and the environment, the secretarial department of the National People's Congress said. By noon on Tuesday, the deadline for motions, the department had received 522 motions, 54 more than last year, said Guo Zhenhua, deputy head of the department's proposal group. Of those, more than 90 percent had to do with the country's major legislative initiatives, including economic and judicial reform, Guo said. Moreover, the secretarial department said, the quality of motions this year is higher than in the past. It found that 391 motions were raised after deputies conducted research or made visits to problematic regions. "We're glad to see law drafts attached to 210 motions. This is part of a deputy's duty and right," he said. Since Tuesday, the 522 motions have been collected and will be sent to special committees of the NPC's Standing Committee for review. "We'll give feedback about the motions to deputies in a timely manner, and invite some of them to Beijing to take part in discussions when the Standing Committee reviews their motions," Guo said. The increase in the number of motions is attributable to an increase in the public's legal awareness after the Fourth Plenum of the 18th CPC Central Committee in October, at which the top leadership made the rule of law a priority, he said. For example, deputies have paid close attention to the government's role in the market, proposing revisions to the law governing companies and suggesting the creation of an e-commerce law, Guo said. Meanwhile, judicial reforms have also been a hot topic among the deputies, and they proposed amending the law governing judges and prosecutors this year, he said. As the country has highlighted the environmental and ecological protection over the past few years, revisions in areas related to air and water pollution have been mentioned frequently in deputies' motions this year, he said. "After all, these industries are closely related to the public's life and interests," Guo said. ^ top ^

Legal experts fear national security law will stifle freedoms and tighten ideological control (SCMP)
The new national security law in the making has stoked fears it will bolster state power to further restrict ordinary citizens' freedoms and tighten ideological control. The legislation on state security was tabled in December at the National People's Congress Standing Committee and will remain high on its agenda this year. This is taking place against the backdrop of President Xi Jinping's repeated warnings of “unprecedented security risks” faced by the country and the creation of the national security commission more than a year ago, that is headed by Xi. In January, a Politburo meeting chaired by Xi endorsed a national security strategy blueprint and emphasised national security must be under “the absolute leadership of the Communist Party's efficient and unified command”. Xi told officials to take pre-emptive steps to prevent “all kinds of risks” to national security. According to Xinhua, the draft law states that “national security” means that the regime, sovereignty, national unification, territorial integrity, people's welfare and the “sustainable and healthy development” of its economy and society as well as other unspecified “major interests” should be "relatively free from danger and not under internal and external threats”. It will replace the old national security law that has been renamed the counter-espionage law. Critics say the scope of the draft is too broad and vaguely defined and not consistent with international standards. William Nee, China researcher at Amnesty International, said the Johannesburg Principles on National Security, Freedom of Expression and Access to Information state that restrictions on expression or information in national security laws should be drawn “narrowly” and “with precision”. But a range of conduct protected in these principles – such as criticism of the government – could be criminalised under this new law in China. “We often speak of 'pocket crimes', such as “picking quarrels and provoking troubles”, in which almost any behaviour the government does not like can be arbitrarily be suppressed by 'throwing it into a pocket [out of view]',” he said. “If this draft maintains this excessively wide scope, they could potentially have a 'pocket law'.” Legal experts also say the proposed law would consolidate the leadership's existing goal to bolster state power, leading to fears that ordinary citizens' basic rights will be further eroded. Dr Eva Pils, China law expert at King's College, University of London, said the existing criminal law already contained catch-all charges such as subversion to punish people whom the authorities saw as a threat to their power. She feared the new law would “perfect the system of control in the name of state security”. She said the new law could criminalise the challenge of the ruling party and people's right to peacefully change the government – a right that is enshrined in the Johannesburg Principles. “The worry is that this could give more coercive power to the state, which already has so much power concentration." And although the draft law claims its aim is to “protect people's fundamental interests”, legal experts are still concerned about the law's overriding emphasis on the protection of the political regime and that it is equating the stability of communist rule with the security of the state. “The reason why that's become so problematic in China is because it's a one-party system, where that equation between party, the government and the state is so tight,” said Joshua Rosenzweig, a human-rights researcher at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “When you criticise the one-party system, you criticise the Communist Party and its policy, you run the risk of participating in endangering state security because there is no separation between these ideas.” Teng Biao, a prominent rights lawyer and a fellow at Harvard Law School, believed the new law will give more legal basis to boost the power of the authorities in the current wave of crackdowns on civil society and government critics. Xinhua says the draft “grants citizens and organisations the right to be protected by law when supporting national security work”. During the past year, there had already been an intensified crackdown on lawyers, journalists, liberal scholars, churches and religious cults as part of the central government's 'ideological purification campaign', Teng said. “In the name of state security, its control of the ideological sphere will step up markedly.” he said. ^ top ^

Chinese national elected head of U.N.'s aviation arm (Xinhua)
A Chinese air-safety expert and former official was elected the first Chinese head for the aviation arm of the United Nations (U.N.) on Wednesday. Liu Fang will succeed Frenchman Raymond Benjamin to take the place of secretary-general the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), to become the ICAO's first female chief and head from China, the Civil Aviation Administration of China said. Liu was elected through competition with three other candidates from the United Arab Emirates, India and Australia. The current director of the organization's Bureau of Administration and Services, Liu previously served in the Civil Aviation Administration of China before she joined the ICAO in 2007. She will become the fourth Chinese national at a top position of international agencies. The other three are Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun who is the Director-General of the World Health Organization, Zhao Houlin, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Secretary-General, and Li Yong, current Director General of the U.N.'s Industrial Development Organization. ^ top ^

China considers law on people's judicial supervisors (Xinhua)
China is promoting a people's supervisors system that would involve members of the public independently overseeing court cases, a statement by the Supreme People's Procuratorate (SPP) said Wednesday. The legislation will be an important move to strengthen restriction of procurators' power in the prosecution process and will help improve the protection of the suspects' rights, the statement said. The judicial authorities released a reform plan on Tuesday to better the role of people's supervisors, stripping the procuratorates of their right to appoint and manage the supervisors and giving them more power. The plan also stipulates that the people's supervisors will be selected and assessed by justice authorities rather than the SPP. The reform has resolved the previous contradiction of "procurators themselves select supervisors" and will increase the system's credibility, the SPP elaborated in the statement. The plan would limit the members selected from government organizations to less than 50 percent of all appointed supervisors. Supervisors can appeal for a review if their suggestions were rejected by procuratorates, according to the SPP. The prosecuting authorities should document their confiscation, keeping, transferring and return of properties for the supervisors' inspection, it said. The SPP launched a pilot program to establish the system of people's supervisors in 2003. It was comprehensively implemented in procuratorial organs throughout the country in 2010. ^ top ^

State Council calls for angel investors to help grow start-ups and jobs in China (SCMP)
The State Council, China's cabinet, issued a call yesterday for ministries and local governments at "all levels" to support innovation and start-ups, with fast-growing companies like e-commerce giant Alibaba leading a tech industry charge as the nation's new economic and job creation drivers. China should catch up with other countries and "encourage the general public to start their own businesses", the State Council said in a statement published online. "Hundreds of thousands of people's passion for innovation should be encouraged to build the new engine for economic development," the online statement said, adding that this trend also reflected the "key spirit" of high-level Communist Party meetings chaired by President Xi Jinping. The State Council said the central government would encourage technology experts and university students to start their own businesses. Students would be able to apply for space and funds from the government to help get their companies off the ground. In the meantime, the government would focus on ways to attract venture capital funds - one of the main funding sources for technology start-ups worldwide - and angel investors who often support young companies, betting on their big potential for future fast growth. The government must "promote financing for technology start-ups, improve the funding and investment exit system of venture capital funds and angel investors", the cabinet statement said, adding that Beijing would also make relevant approval processes more efficient and reduce red tape. This year, one of the government's key economic targets is employment, with the country aiming to create a minimum of 10 million new jobs. It comes as Beijing cuts its 2015 economic growth target to 7 per cent, the lowest rate in more than two decades. There will be 7.49 million university students graduating this year, a record high. Beijing's big push for technology innovation and start-ups comes as the US Nasdaq stock index, which is dominated by tech firms, returned to highs not seen in 15 years. The rise of e-commerce as a new industry in recent years has prompted many young Chinese to launch businesses in cyberspace, which can be cheaper than starting a brick-and-mortar operation that often comes with high operational costs such as rent. Alibaba, China's No1 e-commerce company, had helped to create several tens of millions of online sales jobs in recent years, state media reported. But, some traditional shop owners have also complained that the rise of online stores has also forced many offline shops to shut down. As a result, new jobs are created while traditional jobs are lost. ^ top ^

China's top judge says nation must learn from innocent man's execution (SCMP)
The mainland's chief justice and chief prosecutor have pledged to keep a closer watch on law enforcers to root out miscarriages of justice stemming from forced confessions and other prejudiced investigations. The Supreme People's Procuratorate was pushing for a mechanism that authorised it to give police directives and advise on major cases during their investigations, chief prosecutor Cao Jianming told the annual plenary session of the National People's Congress (NPC) in Beijing yesterday. "Any law enforcers who extract evidence through torture or neglect their duties will be given harsh penalties," he said. Cao promised to make it easier for suspects and prisoners to file complaints about the police to the prosecutor's office, which can investigate alleged misconduct. Such complaints may also be handled by a prosecutor in a separate province to ensure the investigation's independence. He also vowed to beef up efforts to avoid the exploitation of criminal detention and other investigation measures that could deprive a person of their liberty. The criminal litigation law requires that suspects be freed after 24 hours of questioning without an arrest warrant, but lawyers have long criticised the regulation for being an empty promise. In a separate report to the NPC, Zhou Qiang, president of the Supreme People's Court, said all courts must learn from past miscarriages of justice - notably the case of Huugjilt, a teenager who was exonerated nearly 20 years after being executed for a woman's rape and murder. "It has been a time for deep reflection," Zhou said. He said 1,317 verdicts had been amended after retrials last year. Reducing the number of wrongful convictions, and also preventing interference by officials, would be the top priorities for judges this year. Joshua Rosenzweig, a legal researcher at Chinese University of Hong Kong, said Zhou's mention of wrongful convictions was an attempt to address the court's loss of credibility among ordinary people, but the leadership's emphasis on social stability and national security in the absence of structural changes in the legal system meant they were likely to recur. "My concern is that this isn't going far enough to address the underlying problem," he said. "There needs to be more genuine, independent adjudication." ^ top ^

China's top court makes dealing with terror crimes its priority (SCMP)
The mainland convicted and sentenced 712 people for terrorism, separatism and related crimes last year, the top court said yesterday, adding that such offences were its top priority this year. Violent attacks and unrest have been on the rise in Xinjiang, home to the mostly Muslim Uygur minority, and Tibet, where reports of self-immolation in protest against Chinese rule often make global news. The mainland has vowed to step up punishment of what it calls "violent terrorists" and is drafting its first anti-terrorism law. But rights groups warn that it would grant the Communist Party even greater powers to "define terrorism and terrorist activities so broadly as to easily include peaceful dissent or criticism" of government policies. The number of people sentenced last year for crimes such as inciting secession and terrorist attacks was up 13.3 per cent from 2013, the Supreme People's Court said in its report to the National People's Congress. "[We will] … firmly punish violent terrorist crimes according to the law," it said in the report. Clashes and increasingly sophisticated strikes have spread, both in Xinjiang and outside it. Among the most shocking attacks was a deadly rampage by knife-wielding assailants at a train station in Kunming, Yunnan, last March, when 31 people were killed. Beijing has responded by launching a harsh crackdown in the region, with hundreds jailed or detained on terror-related offences after a deadly market attack in May that killed 39. "We are just very concerned about … how the anti-terrorism law will … be a tool for the strike-hard campaign," London-based Amnesty International's China researcher William Nee said. Meanwhile, a UN human-rights investigator criticised China's crackdown on Uygurs, citing "disturbing stories" of harassment and intimidation against the ethnic minority. Heiner Bielefeldt, special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, said China's actions against the Uygurs were "a major problem". "I heard [about] intimidation during Ramadan - children in schools were expected to break their fasting on Ramadan," Bielefeldt said, referring to the month-long religious holiday when observant Muslims do not eat during the day. Some Xinjiang cities have placed restrictions on Islamic dress, including the capital, Urumqi, which banned the wearing of veils in public late last year. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei, said the government paid great attention to freedom of religion and it was "baseless" to say there was any kind of repression on religious practices over important festivals. ^ top ^

Top refinery chief blames coal - not oil - for China's air pollution problems (SCMP)
The chief of China's top oil refining company says low-quality coal, rather than oil, is to blame for the country's air pollution woes, mainland media reported on Thursday. Sinopec Group chairman Fu Chengyu told Beijing Times on the sidelines of the annual parliamentary meetings in Beijing that coal accounted for about 66 per cent of the mainland's energy consumption. By contrast, oil was up to 18 per cent, he said. "Coal is not good, but can we live without [coal]?" the newspaper quoted Fu as saying. "I hope that one day everyone can use clean coal, but we can hardly do it now." Fu also blamed local governments for the pollution problem. They were the authorities that decided which kind of oil was used and sold in the region, he said. For all the latest news from China's parliamentary sessions click here Fu's comments came after former CCTV presenter Chai Jing released an online documentary, Under the Dome, about smog and other air pollution issues. In her 103-minute video, which claimed that half a million people die prematurely each year because of air pollution, Chai accused Sinopec and China National Petroleum Corporation of failing to produce cleaner fuel because of the higher costs and the lack of national standards. Her film quickly went viral online across the mainland before being blocked. Chai, a 39-year-old mother, took up the smog issue after her baby girl was diagnosed with a tumour before birth, according to an interview published on the People's Daily website. Fu told Beijing Times that Sinopec could produce cleaner oil and that there was a national standard for oil quality. But he pointed the finger at the provincial governments, saying they decided which oil they wanted to use, resulting in several different standards for oil quality across the country. "Some people want cheaper oil, so [they] choose to use low-quality oils," Fu said. "It's not my call to decide where to sell [oil], it's the government that decides where I can sell it." The Sinopec chairman also said that his company's decision to inject more than 100 billion yuan (HK$123 billion) of private capital into its marketing unit might help it to expand its business possibilities. But the chairman added that reforming business operations - rather than simply pursuing greater private capital - would be the key to reform in monopoly sectors. The employment of tens of thousands of workers in the industry also posed great challenges to any reform within state-owned enterprises, he said. ^ top ^

Details needed to join up the dots on Silk Road project (SCMP)
The central government is expected to ramp up efforts to link local governments with the ancient Silk Road. Many local governments have already proposed plans for the "One Belt, One Road" concept - a strategy aiming to link China with Europe through rail and maritime connections. But centralised planning by top government leadership is needed to make the effort more concrete to other nations. In his government work report delivered at the annual parliamentary session last week, Premier Li Keqiang said measures would be taken to boost the plan, but he did not give specific details. More than 30 provincial-level divisions have included boosting connectivity in their work plan; Shanxi, for example, pledged to step up cooperation with Russia. Beijing is expected to release a blueprint for the initiatives later this year, and some local officials have called for a clear strategy for the ambition. "Right now, there is no detailed planning, and the objective is not clear enough," said Yue Yuesheng, director of industry and information technology of Yunnan, in a panel discussion on the sidelines of the National People's Congress. "Local governments are often blind when making their own plan. The related agencies at the national level should release a detailed plan as soon as possible." Some of China's neighbours expressed support for the ambitious plan, but have yet to formally endorse it, citing lack of specifics as the reason. "There has not been an official concept on the maritime Silk Road," said Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera as he wrapped up his two-day visit to Beijing last month. "Once we get the paper, I can respond to you." For all the latest news from China's parliamentary sessions click here Observers said the plan could help ensure energy supply to China, while mopping up some of the nation's excess production capacity with infrastructure projects overseas. "But careful planning is needed on how we can shift the excess production capacity," said Li Lifan, deputy director at the Centre of Russia and Central Asia Studies at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. "More top level planning by agencies such as the National Development and Reform Commission is needed to decide the specific role of each province." For example, the infrastructure demands for Southeast Asia and Central Asia should be differentiated, Li said. Pang Zhongying, an international relations professor at Renmin University of China, said some other nations, such as India, would be sceptical of the initiatives, fearing it would expand China's role in regional security. Whether the plan can be smoothly implemented was uncertain because these countries might raise such concerns in regional and international security organisations, Pang said. ^ top ^

China enhances efforts to combat violence committed in name of religion (Xinhua)
China is enhancing its strength in joining the international efforts to combat various violence and terrorism attacks carried out in the name of religion. A representative from the China Mission to the United Nations Office stressed here recently that China is committed to the construction of a harmonious society but opposed to all acts of violence or intolerance committed in the name of religion. "Harmony is one of the core values of the Chinese society. China advocated religious tolerance by actively promoting harmony," the official said. Earlier this week during an interactive discussion on the issue of violence committed in the name of religion, delegations attending the ongoing UN Human Right Council's 28th session highlighted the importance to combat the existence of extremist religious ideologies and to condemn those providing various forms of support to terrorism. "Violence committed in the name of religion could take different shapes, and governments should have the overarching responsibility to combat such violence," said Heiner Bielefeldt, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief. Denmark, which had been hit by a terrorist attack committed in the name of religion one month ago, said that this terrifying act, however, had led to a strong manifestation of unity and solidarity, in which people from all religions and walks of life had spontaneously put flowers in front of the two buildings where the shootings had taken place. Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, noted that any such acts of violence should be publicly condemned, and that every State had overarching obligations in that respect. "Further strengthening of international cooperation was necessary in order to enhance States' capacities and capabilities in the fight against such violence," it said. The representative from the European Union said at the discussion that all relevant stakeholders should publicly speak against such acts, while Austria also said it will fully support the potential of intercultural and inter-religious dialogue for overcoming violence committed in the name of religion. Local analysts have noticed that violence and terrorism, often in the name of religion, have been on the rise in the world in recent years, including in China, with its northwestern Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region suffering the most. An assault on a market in Xinjiang's regional capital Urumqi on May 22 last year killed more than 30 people and injured 94 others, prompting a year-long campaign against terrorism. Chinese courts convicted 712 people for instigating secessionist activities or participating in violent terrorist attacks in 2014, representing a year-on-year increase of 13.3 percent, China's Chief Justice Zhou Qiang said in a work report of the Supreme People's Court of China on Thursday. Those convicted were involved in 558 cases, up 14.8 percent, Zhou said in the work report delivered at the annual session of the national legislature. "Violent terror attacks have provoked strong condemnation and opposition in the region," said Shohrat Zakir, chairman of the Xinjiang regional government, earlier this week during the ongoing annual session of the National People's Congress in Beijing. ^ top ^



China says Dalai Lama 'profanes' Buddhism by doubting his reincarnation (SCMP)
The Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, is profaning Buddhism by suggesting he will not be reincarnated when he dies, the Chinese-appointed governor of Tibet said yesterday. The comment's by Padma Choling are some of China's strongest comments to date on the subject. Tibetan Buddhism holds that the soul of a senior lama is reincarnated in the body of a child on his death. China has said the tradition must continue and it must approve the next Dalai Lama. However, the Nobel peace laureate, who fled his homeland in 1959 after an abortive uprising against Chinese rule, has said he thinks the title could end when he dies. He has also stated that he will not be reborn in China if Tibet is not free and that no one, including China, has the right to choose his successor “for political ends”. Tibet governor Padma Choling, speaking on the sidelines of the National People's Congress, the annual meeting of parliament in Beijing, accused the Dalai Lama of switching back and forth with his various pronouncements on the issue, and of hypocrisy since he himself was reincarnated. “If the central government had not approved it, how could he have become the 14th Dalai Lama? He couldn't. It has a serious procedure,” Padma Choling, an ethnic Tibetan himself, told reporters. “I think that, in fact, he is profaning religion and Tibetan Buddhism,” he said, adding that the Dalai Lama was trying to usurp Beijing's right to decide. “If he says no reincarnation then no reincarnation? Impossible. Nobody in Tibetan Buddhism would agree to that,” he said. “We must respect history, respect and not profane Tibetan Buddhism.” Exiles worry that China might just simply appoint its own successor. In 1995, after the Dalai Lama named a boy in Tibet as the reincarnation of the previous Panchen Lama, the second highest figure in Tibetan Buddhism, China put that boy under house arrest and installed another in his place. Many Tibetans spurn the Chinese-appointed Panchen Lama as a fake. China's officially atheist Communist party says it has inherited the right of the old emperors to sign off on reincarnations, although how important the custom was is historically disputed. The nation routinely rejects criticism of its policies in Tibet, saying that its rule, since Communist Chinese troops “peacefully liberated” the region in 1950, ended serfdom and brought development to a backward, poverty-stricken region. Beijing has claimed the Dalai Lama, who fled to India after the uprising, is a “wolf in sheep's clothing,” who seeks to use violent methods to establish an independent Tibet. The Dalai Lama has said he wants only genuine autonomy for Tibet and denies advocating independence or violence. ^ top ^

China finding Dalai Lama's successor 'like Fidel Castro choosing the pope' (SCMP)
China finding a successor to the Dalai Lama would be like former Cuban leader Fidel Castro choosing the pope, the political head of Tibet's exiles said in response to comments by a senior Chinese official. The Chinese-appointed governor of Tibet on Monday accused the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader of blasphemy for suggesting he would not be reincarnated when he died. The governor, Padma Choling, repeated that Beijing had the right to decide. Tibetan Buddhism holds that the soul of a senior lama is reincarnated in the body of a child on his death. China says the tradition must continue and it must approve the next Dalai Lama. “It's none of Padma Choling or any of the Communist party's business, mainly because Communism believes in atheism and religion being poisonous,” the prime minister of the government-in-exile, Lobsang Sangay, said. “It's like Fidel Castro saying, 'I will select the next pope and all the Catholics should follow.' That is ridiculous,” said Sangay, who resides in the Indian mountain town of Dharamsala, like the Dalai Lama. Sangay's comments came on the anniversary of a failed 1959 uprising against Beijing's rule that prompted the Dalai Lama to flee to India, where he has lived since. Tibetans scuffled with police outside the Chinese embassy in New Delhi during an anniversary protest. In an earlier speech, Sangay urged China to allow Tibetans to govern their region, but denied Beijing's accusations that the Dalai Lama and the government in exile were “splittists” seeking Tibetan independence. The Dalai Lama's envoys were ready to engage in dialogue with their Chinese counterparts at any time, he added. In the latest of dozens of deadly immolations to protest against Beijing's rule, a Tibetan women set herself ablaze and died on March 5 in Tibet's Ngawa region, the International Campaign for Tibet said. Exiles worry that China might simply appoint its own successor to the 79-year-old spiritual leader. After the Dalai Lama named a boy in Tibet as the reincarnation of the previous Panchen Lama in 1995, the second highest figure in Tibetan Buddhism, China put the child under house arrest and installed another in his place. The Dalai Lama's private office declined to comment. The Nobel Peace laureate has said in the past the title could end when he dies. He has also said he will not be reborn in China if Tibet is not free and no one, including China, had the right to choose his successor “for political ends”. ^ top ^

Dalai Lama 'needs to discuss way forward' (China Daily)
A senior political adviser urged the Dalai Lama on Wednesday to have a serious discussion with the Chinese government about his future. The official said the Dalai Lama's reincarnation has to be endorsed by the Chinese authorities rather than by himself. Last year, the Dalai Lama, who will turn 80 in July, said he does not want to have a successor and that the Tibetan Buddhism tradition of reincarnation should cease with his death. The political adviser also said, "The Chinese government will never discuss the Dalai Lama's 'autonomy of greater Tibet' with him." Zhu Weiqun, head of the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Committee of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, was speaking at a news conference in Beijing. "The Dalai Lama should discard his separatist stance and his cheating 'middle path' and give up attempts to incite self-immolations and sabotage in Tibet," Zhu said in reply to a question on the effects China's policies have had on dissuading foreign leaders from meeting the Dalai Lama. "Fewer people have visited the Dalai Lama in recent years. But someone, who does not know good from bad, still met and dined with him.... The stability and prosperity of Tibet has accelerated the decline of the Dalai Lama's influence," Zhu said. Early last month, US President Barack Obama attended a high-profile breakfast in Washington DC, at which the Dalai Lama was present. The pair did not meet directly at the event, but appeared to acknowledge each other from their tables. "As long as Tibet maintains its stability and development, it will become more difficult for the Dalai Lama... around the world, and his status will be reduced," Zhu added. Tibetan Buddhists traditionally believe that the soul of a Living Buddha is reborn after death, and candidates for a successor may be found through the interpretation of arcane signs. A successor should be born within a certain period of a Living Buddha's death and can be decided by drawing lots from a gold urn. Since the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), successors have had to be approved by the central authorities. Padma Choling, chairman of the Standing Committee of the Tibet Autonomous Regional People's Congress and a Tibetan himself, said in Beijing on Monday, "If the central government had not approved it, how could he (the current Dalai Lama) have become the 14th Dalai Lama? He couldn't. It is a serious procedure. "I think that... he is profaning religion and Tibetan Buddhism," he said. Zhu criticized the current Dalai Lama's "irresponsible and disrespectful attitude" toward reincarnation, citing the political exile's earlier claims that his reincarnation could see him return as "a woman, a foreigner or even a bee". "It is obvious the Dalai Lama just uses his religious title as a tool for his separatist political conspiracy," Zhu said. China's Tibet autonomous region remains stable and prosperous after a riot on March 14, 2008, in Lhasa, that the authorities have attributed to the Dalai Lama clique and that claimed 13 civilians' lives. ^ top ^



Muslim militants who joined Islamic State in Middle East 'arrested in Xinjiang' (SCMP)
Militants from Xinjiang who had joined the Islamic State group in the Middle East have been arrested after they returned home, the autonomous region's top official says. "I believe there are extremists from Xinjiang who have joined Islamic State," Xinjiang Communist Party boss Zhang Chunxian said yesterday. "We have recently arrested some groups who returned [to Xinjiang] after joining the group," he added without elaborating. Zhang was speaking during a meeting of the Xinjiang delegation at the National People's Congress, which is holding its annual plenary session in Beijing. China's special envoy on Middle East Affairs, Wu Sike, previously said about 100 Xinjiang Islamic militants had travelled to the Middle East for training and that some had remained to join the fighting. Earlier this year, a Malaysian senior official cited visiting Chinese public security deputy minister Meng Hongwei as saying that more than 300 Uygurs had fled China to join overseas jihads in Malaysia. Zhang said Xinjiang would take measures to fight against Islamic State's influence in the region and to prevent more Xinjiang people from joining it. "The risk is real [that some will flee to join Islamic State], and it has already happened," he said. "Xinjiang cannot stay out of the [global fight against Islamic State]. We are also affected." Islamic State forces are fighting in Iraq and Syria to create an Islamic caliphate in the region, and their cause has attracted Muslim militants from around the world. China has been hit by a series of violent attacks in recent months that the authorities have blamed on Muslim separatists from Xinjiang. These included a knife attack at a Kunming train station in Yunnan last March, which was reportedly carried out by a group of terrorists after their attempts to flee the border and become jihadis overseas fell through. Xinjiang deputy party chief Che Jun said "95 per cent" of terrorist ploys in the region had been foiled. The local authorities planned to dispatch all its 200,000 officials to the villages to curb the spread of religious extremism, and the plan had already been put into action last year, Xinjiang deputy chairman Gela Yishamudin said. "We organised sports games and cultural events," he said. "And the second batch of 70,000 officials has already been sent to the villages." Zhang also spoke briefly about last week's knife attack at a Guangzhou railway station that left nine people injured, calling it an "incident of violence". But he declined to speculate on who was responsible. Three witnesses told the South China Morning Post the three attackers appeared to be Uygurs, one of whom was shot dead by police. ^ top ^

IS recruits Xinjiang residents (China Daily)
A top official from the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region confirmed for the first time on Tuesday that Xinjiang residents have joined the radical group Islamic State. "Some Xinjiang residents have crossed the border illegally to join IS. The group currently has a growing international influence, and Xinjiang is affected by it, too," said Zhang Chunxian, the region's top leader. "We recently broke up a terrorist cell run by those who returned from fighting with the group," Zhang said at a news conference on the sidelines of the annual National People's Congress session. He said IS, which has seized large areas of eastern Syria and northern and western Iraq, is a threat to countries worldwide and joint international efforts are needed to fight it. Xinjiang has been hit by religious extremism, leading to an increasing number of terrorist attacks in the region and elsewhere in China in recent years. Last year, Chinese authorities arrested some of those attempting to cross borders illegally to join terrorist or extremist groups. In southern Xinjiang's Hotan prefecture, some people have been influenced by IS, but measures taken to eliminate religious extremism can handle the new situation, according to Eziz Musar, the prefecture's commissioner. Zhang said Xinjiang has been working hard to end religious extremism while dealing with inroads made by new groups, but this takes time. "Xinjiang also has to pay the price when extremists fight back. The region has done a lot to ensure social stability in China," he said. Adudulrekep Tumniaz, president of the Xinjiang Islamic Institute, said the region has more than 12 million Muslims, making up 52 percent of China's Muslim population. Guiding them in the right direction and keeping them away from religious extremism is a matter of national security. Shohrat Zakir, the newly elected chairman of Xinjiang, said there have been terrorist activities in the region due to the international situation. But there will be fewer violent terrorist attacks because authorities have been striking hard against terrorist and extremist activities in accordance with the law, he said. "The overall situation in Xinjiang is stable and controllable," he said. He also spoke of the importance of Mandarin education in rural areas of southern Xinjiang, which have seen the most terrorist attacks in the region. "Many villagers in southern Xinjiang still cannot speak the national common language, which has affected their employment chances. They are also more easily manipulated if they live in closed communities," he said. ^ top ^



Another day of clashes in Hong Kong at parallel trader protests (SCMP)
Violent scuffles broke out between police and protesters at an anti-parallel trader rally in Tuen Mun yesterday, where over 100 people vented their anger at Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying for failing to make changes to the mainland visitor policy. A week after similar action in Yuen Long led to clashes and arrests, protesters went to Sheung Shui and Tuen Mun. Despite an online call for protest, there was no demonstration in Sha Tin. Police had to intervene in several confrontations and used their batons and a police dog to arrest protesters later in the day. Earlier, protesters were seen shouting and kicking the baggage and trolleys of passers-by. A gold shop and a number of pharmacies and other stores in Tuen Mun had to close temporarily because of the disruption. Sheung Shui experienced few problems, although the mood of protesters turned angry when they arrived in Tuen Mun later. They marched from the MTR station into the V City shopping mall, then Tuen Mun Town Plaza. Some protesters rushed into a jewellery shop, Chow Sang Sang, and shouted at customers. Police removed the protesters and staff closed the store. Later, protesters shouting, "Clamp down on parallel trading. Cancel multiple-entry permits", tried to block buses going to the Shenzhen Bay border crossing. The protest turned violent around 7pm as police tried to disperse the crowd near the MTR station. Police wielded batons to arrest some protesters as water bottles were hurled. Three men and a woman, aged 17 to 21, were arrested for assaulting or obstructing police. One officer was injured, police said. Some protesters later went to Tsim Sha Tsui, a favourite haunt of mainland shoppers, where there were more clashes with police near the Clock Tower. Two more people were arrested, police said. In Tuen Mun earlier yesterday, Zhang Qi, a Shenzhen resident, said he was a normal shopper, not a parallel trader, and that he did not know why the protesters confronted him. "It is very chaotic here," said Zhang, who visits up to five times a year. "I don't have a sense of safety here. I won't come here any more." Meanwhile, Shenzhen Mayor Xu Qin said in Beijing: "I believe policy arrangements for the border must be normal arrangements on a mutually beneficial, equal and mutually respectful basis, conducive to interaction of people and further deepening cooperation of both sides." Leung said it was "not easy" to amend the policy as it required agreement "from the central and local governments". He stopped short of naming Shenzhen. Last month, Leung suggested he would have discussions with mainland authorities about tightening the solo travellers' scheme. But the move was soon rejected by retailers, who feared their business would suffer. Zhang Xiaoming, the director of the central government's liaison office, said on Saturday that the parallel traders were 40 per cent mainlanders and 60 per cent Hongkongers. He said that Leung had submitted proposals to adjust travel policies to the central government. But it wasn't enough for protesters, who said Leung had failed to deliver any changes during his visit to Beijing last week. "Leung could have boosted his popularity [here] by reducing the number of mainland tourists," said Lily Pang, a housewife. "He shouldn't sell out Hongkongers' interests." ^ top ^

Hong Kong Airlines flight forced to make emergency landing after bomb threat (SCMP)
A Hong Kong Airlines flight bound to Hong Kong from Beijing on Tuesday was forced to make an emergency landing in Wuhan airport after a report that there could be a bomb on board. The incident coincides with ongoing sessions of the National People's Congress in Beijing. The flight HX337, departing Beijing at about 12.08pm, landed in Wuhan about 180 minutes into the journey, a duty officer at Wuhan Tianhe Airport said, without specifying the reasons. A statement from Hong Kong Airlines said it had been “notified of a suspected bomb threat on board” but did not give further details. “In order to ensure the safety and security of the passenger and crew, the captain decided to divert the flight to Wuhan Tianhe International Airport … All 295 passengers and crew members of the flight have since safely disembarked.” It was not immediately known whether, or how many, Hong Kong passengers were on board. Unconfirmed online reports said all passengers were escorted to the terminal after landing in Wuhan as policemen scoured the cabin for suspicious objects. Several fire engines were also on standby at the Wuhan airport, according to TV news footage. The plane, an Airbus 330-200, continued on to Hong Kong last night, arriving in the city at about midnight. Earlier, an Airport Authority spokesman confirmed the Hong Kong-bound flight had been diverted to Wuhan, but gave no further details about the reason for the diversion. The Travel Industry Council said it had not received calls for assistance from travel agencies. ^ top ^

Art Basel satellite fairs look to appeal to the younger, edgier crowd (SCMP)
A satellite art fair that cost US$1 million to launch opened its doors ahead of the main fair, Art Basel, on Thursday, targeting a younger crowd with edgier and more political artworks. The inaugural Art Central opened to press and selected guests, displaying works including those from an emerging market or by emerging artists at less intimidating prices. The fair is an attempt to import a satellite fair culture from overseas, mimicking those held in places such as Miami Beach - where Art Basel also stages an annual fair. Booths from more than 75 galleries and 21 countries showing emerging and established artists from Hong Kong and overseas are housed under the roof of a 10,000 square metre tent erected in the Central Harbourfront. Among the exhibiting galleries, 65 per cent came from Asia - including 19 from Hong Kong. There's also a "Rise" section, focusing on emerging galleries and artists. Tim Etchells, chief executive of Art Central, said it cost US$1 million to launch the fair, including site rental and construction of the tent. "It's four times more expensive than the Convention and the Exhibition Centre," said Etchells, adding the fair was prepared to lose money in its first year. He said Art Central deliberately scheduled the openings, VIP sessions and public days ahead of Art Basel to avoid a clash. Although Art Basel will showcase 233 galleries this year, the fair does not have the capacity to accommodate all those that applied, said Etchells. He said while top prices artworks can be found at Art Basel, there is also a market for edgier art, which gave them a platform for Art Central. "Most collectors do two to three satellite fairs," Etchells said, adding he is expecting a lot of collectors from Asia Pacific to be among the more than 20,000 visitors expected. "Over the years people in Hong Kong have more confidence in buying art and a habit has developed." The fair will partner with Asia Society Hong Kong Centre for talks and educational programmes open to the public. Gallerists have high expectations for the fair. Finale Art File from the Philippines exhibited at Art Basel last year but has decided to try Art Central this year. Jean-Marc Decrop of Yallay Gallery will show paintings and conceptual sculptures questioning the value of money, as well as an installation of yellow umbrellas inspired by the Occupy protests called Occupy Art Central, by Beijing-based artist Xu Qu. Decrop said a set of paintings priced at more than HK$300,000 have been sold but that the Occupy Art Central installation is not for sale. "The artist does not want to make money out of the protest and hopes to donate the work to M+," he said. He said while Art Basel tended to play safe in their art selection, Art Central let the risk factor live. The politically sensitive work was not objected to by the fair organisers, said Decrop. "Being provocative is the nature of contemporary art. [It] shows the life of Hong Kong." Brooklyn-based artist Aaron Taylor Kuffner, who has large-scale sound installations showing with Sundaram Tagore Gallery also said the setting reminded him of the fairs in Miami. Art Central runs until March 16 and Asia Contemporary Art show runs until March 15 […]. ^ top ^



'You are being watched', Beijing warns officials who fancy a flutter in Macau (SCMP)
Beijing's top man on Macau affairs has issued a "you are being watched" warning to mainland officials who still fancy taking a chance at the city's casino tables. As pressure on Macau to clean up and diversify its casino-dominated economy continues - part of President Xi Jinping's wide ranging "tigers and flies" crackdown on corruption - Li Gang, the director of the city's liaison office there, said measures were in place to ensure that officials who head for the former Portuguese enclave "would be discovered". The top official did not elaborate on what specific measures had been introduced but it is common knowledge that identity checks are now carried out on every person who gambles in casino VIP rooms. Macau's casinos are known as a key mechanism by which corrupt officials launder funds. In his first public comments this year on Macau's gaming industry, which has suffered an unprecedented slump in recent months due to the anti-graft drive and a general economic slowdown on the mainland, Li told The Beijing News: "As the crackdown on graft is stepped up, some corrupt officials - including executives of some state-owned enterprises - now dare not go to Macau to gamble. "Moreover, because of measures taken by Macau's gambling industry, if such officials go gambling in Macau, they will be discovered." Li also said it was time for Macau and the mainland to establish an agreement that would ensure the repatriation of officials found to have been up to no good in the world's biggest gaming destination. "It's necessary for both sides to strengthen cooperation in this field. Once any criminal fled to Macau with money, the Macau authorities could repatriate [him], so as to jointly crack down on crimes," Li said. "So far, there is a discussion mechanism in place between Macau and the mainland, but there is not any repatriation agreement, which should be sealed as soon as possible." In January, the South China Morning Post reported that an extradition treaty between Hong Kong and Macau was in the pipeline, under which fugitives who took refuge in one city to avoid punishment in the other would be sent back. Li also revisited comments he made in December last year about Hong Kong and Macau and their adherence to the Basic Law, in the wake of the Occupy Central protests. "I think it's very important to boost national education among the young people in Hong Kong and Macau," Li said, adding: "Students are the majority group of Occupy Central. "They don't understand the reality of China, or they don't understand well so-called Western democracy and the reality and history of China." ^ top ^



49 on Taiwan fishing boat missing in South Atlantic (Xinhua)
A 49-strong crew on a Taiwan-registered fishing boat has been unaccounted for since the loss of contact on Feb. 26 in the South Atlantic, according to local media. The missing included 11 from the Chinese mainland. The captain and another crew member came from Taiwan, along with 21 Indonesians, 13 Filipinos and two Vietnamese, according to the fishery authority. The 700-tonne trawler, Hsiang Fu Chun, sailed off from Kaohsiung in January to the sea area 1,700 sea miles east of the Falkland Islands for fishing and was due to return in May, the fishery agency said. The boat lost all contact with the shipowner at 3 a.m. on Feb. 26 and has not been seen since despite a search action, it added. In the last communication, the captain reportedly told the shipowner that the boat was taking in water in areas of the South Atlantic, media reports quoted fishery agency deputy head Huang Hung-yan as saying. The agency believed the boat could still be drifting in the region, probably without power, since no signals of wreckage or notice of hijack have been sent by the boat. Huang did not rule out the possibility that the boat will reach the land. At least three Taiwan vessels close to the area where Hsiang Fu Chun went missing have joined the search. Huang said it is difficult to send either an airplane or a boat to the rescue, as the vessel went missing far from land, in treacherous sea conditions. ^ top ^

Chinese mainland concerned about missing Taiwan ship (Xinhua)
The Chinese mainland has called for all-out efforts to search for a Taiwan fishing ship missing in the South Atlantic, with 49 people aboard. "We hope the Taiwan side can spare no effort to search for and find the ship and its crew as soon as possible," Fan Liqing, spokeswoman with the State Council Taiwan Affairs Office, said at a press conference on Wednesday.The "Hsiang Fu Chun," a 700-tonne squid fishing vessel, has been unaccounted for since the loss of contact on Feb. 26 in the remote South Atlantic Ocean carrying 49 crew, including 11 people from the Chinese mainland, Taiwan media reported on Saturday. The Chinese Marine Search and Rescue Center has made coordination efforts to urge concerned parties to carry out search and rescue missions, Fan said. Upon hearing of the missing ship, the mainland's Association for Relations across the Taiwan Straits contacted the Taiwan-based Straits Exchange Foundation to express concern about the accident, she added. ^ top ^

Taiwan welcome to join WWII commemoration (Global Times)
China welcomes Taiwan's participation in commemorations later this year to mark the end of World War II, a Chinese government spokeswoman said on Wednesday. The Chinese mainland is open to dialogue with any political party or group in Taiwan if the 1992 Consensus is honored, the spokeswoman further said. Chinese President Xi Jinping reiterated the importance of adherence to the 1992 Consensus, the core of which is to acknowledge that the Chinese mainland and Taiwan belong to one and the same China, at a panel discussion with members of the national political advisory body on March 4. Analysts believe that Xi's statements, which re-emphasized the consensus as the groundwork of cross-Straits ties, send an important message to the pro-independence opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) after the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) suffered a landslide election defeat last year that many say will cast a shadow on the future development of cross-Straits relations. Fan Liqing, spokesperson of the State Council Taiwan Affairs Office, told a press conference on Wednesday that Xi's remarks showed the mainland's confidence and resolve on boosting peaceful development of cross-Straits relations. Fan emphasized that the Chinese mainland holds no communication barrier against any political party or group in Taiwan, "so long as they can recognize the 1992 Consensus." Xi had called during the discussion that "Taiwan independence" is the biggest threat to cross-Straits peace and stability. Fan said Xi's comments, which stressed peaceful development of cross-Straits ties and vigilance against "Taiwan independence," have set the direction for the mainland's future Taiwan affairs work. "With a new situation and new problems arising in Taiwan last year, it is crucial for the mainland to reiterate our basic stance in peaceful development through recognition of the 1992 Consensus," Xu Shiquan, vice chairman of the Beijing-based National Society of Taiwan Studies, told the Global Times. Taiwan's ruling KMT suffered a landslide defeat to the DPP in the island-wide "nine-in-one elections" in November 2014 which later resulted in Taiwan leader Ma Ying-jeou stepping down as KMT chairman. The defeat was widely seen as a prelude to a DPP victory in the island's leadership election in 2016. In March last year, the island's legislative body was almost paralyzed after a weeks-long protest when many local residents took to the streets to voice their opposition to a cross-Straits service trade agreement. "The Chinese mainland's stance has always been consistent, which is that both sides must adhere to the 'one and same China' consensus. That stance will not change with the political demographics on the island," Xu noted. DPP chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen avoided referring to the 1992 Consensus in an interview on March 6, reported the Taiwan-based news portal Instead, the chairwoman - who had registered as a candidate in the party's primary ahead of the 2016 election - emphasized that the DPP will adhere to its own policy. "Judging from her behavior and rhetoric, the transformation Tsai advocates is a pro-independence one to build a so-called 'new Taiwan.' In this case, it is necessary for Xi to make a clear statement, so that Tsai would not underestimate or misjudge the situation [should she become the new leader of Taiwan]," read an editorial in the Fujian-based news portal The DPP's administration will face great challenges if the party wins the 2016 election and cannot properly handle cross-Straits relations, Wang Jianmin, a research fellow from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), previously told the Global Times. "The island's economy relies on good cross-Straits relations." Fan also said Wednesday she welcomes the newly selected KMT chairman Chu Li-luan to visit the Chinese mainland. Hu Benliang, another research fellow from CASS, said if Chu accepts the invitation, a meeting between Xi and the KMT chairman can be expected. The meeting is expected to help resolve political differences across the Straits and lift the spirits of the KMT, an editorial in the People's Daily said. Fan also said Taiwan people are welcome to participate in commemorations later this year to mark the end of WWII and said victory in the war was a victory for "the entire nation." "We hope people on both sides of the Taiwan Straits can always remember history, cherish the memory of martyrs and rally together through war victory activities," she told reporters, without providing further details of the commemorations. China will hold a military parade, reception and evening gala for the war anniversary, which is likely to be marked in September. China's foreign ministry said it plans to invite leaders from major participants in WWII. ^ top ^



Policy support eyed as China's imports sink (SCMP)
China's exports surged at their strongest annual pace in nearly five years in February, but trade data yesterday also revealed a successive steep slide in imports that analysts said showed Beijing's policy efforts so far had not put a solid floor beneath domestic demand. "The latest data won't change my view about China's trade throughout the year," said Raymond Yeung, senior economist at ANZ in Hong Kong. Two interest rate cuts in three months, the latest of which came days ahead of last week's annual government work report that cut the official economic growth target to a 15-year low of 7 per cent and lowered the trade growth target to 6 per cent, have reinforced expectations of more policy moves to stimulate demand. Beijing insists, however, that its policy framework will deliver sufficient economic growth to create the 10 million new jobs it needs this year to support new entrants to the workforce, while leaving enough flexibility to make structural economic reforms that will improve the quality and sustainability of growth. Premier Li Keqiang signalled to the annual meeting of parliament last week that economic growth in 2014 - the slowest in a quarter of a century - is the "new normal". The government aims to transform the world's second-biggest economy from one dependent on exports and polluting heavy industry into a nation powered by a domestically-oriented services sector and clean, hi-tech, high value-added manufacturers. Shifting gears on growth while demand at home and abroad remains so fickle is a challenge. Trade data in January and February is notoriously tough to analyse, given the annual skew caused by lunar new year holidays and the long factory shut downs that occur with them. Export growth of 48.3 per cent in February from a year earlier beat the consensus of 14.2 per cent in a Reuters poll and improved substantially from January's fall of 3.3 per cent. Imports tumbled 20.5 per cent, faster than the expected annual fall of 10.0 per cent, and outpacing January's plunge of 19.9 per cent. Taking January and February together, exports grew 15 per cent on the same period a year earlier, but a tumble in imports clouds that improvement, falling 20.2 per cent in the first two months of the year versus 2014. Imports from all countries fell during the period. Most notable were a 34.4 per cent drop from Russia and a 37.8 per cent tumble from India. Imports have been weaker than exports, highlighting the need to spur domestic demand as fears of deflation have grown and some investors have begun pulling money out of the country - illustrated by sustained capital outflows in recent months. February's trade surplus was a record US$60.6 billion and should theoretically push up the value of yuan. But the 1 per cent depreciation of the tightly controlled currency so far this year suggests a fall may come instead. "February's strong trade surplus won't reverse market's expectation for yuan depreciation due to capital outflows," ANZ's Yeung said. ^ top ^

'China likely to end up as former would-be superpower', says man who foresaw Japan's demise (SCMP)
Forecasts for China to surpass the US as the world's main economic power are misplaced. So says an observer who foresaw Japan's eventual demise a year before its land-price bubble began to burst. "The vulnerabilities in China today are very similar to the vulnerabilities in Japan," said Roy Smith, 76, who was a Goldman Sachs partner when he wrote a column saying Japan's rise as a financial hegemon was finished. "Nobody agrees with me. But they didn't agree with me in 1990, so at least I have one right." Bad loans, overpriced stocks and a frothy property market are flashing danger for China's economy and putting pressure on a fragile financial system - similar to conditions that triggered Japan's fall, said Smith, a finance professor at New York University's Stern School of Business. A further parallel is the burden of an ageing population, with mounting pension and health-care costs, he says. While China probably will avoid prolonged Japan-style stagnation, a major crisis could expose weaknesses that are not apparent now, Smith said. "Most people today are talking about China displacing the United States as the great power of the 21st century," he said. "My view is that it is more likely to end up like Japan - that is, the status of a former would-be superpower that isn't." China surpassed Japan as the world's No2 economy by gross domestic product in 2010 after three decades of rapid growth. It is tipped by many forecasters eventually to overtake the US in output. By other measures, such as GDP per person, China is further behind the US. On a per capita basis, China's GDP in 2013 was still just half of where Japan was in 1960, according to World Bank data. That leaves plenty of scope to catch up to rich-world peers, more optimistic observers say. "The key difference I see between China now and Japan in 1990 is that China is at a much lower stage of development," said Louis Kuijs, chief China economist at Royal Bank of Scotland in Hong Kong. Last year, the economy expanded at the slowest full-year pace in almost a quarter century. The slowdown has thrown a spotlight on a mounting debt pile. Doubts about creditworthiness of debt deepened last year, when Premier Li Keqiang started to pare back implicit guarantees for regional financing units. China's total debt pile, including borrowing by households, banks, governments and companies, ballooned to 282 per cent of national output in the middle of last year from 121 per cent in 2000, according to an estimate by the McKinsey Global Institute. "The Chinese financial structure is very fragile because a lot of it is misreported and will reveal a great deal of weakness when it comes out," said Smith. "I don't know when it is going to come out, but when it does it is going to have consequences and take away a lot of the world's confidence in the Chinese system." Some signs of stress are already emerging: Kaisa Group Holdings, a troubled real-estate developer based in Shenzhen that must repay billions of dollars in borrowings this year, rattled investors by missing payment deadlines on a loan and a bond after the local government blocked several of its projects late last year. "They say a rising tide lifts all boats - a falling tide reveals all the rocks and slime," said Smith. "There was a lot of it in Japan that people did not expect to see.'' China's leaders are trying to restructure the economy toward domestic demand led by consumption and services. "China won't end up in this peculiar Japanese no man's land between growth and non-growth," Smith said. "But I do think they could have an economic smash-down that could really set back the China dream and the China role as a global superpower in major ways." ^ top ^

Political advisors pool wisdom to boost Chinese economy (Xinhua)
Chinese political advisors put their heads together on Monday to tender prescriptions for the country's slowing economy, appealing for less government intervention while underlining innovation. Noting that the Chinese economy has enter a "new normal" phase of slower growth, Qian Yingyi, dean of the School of Economics and Management at Tsinghua University, warned the government against strong stimuli and over-reliance on monetary policies by the central bank. Demand-stimulating policies can work only temporarily and may further distort the Chinese economy which has already suffered from massive overcapacity, lowering investment returns and increasing environmental damage, Qian told fellow members of the National Committee of Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference at a plenary meeting. Monetary policies, meanwhile, must be accompanied by structural adjustments, he said while pointing to the U.S. success in this regard. The Chinese economy grew 7.4 percent in 2014, the weakest annual expansion in 24 years. The government has further lowered this year's growth target to approximately 7 percent. Qian said the Chinese economy is highly "tenacious," and called on the government to allow for greater latitude for self-adjustments by the market and enterprises. "It is like when a man is sick, aside from the medicines, his own body's self-adjustments are also vital," said Qian, also a counselor to China's cabinet. He said the government should streamline administration, speed up taxation reform and reform of state-owned enterprises, encourage innovation and entrepreneurship and play a bigger role in economic planning, coordination and infrastructure, rather than direct investment and manufacturing. His remarks mirrored a government report delivered last week by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, who reiterated the vision for a more healthy and effective economy that is powered more by consumption and the service sector instead of the traditional engines of manufacturing and investment. As resource-related and environmental constraints grow and costs for labor and other factors of production rise, a model of development, that draws on high levels of investment and energy consumption and is heavily driven by quantitative expansion, becomes difficult to sustain, Li said. Li Dang, vice chairman of the China National Democratic Construction Association Central Committee, suggested that efforts be made to eliminate overcapacity by fair competition, mergers and reorganizations, as well as economic structural optimizations. His words were echoed by Li Hejun, deputy head of the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce, who called on authorities to cultivate more competitive industries such as high-speed railways via deepening reforms and innovation. In his government work report, Premier Li said China needs to rely on both traditional and new engines to achieve 7 percent growth. "We need to develop twin engines to drive development -- popular entrepreneurship and innovation -- paired with increased supplies of public goods and services," he said. Wen Simei, vice chairman of the Central Committee of the China Democratic League, a non-communist party, also highlighted the importance of entrepreneurship, calling for better policy support for college graduates in the regard. Underlining innovation, Li Yanhong, chairman of the Chinese language search engine, suggested that the Chinese government establish a special fund for a "China Brain" project on artificial intelligence which could be applied to automatic driving, drones, military and civilian androids, among others. Mei Xingbao, former president of China Orient Asset Management, pointed to the financing difficulties for China's small and micro-businesses, calling to speed up establishment of small and medium-sized private banks. By guiding and supporting private capital in the finance sector, the disharmony generated by "a huge amount of idle money" and "difficulties of small and micro-sized enterprises in accessing low-cost funds" might be resolved, he said. His words were echoed by Li Daokui, head of Tsinghua University's Center for China in the World Economy. Authorities must step up reforms in China's financial system in order to put financing difficulties to rest once and for all, he said. ^ top ^

China's economy sees weak start to 2015, spurring calls for more policy easing (SCMP)
Mainland China's economy saw a weak start with industrial output, retail sales, and investment growth posting multi-year lows and all missing forecasts, fuelling calls for the government to ease policy further to spur demand. The downbeat activity suggested that recent cuts in interest rates and banks' reserve requirement ratio have failed to bolster sluggish demand as deflationary pressures and overcapacity curbed corporate expansion. However, analysts expect infrastructure investment will be accelerated from this month as the government seeks to avoid any risks of a hard landing in the economy. “The mix of the real activity indicators suggests the effects of monetary policy easing effort so far has remained limited,” said Liu Li-Gang, chief economist of Greater China at ANZ Bank. Liu predicted that gross domestic product in the first quarter may grow by less than 7 per cent in the first quarter, after easing to a 24-year low of 7.4 per cent in 2014. Industrial output grew 6.8 per cent in the January-February period from a year earlier, the worst since December 2008, data from the National Bureau of Statistics showed. The pace was below market consensus for 7.7 per cent growth. Fixed-asset investment rose 13.9 per cent in the first two months, below the 15.0 per cent expectation and compared with a gain of 15.7 per cent in 2014 as a whole. Property sales slumped 15.8 per cent during the period, a major drag on investment and spending. Liu said that “China needs to engage into more aggressive policy easing, and we see that the reserve requirement ratio cut will be imminent.” The People's Bank of China cut benchmark interest rates for the second time in three months on March 1. Last month, it also trimmed banks' reserve requirement ratio by 50 basis points to increase liquidity and combat capital outflow pressures. The bureau publishes only combined January-February data in a bid to eliminate any distortions caused by the timing of the Lunar New Year holiday, which began on January 30 last year but February 18 this year. Retail sales climbed 10.7 per cent in the January-February period from a year earlier, after rising 11.8 per cent a year earlier. However, analysts say more infrastructure projects are expected to be launched from March. Premier Li Keqiang has pledged to keep economic growth steady, targeting a 15 per cent growth in fixed-asset investment this year. “Monetary policy is likely to shift to a looser tone from neutral starting from the second quarter,” Steven Zhang, vice president and a senior economist at Morgan Stanley Huaxin Securities, told South China Morning Post. “If the economic growth loses speed, there's no way to talk about reform.” The leadership has vowed to further cut outdated and polluting plants to save the environment, speed up industrial upgrading, and reform the imbalanced fiscal and financial system. The upcoming new projects, including high-speed rails and nuclear power stations, would help sustain China's long-term economic growth, Zhang said. The National Development and Reform Commission was reported to have approved 7 trillion yuan (HK$8.8 trillion) of infrastructure projects for 2015. ^ top ^



Prime Minister of Japan witnesses the “Sky and Sun Partnership” calligraphy exhibition in Tokyo (Infomongolia)
Celebrating the 40th anniversary of the establishment of cultural ties between Mongolia and Japan, a joint calligraphy exhibition themed "Sky and Sun Partnership" has been displayed at the Itochu Aoyama Art Square gallery in Tokyo on March 05-24, 2015. The calligraphy exhibition was first performed in Ulaanbaatar last year and this time moved to Tokyo featuring over 90 artificial pieces created by outstanding figures of the two countries in politics and society. On March 07, 2015, Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe visited the gallery and highlighted some calligraphy scripts written by President of Mongolia Ts.Elbegdorj depicting “Moriton”, MP L.Bold's “Altan Gerege”, calligrapher D.Battumur's “Dalavchilna”, and Second Vice-President of World Academy of Arts and Culture, poet G.Mend-Ooyo's “Fuji Yama” created in Mongolian traditional vertical script. The Sky and Sun Partnership exhibition will be also touring to Tochigi, Niigata and Fukui cities of Japan. ^ top ^

The 2015 Mongolia-Russia-China Trade Fair to take place in Ulgii Sum of Bayan-Ulgii Aimag (Infomongolia)
On March 16-18, 2015, the Mongolia-Russia-China Trade Fair of three neighbouring countries was announced to be organized in center of Bayan-Ulgii Aimag, Ulgii Sum. In the frameworks to develop the trilateral economic partnership and to boost the inter-border collaboration, entrepreneurs from Russia's Altai Republic and Altay Prefecture of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, PR of China will be gathering at the Jana-Olke indoor trading center organized by Governing Administration of Bayan-Ulgii Aimag. Such trilateral business event has been organized annually in each territory and the last Mongolia-Russia-China Fair Trade was held at the International Convention and Exhibition Center in Manzhouli city of Inner Mongolia, China in August 2014. ^ top ^

Defense Minister Ts.Tsolmon and Ambassador of Belarus to Mongolia S.Chepurnoy underline possibilities to broaden bilateral collaboration (Infomongolia)
On March 09, 2015, Defense Minister of Mongolia Mr. Tserendash TSOLMON received in his office the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Belarus to Mongolia, Mr. Stanislav Vladimirovich Chepurnoy. During the meeting, parties exchanged views on potentialities to develop intergovernmental partnership, particularly, to broaden in the defense sector. Also, sides noted that during the official visit of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Belarus Mikhail Uladzimiravich Myasnikovich to Mongolia paid in 2013, the fundamental cooperation in the defense sector has been laid. As fact of collaboration issues, the Mongolia-Belarus Intergovernmental Agreement on “Military-Technical Cooperation” was inked in September 2013. After which, the Second Intergovernmental Commission Meeting on Trade, Economy, Science and Technical Cooperation was successfully organized in Minsk later in September 2014. ^ top ^


Mrs. Lauranne Macherel
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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