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
  28-30.12.2015, No. 603  
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Foreign Policy

78% Chinese believe West intends to contain China (Global Times)
A new poll shows that some 78 percent of Chinese believe Western countries intend to contain China. Some 36.5 percent said the West intends to and have already moved to contain China. Some 41.7 percent say Western countries have such intentions but there exists no obvious action, according to a survey released by the Global Times' Poll Center Tuesday. The annual survey, "How Chinese people view the world," involved telephone responses from 1,530 people from seven Chinese cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Changsha. Jin Canrong, deputy dean of the School of International Studies at the Renmin University of China, told the Global Times on Tuesday that this is how the Chinese feel, following the past year's events. Relations between China and the US have been strained in 2015 due to issues like the South China Sea disputes and cyber security. China and Japan locked horns in disputes around the Diaoyu Islands and Japan's attitude to face up to its wartime history. "The US and Japan did things aimed at China, but China is not that easy to contain," he said. The poll also finds that some 69.4 percent consider Sino-US relations China's most important bilateral relations. However, the number has dropped from 81.3 percent in 2009, 74.6 percent in 2012 and 72.3 percent in 2014. Bilateral relations with Russia, Japan, and the EU ranked as China's second, third and fourth most important diplomatic relations. "It is no surprise to see Chinese pay more attention to Sino-US relations since it influences their lives as the two countries share common interests," Jin said. The survey showed that 27.8 percent agree that the South China Sea disputes have been affecting relations, while 10.5 percent think the cyber security issue soured Sino-US relations. Other issues that may strain the Sino-US relations are the Taiwan issue, 22.6 percent, and the Diaoyu Islands, 22.1 percent. According to the survey, 56.9 percent, most of whom are young people, are optimistic about the future of Sino-US relations while 28.5 percent believe relations will be strained. Jin said that the positive views on the development of Sino-US relations reflect the respondents' confidence in China. "The conflict between China and the US is more about national interests than ideology," Zhang Jiehai, a sociologist at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times. Meantime, 28.6 percent said bilateral relations with Russia are China's second most important, and 24.9 percent said relations with Japan are the third most important. "Sino-Russian and Sino-Japanese relations are considered the most significant neighborly relations. China and Russia have been in recent years moving in a good direction, while Japan and China are still locked in feuds, including historical issues and disputes over the Diaoyu Islands," Zhou Yongsheng, a professor at China Foreign Affairs University, told the Global Times. Zhou said that although Japan is China's second largest trade partner, the disputes between the two countries involve national honor and interests, leaving most Chinese with little faith in the future of Sino-Japanese relations. People who think relations between China and Southeast Asian countries remain important to China dropped by 2.5 percent, compared to 2014. And 53.6 percent agree that disputes in the South China Sea were the main cause of strained relations. The survey also showed that 53.9 percent are optimistic about the future of China's international relations, while 37.6 percent are concerned. ^ top ^

China's powerful new space camera for 'civilian use' launched into high orbit (SCMP)
China has put a camera into space which it claims could snap a picture of an area the size of Greece at in the clearest resolution of any similar imaging device in high orbit. The camera was mounted on a satellite launched from the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre in western China on Tuesday morning. China's space agency said the camera was for civilian use to monitor the earth. It will help with missions such as monitoring the weather and forest fires. Most observation satellites are placed in orbit a few hundred kilometres above the planet, but the Gaofen-4 satellite, the latest in China's global high-definition monitoring network, operates at 36,000km above sea level. The European Space Agency conducted research in 2010 on the feasibility of sending an observation satellite to high altitude orbit, but thought it impossible to spot an object smaller than 1km in length with the existing technology. The Gaofen-4 has achieved an optical resolution of 50 metres, according to the Chinese space authorities. To put that into perspective, the camera could take a picture of an area the size of Henan province, bigger than Greece, an official in charge of the project said, yet the photo is clear enough that you can spot a large ship in the water. The satellite operates on a so-called geostationary orbit, which allows it to appear stationary in the sky and view the same point on earth continuously. Low-orbiting satellites constantly move around the earth and can only take a snapshot of a region during a fly-by. Flying high also gives a satellite a birds-eye view over a larger area. Gaofen-4 lets China to “take as many selfies as it likes without troubling passers-by”, said Professor Jin Linhai, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Remote Sensing and Digital Earth. The Gaofen-4 also carries a heat sensor with a 400-metre resolution to monitor forest fires, extreme weather events and other natural disasters in China and nearby regions, according to the Chinese government. Experts, however, have questioned China's claims that the satellite camera has the most powerful resolution for satellites in high orbit. A 50-metre resolution was good, but China may still trail the West and Russia in the development of high-definition sensors, according to Jin. The United States and Russia have sent numerous reconnaissance satellites into high altitude orbit over the decades, but they kept the level of camera and imaging resolutions classified and they could be higher than that claimed by China, he said. Satellites operating in low orbit already have imaging devices that work at much higher resolutions, with some commercial probes able to show detail at less than one metre. Jin said it was difficult to say whether the benefit of a high-altitude observation satellites could justify the costs, which were not revealed in the latest mission by the Chinese government. Gaofen-4 would, however, have practical uses and give China a strategical hold on an orbiting position higher than most observation satellites around the earth, he said. The United States Air Force launched a couple of spy satellites last year into high, geostationary orbit to monitor the space devices of other nations on the same strategic altitude. Pavel Machalek, the chief executive of the satellite imagery service provider Spaceknow Inc in the United States, said the deployment of Gaofen-4 would “present an interesting and exciting source of geospatial data” if China was open to sharing it. The Chinese government said it would share the images of its Gaofen project, which will have a network of eight satellites with global coverage by 2020. China's next challenge would be in the analysis and exploitation of the data, according to Machalek. US and European companies already automate many jobs ranging from car counting to the “monitoring of construction at the China controlled Spratly Islands”, he said. “We envision Chinese companies and the government would soon have these capabilities,” he said. ^ top ^

Belt and Road not geopolitical tool, says spokesperson (Global Times)
China's "Belt and Road" is an open and inclusive initiative for regional cooperation and not a geopolitical tool, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said on Tuesday. Lu's remarks came after an article published by the New York Times said that Beijing's push to revive the ancient trade routes is causing geopolitical strains, with countries voicing concern about becoming too dependent on China. Lu told a routine press briefing that China was not seeking to secure influence in the region, and would not force anyone's hands. The Belt and Road project is in harmony with the common interests of all related countries and international organizations, Lu said, stressing that it will improve connections between Eurasia and the rest of the world, and spur growth. The Belt and Road initiative, which comprises the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, was suggested by President Xi Jinping in 2013. More than 60 countries and international organizations have expressed positive impressions on the initiative, Lu said, adding that some agreements have been signed and many major projects already making steady progress. The Belt and Road initiative meets the needs of all countries and regions along the route, and is conducive to creating demand and jobs in these areas, the spokesperson said. This will promote recovery of the world economy, which is in the interest of all countries in the world, Lu added. China will continue to push forward pragmatic cooperation with partner countries under the framework to achieve mutual benefit and win-win outcomes, he said. ^ top ^

Families of Chinese 'comfort women' urge apology (Global Times)
Families of Chinese "comfort women" demanded a similar apology from Japan on Monday after Japan and South Korea reached a landmark deal to resolve the dispute on wartime forced sex slavery. "I am very angry and upset, so are many other relatives. If Japan apologizes to the victims in South Korea, why don't they apologize to Chinese victims?" asked Zhou Guiying, son of Guo Xicui, a late "comfort woman" from Shanxi Province. "They [Japan] shouldn't hold different attitudes toward victims in different countries," Zhou, 60, told the Global Times on Monday, adding that Chinese victims deserve an apology which reflects Japan's remorse and sincerity. Japan and South Korea reached a "historic" agreement on Monday on the "comfort women" issue, including an apology from Japan and $8.3 million for a foundation to "restore the honor and dignity" of the victims, the Kyodo News reported. "We have noted the relevant report. The Chinese side always maintains that the Japanese side should face up to and reflect upon its history of aggression and properly deal with the relevant issue with a sense of responsibility," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said on Monday. The forced recruitment of the "comfort women" is a grave crime against humanity committed by the Japanese military during World War II against the people of Asia and other victimized countries, noted Lu. South Korean historians estimate that around 200,000 women, mostly from the Korean peninsula, were forced into sex enslavement, the Xinhua News Agency reported. Su Zhiliang, director of the China "Comfort Women" Issue Research Center at Shanghai Normal University, estimates that around 400,000 women, including 200,000 from China, were forced into sex enslavement, the People's Daily reported in 2014. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe "expressed his heartfelt apology and remorse as prime minister of Japan to all those who have borne physical and psychological scars that will be difficult to heal and who experienced much pain and suffering as comfort women," Japan's Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said at a press conference, the Asahi Shimbun reported Monday. "If Abe's apology goes to 'all the comfort women' as he pledged, why are victims in China not included?" asked Kang Jian, a Beijing-based lawyer who has represented Chinese victims in a number of cases concerning the "comfort women" and wartime slavery. Japan's response shouldn't differ according to the nationality of "comfort women," Kang told the Global Times on Monday, adding that if Japan decides to apologize and compensate the victims in South Korea, there's no reason why they should not do the same for Chinese victims. Kang has participated in three of the four "comfort women" cases brought against the Japanese government. There are very few "comfort women" still alive in China, only 23 as of August 2014, and China's last surviving comfort woman to sue the Japanese government over its wartime atrocities died in December at the age of 89. A total of 16 "comfort women" in Shanxi sued the Japanese government in 1995 for forced sex slavery and asked Japan to apologize for the atrocity and pay compensation. In 2007, the Supreme Court of Japan issued the final judgment in which it acknowledged the historical fact but ruled out compensation. […] ^ top ^

China appears ready to begin mass production of first stealth fighter jet, state media suggest (SCMP)
China “may” have started mass production of its first stealth fighter, the J-20, a state media report suggests. The clue came in slightly blurry photos that Xinhua published on Sunday. They show a plane parked on a runway at an unidentified military airfield, coated in a yellowish paint typically used before the application of radar absorption material. The jet was identical to ones believed to be J-20 prototypes seen in public in previous years. But the key difference was the number painted below the cockpit – “2101”. Earlier versions were numbered 2012 or 2017 or some variation of the final two digits. The appearance of 2101 “may indicate the J-20 has moved from the test flight period to initial mass production”, Xinhua reported, adding the arrival of the final stage would not be surprising. The “2017” version, seen earlier this year, carried only minor changes from its predecessors, such as a reshaped cockpit canopy to provide better visibility for the pilot. The absence of big design changes in the new model indicates the recent prototypes were very close to production configuration. It was previously estimated a small number of J-20s would go into production next year but the new photos suggest the manufacturing pace could be faster, according to Xinhua. Rolling out the fighter jet would put China a step ahead of Russia, which has been struggling to introduce its own stealth fighter jet, the T-50, whose development has been hampered by the country's financial difficulties. But the J-20 is not expected to match the United States' F-22 in performance any time soon. The Chinese stealth fighter is believed to be powered by a relatively weak and dated engine imported from Russia. China is developing a more powerful jet engine for the J-20 at home, but it's not expected to be ready for flight until 2019, according to some estimates. Beijing has been pushing ahead with modernising its air force. In November, Russian media cited an unidentified Russian official as saying Beijing had agreed to pay US$2 billion for 24 Sukhoi-35 fighter jets, the most advanced combat plane the country exports, following nearly half a decade of negotiations. The deal would make China the first foreign buyer of the Su-35. Beijing did not immediately confirm the news. ^ top ^

China tries to revive Taliban peace talks, joining dialogue with Pakistan, Afghanistan and US (SCMP)
Chinese officials will take parts in negotiations between Afghanistan and Pakistan next month in an effort to restart peace talks with the Taliban. The negotiations, which will also involve officials from the United States, were agreed upon on Sunday, officials said, despite growing militant violence. The announcement came as Pakistan's powerful army chief General Raheel Sharif visited Kabul for a meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah. Pakistan hosted a milestone first round of talks in July but the negotiations stalled when the Taliban belatedly confirmed the death of longtime leader Mullah Omar. Ghani has recently pushed to strengthen ties with Pakistan - the Taliban's historic backers - in a desperate bid to restart the talks as the insurgency expands. “Both sides agreed that the first round of dialogue between Afghanistan, Pakistan, US and China will be held in January to layout a comprehensive roadmap for peace,” the Afghan presidential palace said in a statement. Asim Bajwa, a Pakistani military spokesman, said on Twitter that the talks will be held in the first week of January but did not disclose the venue. There was no immediate reaction from the Taliban, who have recently stepped up attacks on government and foreign targets. Afghan forces are currently battling to push out Taliban insurgents who seized large swathes of the key opium-rich district of Sangin in southern Helmand province. Observers say the intensifying insurgency highlights a push by the militants to seize more territory in a bid to wrangle greater concessions during talks. The army chief's visit to Kabul follows talks between Ghani and Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif over recent weeks that sought to pave the way for a Islamabad-brokered peace process. Afghanistan sees Pakistan's support as vital to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. But despite the growing bonhomie, analysts caution that any substantive talks are still a long way off. Afghanistan's intelligence chief Rahmatullah Nabil resigned this month over Ghani's diplomatic outreach to Pakistan. His resignation highlighted the domestic backlash Ghani faces over his attempts to mend relations with the neighbouring country, long blamed for nurturing the Taliban. ^ top ^

French journalist 'forced out of Beijing' over reporting (SCMP)
A French journalist said she was prepared to leave the mainland and does not expect the authorities to renew her press credentials because of her reporting of Beijing's efforts to equate ethnic violence in the western Muslim region with global terrorism. Ursula Gauthier, a veteran journalist for French news magazine L'Obs, said late on Friday that the Foreign Ministry demanded she issue a public apology and distance herself from any group that should present her case as infringement of press freedom. Left with no room for negotiations, she said she planned to leave on December 31 when her visa expires. “They want a public apology for things that I have not written,” Gauthier said. “They are accusing me of writing things that I have not written.” The fallout began with an article Gauthier wrote on November 18, shortly after the attacks in Paris. She said that Beijing's proclaimed solidarity with Paris was not without ulterior motives as Beijing sought international support for its assertion that ethnic violence in Xinjiang (新疆) was part of global terrorism. Gauthier wrote that some of the violent attacks in Xinjiang appeared to be home-grown with no evidence of foreign ties, an observation that has been made by many foreign experts on security and Xinjiang's ethnic policies. Advocacy groups have argued that the violence was more likely to be a response to Beijing's suppressive policies in Xinjiang. Gauthier focused in her article on a deadly mine attack in a remote region of Xinjiang, which she described as more likely an act by Uygurs against mine workers of the majority Han ethnic group over what the ethnic minority group perceived as mistreatment, injustice and exploitation. The article quickly drew stern criticism from state media and the government in Beijing. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs criticised Western media for using double standards in reporting on the violence and said terrorism should not be considered ethnic violence in Xinjiang. “Why is terrorism in other countries called terrorist actions, but it turns out to be ethnic and religious issues in China?” ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying (華春瑩) said at a regular news briefing on December 2. By then, state media had carried abusive editorials against Gauthier, accusing her of deep prejudice against China. Gauthier on Friday said the Foreign Ministry demanded her to apologies for “hurting Chinese people's feelings with wrong and hateful actions and words”, and to publicly state that she recognised that there have been terrorist attacks in and outside Xinjiang. She said she could not comply and would not distance herself from support groups. “[They are just trying to show] foreign correspondents here what happens if you write what is not palatable to Chinese authorities,” she said. If Gauthier's credentials are not renewed by the end of year, she will become the first foreign journalist to be expelled from China since US journalist Melissa Chan, then working at Al Jazeera in Beijing, was expelled in 2012. ^ top ^

New law allows PLA to undertake counterterror missions overseas (Xinhua)
China's new counter-terrorism law has made it legal for the People's Liberation Army (PLA) to participate in counterterror missions overseas. The PLA and the country's armed police forces may carry out such operations with the approval from the Central Military Commission, says the law adopted by top legislature on Sunday. Public security and national security authorities may also send personnel overseas for counter-terrorism missions, with the approval from the State Council and agreements from concerned countries. The law also stipulates that related departments, authorized by the State Council, may collaborate with overseas governments and international organizations in holding policy dialogues, communicating on intelligence information, enforcing the law and regulating international capitals. The new law comes at a delicate time for China and for the world at large - terror attacks in Paris, the bombing of a Russian passenger jet over Egypt, and the brutal killings of hostages committed by the notorious Islamic State (IS) extremist group are alerting the world about an ever-growing threat of terrorism. It will provide legal support to the country's counter-terrorism activities as well as collaboration with the international society, said An Weixing, an official with the public security ministry, at Sunday's press conference. ^ top ^

Jet-setting Xi: With 14 global trips this year, China's president is the country's most-travelled leader since foundation of communist state (SCMP)
This year's list of the world's best-travelled heads of state included a surprising upstart. Naturally, the old guard of presidential travel made a strong appearance: President Barack Obama travelled to 11 countries, Russian President Vladimir Putin to 14 and French President François Hollande to more than 50. Then there was Chinese President Xi Jinping, who visited 14 countries in 2015 – making him not only a top political globetrotter, but also China's best-travelled top leader since the Communist party took power in 1949. Xi's predecessor, Hu Jintao, visited only seven countries during his decade as China's top leader. Since Xi took the reins in 2012, he has visited more than 30. This year alone he visited Pakistan, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, the United States, the United Kingdom, Vietnam, Singapore, the Philippines, Turkey, France, Zimbabwe and South Africa. “Xi is absolutely a high-profile foreign-policy president,” said Xie Tao, a professor of international relations at Beijing Foreign Studies University. “Rather than only bringing in business contracts for Chinese enterprises, Xi wants to gain more political influence (abroad).” Experts say that Xi has embarked on a long string of ambitious foreign projects to shape perceptions of Beijing both at home and overseas. Domestically, he may hope that a dramatic foreign policy agenda will divert attention from widespread concerns about a protracted economic slump – China's economy grew 7.3 per cent in 2014, its slowest annual pace since 1990. Internationally, he wants to show that China's political clout can match its economic power, allowing the country to challenge the United States as a geopolitical superpower. “When China's internal economic growth is slowing down, Xi and the Communist Party have to show Chinese people that China is playing a bigger role externally,” said Willy Lam, an expert on Beijing's foreign policy at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “I don't see a physical war between China and the U.S. in the near future, but the competition between the two countries will definitely grow more and more fierce,” he added. Xi has developed several high-profile international institutions to rival those of the West, signalling that his ambitions stretch beyond the next few years. His multi-billion-dollar Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, a Beijing-based alternative to the World Bank, has attracted US allies as founding members. His One Belt One Road initiative, an ambitious development strategy, involves plans to establish trade routes throughout Asia and Europe. Xi has signed US$130 billion in business deals while abroad this year, worth more than the total gross domestic product of many small nations. The deals include a US$7.7 billion deal with the Toulouse, France-based aircraft manufacturer Airbus to buy 70 commercial passenger planes; a US$5 billion deal to build a high-speed rail line connecting Los Angeles and Las Vegas; and a US$3 billion deal to build two “ecological parks” in Wales. Yet Xi has complemented his deal-signing with increased aggression in the South and East China seas, raising tensions with neighbours including Japan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines. Beijing is attempting to bolster its claims by building artificial islands made of dredged-up sand in disputed maritime territory near the Philippines. In October, the United States — which does not recognise China's claims — sent a guided missile destroyer within 12 nautical miles of the islands as a “freedom of navigation” exercise, drawing harsh rebukes from the Chinese foreign ministry. In September, Xi held a big military parade in central Beijing to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the second world war. Although many Chinese saw the display –– which included 12,000 troops and dozens of tanks, missiles and planes –– as a reassuring sign of national strength, many foreign observers saw it as an unnerving display of military might. Commentators have called Xi the strongest Chinese leader since Mao Tse-tung and say that foreign leaders have taken note of his unusually powerful position. “In the Hu era, other countries sometimes weren't so sure whether to listen to Hu or China's Foreign Ministry, [especially] when the two sides weren't in perfect consensus,” said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University of China in Beijing. “But everyone now knows that if you want to deal with China, you need to deal with Xi Jinping”. This year, a group of Harvard University researchers showed that 12 out of 16 historical instances in which a rising power has confronted a ruling power have resulted in war. Xi himself addressed the theory – called the Thucydides Trap — head on in Seattle during his US state visit this year. “There is no such thing as the so-called Thucydides Trap,” he said. “But should major countries time and again make the mistakes of strategic miscalculation, they might create such traps for themselves.” ^ top ^

AIIB formally established in Beijing (Global Times)
The China-initiated Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), a complement to existing international financial system, was formally established Friday in Beijing and expected to start operation early next year. "The AIIB is legally established as the Articles of Agreement take effect today," said Lou Jiwei, China's Minister of Finance. The Articles of Agreement outlines the financial share of each founding member as well as rules for policymaking, governance structure, and business and operational systems for the bank. It became effective once the legislatures of 17 members, who hold a combined 50.1 percent stake in the bank, ratified the agreement. As long as at least 10 signatories, and no less than 50 percent of the capital contribution, obtain legislative approval, the agreement will become effective. The establishment of the AIIB marks a milestone in the reform of global economic governance system, Lou said. The AIIB will be operational after board of directors and executive council meet for the first time. The meetings are slated to run from Jan. 16 to 18 in Beijing, according to Lou. The bank's president will be officially appointed and the management team will be in place at the meetings. The bank will start recruiting new members, Jin Liqun, the bank's president-designate, said in an interview with Xinhua, adding that members of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) could apply to join the AIIB. The bank will always be open to new membership, Jin said. The bank, headquartered in Beijing, now has 57 members. China, India and Russia are the three largest shareholders, taking a 30.34 percent, 8.52 percent, 6.66 percent stake, respectively. Their voting shares are calculated at 26.06 percent, 7.5 percent and 5.92 percent. "China is not deliberately seeking a veto power," its stake and voting share in the initial stage are the "natural outcome" of current rules, and may be diluted as more members join, China's Vice Finance Minister Shi Yaobin said in an interview with Xinhua. As its name suggests, the AIIB will finance infrastructure -- airports, mobile phone towers, railways and roads -- in Asia. There is a yawning infrastructure funding gap in Asia. The ADB pegged the hole with about 8 trillion US dollars between 2010 and 2020. While both the ADB and World Bank focus on a broad range of development programs including agriculture, education and gender equality, the AIIB will concentrate on infrastructure alone. The International Monetary Fund, World Bank and ADB have all welcomed the AIIB initiative and see room for collaboration. With authorized capital of 100 billion dollars, the AIIB will initially prioritize investment in energy, power generation, transportation, rural infrastructure, environmental protection and logistics. It is expected to offer loans to the first batch of projects in mid-2016. ^ top ^

Political settlement is the only solution to Syrian crisis: Chinese envoy (Global Times)
A political settlement is the only solution to the Syrian conflict and a fundamental way to improve the refugee crisis, said a Chinese envoy to the United Nations on Tuesday. Wang Min, China's deputy permanent representative to the UN, said the continuous deterioration of the humanitarian situation has brought untold suffering to the Syrian people and China expresses its sadness and empathy to the Syrian people. He made the remarks after the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday unanimously adopted a resolution which extends for another year the cross-border delivery of humanitarian assistance to Syrians in urgent need. China calls on the Syrian parties concerned to fulfill their obligations and effectively implement UN Security Council resolutions so as to ensure effective cross-border humanitarian relief and truly alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people, the Chinese envoy said. Currently, the fight against terrorism is a top priority of the international community, Wang said. "We hope the international community, while carrying out cross-border humanitarian relief, forges synergy with counter-terrorism efforts of the international community." On Dec. 18, the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2254, which reflects the broad consensus of the international community, the important role of the council and the ardent expectations of the Syrian people, he said. China hopes relevant parties can make joint efforts to implement this resolution as soon as possible and bring peace to the Syrian people, he said. The resolution 2254 endorsed a road map for a peace process in Syria, setting out an early-January timetable for United Nations-facilitated talks between the Syrian government and opposition members, as well as a nationwide ceasefire to begin as soon as the parties concerned had taken initial steps towards a political transition. ^ top ^


Domestic Policy

Land with lost soil continues to decline (China Daily)
Areas of desertification and sandification - land on which soil has been lost - have continued to decline, the State Forestry Administration said on Tuesday. Its latest survey showed that by the end of 2014, the desertified land area had dropped by 12,120 square kilometers to 2.6 million square kilometers. At the same time, sandified land area fell by 9,902 square kilometers to 1.7 million square kilometers. Zhang Jianlong, director of the State Forestry Administration, said the results "are much more encouraging" when compared with 2009. Besides the net reductions, Zhang said sandstorms in nearby regions have been reduced significantly, such as in Beijing. However, Zhang said ecological preservation and combating desertification remain an arduous task. "Currently, desertified land and sandified land accounted for over one-fourth and one-sixth of China's territory respectively, and is the most serious ecological issue in China," said Zhang. "During the 13th Five-Year-Plan period (2016-20), a total of 100,000 square kilometers of sandified land needs to be improved, which means 20,000 square kilometers needs to be improved annually. It requires tremendous effort to fulfill the task." Meanwhile, it is hard to protect the restored land areas. "The ecosystem and natural conditions in sandy areas are very fragile. It is easier to destroy than restore," added Zhang. "The 300,300 square kilometers of land with significant sandification tendencies will easily become a sandland if not properly protected." ^ top ^

Why did China convene its first urban work conference in 37 years? (China Daily)
On Dec 20, the Chinese government convened its first Central Urban Work Conference in 37 years. Why was the meeting held at this time? What can we expect from this meeting? The Central Urban Work Conference is a meeting in which the central government lays out the guiding plan for the development of cities. The one held last week was the first such meeting since the reform and opening-up policy was initiated in 1978. In 1949, the Communist Party of China asserted control over most parts of the Chinese mainland. In the 2nd Plenary Session of the 7th CPC Central Committee held in March 1949, the party pointed out that its focus of work would shift from rural areas to urban areas, which demanded it learn to build and manage cities. In the early 1960s, to manage cities across the country in a centralized and unified way and to address the major problems appearing in urban management, the central government convened, in succession, the first and the second urban work conference. The role of cities was defined at the two conferences, and it was emphasized that cities should support the development of rural areas. In 1978, the third national urban work conference was held in Beijing. The meeting was held at a time when the construction of new cities boomed and proceeded in a planned way. One of the main subjects of the meeting was where the money for city construction should come from. After more than three decades of development, China has witnessed massive urbanization – 750 million people, which make up more than half of the population, live in cites now, compared with only 18 percent in 1978. The number of cities jumped from 193 to 653 and every year, 21 million people – which is equivalent to the population of Romania - move to cities. China is in a crucial transition period from a rural society to urban society. The process of urbanization led to a range of problems, such as air pollution, congestion, too much garbage and a lack of cultural identity. To cope with these problems and make the development of cities sustainable, a top-level design is urgently needed. That's why the Central Urban Work Conference was held. Goals of China's city development: [1] To enable people in central and western areas to benefit from the development of cities without leaving their hometown. [2] To keep the distinctive landscape and cultural and architectural identities of cities. [3] To carry on the historical and cultural heritage of cities. [4] To build cities with beautiful natural landscapes. [5] To keep the expansion of cities within planned boundaries and to build smart and compact cities. ^ top ^

Former China Unicom chairman Chang Xiaobing 'sold state asset at fraction of its price to benefit disgraced general Guo Boxiong' (SCMP)
China Unicom's former chairman is said to have sold a state-owned office building in Beijing at 800 million yuan (HK$957 million) below the market price to benefit disgraced former general Guo Boxiong's (郭伯雄) family, according to a letter by a mainland credit assessment company. Chang Xiaobing (常小兵) is under investigation for corruption, the Communist Party's top anti-graft watchdog said on Sunday. He is the latest senior executive of a state-owned enterprise to fall in the mainland's massive crackdown on corruption. The letter that blew the whistle on Chang was carried online by many mainland news websites and remained there despite Beijing's tight control over the media and the internet. It contained the name and phone numbers of Li Zhengdong, an employee at China Chengxin Credit Management. The credit assessment firm is located in the building allegedly sold by China Unicom. A staff member at the firm's reception confirmed Li was an employee. State-owned telecommunications giant China Unicom in 2011 sold the Beijing China Merchants International Financial Centre to a real estate firm under the control of Guo's family, the letter said. Guo, a former vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission, was once the Chinese army's second most powerful man. The letter said the deal resulted in about 800 million yuan worth of losses in state assets as the building was sold at only a third of its market price of 1.2 billion yuan. Other potential buyers, including insurance giant Taikang Life Insurance, had offered much higher prices but were turned down, it said. The letter added that Chang was among the top decision-makers in the deal. He was China Unicom's chairman from November 2004 to August this year. The letter said the buyer, Guoao Estate, was controlled by the Guo family, but did not elaborate. It also said China Unicom collaborated with Guoao Estate and Beijing Zhongzheng Estate to evade some 320 million yuan of taxes. The letter, addressed to the anti-graft watchdog, was dated January, three months before Guo was put under investigation for corruption. He was expelled from the party in July. The letter was made public on Monday, a day after the announcement that Chang had come under investigation. It is unclear if it led to Guo or Chang's fall. Images of the letter were released on the social media account of an IT firm, Rongxun. The image carried the byline of the party committee of China Chengxin Credit Management. The letter said Chengxin was threatened by a mob to move out of the building. The mob was sent by Guoao, which said they worked for the Guo family, the letter said. Calls to Rongxun and Li's numbers went unanswered. ^ top ^

Monitor your families for corruption, China's President Xi tells Communist Party leaders (SCMP)
China's President Xi Jinping on Tuesday called on top Communist Party leaders to strictly manage the people close to them to prevent corruption – and to learn from the fall of their former colleagues Zhou Yongkang, Bo Xilai and others. At the latest “democratic life meeting” of the 25-member politburo, top cadres said preventing the re-emergence of corrupt practices and upholding the party's working style were still top priorities despite the successes of Xi's crackdown on graft. Xi asked fellow leaders to act as role models and to monitor and correct the behaviour of wayward members of their families or people working for them. He said without self-discipline, cadres were at risk of losing their ethics as they rose through the ranks. He cited the cases of corrupt former high-level leaders including the former politburo members Zhou Yongkang and Bo Xilai, as well as Xu Caihou, Guo Boxiong and Ling Jihua. “Comrades of the politburo must not feel any superiority in terms of power and positon,” Xi said. The top leadership agreed to continue to educate party cadres above county level to reinforce the achievements of the anti-corruption drive and stressed that the campaign must continue. A “democratic life meeting” occurs when the party gathers members to reflect on their works and thoughts. Participants are supposed to engage in open criticism and self-criticism. Former Secretary General Hu Yaobang resigned after being criticised for being too “liberal” at such a meeting in 1987. Since ascending to power, Xi has been using democratic life meetings to revive the Maoist tradition of “mass line” – or following the masses. The first democratic life meeting of the politburo under his reign lasted four days in June 2013, themed on anti-corruption. ^ top ^

China to build large hydropower projects in rural areas (China Daily)
China will add 6 million kilowatts of installed capacity of hydropower in rural areas during the 13th Five Year Plan period (2016-2020), a government official said on Tuesday. Xu Dezhi, deputy director of the Bureau of Rural Hydropower and Electrification Development under the Ministry of Water Resources, said in a news conference on Tuesday that the country will continue to prioritize the development of rural hydropower to aid its poverty relief efforts. The country will also renovate or expand about 3000 rural hydropower projects, most of which were built before 2000, to ensure the safety of projects and further increase their installed power generation capacity, he said. "The potential for hydropower development in rural areas is still huge, especially in the western provinces," he said. The country has a combined installed capacity of 75 million kilowatts of rural hydropower by the end of 2014, which is only 58.6 percent of the nation's total exploitation scale, he said. However, he warns that the difficulty of hydropower exploitation also increases as more projects are developed in the western provincial areas. He conceded that some projects have already affected river ecosystems, and there were also problems of overexploitation of water resources in some small rivers. "Some projects have also resulted in a reduction of water volume, and thus affected the river ecosystem and the life of residents in the downstream area," he said. Meanwhile, a lack of legislation on rural hydropower exploitation has also resulted in lack of proper management in the hydropower projects, he said. Xu said a sound development plan is key to the protection of ecology during the rural hydropower exploitation. The ecological protection measures must be implemented throughout planning construction and operation procedures, he said. ^ top ^

Audit finds $38 billion in misused funds (Global Times)
China's top auditing body has found more than 250 billion yuan ($38 billion) in misused funds in its recent audit, with analysts saying the anti-graft campaign will pick up in 2016. Liu Jiayi, head of the National Audit Office (NAO), said at the national auditing work conference on Monday that the NAO conducted audits on more than 20,000 officials, and found misused funds of more than 250 billion yuan. Liu said NAO had handed over 321 officials and related staff to judicial and discipline inspection authorities. Audit authorities have been promoting the efficient use of funds, the smooth implementation of projects and identifying malpractices, said Liu, adding that authorities have audited 700,000 companies or institutions and retrieved over 1.7 trillion yuan. "The top auditor has played an important role in cracking down on corruption. And the Party strengthened its anti-graft campaign in 2015 by arresting corrupt officials and punishing them," Deng Lianfan, an anti-corruption expert from Hunan Province, told the Global Times on Monday. In 2015, more than 30 ministerial level officials from 31 provinces were placed under investigation for violating Party disciplines, and the anti-corruption campaign expanded to other branches, including the military, judicial departments, State-owned enterprises and regulatory agencies, according to the Xinhua News Agency. The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) began a new round of investigations into major State-owned enterprises in November 2014, and dozens of senior officials in the petrochemical, coal and telecom sectors have been probed. Senior officials in State-dominated industries have been arrested, including the former chairman of China National Petroleum Corporation and the chairman of the FAW Group. […] But it also shows how complex the situation is, that even if the Party imposes strict rules and regulations on officials many are still willing to take the risk, said Zhang. President Xi Jinping said in a written interview with the Wall Street Journal in September that "As we go further into the anti-corruption campaign, we will focus more on institution-building so that officials will not dare and cannot afford to be corrupt and, more importantly, will have no desire to take that course." In October, the Communist Party of China Central Committee published new rules on clean government and sanctions on those who violate the Party code of conduct, aiming to improve the management of its 88 million members. The rules state that Party members must separate public and private interests, put the public's interests first, and work selflessly. And they require members to live a simple life and guard against extravagance. According to the Guangming Daily, 145,432 officials have been investigated for allegedly violating the CPC's eight-point frugality campaign started in December 2012. […] Provincial governments should provide more support to the CCDI, which has played a major role in pushing the current anti-graft campaign, said Zhu. Deng also said that pushing the anti-graft campaign nationally should not only rely on the CCDI. "Party discipline inspection agencies at all levels should take greater responsibility in supervising their officials. Judicial systems, audit authorities and the media should join hands in monitoring discipline violators," said Deng. ^ top ^

Corruption gets a cartoon rap: Chinese propaganda spins lyrics on Xi Jinping's reforms (SCMP)
First it was a cartoon featuring top Communist Party leaders, then it was a music video about the five-year plan and now China's propagandists have released a cartoon rap song about reform. State-run CCTV released the cartoon rap on Saturday to mark the second anniversary of the Central Leading Group for Comprehensively Deepening Reforms, a high-powered committee founded and headed by President Xi Jinping. The cartoon extolled the group's long list of achievements, ranging from market-oriented reforms and the anti-graft campaign to the yuan's acceptance as an International Monetary Fund special drawing rights currency and efforts to fight smog. “The group is two years old; it has done quite a lot. Tigers, flies, big foxes, CATCH CATCH CATCH CATCH!” the song goes. The line is followed by a sound bite from Xi urging: “All corruption must be punished. Every corrupt official must be prosecuted.” The leading group has spearheaded Xi's signature reform programme which has been the centrepiece of his first term as president and party general secretary. The group defines policy on issues such as reform of the economy, legal system and state-owned enterprises and the anti-corruption campaign. The cartoon is the latest tactic in Beijing's propaganda effort to reach to a generation that communicates via smartphones and “like” buttons. Beijing released another music video in English in October to draw attention to the latest five-year plan. Backed by an acoustic guitar, four cartoon characters with American accents sang about the plan as they stood on top of a retro Volkswagen van. Since Xi rose to power in 2012, Beijing has attached greater importance to propaganda online, and has adopted new tactics. He underlined the message at the first meeting of the Central Leading Group of Internet Security and Informatisation in February last year, calling for “innovating and improving propaganda online”. Without internet security, there is no state security, he added. [full lyrics in English on SCMP] ^ top ^

China's sweeping military reforms to strengthen grip of Communist Party, says army newspaper (SCMP)
The PLA's official newspaper has run a signed commentary arguing that President Xi Jinping's reforms of the military were aimed at consolidating the Communist Party's control over the armed forces, while accusing unnamed hostile forces of attempting to “pull the military away” from the party's banner. The commentary in the PLA Daily by Cui Lianjie, a deputy director at the PLA Nanjing Institute of Politics, said the reforms would strengthen the power of the Central Military Commission, which is headed by Xi, and make sure supreme leadership and command belonged to him. The president has announced sweeping changes to China's military, including cutting personnel by about 300,000, to improve the efficiency and combat readiness of the PLA. “The party's absolute leadership of the army is not an abstract principle, it has a set of institutional arrangements to make sure this is the case,” Monday's commentary said. Consolidating regional commands and reorganising army headquarters were in line with that goal, the article added. Xi said last week during his first visit to the PLA Daily since he became head of the military that the newspaper should uphold the Communist Party's absolute leadership over the army and maintain a high degree of consistency with the party leadership, the state-run news agency Xinhua reported. “Military propaganda work and an excellent public opinion environment must be created for advancing the national defence and military reforms,” the president was quoted as saying. The newspaper carried a rare article last month expressing concerns that Beijing could destabilise the armed services and society if it went ahead with plans to restructure and slash the size of the country's military without addressing the issues of salaries and pensions. The article was written by two senior researchers at the PLA National Defence University's department of strategic education and research. Their public show of concern suggested Xi's plans have met some resistance from within the military. ^ top ^

China passes landmark law to battle terrorism at home and overseas (SCMP)
Beijing will expand its counter­terrorism apparatus and tech companies will have to hand over encryption keys on demand to security agencies following the adoption of the country's first anti-terror law on Sunday. The law, which goes into effect on January 1, also allows the ­People's Liberation Army to take part in counterterrorism operations overseas, providing the missions are approved by the Central Military Commission and the countries involved. A state-level leading group on counterterrorism will be established and governments of and above the city level will also need to set up affiliated agencies. The law was passed unanimously by the National People's Congress Standing Committee. One provision requires technology companies to share ­encryption keys and back-door access with state security agents seeking to prevent or investigate terrorists acts. Critics said the law would threaten freedom of expression and intellectual property rights. US President Barack Obama said in March he raised his concerns about the law with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping. But Chinese officials said on Sunday the requirement was necessary, and lawmakers had already taken the need to protect business interests into account. Li Shouwei, deputy head of the criminal law division of the NPC Standing Committee's legislative affairs commission, said similar requirements were in place in other countries. “The rule accords with the actual need to fight terrorism and is basically the same as those in other major countries around the world,” Li said. The law's passage comes amid heightened concerns about violence in Xinjiang and reports of Uygurs going to Syria to fight with Islamic State militants. China previously did not have a specific counterterrorism law, although related provisions were part of the Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure Law and Emergency Response Law. Experts said the legislation could give agencies a clear legal definition within which they could exercise their power. “With a better legal framework, the coordination and planning of counterterrorism work in China can improve,” said Li Wei, an analyst at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations. Retired colonel Yue Gang said the military should be involved in overseas missions if there were threats in other countries that affected China. “But we should do it without affecting the sovereignty of other nations,” Yue said. Rohan Gunaratna, head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, said China faced a significant threat from terrorism. “The law is created in ­anticipation of the emerging threat and to manage the current threat,” he said. He said China should join military actions against IS, improve domestic capacity to combat terror and build close ties with the Muslim community at home. ^ top ^

China officially ends one-child policy with legislation allowing two-child families for all married couples (SCMP)
China officially ended its one-child policy on Sunday with the signing into law of a bill allowing all married couples to have a second child as it attempts to cope with an ageing population and shrinking workforce. The change, which was announced in October by the Communist Party, would take effect on January 1, Xinhua reported. All married couples will be allowed to have a second child but the legislation maintains limits on additional births. The law was formally adopted by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress as it wrapped up its bimonthly session. The one-child policy, instituted in the late 1970s, restricted most couples to only a single offspring and for years authorities argued it was a key factor to the country's economic boom and had prevented 400 million births. It has been enforced by a national commission with a system of fines for violators and often forced abortions, leading to heartrending tales of loss for would-be parents. The policy led to sex-selective abortions or infanticide targeting girls, because of a centuries-old social preference for boys. Rural families were already allowed two children if the first was a girl, while ethnic minorities were allowed an extra offspring, leading some to dub it a “one-and-a-half child” policy. As a result China's population – the world's largest at 1.37 billion – is now ageing rapidly, sex imbalances are severe, and its workforce is shrinking. These concerns led to limited reforms in 2013, including allowing couples to have two children if either of them was an only child, but relatively few have taken up the opportunity due to limited income and higher perceived opportunity costs. Experts say that the shift to a two child policy is likely too little, too late to address the mainland's looming population crisis and that the government is unlikely to dismantle enforcement mechanisms for reproductive control due to deeply entrenched bureaucratic interests. Some mainland hospitals are anticipating a surge in the number of people having a second child. Cheng Haidong, a professor of a hospital affiliated with Fudan University told online news portal that they expected 20 per cent more women at high risk group, meaning those aged above 35, to give birth. The legislature also adopted the mainland's first bill against domestic violence. “The country prohibits any form of domestic violence,” reads the new law, which formally defined domestic violence and streamlined the process for obtaining restraining orders – measures long sought by women's rights groups. ^ top ^

Legislators approve China's first law against domestic violence (Xinhua)
Chinese top legislature on Sunday adopted the country's first bill against domestic violence in a landmark move to bring traditionally silent abuse victims under legal protection. The legislation was approved Sunday afternoon by a landslide majority at the end of a week-long bimonthly session of the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee. "The country prohibits any form of domestic violence," reads the new law, which formally defines domestic violence and streamlines the process for obtaining restraining orders - measures long advocated by anti-domestic abuse groups. Domestic violence is defined as physical, psychological and other harm inflicted by family members with beatings, restraint or forcible limits on physical liberty, recurring invectives and verbal threats listed as examples. An earlier draft, submitted in August this year, included only physical abuse, but many lawmakers have since argued that the definition was too narrow, Su Zelin, deputy director with the Commission for Legislative Affairs of the NPC Standing Committee, said earlier this week when briefing lawmakers on the legislation. They also argued that cohabitation should be covered, Su said, so the new law stipulated in a supplementary article that those who are not related but living together are also subject. According to Guo Linmao, a legislative official from the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee legal affairs commission, the "living together" relationship covers also those in guardianship and foster care relationships as well as cohabitation, he said. But there is in the law no stipulations on same-sex relationships, he added. NO LONGER A PRIVATE MATTER Up till this week, China did not have a specialized law on family abuse. References to the matter were only made in other laws and regulations such as the Marriage Law, the Law on the Protection of Minors and the Law on the Protection of the Rights and Interests of Women. Family violence has remained in the shadows for a long time in China, where family conflicts are treated as embarrassing, private matters. Less than two decades ago, physical abuse was not even acceptable as grounds for divorce in China. In 2001 the Marriage Law was amended to explicitly ban domestic violence. But without a legal definition of the term, many victims - if they reported abuse at all - have been shuffled from police to women's federations to neighborhood committees, with authorities reluctant to intervene unless serious injury is involved. Only in recent years has the issue become a subject for serious public discussion, thanks to increasing public awareness and media reports on high-profile cases. In 2011 Kim Lee, wife of celebrity entrepreneur Li Yang, who founded the hugely popular English learning program "Crazy English", posted pictures of her bruised face on Sina Weibo and accused Li of domestic violence. Many people were shocked and urged Kim to use the law as a weapon. Li Yang's response, however, was even more shocking. He admitted to beating his wife but blamed her for breaking the Chinese tradition of not disclosing family affairs to the public. In 2013, Kim was granted a divorce, alimony and compensation by a Chinese court. According to the All-China Women's Federation (ACWF), nearly 25 percent of Chinese women have suffered domestic violence in their marriage. More than 40,000 complaints of domestic violence are lodged with the ACWF each year. Victims resorting to the ACWF for help are mainly women, children and the elderly, and 88.3 percent of cases received in 2014 involved abuse of wives by their husbands. PREVENTION AS PRINCIPLE In order to prevent and check abuse, the new law clarifies the responsibilities of different groups, including government, communities, schools and medical institutions. Government publicity campaigns will encourage social groups to carry out their own public education programs. Government departments, the judiciary, and women's associations should host training sessions on the topic and work on domestic violence related statistics. Medical institutions must keep records on abused while schools will get the message across to young people. The new law also obliges employers to reprimand employees over domestic violence and mediate family disputes. It enables individuals and organizations to prevent violence by allowing legal guardians and close relatives of victims, in addition to the victims themselves, to report abuse. Police will be obliged to step in immediately when such a report is filed. PERSONAL PROTECTION ORDERS According to the new bill, victims and those in immediate danger can file for a personal protection order that the court must grant or deny within 72 hours. In urgent cases, decisions must be made within 24 hours. Police, women's federations and social service organs, in addition to close relatives, will be able to apply for orders for those with no or limited civil capacity or those who cannot do so themselves as a result of physical force or threats. Once the order is granted, courts may prohibit the abuser from harassing, stalking or contacting the applicant and his or her close relatives, order the abuser to move out of the home, or adopt various other measures to protect the applicant. Should the abuser violate the protection order, they may be fined up to 1,000 yuan (155 U.S. dollars), detained for up to 15 days or face criminal charges in serious offences. PROTECTION FOR THE VULNERABLE The new law also sets out to enhance protection for particularly vulnerable groups: the critically ill, disabled people, the elderly, minors and pregnant or breastfeeding women will be entitled to special attention. Police must notify civil affairs departments should they find that those with no or limited civil capacity have been harmed, or are under threat and are unattended, and escort them to temporary shelters, salvage services or welfare centers, the bill read. It also requires social workers, in addition to doctors and teachers, to report suspected abuse cases involving those with no or limited civil capacity. Should they fail to do so, the workers will be held liable in cases with serious consequences along with those in charge of the institutions concerned and their superior organs. Police will protect the privacy of informants. ^ top ^

Convicted Chinese human rights lawyer to be released soon, but he remains far from free (SCMP)
Although Chinese human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang will be released days after he was given his suspended jail sentence this week, the previously outspoken figure will be under tight restrictions aimed at silencing him, rights experts say. A Beijing court on Tuesday convicted Pu, 50, of “inciting ethnic hatred” and “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” but gave him a three-year reprieve. His conviction was based on content in seven of his microblog messages, which were critical of the Communist Party. The suspended sentence means Pu will be on probation for three years; if he violates the terms of the probation or commits offences in that time, he will have to serve his original sentence. His lawyer's licence will also be permanently revoked as convicted lawyers are barred from practising. Experts say the probation conditions will severely limit Pu's personal freedoms as well as rein in and silence the lawyer known for his bold, feisty personality. Pu will have to periodically report his activities to the authorities and seek police permission before leaving Beijing. The probation will also limit who he meets and subject him to the vague requirement of “abiding by law and administrative regulations as well as obeying supervision”. Even after his sentencing, Pu was not able to go home immediately. Instead, he was put under “designated residential surveillance” at an undisclosed location. He will remain detained through the official appeal period for the next 10 days, though he says he will not appeal. “Pu is not free; he has been convicted, he is serving a sentence through compulsory measures and is subject to various regulations that strictly regulate his life,” said John Kamm, founder of Dui Hua Foundation. Kamm drew attention to the case of dissident lawyer Gao Zhisheng. Gao was sentenced in 2006 to three years' jail suspended for five years, but was jailed shortly before completing his probation on the grounds of having violated its terms. Hong Kong-based human rights researcher Joshua Rosenzweig said there were concerns that stricter measures, such as house arrest, would be used to restrict Pu's freedom under the pretext of “proper” supervision. There was also a risk that police would threaten to revoke the suspended sentence if he disobeyed their instructions, he said. “[They'll say] if you violate our terms, you'll go to prison,” Rosenzweig said. Experts say state media portrayal of Pu “confessing” and apologising meekly during his ­ordeal was meant to diminish his stature as a fearless rights defender and to bolster the state's ­authority. In a handwritten note dated December 20 allegedly written by Pu two days before his trial, he thanked the police, prosecution and the court and “approved of” the accusations made against him – the humble and submissive tone was uncharacteristic of Pu. “I am willing to accept the punishment of the law and guarantee that I will submit to the verdict and not appeal... I will learn a lesson and be cautious with my words and behaviour and I ask for leniency,” the statement read. Pu's lawyer Shang Baojun said he had no knowledge of the statement but that the handwriting resembled Pu's. “It looks like Pu was trying his best to meet their demands,” Shang said, adding that he had never heard Pu admitting to being guilty. Rosenszweig said: “This is part of the strategy to diminish his reputation as an independent person... In exchange for freedom, you have to bow down to the authority of the legal system.” Experts say that even though Pu is seen to have been shown clemency, he has already paid a heavy price. He was locked up in police detention for 19 months before his trial, and can no longer practise law. “There will be a sword of Damocles always hanging above his head,” Shang said. Rosenzweig said that by giving Pu a suspended sentence and disbarring him permanently, the authorities had already achieved their goal of silencing him, so a prison term – which would spark public outrage – was not necessary. “They can diminish his reputation, warn other lawyers, keep him quiet for the next three years, and he has the threat of prison over him... The only thing he gets out of this is freedom.” ^ top ^



Beijing's air quality is supposed to be improving... so why is the city still shrouded in smog? (SCMP)
Despite widespread public discontent over pollution in Beijing – and a yellow alert for smog yesterday – statistics show air quality actually improved in the first nine months of the year. But even so, it may be too early celebrate, as levels of PM2.5 pollutants – tiny particles that when inhaled can cause health problems including cancer – rebounded this month and last month. The results add to concerns that improvements may be short-lived as local governments continue to support heavy-polluting “zombie companies” that are struggling due to over-capacity. Data compiled by Greenpeace, based on results from official monitoring stations, showed Beijing's PM2.5 levels had stabilised and then improved from January to October compared to the same period a year ago. The trend follows Premier Li Keqiang's (李克強) declaration last year of a “war on pollution”. But the Greenpeace data also showed PM2.5 levels surging in November – a trend echoed in data collected by the US embassy. Average levels of PM2.5 dropped 16.6 per cent in the first 11 months of this year, according to Beijing municipal development and reform commission. Data for December is not complete, yet Beijing has had only five days this month when the city's Air Quality Index was below 100, rating “good”. This month municipal authorities have issued two red alerts for smog, two orange, and two yellow. Neighbouring Tianjin (天津) is expected to experience 6.5 days of smog this week. Yesterday, a yellow alert for smog had many Beijingers questioning why the problem was getting worse despite a slowing economy and government pledges to crackdown on polluters. Winter months are usually the most polluted in northern China, due to the increased use of central heating in downtown areas and the burning of low-quality coal by households in suburban areas. Some experts say burning of coal in small-scale stoves is a greater cause of pollution than large thermal power plants due to inefficiency and high levels of sulphur and ash in coal. Government departments blame the smog on a variety of causes, such as illegal pollution discharges at factories, vehicle emissions, high-level coal consumption and burning of corn stalks. They also blame weather factors such as slower winds, humidity and a lack of cold fronts. The national climate centre said the average wind speed in areas surrounding Beijing this winter – at 1.8 m/second – was about 10 per cent lower than the annual average. But some analysts said unchecked emissions from heavy polluting sectors were to blame, despite the central authorities' vow to reform the industry. Frank Tang, an economist with North Square Blue Oak Ltd (NSBO), an investment bank based in London, said data showed Hebei's (河北) crude steel production surged 15.7 per cent year on year in November, the highest jump since 2012, amid a 2.2-per cent nationwide drop and shrinking demand in general. “This is to make up for the output reduction in previous months, such as in preparation for 'parade blue',” said Tang, referring to the blue skies that followed pollution reduction measures ahead of a military parade this year. He said many state-owned steel producers would get subsidies from local authorities who did not want to see them go bankrupt. Beijing and northern Chinese cities adopted large-scale temporary pollution reduction measures in the run up to an APEC meeting in November 2014, and a military parade in September this year. Measures included suspending factory production, halting construction and restricting car usage. Tian Miao, an analyst with NSBO, said many central heating companies in Hebei were burning coal again due to a drop in price, even though they were supposed to have switched to cleaner natural gas. Natural gas accounted for about 4.9 per cent of energy use in the first nine months despite a national goal of 9 per cent this year. “Also there is no authoritative supervision on fuel quality at gas stations. The three state-owned oil giants do not have incentives to upgrade fuel quality due to shrinking profits,” said Tian. Dong Liansai, a campaigner with Greenpeace, said the trend showed short-term fixes would not solve the smog problem. ^ top ^



Shenzhen landslide declared an industrial accident, not geological disaster, after government investigation (SCMP)
The Shenzhen landslide that killed seven people and left dozens missing was an “industrial safety accident” rather than a geological disaster, a Chinese cabinet investigation reportedly found. The landslide, which struck the southern city on Sunday, is the latest in a series of fatal man-made accidents in the world's most populous country – coming just months after a massive chemical blast in the industrial city of Tianjin killed almost 200 people. The disaster was caused by the improper storage of waste from construction sites, according to the official newspaper of the Ministry of Land and Resources. Soil was illegally piled 100 metres high at an old quarry site and turned to mud during rain on Sunday morning, according to the state-run Global Times. About 75 people are still missing and seven bodies have been found so far, Xinhua said yesterday in the latest count, adding that only one rescued person, 19-year-old Tian Zeming, had made it out alive. The State Council, China's cabinet, announced earlier this week that it would set up a team headed by the minister of land resources to investigate the disaster. Documents on the website of Guangming New District, where the landslide occurred, showed that authorities were aware of problems with the soil storage and had urged action as early as July. In an announcement dated July 10, officials said work at the site was not being carried out according to approved plans and ordered the Hongao Construction Waste Dump to “speed up” work to bring its operations into line. The government issued a second warning in September, noting that the dump's permit to receive waste had expired and authorities had made it clear that dumping should cease. The city had “pointed out problems at the site and requested steps to correct them”, the statement said. ^ top ^

State media accuses detained labour activists of litany of offences (SCMP)
Seven leading Guangdong labour rights activists detained by provincial police earlier this month have been accused by state media of operating illegal organisations with overseas donations, improperly handling worker disputes and severely disturbing social order. The claims were made in an article nearly 6,000 words long and published by Xinhua on Tuesday night. It alleged professional and personal flaws in the activists, citing an investigation by the police. Critics described the article as a “smear campaign” aimed at justifying mainland authorities' crackdown against labour rights defenders. The bulk of the accusations targeted Zeng Feiyang, the director of the Guangdong Panyu Migrant Worker Centre. Zeng is known as most influential workers' rights activist on the mainland and was placed under criminal detention for “gathering a crowd and disturbing public order” early this month. Around the same time, the authorities detained Zhu Xiaomei, He Xiaobo, Meng Han, Peng Jiayong, Deng Xiaoming and Tang Huanxing. The round-up constituted the largest crackdown on labour activists in years and came in the wake of a nationwide campaign targeting rights lawyers, launched in July, which saw at least 248 people taken away, detained or arrested. As China's economic growth slows, tens of thousands of migrant workers in Guangdong province alone have staged protests in recent months demanding employers settle outstanding social insurance payments before they close down or relocate away from the Pearl River Delta. Non-government organisations provide services aimed at upholding workers' rights that the government-affiliated All-China Federation of Trade Unions fails to provide. But the NGOs remain in a legal grey area because they are denied official registration. Labour rights activists including Zeng have been subjected to repeated physical assaults and harassment. The Xinhua article claimed it had revealed “the truth of a deeply buried” scam by detailing how the activists “manipulated” workers, overseas media and foreign sources of funding. The activists were “instigating crowds and disturbing social order while hurting China's national image as well as its socialist system”. It accused Zeng of targeting foreign enterprises or companies in labour-intensive industries. It said he had close contact with diplomats and had gone overseas for training, beginning in 2002. The article gave what it said were details of the activists' lifestyles. Zeng was accused of being expelled from a vocational school after hiring prostitutes in his younger years and maintaining improper relationships with women other than his wife. Activist Meng Han was said to have maintained a relationship with a married woman, while Peng Jiayong was accused of fighting. Commenting on the accusation, China researcher of Amnesty International Patrick Poon said the article was a “smear campaign” to justify the earlier detentions. “It simply shows how the government is not genuinely following its own laws and judicial procedures. Putting these people on a 'public trial' by the national media instead of following formal procedures deprives them of any chance to have a fair trial. “Similar to how [authorities] handled the crackdown on the detained lawyers in July, there is no way to see justice in these cases of the detained labour activists,” Poon said. ^ top ^



Central bank gives helping hand to Tibet (China Daily)
China's central bank is seeking new methods to strengthen financial support in the Tibet autonomous region, aiming to accelerate regional economic development and lift local residents out of poverty in the next five years. New financial measures, including more aggressive bank lending with relatively low interest rates in Tibet than other regions, are under discussion, according to officials and financial industry executives. The People's Bank of China, the country's central bank, will encourage commercial banks to issue more loans to enterprises in Tibet, based on lower financial costs and required reserve ratio, according to Pan Gongsheng, deputy governor of the bank. "Financial institutions, including banks, securities companies and insurance companies, will launch more branches in Tibet in the next five years, and the policy will support development of private banks, village banks and other micro-financial institutions in the area to expand their service coverage," said Pan. More funds raised by those financial institutions will be injected into infrastructure construction projects, environmental protection and urban development. The policy will focus on small and micro credit for local farmers and herders, and be used to relieve poverty, the official said. Due to its plateau climate and relatively undeveloped economy, the financial sector in Tibet lags behind other regions in the country, and especially lacks financial professionals. According to data from the central bank, by the end of November, 11 banks had launched branches in Tibet. Total outstanding loans reached about 205 billion yuan ($31.6), 6.8 times the amount in 2010. In the first 11 months, enterprises in Tibet has raised fund of 21.5 billion yuan from the equity market. In 2014, the total GDP of the Tibet autonomous region was 92 billion yuan, the lowest among all 31 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities, which equaled only about 7.3 percent of the GDP in Guangdong province - the country's highest last year. Xie Xuezhi, chairman of the Agricultural Development Bank, one of China's three major policy banks, said his bank will invest more than 100 billion yuan into Tibet in the next five years. It has issued 4.9 billion yuan in loans in the region this year. Liu Shiyu, chairman of Agricultural Bank of China, said by the end of 2016 his bank plans to expand services to all villages in the region that have basic telecommunication infrastructure. Losang Jamcan, chairman of the autonomous region, said the region is predicted to achieve annual GDP of more than 100 billion yuan this year, up 12.2 percent year-on-year. ^ top ^

Tibetan monks shy away from self-immolation as families threatened by Chinese police (SCMP)
Adrak's last words before Chinese police dragged him away were “May the Dalai Lama live 10,000 years”. The 20-year-old Tibetan monk was carrying the spiritual leader's portrait as he walked down the main street outside his monastery, also calling for freedom for Tibet. The picture fell to the ground as police set upon him and when several onlookers joined his calls, they were beaten and taken away, too, according to witnesses and former monks currently in exile. However, the protest in September did not play out like so many previous ones – Adrak did not self-immolate, or even try to, as monks in the pasts have often done. The burnings have slowed to a trickle, replaced by less incendiary solo demonstrations after what monks say is a campaign of intimidation by the government, mainly targeting family members and friends of those who killed themselves. Nothing has been heard of Adrak or three fellow monks since they mounted four such actions in as many days. Their Kirti monastery in Aba has been at the centre of the 143 known cases of Tibetans setting themselves on fire, most of them dying, to oppose China's policies in the region and call for the return of the Dalai Lama, a Nobel Peace laureate. About a third of the total happened in Aba county, in the southwestern province of Sichuan. Of those, more than half were current or former monks and nuns. “I can choose to destroy this body for my ideas, but I cannot make a decision like that for others,” said a 24-year-old monk under the golden roof of the temple as a breeze blew wind chimes in the background. “Many monks do not want to endanger their families.” The town's main road running near the temple is colloquially known as “Martyrs' Street”, but there have been only seven self-immolations so far this year according to rights groups. At least 98 Tibetans have been detained, imprisoned or have disappeared because of alleged links with someone who set themselves on fire, according to advocacy group the International Campaign for Tibet, which says the number may be much higher. One man was condemned to death in connection with his wife's self-immolation after authorities accused him of murdering her. Another monk was given a suspended death sentence, according to media reports, a sentence normally commuted to life in prison, for “inciting” others to burn themselves. Observers say the model of collective punishment is not new, rather a throwback to Communist and imperial eras. […] Hong Lei, a foreign ministry spokesman, said: “Some overseas institutions try to realise their political agendas by sacrificing innocent lives.” The self-immolations' “decreasing numbers mean that their cause is a lost hope and they will not achieve their cause”. Local officials did not respond to telephoned and faxed requests by Agence France-Presse for comment about the September protests and the detained monks' whereabouts. The Dalai Lama has stayed neutral on the self-immolations, describing the burnings as acts of desperation that he is powerless to stop, and reluctant to condemn them to avoid offending the families of the dead. The spiritual leader fled into exile after a failed uprising in 1959, and Tibetans and overseas campaign groups say that religious and cultural freedoms are restricted, while natural resources exploitation has primarily benefited members of China's Han majority, who have immigrated to the region en masse. “While the Chinese government has increased the intensity of its oppression of Tibetans in Tibet, it seems that it has not been possible for them to prevent or stop Tibetans from protesting peacefully,” said Kirti Rinpoche, the abbot of the monastery who lives in exile in India. With fewer uniformed police on the streets, the government's efforts to pacify the town seem to be making progress. However, monks and locals say a climate of fear persists in Aba, and that there is a heavy presence of plain-clothes police. Experts say those who carry out solo demonstrations are usually sentenced to between two and four years in prison. Yet dissent has not been completely crushed. Five locals in Aba told Agence France-Presse that some sort of protest occured in the town “at least once every month”. […] ^ top ^


Xinjiang / Guangdong

9 detained in Shenzhen for spreading IS attack rumors (Global Times)
A public security bureau in Shenzhen, South China's Guangdong Province, announced Monday that two senior executives have been detained for spreading rumors about the arrival of 300 Islamic State (IS) militants from Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The Guangming district Public Security Bureau announced on its official Sina Weibo account that two executives surnamed Yin and Ma told their staff at a Shenzhen-based company on Saturday that they had received calls from public security authorities saying that police were on alert in anticipation of IS jihadists coming to Shenzhen. Yin and Ma posted a notice on Saturday, claiming that "Shenzhen police are on alert as 300 IS members have arrived." The two were detained by police on Sunday for spreading rumors about terrorism, according to the announcement. Another seven people in Shenzhen, including a 17-year-old girl, reportedly were detained for also circulating rumors related to terrorism online last week. The rootless rumors declared that terrorists had arrived in Shenzhen and had committed several horrible killings. China's top legislature on Sunday adopted the country's first counter-terrorism law in the latest attempt to address terrorism at home and help maintain world security. ^ top ^



University of Hong Kong students seek judicial reviews of council's rejection of liberal academic for key post (SCMP)
Two University of Hong Kong students launched separate legal actions to challenge the controversial decision by HKU's ruling council not to appoint liberal scholar Professor Johannes Chan-mun as pro-vice-chancellor. The president of the student union, Billy Fung Jing-en, who filed one of two applications for a judicial review in a High Court writ today, contends that the council erred in not giving Chan, a law professor at HKU, sufficient time to respond to accusations against him by council members. Fung also said he would be challenging the council's decision because it was based on irrelevant and false information. He asked the court to declare that the council's decision was improper and hence should be squashed. The union's vice-president, Coleman Li Fung-kei, lodged a separate legal bid, arguing that the council had failed to give a proper explanation as to why it dismissed Chan's application. The court, Li said, should rule that the council had a duty to give reasons. He also demanded the decision be declared unlawful. Critics of the decision claim Chan was rejected because of his close ties to one of the founders of the Occupy Central movement. The pair arrived at court in Admiralty at 3.20pm, about an hour and half before it closed. Today is the deadline for any judicial review applications to be launched against the council's decision as it is three months since the decision was handed down. Fung said: “I think the HKU council did not provide sufficient opportunities to the candidates who were criticised by the council.” Li noted that never before had the council rejected a candidate recommended by the university's selection committee. “This is a very rare example.” He said council chairman Leong Che-hung had only said the decision was for the university's good and cited confidentiality as reasons to avoid revealing details. “In light of such special circumstances, I think the council has a responsibility to unveil its grounds.” Asked if he was afraid of being accused of abusing legal procedures – a matter recently raised by a retired judge of the Court of Final Appeal, Henry Litton – Fung said there were reasonable grounds for their applications. ^ top ^

New Year's Day protest march to focus on Hongkongers' retirement protection and ending 'white elephant' projects (SCMP)
Thousands of Hongkongers are expected to take part in the annual New Year's Day march this Friday, as organisers vow to fight for a universal pension scheme for the elderly and halt the construction of what they describe as the city's 'white elephant' projects. Unlike the previous marches which were led by the Civil Human Rights Front – an umbrella group organising the annual July 1 pro-democracy procession – this year's New Year's Day march was initiated by some 30 civil rights groups and without major pan-democratic parties' backing. The march's spokesman, Raphael Wong Ho-ming of the League of Social Democrats, denied there was a split within the camp. “We respect the other groups' decision to not join the march,” Wong said, adding that a number of organising groups were members of the front. The planned demonstration came after the government launched a long-awaited consultation over the city's pension schemes. The administration appeared to oppose an option covering all retirees despite civil rights groups' decade-long advocacy. While officials suggested the universal option was not financially sustainable, the march organisers argued that 'white elephant' projects such as the Hong Kong-mainland express rail link and Guangzhou-Zhuhai-Macau bridge, both hit by cost overruns and delays, had destabilised the city's public finances and should be halted. “Hongkongers are not [chief executive] Leung Chun-ying's automated teller machines,” said Wong. “Leung asked us for money [for the infrastructure], but when we asked him for money to take care of the elderly, children and the disabled, he said he had none. That's shameful.” The march was to include a call for Leung, accused by organisers of failing to implement his election manifesto, to step down. Meanwhile, another march spokesman, retired teacher James Hon Lin-shan, said thousands of protesters were expected to join the march at 3pm on January 1. The event was to kick off in Causeway Bay and end at government headquarters in Admiralty. ^ top ^

Hong Kong police under fire for detaining two reporters 'following' education minister Eddie Ng Hak-kim (SCMP)
Hong Kong police have been accused of suppressing press freedom after two Apple Daily reporters were detained for more than an hour while allegedly stalking education minister Eddie Ng Hak-kim yesterday. According to the Chinese-language newspaper's version of events, the two reporters had been waiting to interview the Secretary for Education at the government's headquarters in Admiralty at 5.30pm on Christmas Eve. After Ng left his office in his car, the reporters followed him in their own vehicle. When their car stopped near an MTR station entrance in Central, six police officers in plain clothes appeared and asked them to show their identification documents, the paper said. The reporters produced their press cards, but were still taken away for further questioning on suspicion of loitering. The two were released from Central Police Station without charges at 7.45pm. The Hong Kong Journalists Association today condemned the police action. “As public figures, high-ranking officials and their words and actions could affect public interest any time. Following up and monitoring are reporters' duties,” it said in a statement. “But, for the officers to bring the reporters back to the police station on suspicion of loitering, even after the reporters had shown their press cards and that they were doing their job, that is unreasonable.” In response, a police spokesman said the force had received a report yesterday morning that a person had been followed by strangers and vehicles multiple times this week. Officers then took a man and a woman to a police station to confirm their identities after stopping a car yesterday afternoon. Police had always respected press freedom and fully understood the need to cooperate with the media, the spokesman added. Ng had been ridiculed in recent months for failing to turn up to a public hearing on the controversial Territory-wide System Assessment (TSA) for Primary Three pupils in the city. ^ top ^

Xi shows who's boss: Hong Kong's Leung Chun-ying knocked off his perch to smaller seat (SCMP)
The method of delivery may have been oblique but the message was unequivocal. Etiquette took centre stage yesterday when in a carefully calibrated act of political choreography, Beijing put the SAR firmly in its place. The occasion was Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's annual duty visit to the capital, a path well trodden by his predecessors, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and Tung Chee-hwa. But in a move that reignited debate over the “one country, two systems” constitutional arrangement, Beijing chose who sat where, on what, and in which surroundings, to underline who is the boss. At previous annual meetings, Hong Kong's chief executive sat side-by-side with state leaders on identical grand chairs, an ornate table between them, much like the arrangement for overseas leaders visiting Beijing. But this time things were different. While the setting remained grand, a notable change of seating positions was evident. In separate meetings with Leung, President Xi Jinping (習近平) and Premier Li Keqiang (李克強) sat at the head of a long conference table, with the chief executive perched on a smaller seat down the table to the right of the host leader. The only apparent nod to Hong Kong's special status as one of China's two Special Administrative Regions – the other being Macau – were the comparatively opulent surroundings to those afforded to other provincial chiefs when they meet state leaders. A spokesman for the State Council's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office said the arrangement better reflected the constitutional requirement for the chief executive to be accountable to the central authorities and was “more regulated and solemn”. Veteran China-watcher Johnny Lau Yui-siu said apart from the obvious message about who was in charge, the fact that other senior officials like Zhang Dejiang (張德江) and Li Yuanchao (李源潮) were there, “showed that the meeting was not a courtesy call – they were there to discuss business”. Such nuanced yet powerful unspoken niceties are no stranger to corridors of Chinese power politics. Last month when Xi and Taiwanese leader Ma Ying-jeou held their historic meeting in Singapore, tremendous time and effort – down to the duration of their handshake – were taken to make sure the right messages were delivered. ^ top ^



Taiwan presidential front runner says she wants stable ties with mainland China, but issue of future independence remains open (SCMP)
The front runner in Taiwan's presidential says she will seek stable relations with mainland China, but does not rule out revisiting the island's official stance on independence, leaving open questions about how Beijing would respond to her probable victory in next month's elections. Tsai Ing-wen, the opposition leader who has firmly held onto a sizeable lead in polls, used her platform during the first presidential debate on Sunday to warn against the political rapprochement and deepening economic ties with the mainland brought by the ruling Nationalist Party, or KMT, since the 2008 elections. “We cannot simply be bound to China,” Tsai said. “That's what worries us most about the past eight years — the sense that that's the only choice we have. That's not good for our economy or our security.” Against the backdrop of a sputtering economy and rising anti-mainland sentiment, the January 16 elections have been framed by both the KMT and the opposition Democratic Progressive Party as a referendum on President Ma Ying-jeou's China policy. Ma has backed, with varying degrees of success, several trade pacts with the mainland during his two terms and held a historic summit in November with President Xi Jinping. It was the first such meeting since the Chinese Communist Party defeated the KMT in China's civil war and established the People's Republic of China in 1949. The forthcoming election is being closely watched by Washington and Beijing, which considers Taiwan a breakaway province and has threatened to take the island by force if it declares independence. Xi has delivered hardline messages to Taiwanese leaders in private meetings, while mainland China's military conducted exercises near Taiwan earlier this year in a show of force. Tsai and her main opponent, KMT chairman Eric Chu, offered contrasting visions on Sunday of how to revitalise Taiwan, which is becoming increasingly crowded out by the world's second-largest economy on the world stage. Still, both distanced themselves from the deeply unpopular Ma. Chu, the mayor of New Taipei City adjacent to the island's capital, apologised for the incumbent party's performance, but attacked Tsai as a destabilising force whose victory would only undercut an economy that unexpectedly shrank in the third quarter. He described forging ties with mainland China as a matter of economic reality. “When I talk to our fruit farmers, our fishermen, our small businesses, they say the number one thing they fear is Tsai Ing-wen,” Chu said. He also repeatedly criticised Tsai's stance on the independence issue as vague. “A basic requirement is good, stable cross-strait relations,” he said. “It's not just about security.” ^ top ^



Minister says austerity key to fiscal responsibility (China Daily)
Government austerity is the fiscally responsible way to deal with slower revenue growth, according to China's finance minister. "Some expenditures that are unreasonable or unnecessary due to changing policy environments should be cut or scaled down, which could make spending on social welfare more sustainable," Lou Jiwei told a national fiscal conference on Monday. Government operating expenses would be squeezed, in particular spending on government receptions, overseas visits and car purchases, which could ensure spending on social welfare such as social insurance and pension funds, Lou said. Even for welfare, Lou cautioned, spending should be in a "sustainable" and "prudent" manner. The message carries ramifications for China's 8 million civil servants, as well as the many more jobs dependent on public spending, which has been under strict scrutiny in recent years. The economic slowdown has weighed on revenues, which saw 5.7 percent growth in the first 11 months, while expenditures surged 17.4 percent over the same period. Lou concluded that the "potential growth rate of revenue has declined, while there is little room for spending cuts. Conflicts between income and spending have intensified". There are three ways to maintain balance: curb public spending, expand revenue or widen the fiscal deficit. Lou said he will try making adjustments on those three fronts, though none has much room to maneuver, analysts said. For example, after a top economic meeting called for reducing the burden of corporate taxes and fees, there were heightened expectations for cuts, leaving little hope that the ministry could boost revenue next year. "Once in place, the public invariably hopes the various social policies will rise. Any plan to cut them will face fierce opposition. For example, even though China's retirement age is lower than in many countries and there is already a huge deficit in pension funds, any proposal to raise the age still draws public complaints," said Gao Peiyong, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. On tax cuts, Lou stopped short of vowing to significantly slash taxes, instead pledging to "streamline various administrative fees". He vowed to extend the value-added tax reforms to the finance, real estate and construction and consumer services sectors. ^ top ^

China classifies state firms for targeted reforms (China Daily)
China on Tuesday unveiled a guideline to divide the state-owned enterprises (SOEs) into strictly commercial entities and those that serve governmental ends, such as power and healthcare suppliers. The guideline, published by the Ministry of Finance, the National Development and Reform Commission and the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC), follows a blueprint issued in September. The blueprint promised to modernize SOEs, improve management of state assets and promote mixed ownership. "One-size-fit-all reforms are less effective than targeted reforms that are tailored on the basis of SOE classification," a SASAC official told Xinhua. According to Tuesday's guideline, mixed-ownership is encouraged in both kinds of SOEs to reduce the dominance of state companies and ensure better management. Public feedback will have a bigger weighting when authorities assess the performance of SOEs that serve social purposes, while commercial SOEs will be mainly assessed by their competitiveness and profitability, according to the guideline. The authorities also pledged to step back and leave more freedom for managers. China has about 150,000 SOEs, which hold more than 100 trillion yuan ($15.7 trillion) in assets and employ over 30 million people. Many have become ossified by declining profitability due to a lack of competition. Some earned the nickname "zombie enterprises," muddling along with government bailouts. ^ top ^



Ch.Saikhanbileg PM greets on National Independence Day (Montsame)
The Prime Minister Ch.Saikhanbileg greeted Mongolians on the 104th anniversary of declaration of the National freedom and independence. He said 104 years ago on this day, Mongolia declared its independence, getting rid of the Manchu Qing dynasty, and the 8th Bogd Javzandamba Khutagt (Jebtsundamba Khutuktu) was enthroned as the Khaan of Mongolia. After this, the government was established with five Ministries. The Premier also emphasized that this Revolution of 1911 was the first of the three biggest revolutions of Mongolia that took place in the 20th century, and that Mongolia is celebrating this day for the fifth time giving it newer contents and reater significance. A strengthening of the national freedom and independence inherited from our ancestors is the big duty and goal of every Mongolian as well as the cabinet, he went on. The current government has been dealing with many challenges and problems in politics, finance and investment, and it has managed to reform the budget, he said. Mongolia has resolved investments of USD 4.4 billion for underground mine of the Oyu Tolgoi, declaring its returm to the business, he said and touched upon some successes in energy, road and agriculture. He also emphasized that Mongolia intends to put big mineral deposits such as Gatsuurt and Tsagaan suvarga into economic circulation, to construct autobans between the UB city and centers of six aimags, completing thus this big projecxt, to start a construction of railways and highways, of thermal power stations of Baganuur, Booroljuut and Tavantolgoi, as well as the Eg River's hydropower station. The PM wishes all the Mongolians great successes and a health on occasion of the Independence Day. ^ top ^

New election bill passed (Montsame)
All draft amendments to Law on Parliamentary election of Mongolia was discussed at the plenary meeting of the State Great Khural (Parliament) on December 25. Thus, the General Law on Election was passed Friday with 86.7 percent approval. Draft documents, suggesting changes for the parliamentary election law, were submitted by R.Burmaa and 15 other MPs and Su.Batbold and 6 other MPs on November 6. Also, 10 MPs led by O.Baasankhuu presented draft amendments on November 13. As it was necessary, according to related regulations, to immediately run the final readings of these documents, the Standing committee on State Structure discussed the draft documents wholly at the meeting of December 24. According to the standing committee, the new law, embracing the proportional voting system, outlines that election days must be designated at least 150 days in advance. It also directs that, should the state administrators and chairmen, directors and their deputies of state-run entities run for citizens' representatives posts, they must resign from their positions at least three months in prior to election days. In case the above mentioned officials are intending to run for parliamentary election, they must resign six months in advance.  ^ top ^

Cabinet meeting in brief (Montsame)
At its irregular meeting on Friday, the cabinet discharged O.Ganbat from the post of head of the General Customs Office (GCO), D.Ariunsan--head of General Taxation Office (GTO), R.Erdeneburen--the State Secretary of the Labor Ministry, I.Narantuya--head of the National Department for Children, T.Ayursaikhan--head of the Authority for Fair Competitiveness and Consumers (AFCC), and A.Ariunbold--a member of the AFCC. - In accordance with a cabinet decision, D.Bold was appointed as head of the General Authority of Naturalization and Migration, and D.Monkhtor--as head of the AFCC. - Mayor of Ulaanbaatar, governor of aimags, soums, and directors of state-owned and local institutions were ordered to approach the legislative and executive bodies and their officials through related Ministries on the issues of policies or activities of specific sectors about the Mongolian socio-economy. Share page with AddThis ^ top ^

State Secretary holds official talks with DPRK Vice FM (Montsame)
The State Secretary of the Mongolia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs Mr D.Gankhuyag has held official talks with visiting Mr Ri Kil Song, the Deputy Foreign Minister of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK). During the official talks, the sides concluded mutual visits and measures implemented in 2015 and exchanged views on works to be done in 2016. They appreciated a regularization of high-level mutual visits, expanding of the bilateral relations and cooperation in culture and socio-economic spheres, and activation of the cooperation at a regional and international arena. The Mongolian side expressed gratitude to North Korea for regularly participating in various measures organized within the Ulaanbaatar Dialogue on the security of Northeast Asia, and hoped North Korea will carry on attending such measures. ^ top ^

Sitework of Baganuur Power Plant being executed by Chinese company (Montsame)
Official opening ceremony for site work commencement of Baganuur Power Plant took place on December 23. The development is reflected in the Government Action Plan for 2012-2016 in order to meet the increasing electric and heating power demand in the central region. “This is the first power plant in Mongolia to be built on the neck of a deposit”, PM Ch.Saikhanbileg stated while taking part in the ceremony. In frames of the Government's energy policy, more developments including Booroljuut power plant based on Booroljuut coal deposit, Tavantolgoi Power Plant based on the Tavantolgoi deposit and Eg Power Plant basing on Eg river are expected next. The site work is being executed by China Nuclear Industry 22 Corporation. The 700 MWT TPA power plant will be commissioned in 3.5 years. Recently commissioned Amgalan Power Plant and the extension at Third Thermal Power Station had been executed in cooperation with the Chinese companies as well. The Chinese companies are also taking part in the developments at the Eg river and Booroljuut power plants. Baganuur Power LLC signed a Build-Operate-Transfer concession agreement with the Government last April. With the implementation of Baganuur Power Plant project, 300 permanent jobs and 2,500 temporary workplaces are being created. Present at the ceremony were also Ministry of Energy of Mongolia D.Zorigt, Minister of Industry D.Erdenebat and the Ambassador of People's Republic of China Xing Haiming. ^ top ^


Mrs. Mirjam Eggli
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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