Der wöchentliche Presserückblick der Schweizer Botschaft in der VR China
The Weekly Press Review of the Swiss Embassy in the People's Republic of China
La revue de presse hebdomadaire de l'Ambassade de Suisse en RP de Chine
  22-26.1.2018, No. 706  
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China reveals top-level planning of economic policy at Davos forum (Xinhua)
Liu He, a senior Chinese official, Wednesday elaborated on the top-level planning of China's economic policy for the next few years at the World Economic Forum (WEF) held in this Swiss resort. "In a nutshell, this policy centers around a key necessity, a main task and three critical battles," said Liu, a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and director of the General Office of the Central Leading Group for Financial and Economic Affairs. Liu also pledged that China will open wider to the world across the board. Key necessity: In his speech at the WEF, Liu stressed the necessity to transit the Chinese economy from a phase of rapid growth to one of high-quality development. "Our focus needs to change from 'Is there enough?' to 'Is it good enough?'," he said. Such a transition, he said, is the context in which China formulates its macroeconomic, structural, reform and social policies in the coming years. "China's per capita income is moving up from the current level of 8,000-plus to 10,000 U.S. dollars and even higher. At such a stage of development, China needs to put more emphasis on structural improvement rather than quantity expansion," he said. As China opens up wider to the outside world, this transition to a new model of development will create huge opportunities for many new industries. "It means opportunities for businesses not just in China but across the world," said the senior official. He also outlined some of the tangible benefits already in place. To this point, China's domestic demand has steadily expanded, with consumption contributing 58.8 percent to economic growth, nearly four percentage points higher than five years ago. The added value of the service sector takes up 60 percent of GDP, more than five percentage points higher than five years ago. Main task: The principal contradiction in China's economic development, Liu said, is the structural mismatch resulting from the supply side failing to evolve in step with the demand. This aspect of China's economic policy urgently needs to be fixed, he said. The priority at the moment, he emphasized, is to cut excess capacity where necessary, reduce inventory in the housing sector, bring down the overall leverage ratio, lower cost across the board, and strengthen the weak links in the economy, ranging from public services to infrastructure and institutions. "With these measures, we hope to make the supply side more adaptable and more innovative. Some initial progress has been made," Liu said. Since 2016, China has cut over 115 million tons of steel capacity, eliminated an additional 140 million tons of substandard steel capacity, and phased out over 500 million tons of coal capacity. Though these market clearing measures has led to price rises in some sectors, the total factor productivity growth stopped its decline and began to increase in 2016, Liu said. "The positive spillover of our supply-side structural reform is being felt across the world. Indeed, this is a reform that we must continue and see through," he added. Critical battles: According to Liu, China has to fight three critical battles in the next few years -- risk prevention, poverty reduction and pollution control. "For China to build a moderately prosperous society in all respects, we must fix the shortest plank in our development through winning these battles," he said. First, although China's financial system is basically sound with a high savings rate, China still needs to continue preventing and resolving major financial risks, Liu said. "Shadow banking and hidden debt for local governments are serious problems we have to deal with," he specified. Since the fourth quarter of 2017, China has had a marginally slower overall leverage ratio growth, which Liu said was a good sign. Second, China will continue with smarter, more targeted efforts to lift more people out of poverty. "We have set a target to basically eliminate absolute poverty in three years," he said. In 2018 alone, China will lift 10 million people from absolute poverty, including 2.8 million who will be relocated from areas suffering from harsh conditions. The third battle is to fight pollution continuously. "Green and low-carbon development is what the Chinese people want the most in a break with the traditional growth model," Liu said. China will fulfill its pledges to counter climate change and honor the Paris Agreement, he said. Reform and opening up: This year marks the 40th anniversary of China's reform and opening-up drive, which is the very reason behind China's robust growth over the past four decades. China has to advance reform and open up at a faster pace, Liu said. China will further integrate with international trade rules and ease market access. China will also substantially open up the services sector, the financial sector in particular, and create a more attractive investment environment, he said. China's vast domestic market, with a fast-growing middle-income population of 400 million, already the world's biggest, will contribute significantly to global development, Liu said. The official also warned that deep-seated problems in the world economy have yet to be fixed, calling for concerted global efforts. "Multiple risks and considerable uncertainties come in the form of high debts, asset bubbles, protectionism and the escalation of regional and international hotspots," Liu added. Liu's speech is part of the 400 forums, discussions and meetings during WEF 2018 that lasts from Jan. 23 to 26. Under the theme of "Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World", this year's forum is bringing together a record number of heads of state, government and international organizations alongside leaders from business, civil society, and academia. ^ top ^

China, Switzerland pledge to further boost bilateral relations (Xinhua)
China and Switzerland Tuesday pledged to further promote bilateral relations, at a meeting here between senior officials of the two countries. Liu He, a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and director of the General Office of the Central Leading Group for Financial and Economic Affairs, met with Ueli Maurer, vice president of the Swiss Confederation and head of the Finance Department. Liu is leading the Chinese delegation to the annual World Economic Forum held on Jan. 23-26 in the eastern Swiss town of Davos. Thanks to the joint efforts of the presidents of both countries, China and Switzerland have further strengthened mutual trust and deepened economic and trade cooperation, Liu said. In particular, the successful visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Switzerland last year and the participation of President of the Swiss Confederation Doris Leuthard in the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation held in Beijing in 2017 have brought bilateral relations to the best level in history, he said. The two sides should implement the consensus reached by leaders of the two countries, further strengthen bilateral cooperation in all areas, and advance the innovative Sino-Swiss strategic partnership, Liu said. He said that China is comprehensively deepening its reforms and opening wider to the world in accordance with the strategies adopted at the 19th CPC National Congress. China is also striving to create a favorable business environment for fair competition and to further open the sectors of finance and manufacturing to foreign companies, which will create new opportunities of cooperation. Liu spoke highly of Switzerland's participation in the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative, hoping that the two sides will reinforce cooperation in key projects, customs service, cross-border e-commerce and financing. China welcomes investment from more Swiss companies and hopes that Switzerland keeps open to Chinese investment, he added. Maurer admired the progress made by China, saying that Switzerland is very interested in China's opening up and is ready to further strengthen cooperation with China in various fields. Switzerland is ready to encourage more Swiss companies to invest in China and also supports Chinese investment in Switzerland, Maurer said. Switzerland plans to coordinate cooperation with China within the context of the Belt and Road Initiative, and to promote the continuous development of bilateral relations of friendship and cooperation in all fields, Maurer said. ^ top ^

China's Hong Kong strengthens financial cooperation with Switzerland (Xinhua)
The authorities and private sector representatives from China's Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) on Tuesday signed three Memorandums of Understanding (MoU) with Switzerland to strengthen financial cooperation, said the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA). One of the three documents, signed by the HKMA Chief Executive Norman Chan and Head of the Swiss State Secretariat for International Financial Matters Jorg Gasser "serves as the basis for regular financial dialogue and sets out the parties' willingness to strengthen financial markets cooperation, including in the area of RMB internationalization, wealth management, infrastructure financing and international financial matters," the HKMA said. A second MoU signed by the HKMA and the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority was meant to "enhance fintech collaboration with a view to facilitating financial innovation in the two places." The third MoU was signed by the Hong Kong Private Wealth Management Association and the Swiss Bankers Association to "further collaborate to promote the development of private wealth management in Switzerland and Hong Kong," according to the HKMA. The three documents were signed during a meeting in Bern, Switzerland, between HKSAR Chief Executive Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and Swiss Federal Councillor Ueli Maurer. The meeting, with a focus on strengthening cooperation in the area of financial markets, discussed topics including further development of the two financial centers, opportunities arising from the opening-up of the financial markets in the Chinese mainland, developments in fintech sector and international tax issues. The two sides reaffirmed their commitment to further enhancing collaboration to promote the healthy development of the financial services industry in and between Switzerland and Hong Kong. Hong Kong and Switzerland held an official financial dialogue for the first time in September 2017, during which the two agreed to further formalize financial collaboration. ^ top ^

Bastian Baker: Voice of friendship between China and Switzerland (China Daily)
Armed with a guitar and pop-folk tracks, Swiss pop singer and songwriter Bastian Baker has wrapped up his latest China tour in four cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou, running between Jan 9 and 12. Bastian Baker has been a household name in Switzerland since the release of his first album Tomorrow May Not Be Better in late 2011. However, the singer did not realize he also captured the hearts of so many Chinese fans. "Be it in Beijing or Shanghai, quite a few Chinese music lovers called out my name when I sang my hit tracks, and I feel privileged," Baker said, "They sing with me, chat with me and take photos with me. It is just amazing!" Discussing his China tour in the wake of the new year, Bastian Baker told China Daily that, "China has a special place in my heart, as I really appreciate all of the enthusiasm of Chinese music fans I received wherever I was in China. Therefore, China is the first destination of my 2018 music tour." "I also hope that my music and songs may play a humble role in the promotion of cultural and artistic exchanges between the Swiss and Chinese people." Born May 20, 1991, the pop star came to be known in China in 2016, thanks to the hit TV drama The Interpreter starring Chinese actress Yang Mi and actor Huang Xuan. In the TV series, Baker plays a popular pub singer in Switzerland and sings two ballads, I'd Sing for You from his first album, and 79 Clinton Street, from his second album, Too Old to Die Young. On Dec 22, 2017, he also impressed Chinese audiences with his passion and musical talent in the hot variety show Day Day Up to promote Swiss tourism, which was honored with the presence of the Swiss Ambassador to China Jean-Jacques De Dardel. "China and Switzerland both enjoy rich tourist resources. My country is known as the cradle of tourism and world gardens while China enjoys a profound and extensive culture. I visited the Mutianyu Great Wall this time, and it is one of the must-see scenic spots for each human being," he added. Baker did not expect to be a professional musician. Growing up in an athletic family, he first tried his hand at professional hockey, following in the footsteps of his father. But because of his interest in music, he joined the school choir in Villeneuve, a municipality of the canton of Vaud in Switzerland, and was given a solo role in recognition of his talent. A friend of his father saw him in a performance in 2010 during a social gathering and offered to produce his songs, marking the beginning of Baker's music legend. His first single Lucky, launched by the record producer Richard Meyer, appeared in March 2011 and instantly took over the radio waves. "The happy tune is all about love between young people, and it means much to me. Isn't it one of the best things to turn your life experience into a beautiful melody?" the 26-year-old said. So far, Bastian Baker has been rewarded with two platinum albums, seven Swiss Music Awards, one MTV EMA Music Award and one World Music Award. "When I write songs, I am not only recording the best moments in my life, but sharing my emotions with others, and that's the great part of being a musician," he said. "When writing lyrics, inspiration pours from the everyday, tapping into both my personal life and the human condition with spontaneity and intuitive creativity." Through his third album Facing Canyons, released in 2015, Bastian Baker hoped to convey the message mankind is small in the grand scheme of things. The three albums Baker has created so far combine a mixture of pop, rock and folk music styles. "The world changes with each passing day -- so does my music," he said. "And I truly hope my fans will know me better through my work." His latest single Five Fingers, which came out last year, tells a heartwarming story of friendship. He compares his five closest friends to those appendages on his hand, an integral part of himself. According to him, love stories should not always take a leading role in lyrics, as life is filled with many more beautiful things such as family, nature and travel. When asked about the meaning behind his upcoming fourth album, Baker said fans would experience a completely new musical journey. "I would like to tell you right now I am collaborating with a reputed musician as well, but I have to keep the name secret for a while," Baker said, "So just wait and see." In recent years, it's not uncommon to have foreign musicians such as British pop singer Jessie J and Kazakh singer Dimash Kudaibergen starring in local Chinese musical talent shows. To Baker, this is an example of how music knows no boundaries among countries. "If I have the chance, I will do the same. For me, it is an effective way to get closer to Chinese people and let more Chinese get to know me." Looking ahead, "I will follow my instincts as usual and take inspiration from the world around me. Stay curious, stay involved and learn something more. If it is possible, I may write a song about something memorable in China," Baker said, laughing.  ^ top ^

Switzerland: Architecture dialogue opens (Global Times)
Sino-Swiss Architecture Dialogue 2018 will take place at Tsinghua University Art Museum in Beijing on January 22. Li Xiaodong, a professor in the School of Architecture at Tsinghua University, and the renowned Swiss architect Mario Botta will introduce their ideas about architectural design at the event. The goal of the dialogue is to encourage knowledge exchange by offering a first-class platform for young talents and accomplished masters in the Sino-Swiss community to converse on topics that combine science, economy and art. The Swiss Ambassador to China Jean-Jacques de Dardel will give the opening speech. ^ top ^


Foreign Policy

Japanese top envoy faces steep challenges on rare China visit (SCMP)
Beijing and Tokyo will look to mend ties long inflamed by sharp disagreements over territorial claims and wartime actions when Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono visits China this weekend, but analysts say North Korea is expected to dominate discussions. The trip will mark the first time Japan has sent its top envoy to China since April 2016, and it coincides with the 40th anniversary of the signing of a peace treaty between the two sides, a milestone that Tokyo hopes to capitalise on. But observers warn the diplomat faces a difficult challenge in overcoming deep-rooted mistrust on both sides. Kono is scheduled to begin his two-day visit on Saturday and meet his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, according to the ministry. He is also expected to meet State Councillor Yang Jiechi on Sunday, according to sources. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has expressed optimism the two sides can find more common ground. In his annual policy speech delivered on Monday, Abe said his nation "will seek to meet the expectations of the international community by developing friendly relations [with China] in a stable manner", Kyodo reported. Sun Cheng, a Japanese affairs expert at China University of Political Science and Law, said relations had been "difficult in the past seven to eight years given the territorial disputes and history issues" but the anniversary of the treaty signing "could be a turning point". However, tensions on the Korean peninsula are expected to move to the forefront of Kono's agenda. Hopes for a trilateral summit with South Korea have been running high in recent months after Beijing and Seoul agreed in November to restore ties following a long fallout over the deployment of a US-backed missile shield outside the South Korean capital. Abe, who is expected to stay in power until 2012 after his party won a parliamentary election in October, has said his nation wanted to host the three-way dialogue, which could be a stepping stone for his potential visit to Beijing later this year, possibly followed by a state visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping next year. Huang Dahui, director of Renmin University's Centre of East Asia Studies, said Kono would seek Beijing's help in reining in North Korea's weapons programme, which Tokyo views as major security threat. In August, Pyongyang tested a ballistic missile that passed over Hokkaido, Japan's second-largest island. Kono has repeatedly called for maximum pressure to be exerted on Pyongyang, rather than engaging the reclusive nation in talks. "But there is a wide gap between the perceptions between the two countries over the Korean peninsula issue," Huang said. Analysts agree that the road to reconciliation between China and Japan would not be easy, given the level of suspicions. Only last week tensions flared when Tokyo accused Beijing of sending an advanced stealth nuclear submarine to waters close to disputed islands claimed by both sides. "There has been some thawing and positive signalling but these attempts at feel-good diplomacy confront the permafrost of disputes over territory history and strategic rivalry," said Jeff Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University in Japan. "Improvement in ties will be limited and easily derailed." Added Huang: [Japan's efforts] to contain China will not be changed. This is a reality and China is aware of this. The rivalry between the two nations will last long into the future." ^ top ^

Professor brothers in Canada and US are both 'suspected of spying for China' (SCMP)
A researcher at McGill University in Montreal whose brother was charged in the United States with stealing technology and sending it to China is now also suspected in the case, a local newspaper said Thursday. Shih Ishiang, an associate professor in engineering, reportedly used his research position at the school to obtain integrated circuits used in US military radar, jammers and scramblers. The computer chips are at the centre of FBI accusations against his brother Shih Yi-chi, also an associate professor in engineering, at the University of California, Los Angeles. "I don't have any comment," Shih Ishiang said Thursday. Earlier he told Montreal's daily La Presse he had purchased the circuits for research purposes. "I was writing an application for a research grant," he said. Last Friday, his brother Shih Yi-chi, was arrested by the FBI on charges of scheming "to illegally obtain technology and integrated circuits with military applications that were exported to a Chinese company without the required export license." The computer chips had allegedly been shipped to Chengdu GaStone Technology Company (CGTC) in Chengdu, China. The company was blacklisted in 2014, according to the US Attorney's Office, "due to its involvement in activities contrary to the national security and foreign policy interest of the United States – specifically, that it had been involved in the illicit procurement of commodities and technologies for unauthorised military end use in China." At the same time, Canadian federal police raided the offices of JYS Technologies in a suburb of Montreal. The company is solely owned by Shih Ishiang and his wife. According to FBI documents, JYI Technologies had transferred C$800,000 (US$647,000) to a company set up by an alleged accomplice of Shih Yi-chi in order to legally buy the so-called monolithic microwave integrated circuits or MMIC in the United States. A sample of the circuits was also sent to Shih Ishiang's Montreal lab. The technology, US attorney Nicola Hanna said, "could be used to provide companies (in China) with significant advantages that would compromise US business interests. "The very sensitive information would also benefit foreign adversaries who could use the technology to further or develop military applications that would be detrimental to our national security." ^ top ^

China calls for international cooperation on developing Arctic shipping routes (Xinhua)
China calls for stronger international cooperation on infrastructure construction and operation of the Arctic shipping routes, according to a white paper issued Friday. As a result of global warming, the Arctic shipping routes are likely to become important transport routes for international trade. China respects the legislative, enforcement and adjudicatory powers of the Arctic States in the waters subject to their jurisdiction, said the the document titled "China's Arctic Policy," issued by the State Council Information Office. The white paper stressed China's position that the management of the Arctic shipping routes should be conducted in accordance with treaties including the UNCLOS and general international law. The freedom of navigation enjoyed by all countries in accordance with the law and their rights to use the Arctic shipping routes should be ensured, it said. China maintains that disputes over the Arctic shipping routes should be properly settled in accordance with international law, said the white paper. It also explained China's plan on building a "Polar Silk Road" through developing the Arctic shipping routes with all parties. China encourages its enterprises to participate in the infrastructure construction for these routes and conduct commercial trial voyages in accordance with the law to pave the way for their commercial and regularized operation, said the document. Attaching great importance to navigation security in the Arctic shipping routes, China has actively conducted studies on these routes and continuously strengthened hydrographic surveys with the aim to improving the navigation, security and logistical capacities in the Arctic, according to the white paper. It also highlighted that China abides by the International Code for Ships Operating in Polar Waters (Polar Code), and supports the International Maritime Organization in playing an active role in formulating navigational rules for the Arctic. ^ top ^

Belt and Road development makes solid progress in 2017 (Xinhua)
A Chinese official said Thursday that solid progress was made in 2017 in the development of the Belt and Road Initiative through practical cooperation. Trade volume among China and countries along the Belt and Road amounted to 7.4 trillion yuan (about 1.2 trillion U.S. dollars) in 2017, surging 17.8 percent year on year, Gao Feng, spokesperson of the Ministry of Commerce, said at a press conference. The growth outpaced the 14.2-percent increase in China's foreign trade last year, Gao said. Of the total, China's exports to Belt and Road countries climbed 12.1 percent from one year earlier, while imports from the countries grew 26.8 percent, Gao said. He said construction of major projects has also progressed, including a railway linking China and Thailand, the Karachi expressway and a China-Belarus industrial park. China will continue to push cooperation on the Belt and Road Initiative and will build it into a new platform for international cooperation and work with Belt and Road countries to foster new growth drivers, Gao said. He said the government will also work to create a convenient, stable and predictable environment for enterprises to participate in Belt and Road development. ^ top ^

SCO to strengthen defense cooperation (Xinhua)
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is to hold a defense chiefs' meeting, an anti-terror drill and a military band festival. Wu Qian, spokesman for the Ministry of National Defense, told a press conference that in 2018 China will host a meeting of SCO defense ministers and the military band festival while Russia will host the "Peace Mission 2018" anti-terror war game. Wu said the agenda was decided at a meeting of SCO defense ministry officials in Beijing in January. India and Pakistan, two new members, sent delegates and expressed keen interest in taking part in activities, Wu said. The SCO has eight full members: China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, Pakistan, and India. ^ top ^

China's Qingdao to host SCO summit in June (Xinhua)
2018-01-25 East China's Qingdao City will host the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit in June this year, the provincial governor of Shandong said Thursday. "Shandong will take the opportunity to promote its international reputation," said Gong Zheng when delivering the government work report at the local parliamentary session. Shandong is the birthplace of many ancient Chinese thinkers, including Confucius. In 2017, its GDP exceeded 7.2 trillion yuan (about 1.1 trillion U.S.dollars). ^ top ^

China denies it's planning a military base in Afghanistan (SCMP)
China's defence ministry on Thursday denied that it was planning to build a military base in Afghanistan, branding such reports "groundless". Russian news agency Ferghana News, which focuses on Central Asia, has reported that China will build the base in northern Afghanistan. The report was picked up last week by US magazine The Diplomat and then in Chinese state media. Speaking at a regular news briefing, ministry spokesman Wu Qian said that the two countries had normal security cooperation and that China, like other countries, was supporting Afghanistan in defence and counterterrorism. "The so-called issue that China is building a military base in Afghanistan is groundless," Wu said. The ministry has also previously dismissed reports that Chinese military vehicles were patrolling inside Afghanistan. China has long been concerned that instability in Afghanistan could spill over into the violence-prone Xinjiang region in China's far west, home to Muslim Uygurs, where hundreds of people have died in recent years in unrest blamed by Beijing on Islamist militants. China has also worked with Pakistan and the United States to broker peace talks to end Afghanistan's Taliban insurgency that has raged since the militants were ousted by US-backed forces in 2001. China opened its first overseas military base – in the Horn of Africa country Djibouti – last year. China has previously denied having plans for other overseas bases, but the United States expects China to build more, with Pakistan a likely location. ^ top ^

US invites China to take part in major naval exercise despite tensions at sea (SCMP)
China has been invited to participate in a major US-led naval exercise, Chinese officials said Thursday, despite tensions between Beijing and Washington over activity in the disputed South China Sea. The Chinese military took part in the RIMPAC drill, billed as the world's largest international naval exercise, for the first time in 2014 and again in 2016. "We have received the American invitation," Chinese defence ministry spokesman Wu Qian told reporters. A Chinese delegation has been sent to the US to discuss logistics, he added. RIMPAC, which stands for Rim of the Pacific Exercise, is held off Hawaii every other year in June and July. The invitation comes as tensions remain high between the two world powers over Beijing's territorial claims in the South China Sea. China claims most of the waterway – believed to hold vast oil and gas deposits and through which $5 trillion in trade passes annually – and has built up islands and military installations in the sea. Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei also have claims in the sea. Last weekend Beijing said it had dispatched a warship to drive away a US missile destroyer which had "violated" its sovereignty by sailing close to a shoal in the sea. American military officials also said Thursday that a US aircraft carrier will port in Vietnam in March, a first for the allies and former foes. "Freedom of navigation and access in the South China Sea will be critical to [Vietnam] economically, of course, and their security efforts," US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters en route to Vietnam from Indonesia on Wednesday. ^ top ^

Vatican move to make way for Beijing-backed bishops raises flags for Taipei (SCMP)
The Vatican has asked two underground bishops to make way for Beijing-approved ones, a move that has again raised questions over whether the Holy See could be seeking to normalise ties with Beijing and end its formal relations with Taipei. The Vatican is the only European state that maintains formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan. If it does switch recognition to Beijing it would be another blow for self-ruled Taiwan after Panama decided to shift diplomatic ties in June. That left only 20 allies – mostly small Latin American and Caribbean nations, plus the Vatican – that still officially recognise Taiwan. But analysts say that if the Vatican is paving the way to make the switch, it would not necessarily cause a chain reaction among Taipei's 12 allies where Catholicism is the official religion. The Vatican has asked Bishop Peter Zhuang Jianjian of Shantou, in southern Guangdong province, to retire, making way for Chinese government-backed Huang Bingzhang, AsiaNews, the official outlet of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, reported on Monday. Zhuang was secretly ordained in 2006 with Vatican approval but only recognised by Beijing as a priest. Huang meanwhile was excommunicated by the Holy See in 2011 after he was consecrated without approval, and he is also a member of China's parliament. Bishop Joseph Guo Xijin of Mindong was also asked to stand aside. He will be demoted to assistant to Bishop Vincent Zhan Silu, one of seven illicitly ordained bishops awaiting recognition from the Vatican, the report said. Beijing broke ties with the Vatican in 1951. Since then, the Communist Party has closed churches and imprisoned priests. Catholics may legally practise their religion only in state-sanctioned churches, which are not overseen by the Vatican and have bishops that are appointed by Beijing rather than the Pope. Zhou Tailiang, secretariat chief of the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, said he was not surprised the Vatican was recognising Huang and Zhan since they both had long experience in religious service in China. But Anthony Lam, a senior researcher at the Holy Spirit Study Centre in Hong Kong, said he was highly suspicious about the move since it would mean the Vatican was compromising on the issue of ordination of priests. Liu Guopeng, a religion studies expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said it would have great symbolic meaning if the Vatican did decide to switch diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing. "Whether other countries where Catholicism reigns will follow in its footsteps and cut ties with Taipei is hard to predict," Li said. "But since the Vatican is Taiwan's only ally in Europe... it would deal a huge blow to the island." Alexander Huang, an international relations expert at Tamkang University in Taipei, said although Taipei was concerned about the Vatican and Beijing edging closer, if the Holy See chose to cut ties with Taiwan it did not mean other countries where Catholicism was the official religion would do the same. "Although it might seem logical to say these countries might follow the Vatican's lead if it chooses Beijing over Taipei, diplomatic ties are established on the basis of national interests, not religion," Huang said. Beijing considers Taiwan a wayward province subject to eventual union – by force if necessary. It has suspended talks and exchanges with Taiwan and, as well as Panama, it has also convinced Sao Tome and Principe to switch its recognition from Taipei to Beijing since Tsai Ing-wen, of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, became president in May 2016. Tsai refuses to accept the "one China" principle and Beijing has said it will only resume cross-strait exchanges and talks when she does so. ^ top ^

China to construct first building complex in mega Sri Lankan Port City project (Xinhua)
China will invest 1 billion U.S. dollars to construct the first building complex in Sri Lanka's Port City project in capital Colombo this year, Sri Lankan Minister of Megapolis and Western Development, Champika Ranawaka said here Thursday. The Port City project is being constructed close to the Colombo Harbor by China Communications Construction Company, the parent company of China Harbor Engineering Company (CHEC), and will attract billions of dollars as investments in the coming years. Ranawaka said that in order to kick-start investments, CHEC this year would invest and construct three 45-storey buildings, which would be part of the International Financial Center in the Port City. "To facilitate the construction of the building complex, we have done a comprehensive environmental and social impact assessment, and a new piece of legislation for the Port City will be passed in Parliament by April or May. The physical work of the building complex will commence in the mid of this year," the minister said. Ranawaka further said that CHEC would also invest in the construction of the underground tunnels connecting Colombo city to the Port City. The underground tunnel will provide a north-south link through one of the busiest traffic areas of Colombo, and will provide an underground road connection to the road network of the Port City as well. Ranawaka said that two Memoranda of Understandings for the building complex project and the tunnel project had been signed between Sri Lanka and China. The Colombo Port City Project will consist of 269 hectares of reclaimed land and will be the first of its kind in South Asia. The Port City will include residential buildings, schools, hospitals, parks, beaches and a financial city for investors. ^ top ^

British PM Theresa May sets date to visit China as Brexit looms (SCMP)
British Prime Minister Theresa May will visit Beijing next week, China said on Thursday, as her country looks to bolster trade links ahead of its departure from the European Union. The relationship between the two countries has grown in importance as London contemplates its economic future after it officially leaves the EU in March 2019. It "will be a historical visit," foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters during a regular press briefing. "We attach great importance to our relations with the UK," she said. "We hope we can continue to further deepen our political mutual trust, expand our cooperation and to elevate our bilateral relations to a new high." The visit to China will be May's first as her country's prime minister. During her trip, she will travel to Shanghai and Hubei, Hua said. Britain has proposed leaving the EU's single market and customs union so that it can strike its own trade deals with countries outside the bloc, making China's huge market an attractive target. In preparation, a parade of top officials have travelled to China in recent months. Britain's international trade minister Liam Fox recently returned from a trip to China, where he discussed market access for British exports, including its key sector of financial services. In December, finance minister Philip Hammond visited the Asian giant to work out final preparations for a "stock connect" linking the London and Shanghai exchanges, and had agreed to examine the possibility of connecting their bond markets as well. ^ top ^

No easy solution for Sanchi tanker leak off China's east coast as oil spill expands (SCMP)
Recovery teams continue to search for a way to stop an Iranian tanker from spewing oil off China's east coast as the size of the slick continues to grow, a source in Shanghai's port authority says. The spill from the Sanchi has more than trebled in size, just over a week after the ship sank in a ball of flames and threatened to unleash an environmental catas­trophe. Authorities have spotted three oil slicks with a total surface area of 332 sq km (128 square miles), compared to 101 sq km reported on Wednesday, according to the State Oceanic Administration. Undersea robots sent to inspect the wreckage over the weekend have located the point of impact – a triangle-shaped hole stretching 35 metres, the Transport Ministry said. But authorities remained uncertain over how best to tackle the source of the leak, the port authority source said. Bad weather was expected to hamper the clean-up effort, with a cold front predicted to create waves up to 3.5 metres high. The Sanchi was carrying 136,000 tonnes of light crude oil from Iran when it collided with Hong Kong-registered bulk freighter the CF Crystal on January 6. The ensuing fire burned for more than a week before the vessel finally sank amid a massive blast. The bodies of only three of the ship's 30 Iranian and two Bangladeshi crew members have been found. The State Oceanic Administration said three coastguard vessels were on the scene on Sunday. It said authorities would continue to assess the impact of the spill on the marine environment and promised to continue to update the public. Professor Gong Yongjun, a specialist in maritime rescue operations at Dalian Maritime University, said both the size of the spill and the type of oil made the clean-up difficult. Oil slicks are usually treated with dispersal agents or collection machines, but large spills posed a greater challenge. "The spill will spread with ocean currents and the wind. It will take a very long time and be very difficult to treat," Gong said. Meanwhile, Pang Sen, Chinese ambassador to Iran, told reporters in Tehran on Sunday that 11 Chinese vessels were still carrying out rescue operations on seven locations identified by Iran. He denied reports that Japanese vessels were barred from the operation, saying five coastguard ships had taken part over two days. "China keeps an open mind to rescue operation and welcomes all international efforts in the rescue," Pang was quoted by China Central Television as saying. ^ top ^

Chinese president calls for concerted efforts with Latin America on B&R Initiative (Xinhua)
Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday called on Latin American countries to actively participate in the Belt & Road Initiative and forge a trans-Pacific path of cooperation that links China and Latin America more closely. Xi said that in a congratulatory message to the second ministerial meeting for the China and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) Forum, which opened Monday in the Chilean city of Santiago. Xi said that he put forward the Belt and Road Initiative four years ago with the aim to build a new platform for international cooperation on connectivity, hoping to boost common development across the world. The proposal has been warmly welcomed by the international community including many CELAC members, Xi said. In the past, the ancestors of the Chinese people and the Latin American people have overcome great difficulties in crossing vast seas and jointly created the maritime Silk Road spanning the Pacific, said Xi, urging the two sides to work closely under the framework of the Belt and Road. Furthermore, Xi also pointed out that since the first ministerial conference in January 2015, the China-CELAC Forum has become the main channel for cooperation between China and the entire CELAC region. The world today is undergoing major changes and adjustments, and countries are increasingly interconnected and interdependent, while the mankind is faced with many challenges, Xi said. Although China and CELAC members are geographically far apart, they are all developing nations and they share a common aspiration for peace, prosperity and people's happiness, Xi said. The Chinese people are willing to join hands with people in the CELAC region and make even greater contribution to building a community with a shared future for mankind, he added. The second ministerial meeting of the China-CELAC Forum was attended by representatives from China and the member states of Latin America and other relevant international and regional organizations. ^ top ^

China to allow expats longer stay (China Daily)
China will roll out better services to facilitate exit and entry of people starting Feb 1, said the public security ministry on Monday. The new services include extending foreigners' maximum residence period in China to five years. The ministry said expatriates will be allowed to stay in China for up to five years. The current policies cap the time at three years. Also, under the new policies, foreigners will be allowed to apply for a Chinese visa with a valid period of five years for multiple entries, up from the current limit of one year. ^ top ^

Ma Zhaoxu: China's next man at the United Nations... and on the front line of Xi's global ambitions (SCMP)
Former foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu will become China's ambassador to the United Nations headquarters in New York, one of the country's most prestigious overseas posts, according to diplomatic sources. Ma, 54, returned to Beijing last week after a 20-month stint as the country's top envoy to the UN in Geneva. As China's point man at the UN headquarters will be at the forefront of a more ambitious and assertive foreign policy under President Xi Jinping. If the appointment is confirmed, Ma will follow in the footsteps of Li Baodong, who became Beijing's top envoy in Geneva in 2007 and then transferred to the New York post in 2010 after 2½ years. Ma, formerly Chinese ambassador to Australia, has been one of the leading contenders for the UN post in New York, along with Liu Xiaoming, 61, Chinese ambassador to Britain since 2010. "Ma is a rising star in the foreign service with fairly broad experience and international exposure at a relatively young age," sources said. China's UN post in New York has been vacant for nearly four months since veteran diplomat Liu Jieyi was promoted to the deputy chief of the Taiwan Affairs Office just days ahead of the twice-a-decade Communist Party leadership shake-up in October. Liu, 60, is widely expected to take over the country's top policymaking body on cross-strait relations in a government reshuffle in March, which will see major changes to dozens of key cabinet-level posts, including vice-premiers, state councillors and prominent ministers. The changes come as China pursues a more muscular foreign policy – spelt out in People's Daily, the party's mouthpiece, last week. In a front-page commentary, the author said China should seize the "historical opportunity" of a fast changing geopolitical order to rise as a world power and fill the leadership vacuum created by US President Donald Trump's isolationist and "America first" approach. It followed a speech to the annual Chinese ambassadors' conference late last month in which Xi urged the diplomats to have a global vision in an increasingly multipolar world and to play a proactive part in global governance and the building of a new type of international relations. Unlike his predecessors, who had mixed views about mounting risks and uncertainties over the US-led liberal world order based on international rules and norms, Xi appeared to see America's declining global leadership role as a heaven-sent opening for China, observers said. Pang Zhongying, a Beijing-based international relations analyst, said the new occupants of the top diplomatic jobs would be key players in the president's global ambitions. "Such jargon-laden rhetoric indicates that Xi obviously wants to distinguish himself from previous leaders since paramount leader Deng Xiaoping by ushering in a new chapter of China's history and actively seeking a much greater say in shaping the international geopolitical landscape," Pang said. "Against this backdrop, the UN post as well as other top diplomatic jobs will figure more prominently in Xi's global aspirations, especially when there is an acute demand for China playing a responsible leadership role in global affairs." But while the diplomatic reshuffles, especially the elevation of State Councillor Yang Jiechi to the party's top echelon of power, its 25-member Politburo, is expected to galvanise China's top diplomats and give them better access to Xi, it is unlikely to have much impact on how foreign policies are mapped out. Who is Ma? Born in Heilongjiang in the northeast, Ma graduated with bachelor's and master's degrees from Peking University's department of international economics. Just before joining the foreign service in 1987, he took part in the inaugural Asian college students debating competition in Singapore and won points for his wit and eloquence. Recalling the experience over 20 years later, he said rules-based public debate was a hallmark of a modern and civilised society. Like many veteran Chinese diplomats, Ma was picked in 1994 to study at the London School of Economics and Political Science, a specialist training ground for Chinese diplomats since the early 1970s. Other Chinese LSE alumni include three former Chinese ambassadors to the US Yang Jiechi, Zhou Wenzhong and Zhang Yesui; former envoy to the UN Wang Guangya and the country's chief World Trade Organisation negotiator Long Yongtu. Ma served at various departments and embassies, including a three-year stint at the Chinese mission to the UN in the early 1990s. He witnessed the establishment of the Central Foreign Affairs Office, now headed by Yang, in 1998, when he was seconded to the now-defunct State Council Foreign Affairs Office. In the public eye: He became a high-profile public figure in January 2009 when he was transferred from director of the ministry's policy planning department to replace Liu Jianchao as ministry spokesman and chief of the Information Department. In February 2010, soon after the late Liu Xiaobo, China's most high-profile democracy activist and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, was jailed for 11 years, Ma asserted "there are no dissidents in China". Although he was best remembered for such controversial remarks in defending China's human rights record during his tenure, Ma was generally viewed favourably for his composure, which set him apart from many ministry spokesmen and women who were overtly combative and confrontational. He was promoted to assistant foreign minister in 2011 in charge of international organisations, arms control and international economics and later posted to Australia as ambassador in 2013. He became China's envoy to the UN office in Geneva in April 2016, a vice-ministerial job that has figured prominently in Beijing's decades-long pursuit of multilateral diplomatic agenda. Human rights: Beijing's contentious push for "human rights with Chinese characteristics" in recent years, especially under Ma's Geneva tenure, has raised most eyebrows considering China's poor track record on the issue and its highly repressive rule in Tibet and Xinjiang. In UN Human Rights Council meetings in March and September, Ma delivered joint statements on behalf of a group of 140 countries, which basically endorsed Xi's vision on global governance and his signature slogan of building a community for a shared future for humanity. Apart from calling for an end to the dominance of just one or several countries, a veiled criticism of Washington, he also said human rights should be promoted and protected through dialogue and cooperation under the principle of sovereign equality and non-interference and not politicised. However, international advocacy group Human Rights Watch launched stinging attacks against Beijing in a report last year over its interference with UN mechanisms, citing Geneva's "obsequious red carpet treatment" of Xi during the Chinese leader's visit to the UN's Palais des Nations in January last year. To ensure the success of Xi's visit, the UN body imposed highly unusual security restrictions, such as barring access for rights activists and non-governmental organisations, closing dozens of meeting rooms and car parks, and sending many of the office's 3,000 or so staff home early, the report said. ^ top ^

China-LAC cooperation to level up along "Belt and Road": FM (Xinhua)
China hopes to achieve a higher level of comprehensive cooperative partnership with Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) in the construction of the Belt and Road, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in a signed article. China hopes to make the China-Latin American cooperation a new model of South-South cooperation, said Wang in the article published by People's Daily Thursday, just three days ahead of the upcoming Second Ministerial Meeting of the China-CELAC Forum, scheduled to be held in Santiago, Chile. Wang said that both China and the Latin America are developing countries and "seeking national development and people's happiness are our shared aspiration." Since it was first proposed by China in 2013, the Belt and Road Initiative has been translated from a vision into a vigorous reality, obtaining a good start in Latin America and the Caribbean region, he said. "Many countries in the region look forward to stimulating their own development and promoting Sino-LAC relations through cooperation within the framework of the initiative," said Wang. China and the LAC need to strengthen the top-level design and deepen policy coordination and then work out a roadmap and guidelines for the joint construction of the Belt and Road, he said. While welcoming more LAC countries to sign cooperation agreements under the Belt and Road Initiative, China will work to increase economic openness to facilitate and liberate trade, to enhance connectivity of infrastructure, and to consolidate financial integration. According to Wang, Latin America and the Caribbean states have become the second largest destination of Chinese overseas investment. Wang also stressed that both sides should enrich people-to-people exchanges and expand cooperation in sectors such as culture, science and technology, tourism and education. ^ top ^


Domestic Policy

Xi Jinping puts China's mafia in cross hairs, but fears of judicial abuse remain (SCMP)
Beijing has kick-started an unprecedented nationwide anti-mafia sweep to counter widespread corruption at the grass-roots level, deemed by top leaders as posing existential threats to Communist Party rule. State media said the campaign, launched by President Xi Jinping personally and involving nearly 30 top party and government organs, was aimed at shoring up the legitimacy of the Communist Party and resuscitating eroded public confidence in the leadership. Rampant corruption, particularly at county and village levels, has long plagued Xi's ambitious goal of lifting all the country's citizens above the poverty line by 2020. In a closed-door meeting of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the party's top graft watchdog, two weeks ago, Xi issued a stark warning over collusion between triads and officials, especially the protectors of mafia-style organisations, which he said had threatened the party's rule. Pundits said the crusade was expected to result in a temporary drop in the levels of serious crime and a number of corruption cases involving lower-level officials. Such sweeping criminal campaigns have been unleashed in China before. In Chongqing, the now-disgraced party chief of the southwest metropolis, Bo Xilai, launched a broad and controversial sweep against organised crime. While it earned him national prominence, it was also seen by some critics as overstepping the legal rights of the accused and an excuse for Bo to lock up or sideline enemies, both in business and politics. A joint statement by the party's Central Committee and the State Council said the anti-triad battle would help Beijing's existing anti-graft campaign to "smash flies", referring to lower-level government officials. "The national battle to eradicate triads and evils will be pivotal in securing the stability of the country, deciding whether the people are for or against [the party and the government] and in consolidating grass-roots political power," it said. The statement said no use of coercion and torture would be permitted and all cases should withstand scrutiny with ironclad evidence. A source with knowledge of the campaign said Xi attached great importance to the push, which took aim at middle and lower-level cadres. "It's not just a usual campaign; it's been deemed as a fight that the party must win," he said. Guo Shengkun, secretary of the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, said at a meeting on Tuesday that the main targets of the campaign were criminal activities involving pornography, gambling, illicit drugs, pyramid sales, abduction and human-trafficking. Guo was quoted by Xinhua as saying that the breeding ground for local mafia and evil forces would have to be stamped out as they had become a protective umbrella for grass-roots corruption. Xinhua said the campaign was essential to address emerging organised crime, which exploited legal loopholes and lax government controls by using legally registered companies and entities as a front and infiltrating the logistics and transport sectors. Companies that are offering loans at extortionate rates of interest will also be targeted. People's Daily, the party's mouthpiece, said the national anti-triad campaign actually began in January last year when the Supreme People's Procuratorate issued an order to crack down on village-level triads and corruption, especially in the vast rural areas. In Guangxi province alone, more than 1,200 people were prosecuted last year for involvement in triads and local mafia, state media has reported. Gu Su, a Nanjing-based political scientist, said the National Supervisory Commission, a super graft watchdog to be formally introduced at the National People's Congress annual session in March, would also play a key role in the sweep. "The campaign is clearly politically designed to further consolidate Xi's power and the party's absolute control at all levels," he said. Most experts said it remained to be seen whether Xi's campaign could achieve long-term success in curtailing triad-related crime and securing the grass-roots support for the party's rule as Beijing anticipated, given China's lack of judicial independence and public oversight. Steve Tsang, director of the SOAS China Institute in London, said such a political campaign would inevitably weaken the rule of law. "Xi is different from Bo but is also a devoted Leninist. It should not be surprising that their approaches to anti-triad [efforts] would share a lot of commonalities. If any designated group, in this case the triads, is being targeted, the law enforcement agencies will seek to meet the target. If this means pushing aside legal niceties, it usually happens in a system where there are no checks and balances or a requirement to hold law enforcement officers to the letter of the law," he said. He Weifang, a law professor at Peking University, said the jargon language contained in the statement announcing the campaign showed it was merely another periodical anti-crime drive. "Such ruthless political campaigns, including Bo's anti-mafia crusade, have dealt devastating blows to the country's legal system like cancer and they wreck havoc on many innocent people and their families without an independent judiciary and media supervision," he said. However, Li Zhuang, a Chongqing lawyer who was jailed for more than two years after defending suspected mafia bosses rounded up by Bo, said Xi's campaign was different. The previous one was largely used by the disgraced leader to purge his political opponents and illegally accumulate wealth and power for his personal gains. Bo is serving a life sentence for corruption and other abuses of power.  ^ top ^

Eleven investors held after Chinese Ponzi scheme protests (SCMP)
Eleven investors have been detained in eastern China after protests erupted over the collapse of the country's latest Ponzi scheme, dubbed "money treasure online". Police in Nanjing said they detained the investors and warned another 11 for organising illegal gatherings and disturbing public order, the city's Public Security Bureau said in a statement posted to its social media account. The Ponzi scheme – called – took in billions of yuan from millions of investors with the authorities estimating it owed 30 billion yuan (US$4.7 billion) at the time of its collapse last month. Investors were wooed with promises of returns as high as 60 per cent. They were asked to do small "work" tasks on's website. Some of the tasks required users to watch's advertising videos, which could take just minutes each day. "Users were lured in by high returns for completing advertising tasks,"'s website now says in a bright blue notice that the authorities have swapped in for its original page. The company took in new users' money to repay old users, the notice says, citing the Nanjing police department. Users were also encouraged to invest large amounts of money in Qbao's wealth management products, like one that required an investment of 200,000 yuan for three years for a return of 1.44 million yuan, the state news agency Xinhua reported on Thursday. The founder of the scheme, Zhang Xiaolei, turned himself in to the authorities last month when he found the company unable to continue payouts. "I'm deeply sorry to investors for the losses I have caused," Zhang wrote in a statement reposted by Xinhua. "We took in money from investors borrowing new money to repay old. Now we can't repay the principal or interest." Zhang said the company had one million active users as of last month. Since Zhang's arrest and state media giving prime time coverage to the case, bilked investors have taken to organising small scale protests, with some calling on the authorities to release Zhang and let the company continue operating. Other investors say they just want justice, with dozens chanting yaofan, meaning "we want food" or "we want money" during the Nanjing protests, videos show. had centred its operations in Nanjing where the authorities announced they had detained protesting investors. Similar investor protests have followed the collapse of other Ponzi schemes in China, such as the end of peer-to-peer investment platform Ezubao in 2016. The online firm bilked 900,000 investors out of US$7.6 billion – among the biggest financial frauds in recent history. ^ top ^

Beijing denies former senior military officer Fan Changlong under investigation (SCMP)
China's defence ministry on Thursday denied that former senior military officer Fan Changlong was being investigated on suspicion of corruption, pointing to a recent article in the military's official newspaper in which his name was mentioned. Hong Kong media reported earlier this month that Fan, a former vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission which President Xi Jinping heads and which runs the country's armed forces, was being investigated. Asked whether Fan was indeed being investigated, defence ministry spokesman Wu Qian referred reporters to a January 18 article in the People's Liberation Army Daily about soldiers' training, in which Fan was cited as talking about the importance of drills. As for this rumour, I suggest you read the article in the January 18 edition of the People's Liberation Army Daily, 'On using the fervour of troop training to answer the question of winning in battle'," Wu told a monthly news briefing, without elaborating. Pictures of Fan, looking relaxed in civilian clothes and writing calligraphy, also appeared on Chinese social media this week in an article about his post-retirement life. Pictures of officials rumoured to be in trouble are often leaked online as a way of denying anything untoward has happened to them in China. The defence ministry has previously either declined to answer questions on officers suspected of corruption before the probes are actually announced, or said they do not know anything about the subject. Fan was on the Central Military Commission until last October when he stepped down as part of a sweeping leadership reshuffle at a once-every-five-years Communist Party congress. ^ top ^

Chinese armed forces in "intense" real combat training (Xinhua)
Chinese armed forces have begun "intense" real combat training, a defense ministry spokesman said Thursday. "Our soldiers take part in live-fired drills, engage in simulated confrontations and sail far into open sea," said Wu Qian, spokesman for the Ministry of National Defense. "They are in high spirits." He said the armed forces are addressing the discrepancy between training and real combat requirements. He said the military is boosting the ability to fight in joint operations and to operate in all terrains, aiming to have the ability to control crises and win battles. "The armed forces are confident of fulfilling the mission bestowed by the Party and the people," he said. ^ top ^

Don't waste time on "China military threat" hype (Xinhua)
A Chinese defense ministry spokesman on Thursday told foreign critics not to waste time drumming up the "China military threat" hype. "Some people just cannot accept the development of China and its armed forces. They speculate about the so-called 'China military threat'," said Wu Qian, spokesman for the Ministry of National Defense, at a press conference. "They should adjust this 'sick mentality'." He was responding to a question about a U.S. consultancy's assessment of China's growing influence as a major risk facing the world in 2018. The growth of China is a matter of fact and will only contribute to promoting world peace, Wu said. "It does not matter whether people speculate on, sabotage, or contain [China]. All are a waste of time," he said. ^ top ^

Chinese navy preparing for island dispute (Global Times)
The People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy is strengthening its combat capability by conducting drills in the South China Sea in an effort to deal with potential disputes and national reunification in the future, a military expert said on Wednesday, adding that other countries should familiarize themselves with the situation. Website, affiliated to PLA Daily, reported six landing ships taking part in an exercise in the South China Sea on Monday. The fleet conducted training, including artillery practice, the website reported on Monday. China's Type 071 amphibious landing ships - Jinggangshan and Kunlunshan - joined the exercises, according to the report. "The PLA Navy is responding to the Central Military Commission's call for more training to strengthen combat capabilities," Li Jie, a Beijing-based naval expert, told the Global Times on Wednesday. "The South China Sea, which has deep waters and complicated weather conditions, is suitable for the military to conduct actual combat training in an effort to deal with possible island disputes and national reunification in the future," Li said. Li said the military drill is also sending a signal to other countries that China has the resolution and capability to safeguard its sovereignty and interests in the South China Sea. "Countries outside the region should not meddle with the issue," he said. Foreign countries should get used to reports on PLA Navy exercises and should not make groundless speculation as the Chinese military is strengthening its capability in keeping with China's development, Li also said. This is the second time for the public to see reports on fleet exercises within a month. PLA Daily reported on January 14 that two landing ships and more than 100 soldiers conducted actual combat training including air-defense and anti-missile. ^ top ^

China to strengthen protection of important data (Xinhua)
China will strengthen the protection of important data infrastructure and create a security review mechanism on data sharing and exchange, an official statement said Tuesday. According to the statement issued after the second meeting of the Leading Group for Deepening Overall Reform of the 19th Communist Party of China Central Committee, the security level of data and conditions for opening the data must be identified in accordance with the law. President Xi Jinping, also general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, chairman of the Central Military Commission and head of the group, presided over the meeting and delivered a speech. ^ top ^

A look at China's push for digital national ID cards (SCMP)
Can digitisation be applied to burdensome and largely paper-based transactions to help China's government streamline its bureaucracy and better deliver services to 1.4 billion people? The world's most populous country is taking the first step in Nansha district in Guangzhou, by introducing a virtual version of the national identification card with the full acceptance and validity as the physical card.
Q. What are national ID cards and what are they used for?
Every Chinese national in mainland China has to apply for a Resident Identity Card upon reaching the age of 16. This national ID card is an official document for personal identification issued by the Public Security Bureau. The current ID card is the second-generation version that features an embedded chip and digital encryption. The card contains personal information including the individual's full name in Chinese characters, gender, ethnicity, date of birth, domicile, identification number, and a colour photo. The ID card is used for purposes including the obtaining of residence permits and driving licenses, opening of bank accounts, checking into hotels, purchasing high-speed railway tickets and boarding domestic flights.
Q. Why is China issuing digital versions of the ID cards and what are the benefits?
China is issuing digital versions of the national ID card as an alternative to the physical cards in use. The project is backed by the Ministry of Public Security's Research Institute and other bodies such as major Chinese banks. The government is working with Tencent's WeChat, marketed as Weixin on the mainland, to host the digital card as it is the most popular messaging app in mainland China. The company recorded 980 million monthly active WeChat users in the quarter ended September 30, compared with the 1.3 billion population in the country. Almost everyone who owns a smartphone has at least one WeChat account. In the future, people will no longer have to carry along their physical ID cards and can instead just use the digital ID on their smartphones. It will also reduce paper-based transactions and make online transactions more convenient by removing the need to scan-and-send physical ID cards.
Q: Where can these digital ID cards be used?
Do they have the same legal acceptance as the physical cards? The WeChat ID card can replace the physical ID cards for purposes such as hotel registration, ticketing, bank services, and delivery services, where real-name authentication is required, according to the government. Currently, WeChat users are able to get two versions of the digital ID card. The colour ID card requires the applicant to undergo authentication at government-designated service points and is accepted at government departments via a QR bar code that is stored in the smartphone app. Scanning the bar code presents verified information such as name and ID number. Users can also apply for a black-and-white ID card instantly in WeChat, but this has more limited acceptance as it does not undergo physical verification at government-appointed agencies. This type of ID is aimed at more casual use and won't be accepted as proof of identity in commercial transactions with government departments, such as registering a company.
Q: How can I get a digital ID card?
Applicants need to have an official Chinese ID card issued by the government to apply for the digital version. They have to install an "Weijing Authentication" app on their smartphones, which will ask users to register an account with their personal ID information and mobile phone number. Next, applicants must bring their physical ID cards in person to complete authentication at a Weijing Authentication terminal machine. There are dozens of self-service authentication machines scattered throughout Guangzhou city, mostly in government-designated administrative service centres open to residents. The locations of these terminals can be found in the Weijing app.
Q. What is the plan for the national digital ID card roll-out?
Is the digital card widely accepted? The first WeChat ID card was launched in Nansha district of Guangzhou in late December, and the government plans to roll out the programme throughout the country from January this year. As with most pilot projects, the acceptance for virtual ID cards remains limited at the start. According to a staffer working at the government service centre in Nansha, the WeChat ID currently only works at some government service departments located within the service centre. Checks with several hotels, telecoms operators and banks in the Nansha district showed they do not yet accept the WeChat ID as an official approved document. ^ top ^

In China, big data is watching you … and that could be a huge 'challenge to the West' (SCMP)
China's authoritarian party-state regime will mount a greater global challenge to Western democracies through its embrace of big data, a force that many governments in the West have underrated, according to a prominent Berlin-based political scientist. Sebastian Heilmann, who coined the term "digital Leninism" based on developments in China, said the discipline and obedience of Leninism were a tight fit with the digital surveillance and big data technologies that the Chinese government under President Xi Jinping had pushed over the past few years. One such data-driven system that has been ringing alarm bells is the government's "social credit" platform, which generates ratings for each Chinese citizen, business and authority and affects everything from loan approvals to permission to board flights. The system was introduced in 2014 and is expected to be in place nationwide by 2020. "A social credit system is a completely new perspective on regulating not just the economy and market but also society. It's really comprehensive, big data enabled, for both regulations and surveillance," Heilmann, president of the Mercator Institute for China Studies, said. "This is more serious than anything we have seen in literature. It's going beyond what George Orwell had in his vision [in Nineteen Eighty-Four] … because it's a daily update, something that constantly moves with you, a perfect kind of control mechanism." He said Western economies often viewed digital technology as "an add-on" or "a freewheeling networking and communication device" whereas China's Communist Party saw it as a transforming force. "For [China] it's very clear from the beginning that this is a watershed and they have to use and manage it," he said. Heilmann said that despite the privacy concerns the social credit system raised, it could make government more efficient and the Chinese development model "more plausible", offering the developing world an alternative to the market-based democracy of the West. In his book, Red Swan: How Unorthodox Policy-Making Facilitated China's Rise, Heilmann says one part of the model China is promoting is the continued roll-out of comprehensive and effective state surveillance systems based on new IT and communications technology. "Commercial interest will drive this development globally, as China exports its increasingly powerful security and surveillance technology," he wrote. Since Xi came to power in 2012, China's state media have taken aim at Western market-based economic and political systems, reviving the socialist crisis theory of capitalism. "The inward part is they want to modernise socialism within China to make it fit for the 21st century, but the interesting part is the outward message – the Western system in US, [Britain], and [the European Union] is in severe crisis or maybe terminal crisis," he said. There is going to be a systemic competition. It has to do with the next crisis also. If there is a major financial crisis, for example, starting from the US or Europe, this will be strong support for the Chinese model." Heilmann also argues that Xi has fostered a crisis mode of governance by centralising decision-making around himself and a small circle of trusted officials, giving local governments less room to experiment with reform. "The impetus for restructuring [state-owned enterprises] … has declined. On the other hand, they believe in the force of technology transforming the whole economy including state-owned enterprises," he said. ^ top ^



China disbars another human rights lawyer in crackdown's aftermath (SCMP)
Authorities in China's southern province of Guangdong have cancelled the legal licence of human rights lawyer Sui Muqing, he said on Tuesday, a week after another prominent rights lawyer was detained following similar punishment. Since coming to power in 2012, Chinese President Xi Jinping has presided over a sweeping crackdown on dissent, which has seen hundreds of rights lawyers and activists detained and dozens jailed. "I've taken on a lot of relatively high-profile human rights cases," Sui said. "This is the settling of accounts after the autumn harvest," he added, using a phrase that means to face the authorities after a movement has ended. An active and outspoken rights lawyer based in the city of Guangzhou, Sui had regularly defended fellow lawyers and activists charged by the authorities. Sui said the Guangdong justice bureau unexpectedly called him late on Monday, asking for a meeting the next day, at which officials handed him papers saying he had been disbarred for violating conduct rules for lawyers. The Guangdong justice bureau did not respond to requests for comment after office hours on Tuesday. Yu Wensheng, another prominent rights lawyer who took on similar cases, was disbarred and then detained last week. In its document notifying Sui of its decision, the bureau said he had broken China's law for lawyers, as well as rules on the conduct of lawyers and law firms, according to a picture of the document seen by Reuters. As evidence, it cited Sui's failure to prevent a client from disrupting court order in Beijing in 2014, as well as an incident in which he took photos while meeting a client in a police station in the southwestern province of Sichuan last year. In the Beijing case, Sui had been defending activist Ding Jiaxi, a leading figure in the "New Citizen's Movement" that called for Chinese officials to disclose their assets as a part of gradual political change in China. Sui denied that he had broken the rules or the law and said the 2014 case was too far in the past to reasonably be used as evidence against him. Rights groups say that 2016 changes to measures on the conduct of lawyers and law firms, which heightened requirements for political loyalty, were designed to make it much more difficult to take on politically sensitive cases. ^ top ^



China in 'takeover' of Tibetan Buddhist monastery, rights group says (SCMP)
Chinese officials are engaging in a "takeover" of one of the world's largest Tibetan Buddhist monasteries with a plan to put Communist Party officials in charge of its administration, Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday. Larung Gar, a sprawling Buddhist centre of learning and prayer in the mountains of southwestern Sichuan province, has already been reduced in size through an eight-month programme of demolition and expulsion that ended in April, HRW said. The government is now splitting the centre into two sections, an academy and a monastery, divided by a wall, according to an English-language translation of a document shared by HRW, which they said was received in August. The measures include quotas for recruitment, a management system of "real-name registration" and tags for monks and nuns, as well as placing 97 Communist Party cadres, who are required to be atheist, in top finance, security and admission roles. Monastic sources told HRW that a similar system would be set up in the monastery and that a large building had been constructed to house the cadres. Reuters could not independently verify the authenticity of the document or the claims from HRW sources. "The administrative takeover of Larung Gar by party officials shows that the government's aim was not merely to reduce numbers at the settlement," said Sophie Richardson, US-based China director for HRW. "Chinese authorities are also imposing pervasive control and surveillance over every level of activity within religious communities," she said. China's religious affairs bureau did not respond immediately to a request for comment. China has denied carrying out demolitions at Larung Gar, saying the work is to tackle fire and safety hazards, as well as to "reconstruct" old buildings. Tibetan-populated areas of western China, including in Sichuan, had been at the epicentre of protests against Chinese rule, which included acts of self-immolation, although reported cases have declined in the past two years. Richardson said the micromanagement of Larung Gar encroached on religious freedom and was likely to fuel resentment against Beijing. Chinese law promises freedom of religion but authorities keep a close eye on religious believers and institutions, especially in areas such as Tibet where faith is considered a potential challenge to Communist Party rule. New regulations due to take effect at the end of this month are set to expand state oversight of religious institutions. In particular, schools will train future generations of China's religious leaders. ^ top ^



Security, stability called top priorities in Xinjiang (China Daily)
The Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region will step up border control measures this year to create a "Great Wall" along its 5,700-kilometer border to prevent the penetration of extremism, separatism and terrorism from abroad, the region's chairman said on Monday. "We will try our best to leave no gaps or blind spots in social security management and ensure the key areas remain absolutely safe," Shokrat Zakir, the chairman, said as he delivered the government work report during the annual session of the 13th Regional People's Congress, which kicked off in the capital Urumqi on Monday. The region will step up security measures in key areas and border areas as well as enforce internet management to maintain social stability in Xinjiang, which remains complicated, he said. It will further rely on technology to enhance frontline border control and improve infrastructure in border areas, such as improving road conditions, he said. "The overall social situation was stable in 2017, which has significantly made people feel safer," he said. "We won't allow separatism to stage a comeback and will ensure religious extremism never rises again from the ashes and terrorist attacks are doomed to failure." Xinjiang introduced a series of security measures in 2017, including setting up a network of police stations in all cities and townships to quickly react to any emergencies. The region has always been China's front line against terrorism. The penetration of religious extremism has led to a number of terrorist attacks in recent years. The regional government will continue to see maintaining social stability as its top priority in the next five years, Shokrat added. The performance of the tourist industry has always been an indicator of the region's stability. Stability has brought more tourists to Xinjiang, which is known for its diversity and varied scenery, he said. More than 107 million domestic and foreign travelers visited in 2017, up 32.4 percent from the previous year. The regional GDP has grown to 1.09 trillion yuan ($167.8 billion) in 2017 from 753 billion yuan in 2012, with an average growth rate of 9 percent. Despite the economic growth, the unbalanced development between southern and northern Xinjiang remains obvious, Shokrat said. Currently, there are 1.63 million people in southern Xinjiang living in deep poverty, which is about 86 percent of the region's total poverty-stricken population. Poverty alleviation work in southern Xinjiang is very tough, he said. ^ top ^



Chinese doctor told bookseller Gui Minhai to seek medical care abroad, daughter says (SCMP)
Detained bookseller Gui Minhai had been advised by a Chinese doctor to seek medical treatment overseas before he was arrested at a train station near Beijing last weekend, his daughter revealed on Thursday. Angela Gui said her father told her he had symptoms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) – a form of motor neuron disease that attacks the brain and spinal cord – after he was released from custody in October. Gui Minhai is one of five booksellers whose disappearance two years ago caused an international storm. All of them were associated with Causeway Bay Books, which released titles critical of Beijing. "I spoke to him several times a week [since October] and got to see him too [on Skype] before he was snatched for the second time [on Saturday]," Gui told the South China Morning Post by phone from the UK. "He looked like and sounded like himself... but he had developed some neurological symptoms that he did not have before he was taken in 2015," she added. Gui Minhai was in Thailand when he disappeared for the first time, before resurfacing in custody in mainland China. His daughter said he had been for a check-up at a hospital in Ningbo, Zhejiang since his release from detention in the city and was diagnosed with ALS, "the same illness that Stephen Hawking has", she said. "He couldn't control most of his fingers on his left hand as the muscles have started to atrophy, and his right hand started to go too," Angela Gui said. "There was even a strange sensation on his legs and he has struggled to balance at times when he walks." The medical advice from the hospital was for him to get treatment overseas. "The doctor that he saw said that it's probably best for him to seek medical care abroad as there are neurology departments that have more specialised knowledge of ALS. That was what he was hoping to do," she said, adding that a few doctors had been flown in from Beijing to examine him. Gui said her father had been healthy, apart for having high blood pressure, before he was detained in 2015. Since then, he had lost weight and was missing a tooth, but Gui said her father had been reluctant to talk about his time in jail because he was being monitored. "He wouldn't address it in very specific terms under surveillance but I got the impression that he must have been tortured," his daughter said. She also revealed that specialists in Sweden were on standby waiting for the 53-year-old Ningbo native and Swedish citizen, who told his daughter that he wanted to return to Stockholm for treatment. "I have been in coordination with the Swedish government and got in touch with the doctors and they are prepared to assist him as soon as he is able to come home," she said. The Chinese foreign ministry did not respond to an inquiry on Thursday as to whether it had received a request from Stockholm to treat Gui Minhai in Sweden. Gui declined to comment on her father's journey to Beijing with two Swedish diplomats when he was arrested last Saturday, but told the Post she had been hoping to see her father in person in England. "I was hoping that he would be able to come home for my graduation [at the University of Warwick last week] and he wanted to as well but things didn't work out," she said. According to a source, Gui Minhai signed a "guarantee letter" that he would stay within the city of Ningbo after he was released from custody in October. The source said Gui's arrest was a result of that agreement being breached, a claim the Post is unable to verify. Separately, Angela Gui also confirmed that she did know Woo Chih-wai, who on Tuesday told the Post he had spoken to her after her father was released in October. On Wednesday, Angela Gui had tweeted that "I've never spoken to this dude Woo Chih-wai. Didn't even know who he was until this morning. SCMP, latest purveyor of fake news?" Woo is a former store manager of Causeway Bay Books. "I want to send my apology to Mr Woo as I remember now I did talk to him," Gui said on Thursday. ^ top ^

European Union backs Sweden's demand for immediate release of missing Hong Kong bookseller Gui Minhai (SCMP)
The European Union's ambassador to China said on Wednesday he expects Chinese authorities to immediately release Swedish citizen and Hong Kong-based bookseller Gui Minhai, echoing demands from Stockholm. Sweden confirmed on Tuesday that Gui, who has published books on the personal lives of Chinese Communist Party leaders, was taken into custody on the weekend while travelling with Swedish diplomats to seek medical treatment in Beijing. EU ambassador to China Hans Dietmar Schweisgut said the EU "fully supports" Sweden's efforts to resolve the issue with China. "We expect the Chinese authorities to immediately release Gui Minhai from detention and to allow him to reunite with his family, to get consulate support and medical support in line with his rights, because he is a Swedish citizen and also a citizen of the European Union," Schweisgut said. Gui was abducted in Thailand while on holiday in 2015, one of five Hong Kong booksellers who went missing that year and later appeared in custody on mainland China. The four others have returned to Hong Kong. Chinese authorities said Gui was freed in October after serving a two-year sentence for a traffic offence in 2003. Sweden's foreign ministry said in an earlier statement that, before Gui's latest detention, it had been "repeatedly assured" by Chinese authorities that Gui was a free man and that it could "have any contact" with him. It has said it expects China to release Gui so that he can meet diplomatic and medical staff, and has also twice summoned China's ambassador to Stockholm to explain the situation. China's foreign ministry said on Tuesday it had no specific information on Gui, who his daughter Angela says was taken off a train by plain-clothes police while en route to the capital to get medical attention for a neurological ailment. Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said then that Sweden and China enjoy good communication and "if there are any problems..., [we] can conduct timely and effective dialogue. This is no problem at all." China's Ministry of Public Security has not responded to a request for comment on the incident and it has not been possible to reach the Ministry of State Security, which has no website and does not have a publicly available telephone number.  ^ top ^

Suspended Hong Kong student union chief will still try to go to classes, as Mandarin requirement row rolls on (SCMP)
The head of Baptist University's student union said he would still go to classes despite his recent suspension from school over alleged threatening behaviour, if his teachers will let him. Lau Tsz-kei maintained that he did not threaten teaching staff during an angry protest against a Mandarin language graduation requirement, at the school's language centre last Wednesday. He said the decision to suspend him was "not in line with practice". Lau said he would continue fighting to scrap the requirement, and that the union would hold a rally against the policy on school grounds on Friday. "I will try to attend classes as soon as I am able to... I will have to see what teachers [think]. If they let me attend the class, I will. If they say no, I'd be interrupting other students, then I would leave," he said on a radio programme on Thursday morning. Lau and fellow student Andrew Chan Lok-hang, convenor of a Cantonese language support group, were temporarily suspended on Wednesday, pending the completion of disciplinary proceedings. University president Roland Chin Tai-hong said the duo had posed a danger to staff at the institution during the eight-hour stand-off last week, which he said made staff feel threatened and insulted, affecting their work. Some 30 ­students, including Lau and Chan, confronted staff at the centre to protest against the Mandarin proficiency course, which all Baptist University students must take or get an exemption from. A video clip of Lau speaking aggressively during the incident went viral on social ­media and sparked ­criticism both on and off campus. The main dispute is over the Mandarin requirements that have been in place for years and the recent introduction of what some students claim is an unreasonably difficult proficiency test for those seeking to get an exemption by proving their Mandarin is already good enough. Lau, while admitting that the protesters could have handled the matter differently and were "a bit emotional and loud", maintained that neither he nor any of his fellow protesters threatened staff. "We were only asking them questions and demanding a dialogue," he said. "I don't think this endangered their safety. In fact, they were free to enter and leave [the office], and we even helped them fetch letters... there was no bodily contact." Lau said that as union president he was also a member of the school's disciplinary panel, and understood that normal procedure required the committee to investigate a student's violation before deciding on a punishment. "To be honest, I'm extremely shocked," he said. "We were a group of Baptist University students trying to push for reforms in university policies in hopes that the university would develop in a more positive way. "But the vice chancellor's main concern was not how to communicate better with students or how to improve university policies, but that these students were not good for university operations; let's just suspend them. There wasn't even an investigation." But Roger Wong Hoi-fung, a member of the school's governing council and a representative of the university's 2,000 teaching staff, said the video indicated that staff were threatened. He said some workers had even cried when he spoke to them about the incident. Wong said he disagreed with the university president's suspension of the pair before an investigation, but that it would help if Lau and Chan went to the language centre to apologise directly to staff. "Their ideology and objective can be very great and just, but it cannot be an excuse for their actions. It is right for students and staff to fight for [causes] but this time they really did cross the line," he said. "From our observations, the staff did feel threatened and abused. Their perception is very important too. This was eight hours … 20 students outnumbering the staff in a small area, and most [staff] were women. Speaking on another radio programme, Chan said the university had not followed proper procedures by immediately suspending him and Lau, and that it was "disregarding [their] learning needs". Chan, who put an internship at a mainland hospital on hold after both he and staff at the hospital got menacing phone calls and messages, said he hoped the university would give him legal assistance and said that he would report the threats to the police. Meanwhile, a commentary published on Thursday in the state-run mainland newspaper Global Times described the dispute as an "ideological conflict", saying some Hongkongers had introduced the notion of localism to campuses. It added that the incident had angered mainland people, and said some Hong Kong students were too "narrow-minded". ^ top ^



Macao welcomes EU delisting it from non-cooperative tax jurisdictions (Xinhua)
China's Macao Special Administrative Region (SAR) government welcomes European Union (EU)'s decision of delisting Macao from the list of non-cooperative tax jurisdictions, and reiterates its continued effort to fight cross-border tax evasion and improve the tax transparency, the SAR's Information Bureau said here on Wednesday. Macao was listed as a non-cooperative tax jurisdiction by the EU in December 2017, and the SAR government said that the decision was unilateral, one-sided and did not reflect the actual situation of Macao. The bureau said with the support of the central government, the SAR has been actively in contact with the EU to exchange the position, the work progress and expected time-line of the extension of "Multilateral Convention on Mutual Assistance and Administration in Tax Matters" to Macao. The Macao SAR will be able to exchange financial account information with other tax jurisdictions, including all EU members. The legal regime of offshore business sector will also be improved to enhance the administrative work of taxation, the bureau added. ^ top ^



Taiwan deputies to 13th NPC elected (Xinhua)
Thirteen Taiwan deputies, eight men and five women, to the 13th National People's Congress (NPC), the national legislature, were elected Thursday via secret ballot. They were chosen from 16 candidates at an electoral conference which opened on Tuesday. Their qualifications must be reviewed and confirmed by the NPC Standing Committee. Most of the 13 were born on the mainland, including Party or government officials, and respected academics. The NPC is scheduled to convene its annual plenary session in early March. ^ top ^

Taiwan's president says she does not rule out chance of China attack (SCMP)
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen says she does not exclude the possibility of China attacking the self-ruled island, amid heightened tensions between the two sides including an increasing number of Chinese military drills near Taiwan. Beijing has taken an increasingly hostile stance towards Taiwan, which it considers a breakaway province, since the election two years ago of Tsai of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party. China suspects Tsai wants to push for formal independence, a red line for Communist Party leaders in Beijing, although she has said she wants to maintain the status quo and is committed to ensuring peace. China has stepped up military drills around Taiwan in recent months, alarming Taipei. China says the exercises are routine, but that it will not tolerate any attempt by the island to declare independence. "No one can exclude this possibility. We will need to see whether their policymakers are reasonable policymakers or not," Tsai said in an interview on Taiwan television broadcast late on Monday, when asked whether China could attack Taiwan. "When you consider it [the Taiwan-China relationship] from a regional perspective, any reasonable policymaker will have to very carefully deliberate as to whether launching war is an option," Tsai said. "When our government faces resistance and pressure from China, we will find our method to resist this. This is very important," she added. "In terms of China circulating around Taiwan or carrying out other military activities, our military is carefully following every action and movement in the scope of its monitoring," Tsai said. "Our military is very confident to face these situations." China considers proudly democratic Taiwan to be its sacred territory and has never renounced the use of force to bring it under Chinese control. Taiwan and China have also traded accusations this month about China's opening of new civilian aviation routes close to Taiwan-controlled islands in the Taiwan Strait. Although China has cut off a formal dialogue mechanism with Taiwan, Tsai acknowledged that both sides currently have a method for communications to avoid misunderstanding. Taiwan has been pressing for the United States, its main source of arms, to provide more advanced equipment, but has also been trying to bolster its own weapons programmes, to avoid what Tsai termed "certain political difficulties" that come with buying weapons overseas in the teeth of Chinese opposition. Tsai said she believed one day Taiwan would be able to produce its own submarines, an item Taipei has long pressed for to face China's navy. China's Taiwan Affairs Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tsai's remarks. ^ top ^



China's coal imports from Russia, Mongolia surge after North Korea ban (SCMP)
China's coal imports from Russia and Mongolia soared in 2017, customs data showed on Thursday, as the two countries filled a supply gap caused by trade sanctions on North Korea. Arrivals from Russia in 2017 surged 36.3 per cent from 2016 to 25.3 million tonnes, data from the General Administration of Customs showed, with December figures at 2.14 million tonnes, up 16.2 per cent from a year ago and 11.5 per cent from November. Imports from Mongolia rose to 33.58 million tonnes in 2017, up 27.6 per cent from 2016, while December's imports came in at 2.83 million tonnes, down 18.6 per cent from a year ago but up 2.5 per cent from November. China issued a ban on coal imports from North Korea in late February, about a week after the country tested an intermediate-range ballistic missile. For the rest of the year, China only reported North Korean coal imports in August and September. In 2016, China brought in more than 20 million tonnes of North Korean coal, making it Beijing's fourth-largest supplier after Australia, Indonesia and Mongolia. "The majority of market share left by North Korea was grabbed by Russia, as mining costs in Russia are cheaper than in China's northeastern region," said Cheng Gong, an analyst at the China National Coal Association. In 2017, Australia was China's largest coal supplier for a sixth year in a row, bolstered by increasing demand for high-grade supplies due to Beijing's crackdown on air pollution. Coal imports from Australia rose 13.4 per cent from 2016 to 79.91 million tonnes. In December, China bought 8.07 million tonnes of Australian coal, up 19.4 per cent from a year ago. Australian coal, with lower pollutants such as sulphides and ash and a higher energy value, is considered a high-grade fuel compared to Mongolian and Indian supply. Arrivals from Indonesia in 2017 fell 9.7 per cent from 2016 to 35.28 million tonnes. December imports of 1.71 million tonnes were down 63.1 per cent from the same period in 2016. In late November, Beijing eased some restrictions on coal imports to ensure stable coal supplies during the peak winter heating season. Data released earlier this month showed China's total December coal imports rose 3 per cent from November to 22.74 million tonnes. Vessel-tracking and port data compiled by Thomson Reuters Supply Chain and Commodity Forecasts suggest China in January will import around 20.9 million tonnes of seaborne coal, both thermal and coking, up from 17.2 million in December and 19.1 million in November. ^ top ^

Winter Olympics a 'chance to get US-North Korea talks rolling and avert catastrophe' (SCMP)
The Winter Olympics in South Korea could be a chance for Washington and Pyongyang to start talking, with the world running out of peaceful answers to the crisis on the Korean peninsula, a top international think tank says. The International Crisis Group (ICG) said in a report on Tuesday that China had suggested that the United States freeze miliary exercises in the region in exchange for North Korea suspending its nuclear weapons programme, and Beijing should push ahead and help broker a deal between Pyongyang and Washington based on the proposal. It said the chance of a cataclysmic war in the region was higher than at any time in recent history as US President Donald Trump applied a "maximum pressure" policy to counter North Korea's repeated nuclear provocations. North Korea's relations with China, Pyongyang's top trade and diplomatic ally, have plunged as Beijing has supported a series of United Nations sanctions against North Korea and edged closer to Trump's position. The release of the ICG's report comes after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un agreed to open dialogue with the South for the first time in over two years. Kim also agreed to send a delegation to the Winter Olympics next month. The two teams will walk into the opening ceremony together and athletes from both countries will form a unified women's ice hockey team. The report said the White House's "maximum pressure" strategy of using economic and trade sanctions and military threats would not force Kim to give up his nuclear arsenal, which the Pyongyang regime deemed essential for its survival. "Its first track, economic pressure through sanctions, will not, on its own, prompt Pyongyang to slow down its weapons programme with a reasonable time frame, and could cause considerable harm to its people," it said. "The second, threatening or, worse, carrying out military action, risks uncontrolled escalation." The group said the US should instead use the Winter Olympics and Pyongyang's desperation to improve its shattered economy to explore resuming formal US-North Korea talks. And Beijing should use incentives and pressure to bring Washington and Pyongyang back to the negotiating table, it said. Michael Kovrig, the group's senior adviser for North East Asia and a co-author of the report, said this strategy could help to save the region from catastrophic miscalculations that would not only affect both Koreas but other powers including China, Japan, Russia and even the US. The window ahead of the Winter Olympics, thawing North Korea-South Korea relations and Pyongyang's desire to shore up its economy provides an opportunity," Kovrig said. "A deal whereby Pyongyang freezes its most sensitive tests and Washington freezes some military exercises could help de-escalate the crisis and buy time for diplomacy." But observers voiced concerns that tensions could flare up again soon after the Olympics, especially if Pyongyang and Seoul did not address the question of nuclear disarmament. Washington and Pyongyang have also both rejected Beijing's "freeze for freeze" proposal and analysts doubted whether either would be willing to tone down their rhetoric and return to talks, especially when Kim had little incentive to scrap his nuclear programme. Lu Chao, a Korean affairs expert at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, said "things will not be easy" after the Olympics. "I think the Winter Olympics is a good opportunity and China will be helping given denuclearisation is also a goal for Beijing, but such hopes [of an eventual de-escalation] should not be overestimated as neither side has raised the question of denuclearisation or the suspension of Washington-led military exercises," Lu said. ^ top ^

China says sanctions should not affect humanitarian aid to DPRK (Xinhua)
China said Tuesday that UN Security Council sanctions against the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) should not affect humanitarian aid. "China attaches importance to the humanitarian assistance work carried out by the United Nations and other international agencies in the DPRK. China has been and will continue to provide necessary support and assistance," said Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying at a daily press briefing. She said that in the context of sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council and the unilateral sanctions imposed by some countries against the DPRK, there are several reasons for the problems facing the humanitarian assistance for the DPRK. It is also a clear requirement of UN Security Council resolutions that the humanitarian aid for the DPRK should not be affected, she said. Hua reiterated that China always sincerely implements UN Security Council resolutions. ^ top ^

Troops, cameras, radiation: China prepares for North Korea crisis (SCMP)
China has ramped up security along its border with North Korea, installing new surveillance cameras, deploying extra security forces and operating radiation detectors as it braces for a potential crisis. Bellicose rhetoric between Washington and Pyongyang has raised fears in China of a conflict that could send millions of North Korean refugees across the 1,420km (882 mile) border, and of nuclear fallout that could hit Chinese towns. While authorities have been coy about preparations, residents have seen an increase in patrols along the frontier. Radiation monitors are running in border towns, and locals said interactions with North Koreans had been discouraged. A red banner tacked to a border fence in Dandong – a major trading hub separated from North Korea by the Yalu River – has a cold war-like message to residents: "Citizens or organisations who see spying activities must immediately report them to national security organs". Outside Dandong, new checkpoints dot the road running along the Yalu. Locals said they were installed in October. "Before, the North Koreans came to our side to fish. Now they don't dare," said Zhang Fuquan at his fish farm on the Chinese side of the river. "The army patrols and watches." At the massive Supung hydroelectric dam, which provides power to both China and North Korea, surveillance cameras monitor the Yalu. "The border is tightly controlled now," said 75-year-old retiree Yin Guoxie, who spent a lifetime working at the dam. Regular North Koreans were not allowed to have boats, which minimised the number who tried to cross, he said. "If they do come over here, we'll catch them and send them back," he said. Further north in Longjing, where the Tumen River freezes over in the winter, villages have established border protection units and cadres have taught self-defence to residents. The local propaganda department said last year that hundreds of cameras were being installed to build a "second generation border surveillance system". The measures are slashing the number of North Korean defectors who reach Seoul via a land route through China to Southeast Asia. Fewer than 100 North Koreans a month reached the South last year – the lowest number in 15 years – according to Seoul's unification ministry. Five of Pyongyang's six nuclear tests have been carried out under Mount Mantap at Punggye-ri, about 80km from the border with China, where citizens felt the accompanying earthquake. Some Chinese and foreign scientists have expressed concerns that the 2,200-metre peak could be suffering from "tired mountain syndrome" and could collapse from further nuclear tests. Fear of radiation from a test, accident or nuclear war spreading to China's border regions runs high. After Pyongyang's sixth nuclear test in September, China's Ministry of Environmental Protection conducted emergency radiation monitoring, though nothing abnormal was found. At the Dandong border crossing, authorities last week checked to make sure their nuclear radiation monitoring and protection equipment was working properly. Further afield, in Lagushao village, AFP reporters saw a whirring "Radiation environment automatic monitoring station" housed inside a hut. Guo Qiuju, a professor at Peking University, said the station was capable of detecting radiation coming across the border. "If the monitoring stations show any abnormalities, we will immediately alert citizens," he said. The Lagushao station is not listed on the environment ministry's online network, suggesting it might be new. The ministry did not immediately respond to faxed questions for comment. Last month, a state-run newspaper in the Jilin border province published a full-page illustrated advisory detailing how to respond in the event of a nuclear attack or disaster. "If there is a river, lake or pond near you, jump in to protect yourself," it read. Afterwards, "flush out your nostrils, rinse your mouth, and clean out you ear canals". ^ top ^



Mongolia establishes agreement with Poland on social protection (Montsame)
Government of Mongolia established agreement with the Republic of Poland on social protection on January 25. Signed by Minister of Labor and Social Protection S.Chinzorig and Minister of Family, Labor and Social Protection of Poland Elżbieta Rafalska, the agreement has significant importance to ensure guarantee of social protection of people of the two countries. The agreement will allow people of the two countries to include their paid years of social insurance premium or individual's years of service in Mongolia or in Poland when calculating the right of entitlement and the amount of old-age pension, according to Minister S.Chinzorig.Furthermore, the agreement regulates not only old-age pension but also opens right to receive unemployment benefit, pregnancy and post partum allowance and funeral grant, highlighted Minister S.Chinzorig. Ms.Elżbieta Rafalska marked the sides made arrangements to provide favorable condition for retirement to people of the two countries specially Mongolians who are working in Poland for a long period of time and avoid from causing loss to working people. During their talk, the parties exchanged views on further cooperation and sharing experiences. Moreover, the Minister's proposal to Poland to receive labor force from Mongolia has been supported and agreed to implement 'Youth Exchange Program' at first, providing opportunity to 200-300 youths aged up to 30 to work while travelling in Poland for 12 months.  ^ top ^

Cabinet meeting in brief (Montsame)
During its regular meeting on January 24, the Cabinet made following decisions. Ÿ The Cabinet decided to submit to the Parliament a draft bill on General Program on Funding established between the Government of Mongolia and the Asian Development Bank. Financing of USD 468 million will be spent for diversifying economy, improving business environment, ensuring stability of social protection sector and creating jobs. Ÿ The Cabinet resolved to submit to the Parliament a draft law on Mongolia-Korea intergovernmental general agreement on Issuance of Soft Loan from Economic Development Cooperation Fund in 2017-2019. The soft loan equal to USD 700 million has an annual interest of 0.2 percent and 30 years of repayment term and is to be spent for elimination of air pollution of Ulaanbaatar city. Ÿ The Cabinet decided to set amount of undue tax loss at 0.050 percent a day in cases a tax payer does not pay his/her taxes in scheduled time or tax department and inspectors impose and collect unreasonable or excessive taxes. Ÿ The Cabinet adopted methodology to compute index of provincial development, information required and list of organizations to give information. The index should be computed within the first quarter of the year and announced to public. Ÿ The Cabinet decided to deliver information to National Security Council about condition of crime and law violations related to illegal circulation of narcotic drugs, and psychotropic. Ÿ The Cabinet adopted Requirements and registration rule for citizen and legal body who render consulting service. The rule will set requirements for citizens and legal bodies in construction sector to give professional consulting service and regulate other relations.  ^ top ^

European Council removes Mongolia from tax haven list (Montsame)
Mongolia was removed from the European Union's list of tax havens on January 23. Eight jurisdictions have been removed from the EU's list of non-cooperative jurisdictions for tax purposes, following commitments made at a high political level to remedy EU concerns, said a press release issued by the European Council. "Mongolia, Barbados, Grenada, the Republic of Korea, Macao SAR, Panama, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates are moved to a separate category of jurisdictions subject to close monitoring", it said. The Council agreed that a delisting was justified in the light of an expert assessment of the commitments made by these jurisdictions to address deficiencies identified by the EU. In each case, the commitments were backed by letters signed at a high political level. In an effort to leave the list, Minister of Foreign Affairs D.Tsogtbaatar took some urgent measures such as the appointment of an Ambassador-at -Large, forming of a working group made of representatives of the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Justice and Home Affairs, sending an official letter to Federica Mogherini, EU High Representative and Vice-President of the European Commission and Foreign Ministers of 28 EU member states, and reiterating Mongolia's commitment to the EU Ambassadors in Mongolia. As such, the delisting restores Mongolia's opportunities to develop its cooperation with the EU and its member states. ^ top ^

Mongolia, Russia and China discuss Eastern Railway Corridor (Monsame)
Ulaanbaatar is hosting a consultative meeting between Mongolia, Russia and China themed 'The Eastern Railway Corridor – Development of the Region and the Mining' on January 22-23. The Ministry of Road and Transport Development in cooperation with Mongolian Railway Company is organizing the international meeting with support from the Ministry of Mining and Heavy Industry, Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Light Industry and Ministry of Environment and Tourism. The international meeting agenda revolves around Eastern Railway Corridor, one of the 32 projects projected in the Mongolia-Russia-China Economic Corridor Program, and is expected to play an important role in not only the development of Mongolia, but also of the Northeast Asian region. Minister of Road and Transport Development J.Bat-Erdene delivered opening remarks and said, "Not only can Mongolia efficiently connect its two neighbors, the route is also the shortest gateway connecting Asia with Europe," emphasizing the relevance of the Trilateral Economic Corridor Program, which was signed in June, 2016. Minister J.Bat-Erdene expressed his confidence that the trilateral consultation will help develop practical calculation of freight to be transported through the Eastern Railway Corridor in correspondence with the current state and future trends of mineral resources in Mongolia's eastern region and volume of transit freight, and intensify trilateral cooperation in this area. ^ top ^


Valentin Jeanneret
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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