Chinese premier focuses on critical minerals and clean energy on final day of Australian visit

China’s Premier Li Qiang inspects a hydrogen refuelling truck as Executive Chairman of Fortescue Andrew Forrest (C) looks on at the Fortescue Hazelmere research and development facility in Hazelmere, a suburb of Perth on June 18, 2024.
| Photo Credit: AFP

Chinese Premier Li Qiang has ended his Australian tour on June 18 in the west coast city of Perth where he has focused on China’s investment in critical minerals, clean energy and business links.

Perth is the capital of Western Australia State, which provided 39% of the world’s iron ore last year. Iron ore is one of Australia’s most lucrative exports. Analysts say the commodity was spared the type of trade bans that Beijing imposed on other Australian exports as bilateral relations soured three years ago because the steel-making ingredient was crucial to Chinese industrial growth.

Last week, Mr. Li became the first Chinese premier to visit New Zealand then Australia in seven years. He left Perth late on June 18 for Malaysia, where he’ll be China’s first premier to visit since 2015.

While in Perth, China’s second-most powerful leader after President Xi Jinping inspected iron ore miner Fortescue‘s clean energy research facility.

Fortescue’s chairman Andrew Forrest said Mr.Li was interested in the company’s plans to produce iron ore without carbon emissions and potentially “green iron.” “I think China chose us because it’s not just the best technology to go green in Australia, it’s the best technology to go green in the world and we’ve got real examples of it in trains, ship engines, trucks,” Forrest told The Associated Press before the visit.

The Perth facility is testing technology on hydrogen, ammonia and batter power for trains, ships, trucks and heavy mining equipment.

Focuses on Critical Minerals

Mr. Li also visited Chinese-controlled Tianqi Lithium Energy Australia’s processing plant south of Perth to underscore China’s interest in investing in critical minerals. The plant produces battery-grade lithium hydroxide for electric vehicles.

Australia shares U.S. concerns over China’s global dominance in critical minerals and control over supply chains in the renewable energy sector.

Citing Australia’s national interests, Treasurer Jim Chalmers recently ordered five Chinese-linked companies to divest their shares in the rare earth mining company Northern Minerals.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese wrote in an opinion piece published in Perth’s main newspaper, The West Australian, on June 18, that his government was acting to ensure foreign investment “continues to serve our national interests.”

“This includes reforming the foreign investment framework so that it’s more efficient, more transparent and more effective at managing risk,” Mr. Albanese wrote.

Mr. Forrest said the national risk from Chinese investment in the critical minerals sector was overstated.

“Australia should be producing all the critical minerals in the world because we’re a great mining country, so by all means let’s go in harder after critical minerals, but let’s not do it with panic because there is no reason for panic,” Mr. Forrest said.

Mr. Qiang and Mr. Albanese flew to Perth in separate planes late on June 17 from the national capital Canberra where the two leaders held an official annual meeting with senior ministers in Parliament House.

Both leaders attended a round table of business leaders in Perth representing resource companies including mining giants BHP and Rio Tinto.

Business Council of Australia chief executive Bran Black said business dialogue was essential to the bilateral relations between the two free trading partners.

“While there have been challenging times in the bilateral relationship between the two nations, I think it’s fair to say this is another positive point of progress,” Black told the meeting.

“It shows that whilst the parameters of a bilateral relationship are set by governments, they will always be sustained by the quality of the personal relationships and especially those personal relationships that subsist on a business-to-business level,” Black added.

Chinese premiers and Australian prime ministers met annually from 2013 until 2019, after which Beijing banned minister-to-minister contacts over the previous conservative government’s call for an independent investigation into the causes of and responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Relations had already been strained by Australian legislation that banned covert foreign interference in Australian politics and the exclusion of Chinese-owned telecommunications giant Huawei from rolling out the national 5G network due to securit

Beijing initiated a reset in relations after Mr.Anthony Albanese’s center-left Labor Party was elected in 2022.

The annual meetings resumed when Mr. Albanese visited Beijing in November last year.

Concerns over press freedom

Mr. Albanese revealed that his office had complained to the Chinese Embassy about the behavior of two officials during a media event with the two leaders after June 17th meeting.

Australia had “concerns” about two Chinese officials who stood in the way of cameras taking images of well-known Australian journalist Cheng Lei sitting with other reporters as the leaders spoke, Mr. Albanese said.

Mrs. Cheng spent more than three years in detention in China for breaking an embargo with a broadcast on a state-run TV network while she was based in Beijing. She was released last year after interventions by the Australian government and now works for Sky News Australia.

“When you look at the footage, it was a pretty clumsy attempt, frankly, by a couple of people to stand in between where the cameras were and where Mrs. Cheng Lei was sitting,” Mr. Albanese said.

“There should be no impediments to Australian journalists going about their job and we’ve made that clear to the Chinese Embassy,” Mr. Albanese added.

Chinese-born Cheng told Sky News on June 17 that the officials “went to great lengths to block me from the cameras and to flank me.” “I’m only guessing that it’s to prevent me from saying something or doing something that they think would be a bad look. But that in itself was a bad look,” Mrs. Cheng said.

The embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Li and Mr. Albanese made statements during the press event but neither took questions from the assembled journalists.

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The best banks in the Asia-Pacific region, according to customers

SINGAPORE — Customers in Asia-Pacific have picked their favorite banks as lenders scramble to meet consumer expectations in a fast-changing environment.

After a prolonged period of high inflation — and interest rates — banks in the region are starting to navigate the global trend of lower rates. They’re also facing technological innovation that has the potential to transform the sector, as generative AI gains traction around the world.

Against this backdrop, CNBC and market research firm Statista surveyed 22,000 individuals with a checking or savings account in 14 major economies. The report below — the first of its kind — is designed to highlight the banks that best meet consumer needs in their respective markets.

For the survey, participants evaluated their overall satisfaction with a bank, and whether they would recommend it to others. They also rated each based on five criteria: trust, terms and conditions (such as fees and rates), customer service, digital services and quality of financial advice. Read the full methodology here. The ranking only included banks that qualified according to the criteria described in the report.

See below to see which banks made the list in your location.

Australia

1 ING Group
2 Bank Australia
3 Westpac
4 Ubank
5 NAB
6 Alex Bank
7 Newcastle Permanent Building Society
8 People’s Choice Credit Union
9 Beyond Bank
10 ME
11 Suncorp
12 MyState Bank
13 Australian Military Bank
14 Community First bank
15 Heritage Bank

Source: CNBC & Statista

Dutch bank ING came out top in Australia, against a sea of local competition. Like most economies, Australians valued trust the most and were less concerned on the financial advice they were given.

China

1 China Merchants Bank
2 Bank of China
3 ICBC
4 HSBC
5 China Construction Bank
6 Postal Savings Bank of China
7 China Minsheng Bank
8 Standard Chartered
9 SPD Bank
10 Bank of Communications
11 Agricultural Bank of China
12 UBS (China) Limited
13 JPMorgan Chase Bank (China)
14 China Everbright Bank
15 Ping An Bank
16 DBS Bank (China)
17 Bank of Suzhou
18 Bank of Jiangsu
19 Chongqing Rural Commercial Bank
20 Hang Seng Bank
21 Hubei Rural Credit Union Association
22 Huishang Bank
23 East West Bank
24 WeBank
25 Hankou Bank (HKB)

Source: CNBC & Statista

China Merchants Bank, listed in both Shanghai and Hong Kong, earned the top spot in mainland China beating both domestic and foreign players.

Hong Kong

1 China Construction Bank
2 China Minsheng Bank
3 ICBC
4 SPD Bank
5 China Everbright Bank
6 Bank of Communication
7 HSBC
8 CGB
9 Livi Bank
10 China Merchants Bank

Source: CNBC & Statista

China Construction Bank, one of China’s four major state-owned banking institutions, was ranked the top lender over foreign players like HSBC.

India

1 ICICI Bank
2 HDFC Bank
3 Axis Bank
4 Kotak Mahindra Bank
5 State Bank of India
6 HSBC
7 Paytm Payments Bank
8 Standard Chartered
9 Federal Bank
10 IndusInd Bank
11 Union Bank of India
12 Karnataka Bank
13 Punjab National Bank
14 Bank of Baroda
15 Bandhan Bank
16 Fincare
17 DSCB
18 Kerala Gramin Bank
19 Fino Payments Bank
20 APCOB
21 Punjab Gramin Bank
22 IDFC First Bank
23 UCO Bank
24 RBLBank
25 New India Bank

Source: CNBC & Statista

ICICI bank, a leading private sector bank in India, was the top pick in the country despite strong competition from mostly local lenders.

Indonesia

1 Bank Central Asia
2 Bank Mandiri
3 Sea Bank
4 Jago
5 Raya Bank
6 Bank Negara Indonesia
7 United Overseas Bank
8 PermataBank
9 Cimb Niaga
10 DBS
11 Bank Rakyat Indonesia (BRI)
12 BNC
13 Bank Muamalat
14 Jenius
15 BCA Syariah
16 HSBC
17 BDP DIY
18 Bank Aceh
19 Standard Chartered
20 Bank Sumsel Babel

Source: CNBC & Statista

Bank Central Asia, Indonesia’s largest private commercial bank, beat the competition to clinch the top spot. Customers valued both trust as well as digital services in their ranking.  

Japan

1 SBI Sumishin Net Bank
2 Rakuten Bank
3 Sony Bank
4 Aeon Bank
5 au Jibun Bank
6 PayPay Bank
7 Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation
8 Senshu Ikeda Bank
9 The Juhachi-Shinwa Bank
10 Iyo Bank
11 Ehime Bank
12 Japan Post Bank
13 Ja Bank
14 Kyushu Labor Bank
15 Hamamatsu Iwata Shinkin Bank
16 Keiyo Bank
17 Bank of Fukuoka
18 Shinsei Bank
19 The Nishi-Nippon City Bank
20 Aozora Bank
21 Saitama Resona Bank
22 MUFG Bank
23 Lawson Bank
24 Gunma Bank
25 Hachijuni Bank
26 Rokin Bank
27 Kiyo Bank
28 Tokyo Star Bank
29 The Bank of Okinawa
30 Kyoto Chuo Shinkin Bank
31 Abukuma Shinkin Bank
32 North Pacific Bank
33 Ogaki Kyoritsu Bank
34 Tottori Bank
35 Bank of Kyoto

Source: CNBC & Statista

SBI Sumishin Net Bank, a Japan-based company, managed to beat other domestic lenders to come out top. Japanese citizens valued trust as their most important criteria.

Malaysia

1 Maybank
2 Standard Chartered
3 Maybank Islamic
4 HSBC
5 RHB Islamic Bank
6 Bank Islam
7 AmBank Group Islamic
8 OCBC Bank
9 United Overseas Bank
10 Hong Leong Islamic Bank

Source: CNBC & Statista

Maybank, which is the largest bank by market value in Malaysia, was the customers top pick against competition from domestic and foreign lenders.

New Zealand

1 Bank of New Zealand
2 ASB Bank
3 The Co-operative Bank
4 SBS Bank
5 Kiwibank

Source: CNBC & Statista

Bank of New Zealand, one of New Zealand’s big four banks, earned the top spot among consumers who also valued trust as the most important criteria. In some economies, like New Zealand, there are fewer competitors in the market and the size of the banking market differs, thus only five banks made the list.

Philippines

1 Philippine National Bank
2 Union Bank (Philippines)
3 Maya Bank
4 OFBank
5 UnionDigital Bank
6 UNO Digital Bank
7 GoTyme Bank
8 LANDBANK
9 Metrobank
10 BPI

Source: CNBC & Statista

Philippine National Bank, one of the largest banks in the country, earned the top rank against competition from largely local lenders.

Singapore

1 DBS
2 HSBC
3 Citibank
4 Bank of Singapore
5 United Overseas Bank

Source: CNBC & Statista

Singapore’s biggest bank DBS beat its domestic peers to clinch the top spot in the city-state. Given the small market size, there are fewer banking competitors as a result only five made the list.

South Korea

1 TossBank
2 KakaoBank
3 Kwangju Bank
4 K bank
5 Jeonbuk Bank
6 KB Kookmin Bank
7 Industrial Bank of Korea
8 DGB Daegu Bank
9 BNK Busan Bank
10 KEB Hana Bank

Source: CNBC & Statista

Toss Bank, an internet-only bank based in South Korea, managed to fend off domestic competition to emerge as top lender in the country.

Taiwan

1 E.Sun Financial
2 Bank SinoPac
3 Standard Chartered
4 CTBC Bank
5 Taipei Fubon Bank
6 Taishin International Bank
7 HSBC
8 Rakuten International Commercial Bank
9 Cathay Financial
10 Mega International Commercial Bank

Source: CNBC & Statista

Taiwan’s E.Sun Financial, headquartered in Taipei, earned the top ranking with customers focused on trust and less concerned about financial advice.

Thailand

1 Kasikornbank
2 Siam Commercial Bank
3 Bank of Ayudhya
4 United Overseas Bank
5 Krung Thai Bank

Source: CNBC & Statista

Kasikornbank bank, Thailand’s second-largest lender, came out top in the country. Only five banks made the list as there are fewer competitors and the size of banking market varies.

Vietnam

1 Techcombank
2 Vietcombank
3 BIDV
4 Military Commercial Joint Stock Bank
5 ACB
6 Vietinbank
7 VIB
8 TPBank
9 Sacombank
10 VP Bank
11 BVBank
12 Shinhan Bank
13 SeA Bank
14 HDBank
15 Ocean Bank

Source: CNBC & Statista

Vietnamese private lender Techcombank is the customers’ top pick in the country, where trust again was the key factor for survey respondents.

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#banks #AsiaPacific #region #customers

Matildas draw 1-1 with China after Michelle Heyman’s stoppage-time equaliser

The Matildas’ final preparations for the Paris Olympics have got off to a rusty start after a scrappy 1-1 draw with China in Adelaide on Friday.

Australia’s coach Tony Gustavsson fielded a largely experimental line-up for the opening hour of the Adelaide Oval fixture, but they were upstaged by the reigning Asian Cup champions, with a well-organised and disciplined China keeping the Matildas shotless for the first half.

And while a sell-out 52,912 people had packed in to see the Matildas strut their stuff, they were instead silenced in the 30th minute after Chinese winger Zhang Linyan opened the scoring, volleying home a cross from Central Coast Mariners winger Wurigumula.

But veteran striker Michelle Heyman came to the rescue in stoppage-time of the first half, tapping in from a goal-mouth scramble after a Mary Fowler free kick was fumbled by China’s goalkeeper.

Before the match, Gustavsson said he remained undecided on four spots for the 18-woman squad to contest the Paris Olympics starting in late July. The team’s starting XI reflected his need to test out those peripheral players, beginning without big guns Caitlin Foord, Steph Catley, Ellie Carpenter, Hayley Raso and Kyra Cooney-Cross.

But the team that started the game struggled to break down a tightly-packed Chinese defence, and regularly coughed up possession before being punished by quick transitional counter-attacks.

While the momentum of the game began to swing after five senior players were substituted on in the 60th minute, winger Caitlin Foord lasted just 15 minutes, leaving the field after being felled in a tackle, despite appearing in no great discomfort.

Following a tepid opening 29 minutes, China struck on the half-hour when a fast break down the right flank left Australia’s Kaitlyn Torpey sprawled in the grass after grappling with powerful striker Wurigumula.

As the pair jostled, Torpey slipped and fell to ground — replays showed a slight tug on her jersey from her opponent — while Wurigumula was quick to recover from the contact, her follow-up cross into the box deflected into the path of Zhang, who scored with a reflex right footer.

After half time, Australia showed far greater attacking intent and almost had a reward in the 56th minute when Cortnee Vine swung a cross into the box.

The ball landed near Fowler who was set to pull the trigger and shoot, but advancing China keeper Xu Huan knocked the ball away. Six minutes later, Gustavsson made five substitutions, summoning Catley, Foord, Raso, Carpenter and Kyra Cooney-Cross.

The injection of the Matildas mainstays had instant impact, with the Australians crafting a series of scoring chances through Raso and Fowler, though a scrambling China kept the Matildas scoreless.

But in a bizarre series of events in stoppage time, where Australia won a free kick just outside China’s penalty spot after the goalkeeper slid out to collect an innocuous ball only to hand-ball it and give a set piece away, a powerful striker by Fowler was fumbled by Xu and duly poked home by Heyman.

The Matildas meet China again in Sydney on Monday night and Gustavsson will announce his Olympic squad the following day.

Check out how the game unfolded in our live blog below.

Key events

See you Monday!

I still think Heyman’s (and Fowler’s) issues tonight were more about distribution. They both should be on the plane to Paris. But maybe those in midfield (who aren’t feeding through enough quality ball) should be a bit worried – they need to step up and do better in the next leg.

– Ingrid

I think tonight that those who are already locked in to the Olympic squad are there for a reason…not sure any of the questions Tony had about the remaining four players were really answered tonight

– Tania

I think we’re all on the same page about tonight’s game: the Matildas definitely didn’t show enough against China to convince us of anything, so they’ll really need to step it up in the second match in Sydney on Monday to settle out nerves about their readiness for the Olympics.

We’ll have a match report out shortly, but for now, thanks so much for engaging with the blog tonight, and I’ll see you all again here on Monday night from 7:00pm AEST!

Until then, enjoy your weekend, and gooooo Tillies!!!

So what did you make of that?

Redemption rocks. Phew! Okay, how do you pick an optimal 18 squad out of that? I guess that’s why Tony’s paid the big bucks. More questions than answers, maybe the answers’ll arrive on Monday. Thanks Sam!

– Big Ben

High energy and effort leads to chances and finally a goal. Why did they play so conservatively for the first 88 minutes? Raso showed the way

– Tobi

Matildas lack quality. Any squad with EVE and Polkinghorne hasn’t hope against the new top nations.

– The bill

Great to see Michelle Heyman score at the death to salvage the draw, she’ll definitely be on the plane to Paris in July.

– Adam

What’s the answer? Give them time (and hope Ford’s injury heals)

– Betty

Whenever the Matildas have two-game windows, they do tend to be quite rusty and slow in the first of the two matches. So in that context, tonight’s game isn’t a huge surprise, nor is it a shock given the five changes Tony Gustavsson made to the starting line-up.

And yet… with Paris less than two months away… the Matildas don’t really have time to be this sloppy, do they? They certainly won’t be forgiven for it against the USA, Germany, and Zambia.

But who do you reckon impressed tonight? Did any player convince you that they should go to the Olympics? Or do we need another game to figure it out?

Heyman redemption!

Let the scoreboard show that it was Michelle Heyman who equalised. I won’t hear a bad word said about her! (even if she didn’t have a great game 🙂 ⚽️💚💛

– Leo

michelle heyman doesn’t miss in front of goal! she might not be sam kerr but she should be in paris as a CF.

– alex

– Samantha Lewis

I was literally typing a post about Michelle Heyman’s game tonight, and then she just goes and scores.

Maybe that’s why she goes to Paris: because she can be there right until the very end.

Full time: Australia 1 – 1 China

The commentators curse Sam…Michelle Heyman unseen all night…bobs up in the 95min…extraordinary!

– stumcin

Yeeeeeeesssssssss!!!! 🥳🥳🥳

– Tania

YYYYYYYYY3EEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAASHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!

– Natty

FInally!!!!!!

– M

I feel that goal should be given to the china goalkeeper. She put a lot of effort to make australia score

– First

Michelle is back online!!!

– Micko

Geez. Oztraylia. You got damn lucky with that goal at the end! Coulda/shoulda done better. And sooner.

– Ingrid

Whew

– sandye

Hurray

– jag

Just like the last time they played, a stoppage-time equaliser rescues the Matildas after a pretty sluggish display.

Absolute scenes from the sold-out stadium – and from all of you – right at the death!

94′ GOAL AUSTRALIA

MICHELLE HEYMAN EQUALISES AFTER A TRULY BIZARRE SERIES OF EVENTS!

A free kick just outside China’s box was awarded after their goalkeeper came sprinting off her line and seemed to hand-ball it after a miscontrol?

Mary Fowler stood over the ball, sending her rocket of a right foot through the set piece towards the front post, where the keeper isn’t able to catch it and the deflection falls right to the feet of Heyman, who pokes it home.

1-1!

93′ Where are our goals coming from?

The hole left by Sam Kerr’s absence is starting to look bigger and bigger with every minute that goes by tonight!

– stumcin

Hopefully Caitlin Foord doesn’t have a serious injury, this would be disastrous for the Matildas 55 days out from the first game in the Olympics.

– Adam

As I wrote at the start of tonight’s blog, the Matildas really haven’t figured out the answer of how to score goals without Sam Kerr.

As Adam says, this injury to Caitlin Foord is a worry. She was massive for the Tillies during the World Cup when Kerr was unavailable. Mary Fowler’s wobbly form in this game is a concern, as has Michelle Heyman’s kinda-nothing performance.

So what’s the answer?

91′ Chance China!

Another counter-attack from China sees Wu Chengshu through one-on-one with Clare Hunt, who’s backtracking into her own box, trying to hold up the energised substitute.

Chengsu twists and turns and finds a half-space, swinging her foot through the ball, but she doesn’t quite connect and it fizzes into Mackenzie Arnold’s hands.

Five minutes of added time

87′ Hunt gets crunched

A wildly spinning aerial ball from Hayley Raso that deflected off a Chinese player falls dangerously towards the top of the box, where Clare Hunt and substitute Wu Chengshu both race towards it, trying to nick it out of the air and do something.

Hunt is the tallest of the two and is able to head it away in time, but Chengshu barrels straight through the centre-back, sending her crashing into the grass.

There’s a couple words exchanged between the Chinese striker and Steph Catley afterwards as Hunt catches her breath. Not so friendly after all, this.

86′ Big Woman Up Top

I don’t know how you folks feel, but when I see Alanna Kennedy thrown up front into the centre-forward position, that’s when I know that Tony Gustavsson is running out of ideas.

Like, I get it. She’s tall and good in the air. But so is Michelle Heyman. Is this really Plan B if the Matildas are behind during the Olympics?

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85′ China substitutions

Mengwen Li is off for Mengyu Shen.

Shuang Wang Shuang is replaced by Cong Yuan.

And Yanwen Wang is off for Jiali Tang.

82′ Michelle Heyman’s gone missing

Another watcher/reader (Olive) mentioned that Mary Fowler was “struggling to do her Mary magic here”. I wonder if both her and Michelle Heyman are suffering from not being fed enough good balls? Hopefully, the subs will change that and improve distribution.

– Ingrid

Is hayman in her space jam version?

– First

She’s really just been a warm body out there for this second half, hasn’t she? It’s like the game has been happening around her and she’s just kinda been watching from a really awesome front-row seat.

I do think that the build-up play has affected her tonight, though. She barely connected with the two midfielders in the first half, and now is having to deliberately involve herself in plays to try and get anywhere near the ball.

She leaps onto a moment now, spinning on the ball after a China error, and takes a couple charging steps into the box, but just as she tries to shoot, a Chinese defender gets a toe on the ball and it spins into the keeper’s arms.

80′ Chance Australia!

They’re throwing more bodies forward now, trying to overload China’s backline and create a bit of chaos.

Another corner is taken short, with Fowler delivering the ball to the very back of the box, where Hayley Raso nods it back towards the penalty spot.

Kennedy is there, and tries an acrobatic sideways kick, but she doesn’t quite catch it and it spins over the bar.

79′ Not many beliEVErs on the blog tonight

Surprised TG left EVE out there….thoughts?

– Tania

not sure why tony is so keen on emily van egmond? she cannot play as a striker and as a midfielder not anymore effective than clare wheeler or yallop…

– alex

Honestly? I agree. Emily Van Egmond doesn’t seem to have the speed or style that you associate with this high-intensity Matildas team, so it’s odd that she’s played such a pivotal role in the side for so long.

78′ Aaaaaand she misses

Kennedy goes for it, trying to whip the ball up and over China’s wall and into the top corner, but it flies over the crossbar instead.

78′ Matildas win a dangerous free kick

Emily Van Egmond was clipped from behind by a clumsy Chinese player just outside the top of the box.

Steph Catley and Alanna Kennedy are standing over it. China have five players in the wall…

Crowd: 52,912

Hectic. Well done, Adelaide!

76′ Australia substitution

Uh oh.

Caitlin Foord, who came on only 15 minutes ago, goes down in the grass, gesturing towards her hamstring.

A minute later, she walks off the field, replaced by Brisbane Roar winger Sharn Frier.

75′ China substitution

Goal-scorer Zhang Linyan is off for Liu Yanqui.

74′ Chance Australia!

A more characteristic passage from Australia with Ellie Carpenter slotting through the speedy Hayley Raso down the right wing.

She cuts the ball back from the by-line, aiming for the penalty spot, where Mary Fowler is steaming in to meet it.

But Carpenter is there instead, and gets in the way of Fowler’s swing, so she doesn’t quite meet it properly and the ball deflects off a China defender and bounces away up-field instead.

Bugger.

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#Matildas #draw #China #Michelle #Heymans #stoppagetime #equaliser

The bonds that bind: Our adversarial sovereign bond habit

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

No one is obligated to help China fund its war machine. The decision to buy Chinese sovereign bonds should reside with informed investors, Elaine Dezenski and Joshua Birenbaum write.

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In Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recent visit to Serbia, he extolled bonds “forged with blood” between the two countries from NATO’s bombing of Belgrade. 

Yet, it is concerns over future aggression, not past wars, that have the world focused on China. 

The Biden administration, the US Congress, and other governments have raised alarms about China’s military build-up, arguing that Western investors should not be sending money to Chinese companies that are helping to support the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). 

As the UK non-profit Hong Kong Watch explained in a statement before the House of Lords: “China’s strategy of military-civil fusion ensures that unchecked institutional investment could directly counter Britain’s national security interests if British pensions funds and other major players are funding firms in partnership with the Chinese military.”

Direct investment in private Chinese companies supporting the PLA is a serious risk. Yet a far larger pool of Western investments is flowing directly to the state budget of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) through the purchase of Chinese sovereign bonds, funding whatever the PRC budget may prioritise — from Chinese battleships and EV subsidies to concentration camps.

How do sovereign bonds contribute to China’s defence spending?

Chinese defence spending, which has doubled since 2015, is paid for from the state budget, which is, in turn, funded by numerous sources, including the issuance of sovereign bonds. 

Those bonds are often passively purchased by global investors based upon their default inclusion in funds that follow key benchmarks, sending vast quantities of money to China with little oversight or awareness of China’s military benefits.

Chinese sovereign bonds are bought by major institutional investors and individual mutual fund owners alike. These investors are rarely making an intentional choice to invest in China. Rather, huge swaths of the market passively base their portfolio composition on aggregated benchmarks. 

The default options on many retirement plans, for instance, are target date plans based upon predetermined mixes from established indexes — one of the risks of what The Wall Street Journal has described as “retirement funds on autopilot”. Indeed, one of the purported benefits of so-called “passive investing” — which now makes up the majority of the market — is its strict adherence to the benchmarks.

Until relatively recently, China’s sovereign bonds were excluded from the global indexes. Then, starting in 2017, a handful of index providers began adding Chinese government bonds to their bond benchmarks. In 2018, MSCI changed its equities index to include Chinese stocks. 

As The Wall Street Journal noted at the time, “In 2018, more than $13.9 trillion (€12.85tr) in investment funds had stock portfolios that mimic the composition of MSCI indexes or used them as performance yardsticks, and nearly all investments by US pension funds in global stocks are benchmarked against MSCI indexes.”

Benchmarks, which are designed to give a representative and diversified slice of the market, have become the unelected arbiters of whether given stocks or bonds are held by all funds that are pegged to the index. 

This decision to add Chinese investments to global benchmarks caused a cascade effect as passive investment funds and others who tied their portfolio to the benchmark followed suit, sending billions of dollars directly to the Chinese state. 

FTSE Russell, a global provider of benchmarks, explained the issue this way: “Fund managers seeking to match, or outperform, benchmark indexes are therefore obliged to increase the weightings in Chinese bonds.”

What is the role of index providers in all of this?

Index providers are for-profit companies, with those profits inextricably linked to the decision of what to include in the benchmarks. 

When MSCI, one of the world’s largest index providers, initially resisted adding Chinese stocks to its benchmark, Beijing threatened to cut off MSCI’s access to critical pricing data in a move described as “business blackmail.” MSCI relented and included the Chinese stocks.

Index providers aren’t motivated only by threats. Bloomberg, Citigroup, and others garnered benefits for adding Chinese bonds to their benchmarks, including receiving a bond settlement license from China. 

That pivot, made on behalf of millions of investors, fundamentally realigned capital toward authoritarian regimes. As The New York Times said at the time about Citigroup’s decision to lead the pack into the Chinese sovereign bond market, “That is a propaganda victory for Beijing, which has struggled to entice foreign investors. For Citigroup, it is a relatively low-risk diplomatic win.”

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When Bloomberg and other companies added Chinese bonds to their indexes, it was estimated that Chinese securities would account for just over 5% of Bloomberg’s $53tr (€49tr) Global Aggregates bond index, but those numbers have substantially increased since then. 

Today, the Bloomberg index allocates nearly 10% of its $65 trillion Global Aggregates benchmark to Chinese bonds.

No one is obligated to fund Beijing’s war machine

The adversarial bond issue is a market problem with market solutions. Numerous indexes already exclude Chinese bonds (called “ex-China” indexes), but those are limited products that are marketed to clients who must proactively direct their fund managers to include them. Rather, ex-China benchmarks should be the default.

Clients could be permitted, consistent with sanctions and other restrictions, to add those bonds in, but passive investment flows should not be blindly directed to adversarial regimes. Similarly, default options for retirement plans and passive investments should not be funnelled to the Chinese war machine.

Improving the hygiene of financial markets is a necessity, starting with a much deeper discussion about how key decisions — like the inclusion of adversarial bonds in benchmark indexes — impact investors, the global financial system, and the economic security of democratic governments.

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No one is obligated to help China fund its war machine. The decision to buy Chinese sovereign bonds should reside with informed investors.

Elaine Dezenski is Senior Director and Head of the Center on Economic and Financial Power at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD). She was formerly an acting and deputy assistant secretary for policy at the US Department of Homeland Security. Joshua Birenbaum is Deputy Director of the Center on Economic and Financial Power at the FDD.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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Watch | Foreign interference in elections | Is there a basis for India’s fears?

As election season takes off in India, allegations by PM Modi and EAM Jaishankar of foreign interference from the West heat up the campaign – we will look at the history of such allegations worldwide, and whether theres basis for New Delhi’s present concerns.

Hello and Welcome to WorldView- as Elections get under way in India, diplomatic activity may be on the decline- but undiplomatic activity is in the spotlight- as the PM and EAM accuse global powers and western media of running interference in Indian elections

What really is of concern to New Delhi?

1. Reactions in US, Germany and even the UN, that spoke about the arrest of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, and then perhaps for the first time, spoke of the need for “free and fair elections” in India

2. The release of Human Rights reports, especially during election season by the US and EU parliament.

Pg 8 of EU Parliament Resolution on India Human Rights concerns referred to divisive speeches by leaders

In the US, Secretary of State Antony Blinken released a report this week that said there are significant human rights abuses- spoke of lynchings, Manipur violence and several other issues in India

The MEA response was tough:

“This report, as per our understanding, is deeply biased and reflects a very poor understanding of India. We attach no value to it and urge you also to do the same.”

Then, there’s the worry that embassies and diplomats are interfering in India’s internal politics- there have long been allegations by this government on Pakistan, including in Gujarat elections in the past, more recently the government accused Canadian officials based in India of interfering in India’s internal affairs, and then ordered the High Commission to downsize numbers. This was in the context of the allegations over the assassination Nijjar and of the plot against Pannun in the US, that the government’s high-level panel continues to investigate.

Finally, there is the barrage of criticism of Indian elections and democracy in the Western media that has upset the government- despite PM Modi giving interviews to foreign publications like the Financial Times and Newsweek, here’s a list compiled by former CEO of Prasar Bharati

In Ireland, India’s Ambassador came in for criticism for over-stretching his mandate with a response to the Irish Times, where he defended the current government but also criticised previous Indian governments leading to calls for his sacking from the opposition

The Indian worries over foreign interference have yet to be proven, but globally there are many such fears- especially as more than 60 countries around the world go to polls this year. according to an Oxford University Study: Industrialized Disinformation 2020 Global Inventory of Organized Social Media Manipulation, at least 81 countries’s governments attempt cyber manipulation for propaganda and disinformation. Historically it was the US and Russia that were accused of manipulating one in 9 countries’ elections during the Cold War

1. This week U.S. President Joe Biden on Wednesday signed a bill that forces Tik Tok owner Byte dance to sell the company in the next year or face being banned, as the US Congress believes it is used by China’s ruling communist party to influence elections in the US and spy on Americans, a charge the company denies.

2. In 2018, the US Senate released a report that concluded Russia’s spy agencies used Facebook ads to manipulate US voters in the election Donald Trump won in 2016. 

3. Canada just completed an investigation on foreign interference during previous elections, which its NSA said countries including Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan and even India may have tried to manipulate. Eventually, however, its report did not find conclusive evidence against India, but did against China. UK conducted a similar enquiry last year

4. This month Microsoft said in a report that Microsoft has issued a warning that Chinese state backed cyber troops will attempt to disrupt elections in the US, South Korea and India this year using artificial intelligence-generated content, and with support from North Korean groups following a trial run during the presidential election in Taiwan- however, Taiwan elected an anti-China president

.5. In India’s neighbourhood, India is often accused, especially in Bangladesh, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka of leaning in favour of one party or another, to oust anti-India leaders. While these have yet to be proven, the allegations have been made by senior regional leaders like Rajapaksa, Yameen, Khaleda Zia.

6. The European Union too has released a report on its fears over manipulation during upcoming EU parliament elections in June, called Combating foreign interference in elections

7. Of course the major allegations historically made are against the two cold war powers- US and Russia- The US for elections in South America, in what were then called Banana Republics, and Russia in Europe, including famously helping a West German leader survive a confidence vote in 1972.

What does Indian diplomacy need to do:

1. It is necessary to do researched studies rather than make allegations of a foreign hand without substantiating them with proof- this speaks to the country’s diplomatic credibility

2. In the age of AI and Deepfakes, it is important to improve India’s technology security capabilities, and techonology diplomacy to share best practices

3. Counter external influences by building consumer and cyber voter awareness – and share concerns with other democracies

WorldView Take: The best response to interference and criticism is to walk the talk on democracy, and on building democratic practices into India’s diplomatic culture as well. Since independence, India has been seen as a country that is democratic pluralistic and rule-abiding- which is why many speak of “shared values” with India. Over sensitivity to criticism, invoking an imaginary foreign hand, or expressing loyalty to a government not the State or nation are not exemplars of democratic diplomatic culture, however.

Reading Recommendations:

1. Rigged: America, Russia, and One Hundred Years of Covert Electoral Interference by David Shimer

2. Meddling in the Ballot Box and

When the Great Power Gets a Vote: The Effects of Great Power Electoral Interventions on Election Results by Dov H. Levin

3. Rules and Allies: Foreign Election Interventions Kindle Edition by Johannes Bubeck Nikolay Marinov – looking at 300 elections in 100 countries

4. How to Stand Up to a Dictator by Maria Ressa

5. The Digital Divide in Democracy: How Tech Shapes (and Warps) Elections by Sebastian Whitman

6. Deep Disinformation: Can AI-Generated Fake News Swing an Election? by Ashley Parker Owens

7. Foreign Electoral Interference Normative Implications in Light of International Law, Human Rights, and Democratic Theory- Nils Reimann

8. Election Interference: International Law and the Future of Democracy by Jens David Ohlin

Script and Presentation: Suhasini Haidar

Production: Gayatri Menon and Shibu Narayan



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WADA accepts Chinese swimmers tested positive to banned substance due to contaminated kitchen

A documentary from German broadcaster ARD, plus reports from the New York Times and News Corp, have revealed 23 Chinese swimmers tested positive to the same banned substance seven months before the Tokyo Olympics.

While World Anti-Doping Agency and World Aquatics were informed at the time, the news wasn’t publicly released and the athletes weren’t punished.

So what actually happened, and why weren’t they found guilty of doping?

Claims of a cover-up

The 23 athletes tested positive to a banned substance known as trimetazidine (TMZ).

It’s a drug used to treat heart disease but is considered performance enhancing as it can help with physical endurance.

Chinese swimmer Sun Yang served a three-month doping suspension in 2014 for taking TMZ, while teenage Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva received a four-year ban after she tested positive to the same substance at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

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‘Iran is in for the long haul’ with oil tanker hijacks, expert says, as U.S. considers more sanctions

Iranian soldiers take part in an annual military drill in the coast of the Gulf of Oman and near the strategic Strait of Hormuz.

Anadolu | Anadolu | Getty Images

The containership MSC Aries seized by Iran over the weekend marked at least the sixth vessel hijacked by Iran and its proxies in response to the Israel-Gaza war, and it’s adding to the challenges to longstanding freedom of navigation principles that maritime shipping relies on.

Before this weekend’s tanker seizure, the last vessel Iran hijacked was the St. Nikolas on January 1. According to U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, that brought the total number of vessels being held to five, and over 90 crew members hostage. Previous to that, the Iranian-backed Houthis hijacked The Galaxy Leader on November 19.

The latest development has shipping and energy experts bracing for a long-term timeline of uncertainty.

“Iran is in this for the long haul,” said Samir Madani, co-founder of Tankertrackers.com, an independent online service that tracks and reports crude oil shipments in several geographical and geopolitical points of interest.

The MSC Aries was identified by Iran as having a link to Israel. The containership has a carrying capacity of 15,000-TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent containers). MSC leases the Aries from Gortal Shipping, an affiliate of Zodiac Maritime, which is partly owned by Israeli businessman Eyal Ofer.

MSC declined to comment directly to CNBC.

In a statement released by MSC on Wednesday, it said the crew members were safe and discussions with Iranian authorities were underway to secure their earliest release and to have the cargo discharged.

Madani said he does not expect a quick release. “They will hold the MSC Aries for a long period. Iran has been holding some tankers for about a year, if not longer now,” he said.

According to Tankertracker information, Madani said the vessel is being held in the Khuran Straits, not too far from three other tankers Iran hijacked: the Advantage Sweet, Niovi, and St. Nikolas.

A Planet Labs satellite image of the location of the MSC Aries and other tankers recently hijacked by Iran.

Planet Labs PBC

As the U.S. considers more sanctions against Iran in response to its recent attack on Israel, Iran has been using the hijacked ships as a means of sanctions retaliation.

“Iran has already seized the Kuwaiti oil that was onboard the Advantage Sweet and has been loaded onto their VLCC supertanker the Navarz. Iran chose to do this as a way to compensate for sanctions,” Madani said.

While the Niovi was empty at the time of the seizure, the St. Nikolas is filled with a million barrels of Iraqi oil.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said on Tuesday that the government may do more to prevent Iran’s ability to export oil despite U.S. sanctions. China’s purchases of Iranian oil in recent years have allowed Iran to keep a positive trade balance.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, China, the world’s largest importer of crude oil, imported 11.3 million barrels per day of crude oil in 2023, 10% more than in 2022. Iran ranked second in oil exports to China behind Russia. Customs data indicates that China imported 54% more crude oil (1.1 million b/d) from Malaysia in 2023 than in 2022, with industry analysts speculating that much of the oil shipped from Iran to China was relabeled as originating from countries such as Malaysia, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman to avoid U.S. sanctions.

The markets continues to assess the risk of further escalation in the military tensions between Israel and Iran, which could lead to a disruption in the Strait of Hormuz, through which about 30% of the world’s seaborne oil passes, according to JPMorgan. On Tuesday, oil edged higher amid talk of sanctions.

An Iranian blockade would supercharge oil prices, but the risk is low given that the strait has never been closed off despite many threats by Tehran to do so over the past four decades, according to JPMorgan.

“They can’t close the Strait of Hormuz, but they can do significant damage to energy infrastructure, to vessels in the region,” RBC’s head of global commodity strategy and Middle East and North Africa research, Helima Croft, told CNBC on Monday, referring to Iran’s capabilities.

“While I can’t imagine Iran would want to fill up their anchorage with vessels, they want to keep the waters in a constant state of chaos,” Madani said. But with a closure, he said, “They would shoot themselves in the foot since their biggest client is China.”

Andy Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates, says the closure of the Strait of Hormuz would result in a spike of Brent crude oil prices to the $120 to $130 range. “This would strain ties with China and India who purchase a significant amount of Persian Gulf oil to meet much of their energy demand.”

Lipow also said Iran might be reluctant to shut the waterway for fear of antagonizing Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq, who depend on the strait being open for most of their oil exports. The bigger immediate fear in the oil market, he said, is that the attack by Iran on Israeli territory leading to a counterattack by Israel on Iran damaging oil-producing and exporting facilities.

Kevin Book, managing director of ClearView Energy Partners, says the markets need to keep an eye on sanctions from both the US and UN potentially.

In a note to clients, ClearView highlighted that the House of Representatives added several Iran sanctions bills to its calendar for consideration this week, under suspension rules, including new sanctions on Iranian oil exports to China. Book said the House was considering 11 bills in all in response to Iran’s attack on Israel.

“We think most if not all bills could garner (notionally) veto-proof bipartisan support,” the note said. “Passage requires a two-thirds majority of all members present and voting.”

Israel has also asked the U.N. to reinstate multilateral sanctions lifted by the Iran nuclear deal, but for this to happen, France, Germany and the U.K., parties to the nuclear deal, would have to agree. “There are many risks unfolding. The forest is on fire,” Book said.

Sen. Dean Sullivan talks impact of Iran's strikes on Israel and what it means for crude oil prices

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Taipei replica in remote Chinese province fans Taiwan invasion fears

Satellite images verified by FRANCE 24 reveal that China has built a replica of Taipei’s presidential district in remote Inner Mongolia, fuelling speculation that Beijing intends to use the site as a training ground to prepare for a future invasion of Taiwan.

 

The satellite images show a detailed replica of the heart of Taipei – albeit surrounded by the arid landscape of Inner Mongolia instead of Taiwan’s lush vegetation.  

First posted on social media by a Taiwanese data analyst, on March 26, they were later picked up by the website Taiwan News, under the ominous headline: “China creates Taipei mockup to train for invasion”. 

FRANCE 24 was able to verify the existence of the mockup, located some 1,200 kilometres west of Beijing.

Sim Tack, an analyst at intelligence firm Force Analysis, which monitors conflict zones and has access to satellite imagery, said construction of the replica began in March 2021 and lasted approximately one year. 

He said the site features buildings and façades “that are inspired by what you can see in Taipei, without having exactly the same size or shape”.

An area of interest 

The satellite images reveal a layout of streets strongly resembling the Bo’ai Special Zone, a restricted area in Taipei’s Zhongzheng District that houses Taiwan’s most important state buildings, including the presidential palace, the supreme court, the ministry of justice and the central bank of Taiwan.  

The Bo’ai Special Zone is subject to specific regulations, including a strict ban on overflight. 

When quizzed about the images last week, Taiwan’s Defence Minister Chiu Juo-cheng appeared to play down their significance.  

“It is inevitable that the Chinese army produces this type of imitation,” he told reporters, adding that Taiwan was also capable of replicating foreign sites for military training purposes. 

The minister’s response was surprisingly measured, “considering that in recent months we have seen China multiply its hostile acts towards Taiwan”, noted Marc Lanteigne, a China expert at Norway’s Arctic University. 

Beijing considers Taiwan a part of its territory and has not ruled out the use of force to assert control over the island. Under President Xi Jinping, it has stepped up its pressure on the self-governing island, mounting a series of incursions by fighter jets into Taiwan’s airspace in autumn 2023. 


The existence of a training site to rehearse a potential attack on the presidential palace in Taipei is a stark reminder of the geopolitical tensions in the region, and of the threat weighing on Taiwan.  

Propaganda tool 

Experts note that Taiwan has faced this type of intimidation before, most notably in 2015, when the Chinese military produced an almost exact replica of the presidential palace in Taipei, at a separate site in Inner Mongolia. 

At the time, Beijing chose to showcase the mockup, said Lewis Eves, a Chinese security expert at the University of Sheffield. 

“We found this out because the video of a simulated assault on the building was broadcast on Chinese television and the army website published images of a training exercise in the grounds around the palace,” he explained.  

Eves said he was not suprised to see the Chinese army produce a similar replica almost a decade later, pointing to “similarities between the current geopolitical context in the region and the one that prevailed in 2015”.  

Back then, Taiwan was gearing up for a high-stakes presidential context in 2016, just like the recent vote that took place in January of this year. Tensions between China and regional rival Japan over disputed islands in the South China Sea were also at a high in 2015 – much as they are today.  

Now as then, “Beijing has deemed it necessary to stage a show of force aimed both at Taiwan and its own public opinion, in order to whip up nationalist sentiment”, said Eves.  

At a time of heightened international tensions, China is “seeking to rally public opinion behind the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] by playing the nationalist card”, said the security expert. And restating its claim over Taiwan in the interests of Chinese “national unity” is part of this effort, he added. 

‘Psychological warfare’ 

In addition to serving propaganda purposes, the construction of Taipei replicas allows Chinese authorities to wage a form of “psychological warfare”, said China expert Ho Ting (Bosco) Hung, a geopolitical analyst at The International Team for the Study of Security (ITSS) Verona.  

“It’s clearly a way of telling Taiwan that if the island’s authorities refuse to bend to China’s demands, Beijing is preparing military options,” he explained.  

Read more‘People don’t want to talk about war’: Taiwan civil defence battles invasion risk denial

Analysts say China is unlikely to go to such lengths merely to send a signal to Taiwan and its own population. Unlike in 2015, they note, the latest release of satellite images from Inner Mongolia is not Beijing’s own doing. In fact, the Chinese military has been considerably more discreet this time.  

Back in 2015, the replica presidential palace was nestled in the heart of the Zhurihe training compound, described by Chinese officials as the “largest in Asia”. Satellite images of the facility even show a building that bears a striking resemblance to the Eiffel Tower in Paris.  

The new constructions, on the other hand, are located several hundred kilometres away, in a region that is “probably less closely monitored by Western satellites than the Zhurihe base”, noted Lanteigne.  

It is possible that “the Chinese authorities were waiting for the right time to go public about the new site, but were beaten to it,” he added.  

And while the replica of the Bo’ai Special Zone “may indeed serve propaganda purposes”, Hung argued, the most likely explanation is that “its primary purpose is military”. 

Invasion scenarios 

The new Taipei mockup is far more detailed than the one produced in 2015, meaning it could be used for two distinct military scenarios, the first of which involves an aerial bombardment of the Bo’ai area – or what the Taiwan News website described as a “decapitation strike on Taipei”.  

Such an operation would be extremely complex to mount given “the high quality of Taiwan’s air defences”, Hung cautioned, though adding that “an aerial attack remains the most rapid option to invade the island”. 

The other scenario involves a land invasion of the island, located roughly 100 miles (160 kilometres) off the coast of southeastern China. 

“If it were only contemplating a bombardment of the area, China would probably not have gone through the trouble of replicating an entire neighbourhood of Taipei,” argued Lanteigne. “Urban warfare is the hardest of all, so it’s only natural that Beijing should try to get ready for it.”  

In this respect, Taiwan may not be the only target on Beijing’s mind.  

“Xi Jinping is pushing to reform and modernise his army, and knowing how to fight in an urban environment is an essential aspect of training,” Lanteigne added. “It is possible the army has chosen to recreate Taipei’s presidential district because that is one likely setting where it may have to intervene.”  

This article is a translation of the original in French.



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China’s Two sessions | What is it and key highlights of this year’s event

The story so far: China held its annual parliamentary meetings known as ‘Two Sessions’ last week from March 4 to 11 to vote on legislations pre-approved by its ruling party, the Communist Party of China (CPC). The ‘Two Sessions’ event, which lasted for a week and comprised Beijing’s top political advisory body Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and its unicameral legislature the National People’s Congress (NPC), saw Beijing set the CPC’s agenda for the next year – a push for technology innovation, 5% economic growth and concentrating more power into Xi Jinping’s hands.

While the passage of the laws is a given in the nation’s single-party system, the ‘Two Sessions’ event offers a rare view of China’s top leadership, particularly the Chinese Premier – the CPC’s second-in-command – via his press conference at the end of the session. However, this annual event has been scrapped in the latest edition. This year, the NPC also amended the State Council Organic Law, directing the State Council to ‘faithfully implement the CPC’s directives’.

Hit with an economic crisis and loss of investment, China has set an ambitious 5% growth target for next year but did not announce any major policy changes to reach this figure. It has also not announced any new appointments to the State Council headed by Chinese Premier Li Qiang, leaving the posts of Foreign Minister and Defence Minister vacant since last year.

 Here’s a look at the ‘Two Sessions’ event and key outcomes this year

What are the ‘Two Sessions’ ?

Lianghui or ‘Two Sessions’ is the collective term used for the annual event held by the Chinese Parliament, called the National People’s Congress (NPC), and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). As per the NPC Observer, the NPC, China’s topmost legislative body, with 2977 delegates elected for a five year term, meets only once every year in early March. This was the second session of the 14th NPC and 14th CPPCC – kicking off on March 5 and 4 respectively.

 14th National People’s Congress

In its session, the NPC deliberates on the government’s work report, reviews Central and local budgets, debates and passes laws pre-approved by the CCP, deliberates on annual work reports of the NPC Standing Committee (NPCSC) — the permanent standing committee of the NPC, Supreme People’s Court (SPC) – China’s apex court, and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate (SPP) – Beijing’s top public prosecutor to investigate and prosecute crimes.

Every year, in March, the NPC holds three plenary sessions at the Great Hall of the People on the west side of Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. In the first session, held on March 5 this year, the delegates reviewed reports and development plans for 2024 and were briefed on the government’s work report by Chinese Premier Li Qiang, and on the revision to the State Council Organic Law by NPCSPC Vice-Chairman Li Hongzhong.

In the second session, on March 8, delegates were briefed on the work reports of the NPCSC by its chairman Zhao Leji, the work of SPC by its President Zhang Jun and that of the SPP by the Procurator-General Ying Yong. In the last session, held on March 11, the delegates voted on resolutions pertaining to the work reports and the draft of the revised State Council Organic Law. Changes to the reports, legislations or any new delegate bills were proposed during deliberations in smaller groups on days between the sessions. The three work reports were then adopted via resolutions and the revised State Council Organic Law was passed.

14th Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference

This year’s CPPCC kicked off with an opening session on March 4 at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, with President Xi Jinping in attendance along with Premier Li Qiang and other top CPC leaders like Zhao Leji, Cai Qi, Ding Xuexiang, Li Xi and Han Zheng. In the opening session, also attended by several foreign envoys and foreign media, CPPCC National Committee’s chairman Wang Huning read the work report of the Standing Committee of the CPPCC National Committee. Later, the National committee’s members held group meetings to deliberate on the report on political proposals.

The closing meeting of the second session of the 14th National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) is held at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, capital of China, March 10, 2024

On March 5, members of the CPPCC National committee attended the NPC’s opening plenary session as non-voting members to listen to the Government Work report. Apart from CCP leaders, the CPPCC also comprises of businessmen, celebrities, and military officials and has a national-level committee and regional committees which advise the government/NPC on social and political issues. The body works in a purely advisory capacity and wields no legislative power, unlike the NPC.

Key moments and outcomes

Premier’s press conference scrapped

On March 4, NPC spokesperson Lou Qinjian announced that the annual press conference by Premier Li Qiang, customarily held at the end of the event, had been scrapped by the NPC. He said that Mr. Li wouldn’t hold the annual press conferences for the remainder of the term, which ends in 2027, barring “special circumstances,” without mentioning what those were. Three other press conferences on the Chinese economy, foreign relations, and Chinese livelihoods were held by various other ministers.

Chinese Premier Li Qiang delivers the work report at the opening session of the National People’s Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China March 5, 2024.

Chinese Premier Li Qiang delivers the work report at the opening session of the National People’s Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China March 5, 2024.
| Photo Credit:
Reuters

The cancellation of the Premier’s press conference, a tradition since 1993, has deprived international media of an opportunity to question the nation’s second-in-command. With access to Mr. Li cut-off, China’s policymakers remain completely insulated from the world.

5% economic growth, no change in policy

Delivering his maiden government work report at the opening day of the NPC, Premier Li Qiang set an economic growth target of 5% for 2024, vowing to push China’s ‘growth model’, make structural adjustments and enhance performance.


Also Read | Explained | On China’s economic slowdown

Hit with a property crisis due to the collapse of developer Evergrande, Chinese real estate developers have been struggling to remain solvent, leading to a slump in new home sales. Refusing to bail out developers, the government has urged companies to file for bankruptcy instead. Since the onset of COVID-19 leading to a total lockdown of the nation — multiple times due to the recurring COVID-19 waves — China has lost many of its investments. With low demand, consumer prices too have fallen in China, bringing the nation to the brink of deflation. All these issues have also wreaked havoc to the Chinese stock market, with many domestic and foreign investors losing confidence in what is the world’s largest market.

A view of an unfinished residential compound developed by China Evergrande Group in the outskirts of Shijiazhuang, Hebei province, China February 1, 2024. A court ordered the liquidation of the property developer who has plunged China into a real estate crisis.

A view of an unfinished residential compound developed by China Evergrande Group in the outskirts of Shijiazhuang, Hebei province, China February 1, 2024. A court ordered the liquidation of the property developer who has plunged China into a real estate crisis.
| Photo Credit:
Reuters

Despite myriad sectors facing issues, Mr. Li announced no new stimulus or policy change to achieve the targeted 5% growth rate. Setting a fiscal budget deficit target of 3%, China seeks to stave off deflation and control its rising debt. Admitting that achieving 5% growth with 2023’s base of 5.2% ‘will not be easy’, Mr. Li said that the need to boost employment and incomes must be taken into account. His statement was met with scepticism, with many economists terming the growth target ‘ambitious’ due to the lack of any major stimulus.

Mr. Li also announced a 7.2% rise in defence spending — the same as last year— indicating no additional push to enhance its defence capabilities, acquisition or manufacturing. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index (HSI) fell by 2.6% in response to the Premier’s growth target announcement, CNN has reported.

Technology push

China’s biggest focus currently is ‘shifting to future industries,’ as announced by the Premier. Highlighting new areas of focus in technology such as electric vehicles, artificial intelligence (AI), renewable energy, biomanufacturing, and commercial space fights, he announced a 10% increase in the annual budget for science and technology, bringing it to 370.8 billion yuan ($51.5 billion). Emphasizing ‘self-reliance and strength in science and technology,’ Mr. Li critiqued the ‘external environment’ impacting China’s development – alluding to the US tightening its hold over the export of cutting-edge technologies to China.

The technology push was also highlighted in the 2024 development plan, which called for a comprehensive approach to modernise China’s industrial system through innovation. It suggested the pooling of resources to achieve scientific breakthroughs, nurturing of emerging industrial clusters and more support for basic research— allocating 98 billion yuan ($13.62 billion) for the same, according to South China Morning Post. Total expenditure on research and development in 2023 had increased by 8.1% and accounted for 2.64% of the GDP.

In October 2023, the US Commerce department announced new export controls to limit China’s ability to acquire advanced computer chips to manufacture high-level semiconductors used in hypersonic missiles and artificial intelligence. It also announced restrictions on chip exports to companies in Macao, a Chinese territory, and other countries where the sale of US arms is embargoed. In a press conference on the sidelines of the NPC, Foreign Minister Wang Yi accused Washington of using ‘tactics to suppress China,’ terming the controls on chip sales ‘unfathomable absurdity’.

 Foreign relations

In a press meet on the sidelines of the NPC, Foreign Minister Wang Yi fielded questions on China’s relations with the U.S., Taiwan, Russia, and Israel. Mr. Wang said U.S.-China relations had improved since Joe Biden and Xi Jinping met in San Francisco last year. Accusing the U.S. of suppressing China via ‘unilateral sanctions,’ he said that the U.S. had an ‘erroneous perception about China. However, he. added that Mr. Biden had assured that the U.S. would not seek a new Cold War, seek to change the Chinese system or back Taiwan’s independence.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi attends a press conference on the sidelines of the National People’s Congress (NPC), in Beijing, China March 7, 2024

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi attends a press conference on the sidelines of the National People’s Congress (NPC), in Beijing, China March 7, 2024
| Photo Credit:
Reuters

With two wars being fought at the western end of Asia, China termed its relations with Russia a ‘strategic choice’, asserting that major countries should not seek conflicts. Noting that bilateral trade between the two nations had reached $240 billion in 2023, he highlighted that new opportunities lay ahead for the two nations. Weighing in on the Israeli bombing of Gaza, he called for an immediate ceasefire and said that China would back Palestine’s full membership in the United Nations.

CPC’s tightening hold in the Chinese government

On the final day, the NPC passed the amended State Council Organic Law, with 2883 delegates voting for, eight against and nine opposing. The law, which has been amended for the first time since 1982, adds articles which mandate that the State Council ‘resolutely uphold the Party Central Committee’s authority and its centralised and unified leadership.’ The law was reportedly amended to deepen reform of party and state institutions to fully implement the Constitution, which was last amended in 2018.

Handing over more power to the President, the new law mandates that the Council ‘follow Xi Jinping Thought’ – CPC’s name for the President’s ideology setting a unified agenda for the Chinese people on socialism, discipline, diplomacy, policy, and culture. In 2023, the Chinese government had re-organised its structure, appointing a new CPC official to oversee certain ministries and giving additional monitoring power to the CPC in the government’s day-to-day working. Subsequently, the State Council amended its working rules to affirm that executive decision-making power lay with the CPC.

(L-R) Newly-elected Chinese state councilors Qin Gang, Wu Zhenglong and Li Shangfu swear an oath after they were elected during the fifth plenary session of the National People’s Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 12, 2023.

(L-R) Newly-elected Chinese state councilors Qin Gang, Wu Zhenglong and Li Shangfu swear an oath after they were elected during the fifth plenary session of the National People’s Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 12, 2023.
| Photo Credit:
AFP

Moreover, the NPC did not appoint a replacement for the vacant ministerial posts for Defence and Foreign Affairs in the State Council. On July 25, 2023, then foreign minister Qin Gang was abruptly replaced by his predecessor Wang Yi, after a month-long absence. Mr. Qin had last been seen on June 25, 2023 in public. Similarly, Defence Minister Li Shangfu was removed on October 24, 2023, from his ministerial post as well as from membership of the Central Military Commission – a body commanding the armed forces, and his position as one of the five state councillors in China. The NPCSC, which approved the move, did not name a successor to Mr. Li, who was last publicly seen in late August.

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‘Two Sessions’ congress: The economic goals in Chinese leaders’ coded language

China’s “Two Sessions” congress that began this week is the country’s most important political event of the year. To understand what’s at stake, it helps to have some fluency in Chinese Communist Party (CCP) parlance. Terms such as “new productive forces” and “new three” appear vague, but they speak volumes about the party’s agenda during the 10-day congress.

China’s annual political extravaganza has attained cruising speed. The “Two Sessions” congress of two of the country’s most important political bodies has already touched on economic recovery, the modernisation of the army, foreign relations and the question of Taiwan.

During the event, nearly 3,000 members of the National People’s Congress (NPC) – China’s parliament – meet to set the legislative agenda for the coming year. The 2023 session set the roadmap for more than 2,000 measures that were adopted, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

Alongside the NPC meeting, the congress also hosts the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, a body meant to give its opinion on the political priorities for the year. Some 2,000 members of the CCP and civil society debate under the watchful eye of Beijing.

The Two Sessions are framed by Chinese media as the best way for a foreign observer to understand how “Chinese democracy” works. They can thus offer a good reading of the political climate in China – provided one understands the CCP parlance in use. One of the best ways to build literacy is to spot the buzzwords that pop up again and again, as reported by Bloomberg News.

Most of them may seem obscure at first glance. What does Chinese President Xi Jinping mean by the “new productive forces”? What are the “new three” developments that participants in the Two Sessions often refer to? Knowing how to interpret these terms “enables us to understand the main developments in the economic and social policy of Xi Jinping and the government, beyond the official announcements”, says Marc Lanteigne, a Sinologist at the Arctic University of Norway.

These buzzwords are also a way to implicitly acknowledge mistakes. Chinese leaders “are never going to clearly say ‘no way’, but the coded language often heralds changes in direction, and thus a tacit acknowledgment that something wasn’t working anymore”, says Lanteigne.

To help make sense of it all, FRANCE 24 has examined three terms in use during these Two Sessions that can help clarify the CCP’s true perspective on China’s economic and social situation, a viewpoint that is not necessarily obvious in official media and public statements.

The ‘new productive forces’

Xi has been using this expression since at least September, but China’s president never specifies which forces he is invoking to rescue the country’s economy.

He referred to them again during the Two Sessions to affirm that they would enable China to reach a 5 percent growth target without any problems.

The “new productive forces” are “a modern version of expressions used by all Chinese leaders since Mao Zedong to designate the economic sectors that are going to be favoured”, explains Lanteigne.

The Sinologist is betting that Xi is referring to services – especially financial – and information technologies with the 2024 version of “productive forces”.

By invoking “new” forces, Xi also aims to sideline the “old” engines of Chinese growth. In other words, the president is indicating that it is time to stop “betting everything on investment in infrastructure and real estate”, says Lanteigne, who expects to see less construction of highways and railroads. Real estate developers, shaken by the fall of debt-laden Evergrande, have received confirmation that saving them is no longer a government priority, he adds.

‘AI plus’ 

Chinese Premier Li Qiang put the country’s “AI plus” initiative on the map. He made it the cornerstone of the “work report” published by the NPC on Tuesday.

Here again, “the contours of this concept are very vague”, says Lanteigne. The main idea is to support artificial intelligence in all sectors of the economy. But how, when, and where to begin? “We’ll have to wait for the details, but the ambition is clear: to make AI a driving force in the economy and boost artificial intelligence research”, he says.

China is far from the only country betting on AI: since the advent of ChatGPT, artificial intelligence has become the hot topic for everyone. But it’s the “plus” that is meant to distinguish China’s engagement.

“By adding a ‘plus’, the authorities want to give the impression that China is already at the next stage,” says Lanteigne.

The term suggests that Beijing has already mastered AI and is now looking for the best ways to use it. It also aims to counter the image of a country that is falling behind. Blame it on ChatGPT and its clones: all these tools come from the West, and a narrative has started to develop suggesting China is having trouble catching up.

Read moreChina, AI and a say on world order: Why the US rejoined UNESCO

The ‘new three’ 

The expression has gained popularity in the media and economic circles for over a year, as noted in a Citigroup bank report published in January 2024. During the recent debates in the NPC, Li expressed delight that “the new three have grown by 30 percent in one year”.

The term refers to solar panels, electric cars and batteries. “It’s not surprising that this term is being put forward at a time when China’s champion electric car maker – BYD – is displaying increasingly global ambitions,” says Lanteigne.

By using the term, the government is showing its support for a manufacturer whose commercial appetite is beginning to concern Western countries. In late February, US President Joe Biden described Chinese electric cars as a risk to American “national security”.

“It’s also a concept that complements the idea of ‘new productive forces’,” says Lanteigne. Once again, it’s a question of turning over a new leaf: these “new three” are opposed to the “old” sectors – textiles and cheap electronics – that were China’s international glory.

China aims to show countries that it intends to remain the “world’s factory”, but now for technological products with high added value.

These “new three” pillars have something in common: “They are meant to illustrate China’s ambition to move towards an eco-responsible economy,” says Lanteigne.

Solar panels represent renewable energy, while electric cars and the batteries that power them symbolise the decarbonisation of road traffic. The “new three” thus also serves as a new slogan for “green” China.

This article is a translation of the original in French.

Read moreAsia-Pacific region: A new cold war brewing

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