Chinese premier lands in Australia on first such visit in 7 years

China’s Premier Li Qiang waves as he arrives at Adelaide Airport on June 15, 2024, in Adelaide, Australia.
| Photo Credit: Reuters

Chinese Premier Li Qiang arrived in Australia on June 15 on a relations-mending mission with panda diplomacy, rock lobsters and China’s global dominance in the critical minerals sector high on the agenda.

His visit is the first by a Chinese premier in seven years and is expected to pave the way for President Xi Jinping’s first journey to Australia since 2014.

This is the second leg of Mr. Li’s tour after New Zealand, and will end in Malaysia.

Premier Li’s optimistic agenda

Before leaving New Zealand, Mr. Li told an audience in Auckland on June 15 that his country was committed to creating a first-class business environment and supporting foreign enterprises to develop in China, according to Chinese state media.

Mr. Li said there was vast potential for China and New Zealand to collaborate in areas such as green development and that Beijing welcomed New Zealand enterprises, such as dairy company Fonterra, that seized such opportunities, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

During the Australian leg of his travels which ends on June 18, China’s most powerful politician after President Xi is expected to visit Adelaide Zoo in the South Australia State capital where his Air China flight landed from Auckland.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong and South Australia Premier Peter Malinauskas greeted Mr. Li on the Adelaide Airport tarmac.

Mr. Li will also visit a Chinese-controlled lithium processing plant in the Kwinana Beach industrial estate in Western Australia State, as well as Australia’s Parliament House in the national capital Canberra.

Resetting bilateral relations

China initiated a reset of the bilateral relationship after Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s centre-left Labor Party was elected in 2022.

The relationship collapsed during the previous conservative administration’s almost decade in power over legislation that banned covert foreign interference in Australian politics, the exclusion of Chinese-owned telecommunications giant Huawei from rolling out the national 5G network due to security concerns, and Australia’s call for an independent investigation into the causes of and responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Beijing imposed an array of official and unofficial trade blocks in 2020 on a range of Australian exports including coal, wine, barley and wood that cost up to A$20 billion ($13 billion) a year.

All the trade bans have now been lifted except for Australian live lobster exports. Trade Minister Don Farrell predicted that impediment would also be lifted soon after Mr. Li’s visit with Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao.

“I’d be very confident that the visit this week will result in a very successful outcome for lobster producers,” Mr. Farrell told reporters on June 12.

Economic and security concerns

Many observers expect Australia will be more cautious about its future economic relationship with China after being subjected to what many see as economic coercion in recent years.

Australian National University’s China expert Benjamin Herscovitch describes an “emerging expectations gap” between Beijing and Canberra.

“Beijing, now that the coercion campaign is over, wants to … turn the page and launch into a more expansive, more positive, more cooperative bilateral relationship,” Mr. Herscovitch said.

“Canberra’s saying: Look. Hold on. We want the trade restrictions gone and we want high-level diplomacy restored. But we’re not interested in deeper science and technology cooperation with China because we see that potentially from an Australian point of view as a security threat,” Mr. Herscovitch added.

Mr. Li intends to visit Tianqi Lithium Energy Australia’s processing plant south of the Western Australia capital Perth on June 18 to underscore China’s interest in investing in critical minerals, news media have reported. The plant produces battery-grade lithium hydroxide for electric vehicles.

Australia shares the United States’ concerns over China’s dominance in the critical minerals, which are essential components in the world’s transition to renewable energy sources.

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.

Less controversially, Mr. Li is expected to make a visit Adelaide Zoo on June 16, which has been the home of China-born giant pandas Wang Wang and Fu Ni since 2009.

The Adelaide Advertiser newspaper has reported Mr. Li will announce the pandas will be replaced by another breeding pair after they return to China in November.

While the bilateral economic relationship is recovering from plumbing new lows in recent years, the security relationship between the two free trading partners appears more tense.

An annual poll by the Sydney-based Lowy Institute foreign policy think tank released in June found 53% of Australian respondents saw China as more of a security threat than an economic partner.

Mr. Albanese has said he will raise with Mr. Li during an annual leaders’ meeting on June 17 recent clashes between the two countries’ militaries in the South China Sea and Yellow Sea which Australia argues endangered Australian personnel.

Other diplomatic engagements

The premier spent three days in New Zealand, a free trade partner with which China has enjoyed a more harmonious relationship than it has with Australia. Mr. Li described China and New Zealand as “good friends.” His next stop will be Malaysia, where bilateral relations are further complicated by competing territorial claims in the South China Sea.

New Zealand Prime Minister Christopher Luxon told Mr.Li on June 15 : “China is one of New Zealand’s most important and consequential relationships.”

Mr. Li used the trip to express concerns at New Zealand’s contemplation of joining a military technology-sharing arrangement under Australia’s AUKUS pact with the United States and Britain. The pact’s primary aim is to provide Australia with a fleet of submarines powered by U.S. nuclear technology.

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China and Russia reaffirm their close ties as Moscow presses its offensive in Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping on May 16 reaffirmed their “no-limits” partnership that has deepened as both countries face rising tensions with the West, and they criticized U.S. military alliances in Asia and the Pacific region.

At their summit in Beijing, Mr. Putin thanked Mr. Xi for China’s proposals for ending the war in Ukraine, which have been rejected by Ukraine and its Western supporters as largely following the Kremlin’s line.

Mr. Putin’s two-day state visit to one of his strongest allies and trading partners comes as Russian forces are pressing an offensive in northeastern Ukraine’s Kharkiv region in the most significant border incursion since the full-scale invasion began on February 24, 2022.

China claims to take a neutral position in the conflict, but it has backed the Kremlin’s contentions that Russia was provoked into attacking Ukraine by the West, and it continues to supply key components needed by Moscow for weapons production.

China, which hasn’t criticised the invasion, proposed a broadly worded peace plan in 2023, calling for a cease-fire and for direct talks between Moscow and Kyiv. The plan was rejected by both Ukraine and the West for failing to call for Russia to leave occupied parts of Ukraine.

China also gave a rhetorical nod to Russia’s narrative about Nazism in Ukraine, with a joint statement Thursday that said Moscow and Beijing should defend the post-World War II order and “severely condemn the glorification of or even attempts to revive Nazism and militarism”. Mr. Putin has cited the “denazification” of Ukraine as a main goal of the military action, falsely describing the government of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who is Jewish and lost relatives in the Holocaust, as neo-Nazis.

The largely symbolic and ceremonial visit stressed partnership between two countries who both face challenges in their relationship with the U.S. and Europe.

“Both sides want to show that despite what is happening globally, despite the pressure that both sides are facing from the U.S., both sides are not about to turn their backs on each other anytime soon,” said Hoo Tiang Boon, who researches Chinese foreign policy at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University.

While Mr. Putin and Mr. Xi said they were seeking an end to the war, they offered no new proposals in their public remarks.

“China hopes for the early return of Europe to peace and stability and will continue to play a constructive role toward this,” Mr. Xi said in prepared remarks to media in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People. His words echoed what China said when it offered a broad plan for peace.

Earlier, Mr. Putin was welcomed in Tiananmen Square with military pomp. After a day in Beijing, the Russian leader arrived in Harbin, where he was expected to attend a number of events on May 17.

On the eve of his visit, Mr. Putin said China’s proposal could “lay the groundwork for a political and diplomatic process that would take into account Russia’s security concerns and contribute to achieving a long-term and sustainable peace”. Mr. Zelenskyy has said any negotiations must include a restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, the withdrawal of Russian troops, the release of all prisoners, a tribunal for those responsible for the aggression and security guarantees for Ukraine.

After Russia’s latest offensive in Ukraine last week, the war is in a critical stage as Ukraine’s depleted military waits for new supplies of anti-aircraft missiles and artillery shells from the United States after months of delay.

The joint statement from China and Russia also criticised U.S. foreign policy at length, hitting out at U.S.-formed alliances, which the statement called having a “Cold War mentality.” China and Russia also accused the U.S. of deploying land-based intermediate range missile systems in the Asia-Pacific under the pretext of joint exercises with allies. They said that the U.S. actions in Asia were “changing the balance of power” and “endangering the security of all countries in the region.” The joint statement demonstrated China’s support to Russia.

China is “falling over themselves to give Russia face and respect without saying anything specific, and without committing themselves to anything”, said Susan Thornton, a former diplomat and a senior fellow at the Paul Tsai China Center at Yale Law School.

The meeting was yet another affirmation of the friendly “no-limits” relationship China and Russia signed in 2022, just before Moscow invaded Ukraine.

Since then, Russia has become increasingly dependent economically on China as Western sanctions cut its access to much of the international trading system. China’s increased trade with Russia, totalling $240 billion last year, has helped the country mitigate some of the worst blowback from sanctions.

Moscow has diverted the bulk of its energy exports to China and relied on Chinese companies for importing high-tech components for Russian military industries to circumvent Western sanctions.

“I and President Putin agree we should actively look for convergence points of the interests of both countries, to develop each’s advantages, and deepen integration of interests, realizing each others’ achievements,” Mr. Xi said.

U.S. State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said that China can’t “have its cake and eat it too”.

“You cannot want to have deepened relations with Europe … while simultaneously continuing to fuel the biggest threat to European security in a long time,” Mr. Patel said.

Mr. Xi congratulated Mr. Putin on starting his fifth term in office and celebrated the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the former Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China, which was established following a civil war in 1949. Mr. Putin has eliminated all major political opponents and faced no real challenge in the March election.

“In a famous song of that time, 75 years ago — it is still performed today — there is a phrase that has become a catchphrase: Russians and Chinese are brothers forever,’” Mr. Putin said.

Russia-China military ties have strengthened during the war. They have held a series of joint war games in recent years.

China remains a major market for Russian military, while also massively expanding its domestic defensive industries, including building aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines.

Mr. Putin has previously said that Russia has been sharing highly sensitive military technologies with China that helped significantly bolster its defence capability.

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It’s time to take a step back from the brink of a divided world

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

We think that our vision of connectivity is essential for Europe’s ability to become strong again — and that cooler heads will soon have a chance to prevail. During our presidency, we intend to show how, Balázs Orbán writes.

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Chinese President Xi Jinping’s trip to Europe this week is his first visit to the continent since the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic disrupted exchanges between Europe and China, making President Xi’s visit crucial in restoring links with European countries.

The first visit of a Chinese president in 20 years to Hungary also marks the 75th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between Hungary and China. 

One might find it curious why Budapest has emerged as the only EU capital President Xi is visiting other than Paris. 

The simple answer is that Hungary has transformed into a pivotal state for all concerned — a promoter of peace and national sovereignty, a leader of new industries, a crucial player in bridging East and West, and a gateway to the European Union. The Chinese president’s choice reflects this fact.

This is what we mean by ‘Hussar Cut’

Hungary’s foreign policy strategy, centred on connectivity, is attracting global attention.

While many nations across the world are closing in on themselves, Hungary stands out by actively cultivating ties with a wide array of countries and market players across various sectors, from trade to infrastructure, as well as cultural and scientific exchange.

We believe that this strategy is essential for escaping the middle-income trap and positioning ourselves to thrive in an increasingly complex geopolitical landscape.

This bold masterstroke, a “Hussar Cut” as we call it in Hungarian, appears to be paying off. Since 2010, the Hungarian government has transformed the economy into an open, export-oriented model capable of robust growth.

This has resulted in a remarkable 38% increase in GDP per capita over the past 13 years. 

Our efforts have propelled Hungary from the 23rd to the 11th most complex economy according to the Harvard Economic Complexity Index, boasting a highly diversified export portfolio. 

Additionally, we’ve fostered a work-based society with record-low unemployment, complemented by a flat-rate income tax of 15% and a corporate tax rate of just 9%.

It’s all about best technology, globally

Hungary has been focused on bolstering domestic companies such as MOL, Richter, OTP Bank, and 4iG to help them emerge as dominant regional players. 

Our efforts to expand energy connections, repurchase the Budapest Airport, renovate the Budapest-Belgrade railway and establish a port in Trieste capable of handling 2.5 million tonnes of goods a year further our commitment to enhanced connectivity across all fronts. 

Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Hungary has nearly doubled since 2010, with a more geographically diverse investor base. Last year, compared to 2010, the share of Asian investors surged from 19% to 34%. Meanwhile, European investments accounted for 56%.

We actively encourage foreign companies to establish headquarters here, as we aim to make Hungary a regional hub and a global meeting point. Alongside this, we invest significantly in culture and sport relative to GDP, outstripping European averages.

On the industrial front, Hungary seeks to strengthen its military, information technology, energy, and banking sectors while also emphasising the development of industries such as food, pharmaceuticals, and automotive — all pivotal for global connectivity.

As part of our strategy, we seek to partner with countries and companies that offer the best technology globally, which is why China is a natural partner for us. Hungary’s strength is growing, particularly in the electric vehicle sector. 

BYD, China’s top electric vehicle manufacturer, has announced plans to build its first European passenger car facility in Hungary, which is a direct result of building strategic partnerships over the years. In doing so, we’re betting against the current trends toward decoupling and de-risking.

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Europe’s place in this increased global competition is under threat. In recent years, European GDP growth has lagged in both the Us and China. Europe’s import dependency is five times higher than that of the North American continent, according to the Hungarian Institute of International Affairs, and decoupling would come at a very high cost. 

Keep cool, calm and connected

In this situation, Europe must also recognise that the evolving geopolitical environment requires a strategy of prudent connectivity. When global tensions between China and the US arise, Europe’s open economic framework will pay the price.

The increasing logic of bloc formation we witness today poses a number of clear dangers. 

From our perspective in Budapest, these dangers include the worsening of existing dependences, the loss of our sovereignty, economic decline, consignment to the geopolitical periphery, and exposure to conflicts affecting all bloc members.

Our proposed solution is for Hungary to become a keystone state — a pivotal hub in the interconnected global landscape. By doing so, we can mitigate one-way dependencies, safeguard our sovereignty, ensure economic prosperity, and maintain internal and external security.  

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Doing so is crucial not only for our sovereignty but also for the success of the region and of Europe as a whole.

In the second half of this year, Hungary will exercise the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU. 

We think that our vision of connectivity is essential for Europe’s ability to become strong again — and that cooler heads will soon have a chance to prevail. During our presidency, we intend to show how. 

It’s time to take a step back from the brink of a divided world. In Hungary, we are already reaping the benefits.

Balázs Orbán is a member of the Hungarian parliament and political director for Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

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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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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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Taiwan’s new president: Five things you need to know about William Lai

TAIPEI — Forget Xi Jinping or Joe Biden for a second. Meet Taiwan’s next President William Lai, upon whom the fate of U.S.-China relations — and global security over the coming few years — is now thrust.

The 64-year-old, currently Taiwan’s vice president, has led the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to a historic third term in power, a first for any party since Taiwan became a democracy in 1996.

For now, the capital of Taipei feels as calm as ever. For Lai, though, the sense of victory will soon be overshadowed by a looming, extended period of uncertainty over Beijing’s next move. Taiwan’s Communist neighbor has laid bare its disapproval of Lai, whom Beijing considers the poster boy of the Taiwanese independence movement.

All eyes are now on how the Chinese leader — who less than two weeks ago warned Taiwan to face up to the “historical inevitability” of being absorbed into his Communist nation — will address the other inevitable conclusion: That the Taiwanese public have cast yet another “no” vote on Beijing.

1. Beijing doesn’t like him — at all

China has repeatedly lambasted Lai, suggesting that he will be the one bringing war to the island.

As recently as last Thursday, Beijing was trying to talk Taiwanese voters out of electing its nemesis-in-chief into the Baroque-style Presidential Office in Taipei.

“Cross-Strait relations have taken a turn for the worse in the past eight years, from peaceful development to tense confrontation,” China’s Taiwan Affairs Office spokesman Chen Binhua said, adding that Lai would now be trying to follow an “evil path” toward “military tension and war.”

While Beijing has never been a fan of the DPP, which views China as fundamentally against Taiwan’s interests , the personal disgust for Lai is also remarkable.

Part of that stems from a 2017 remark, in which Lai called himself a “worker for Taiwanese independence,” which has been repeatedly cited by Beijing as proof of his secessionist beliefs.

Without naming names, Chinese President Xi harshly criticized those promoting Taiwan independence in a speech in 2021.

“Secession aimed at Taiwan independence is the greatest obstacle to national reunification and a grave danger to national rejuvenation,” Xi said. “Those who forget their heritage, betray their motherland, and seek to split the country will come to no good end, and will be disdained by the people and sentenced by the court of history.”

2. All eyes are on the next 4 months

Instability is expected to be on the rise over the next four months, until Lai is formally inaugurated on May 20.

No one knows how bad this could get, but Taiwanese officials and foreign diplomats say they don’t expect the situation to be as tense as the aftermath of then-U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island in 2022.

Already, days before the election, China sent several spy balloons to monitor Taiwan, according to the Taiwanese defense ministry. On the trade front, China was also stepping up the pressure, announcing a possible move to reintroduce tariffs on some Taiwanese products. Cases of disinformation and electoral manipulation have also been unveiled by Taiwanese authorities.

Those developments, combined, constitute what Taipei calls hybrid warfare — which now risks further escalation given Beijing’s displeasure with the new president.

3. Lai has to tame his independent instinct

In a way, he has already.

Speaking at the international press conference last week, Lai said he had no plan to declare independence if elected to the presidency.

DPP insiders say they expect Lai to stick to outgoing Tsai Ing-wen’s approach, without saying things that could be interpreted as unilaterally changing the status quo.

They also point to the fact that Lai chose as vice-presidential pick Bi-khim Hsiao, a close confidante with Tsai and former de facto ambassador to Washington. Hsiao has developed close links with the Biden administration, and will play a key role as a bridge between Lai and the U.S.

4. Taiwan will follow international approach

The U.S., Japan and Europe are expected to take precedence in Lai’s diplomatic outreach, while relations with China will continue to be negative.

Throughout election rallies across the island, the DPP candidate repeatedly highlighted the Tsai government’s efforts at diversifying away from the trade reliance on China, shifting the focus to the three like-minded allies.

Southeast Asia has been another top destination for these readjusted trade flows, DPP has said.

According to Taiwanese authorities, Taiwan’s exports to China and Hong Kong last year dropped 18.1 percent compared to 2022, the biggest decrease since they started recording this set of statistics in 1982.

In contrast, Taiwanese exports to the U.S. and Europe rose by 1.6 percent and 2.9 percent, respectively, with the trade volumes reaching all-time highs.

However, critics point out that China continues to be Taiwan’s biggest trading partner, with many Taiwanese businesspeople living and working in the mainland.

5. Lai might face an uncooperative parliament

While vote counting continues, there’s a high chance Lai will be dealing with a divided parliament, the Legislative Yuan.

Before the election, the Kuomintang (KMT) party vowed to form a majority with Taiwan People’s Party in the Yuan, thereby rendering Lai’s administration effectively a minority government.

While that could pose further difficulties for Lai to roll out policies provocative to Beijing, a parliament in opposition also might be a problem when it comes to Taiwan’s much-needed defense spending.

“A divided parliament is very bad news for defense. KMT has proven that they can block defense spending, and the TPP will also try to provide what they call oversight, and make things much more difficult,” said Syaru Shirley Lin, who chairs the Center for Asia-Pacific Resilience and Innovation, a Taipei-based policy think tank.

“Although all three parties said they wanted to boost defense, days leading up to the election … I don’t think that really tells you what’s going to happen in the legislature,” Lin added. “There’s going to be a lot of policy trading.”



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“China’s Xi Jinping Won’t Forget…”: Ex-Army Chief On 2020 Galwan Clash

He said the time is ripe to resume talks over India-China border trouble. (File)

New Delhi:

China followed “wolf-warrior diplomacy” and “salami-slicing” tactics with impunity browbeating smaller neighbours and it took the Indian Army to show to the world that “enough is enough” and challenge the “neighbourhood bully”, says Gen Manoj Mukund Naravane, the 28th Chief of Army Staff, recounting the Indian response to the Chinese aggression in Eastern Ladakh in 2020.
In his memoirs ‘Four Stars of Destiny’, Naravane, providing a rare insight into the deadly Galwan Valley clashes, says Chinese President Xi Jinping will not forget June 16 any time soon as China’s People’s Liberation Army suffered “fatal casualties” for the first time in over two decades in the fighting.

Naravane, one of the foremost Army Generals, provided a gripping account of the India-China confrontation before and after the deadly Galwan Valley incident, India’s overall response to the Chinese action and how it served as a catalyst to firm up the Army’s combat readiness along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

“It was one of the saddest days of my entire career,” says Naravane recalling the death of 20 Army personnel in the Galwan Valley clashes in June 2020.

His tenure as the Army Chief from December 31, 2019 to April 30, 2022 was primarily marked by the Chinese challenges along the contested border as well as the rolling out of long-term reform measures to enhance the combat capabilities of the force.

“June 16 is (Chinese President) Xi Jinping’s birthday. This is not a day he will forget any time soon. For the first time in over two decades, the Chinese and the PLA had suffered fatal casualties,” Naravane writes.

“They had been following wolf-warrior diplomacy and salami-slicing tactics everywhere with impunity, browbeating smaller neighbours like Nepal and Bhutan, while staking their ever-increasing claims in the South China Sea, without having to pay any costs, especially in terms of human lives.” “It took India and the Indian Army to show to the world that enough is enough and to challenge the neighbourhood bully.” Delving into the overall situation along the frontier, Naravane, at the same time, suggests having a “non-aggression” pact between the two countries pending the settlement of the overall boundary dispute, saying it would go a long way in restoring confidence and pave the way for de-escalation and de-induction of forces.

‘Four Stars of Destiny’ published by Penguin Random House India will hit the stands next month.

On the Galwan Valley incident, Naravane says it occurred in view of the Chinese PLA refusing to remove two tents that it had erected in Patrolling Point 14 (PP-14), adding following the adversary’s refusal, the Indian Army decided to pitch its own tents in the same general area.

The eastern Ladakh border row began in May 2020. Naravane says flag-level meetings had been continuing at other locations then, including at PP-15 and PP-17A, where troops fell back over agreed distances, thereby reducing the chances of violent face-offs.

“At PP-14, however, whenever we asked the PLA to remove their tents, they kept changing their stance. From ‘some more time was needed’, to ‘we will check with our superiors’, to it ‘being beyond the mandate of the talks’.” “From this stonewalling, it became evident that there had been no intention of removing those tents in the first place. To counter this, we also decided to pitch our own tents in the same general area,” he writes.

Naravane says when Indian Army personnel went to pitch the tents, there was a violent reaction from the Chinese side.

“Col Santosh Babu, Commanding Officer of 16 BIHAR, went forward with a small party of troops to attempt to defuse the situation but the PLA were in no mood to relent and attacked the CO’s party too,” he says.

“Thereafter, it became a free-for-all. With darkness setting in, both sides rushed in additional troops and a see-saw engagement continued throughout the night,” he recounts.

Although armed, neither side opened fire, instead using batons or clubs and throwing or rolling down stones on each other’s positions, he says.

The former Army Chief says due to better connectivity on their side, the PLA were able to move troops forward in armoured personnel carriers which changed the balance in their favour.

Naravane says he told then Northern Army Commander Lt Gen YK Joshi during a phone call at 1:30 am on June 16 that the Army must hit back and make the PLA pay the price for their misadventure. “Daylight revealed a not-so-favourable situation.” “Few jawans who could not make it back at night or who had been separated started trickling back. Five jawans had died of injuries in the melee. The next morning, as the head count was taken, we realised many were missing,” he says.

“As tense negotiations began, many of our boys, who had either got disoriented or had been briefly detained by the PLA without food or medical aid, returned to base,” he says.

“However, 15 of them succumbed to the combined effects of their injuries and hypothermia. It was one of the saddest days of my entire career.” The Galwan Valley clashes on June 15, 2020 marked the most serious military conflicts between India and China in decades and the full extent of the deadliest confrontation was known the next day.

“We are in a profession where death is always lurking around the corner.

“Every patrol or ambush can be your last. As a Company and Battalion Commander, my unit had suffered casualties, and I was always stoic in the face of adversity or bad news. Yet, losing 20 men in a day was hard to bear,” he notes.

About the casualties on the Chinese side, Naravane says it was evident that they “too suffered substantially”.

“Our men who were in Chinese hands had been kept out in the open and they had seen several bodies being fished out of the river. Whenever that happened, they were subjected to a fresh round of beatings,” Naravane writes.

“The sheer savagery of their response was in itself indicative of the losses they had suffered. Initially, they did not admit to any casualties at all; then many months later, admitted to four or five killed, including the CO on their side,” he says.

Naravane also mentioned a report by a group of Australian researchers that put the figure of Chinese fatalities to at least 38, A separate Russian (TASS) report put the figure closer to 45 killed, which was consistent with other intelligence reports, including those from the US, he says.

Naravane says the time is ripe for the resumption of the special-representative level talks to settle the border question between the two sides.

“Pending the settlement of the boundary dispute, which is likely to be time-consuming, articulation of a ‘non-aggression’ pact between the two countries would go a long way in restoring confidence, paving the way for de-escalation and de-induction of forces from Tibet/Ladakh,” he said.

“Such a pact would be somewhat akin to what China and the ASEAN countries are attempting to formalise,” he said.

The former Army Chief says the crisis in eastern Ladakh served as a catalyst for the Army’s rebalancing to the northern front. The Army moved many key units to the northern front from other parts following the Chinese aggression.

“Though still inadequate, the increase in force ratios on the Northern Front will definitely make the PLA think twice before embarking on any misadventure, especially now that we have the offensive capability to take the battle into Chinese territory,” Naravane says.

“In our posture against China, we have moved up from dissuasive deterrence (defensive) to credible deterrence (offensive defence). With these developments, the PLA must have realised that a military solution to the border problem is improbable,” he adds.

‘Wolf-warrior’ diplomacy is a term used for a kind of assertive diplomacy. Salami Slicing is a tactic used to capture territory piece by piece.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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The EU and Taiwan must partner up in the fight against disinformation

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

If the two could join forces in their endeavours, it is possible that they could fuel regional development in Southeast Asia and elsewhere within the Global South where China has developed influence and a rooted footprint via its Belt and Road Initiative, Zsuzsa Anna Ferenczy writes.

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In May, G7 leaders, meeting at the 2023 Hiroshima Summit, agreed that a “growing China that plays by international rules would be of global interest”. 

Their call, for continuing multilateral engagement with Beijing did, though, request that China not conduct interference activities aimed at undermining the integrity of democratic institutions, and that the country should do more to press Russia on its military aggression in Ukraine.

Conversely, at this month’s Belt and Road Forum of International Cooperation in Beijing, Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin celebrated the deepening of their mutual political trust, praising the close strategic coordination of the two countries. 

This followed Xi’s March visit to Moscow when the two leaders reinforced their ambition to remake the liberal international order, with the Chinese leader reassuring his “dear friend” that they are driving changes “that have not happened for one hundred years”.

This deepening of relations captures a new geopolitical reality, which many in Europe are still struggling to comprehend.

Sino-Russian cooperation a growing concern?

Looking eastwards, Europeans now see two former foes, China and Russia, bound together by their shared fear of liberal democracy. 

These regimes want to upend the world order so that it marries with their authoritarian agendas. 

The bilateral meeting between Xi and Putin on the sidelines of the Belt and Road Forum this month left no question about Beijing’s desire to curate and present an alternative worldview to the Global South, while strengthening its strategic alignment with Russia.

The meeting also consolidated Putin’s support towards China’s positioning on international affairs, in line with the Global Security Initiative, which Xi designed to help China achieve global primacy against a perceived backdrop of Western inhibitors.

The scale of Sino-Russian cooperation is vast, multi-faceted, and developing at speed. For, not only are their militaries and economies now in a state of synergy, their diplomats and state-controlled media are also collaborating closely. 

Chinese state-media and official social media channels routinely amplify selected pro-Kremlin narratives and are also platforming Russian media sanctioned by the West.

This growing strategic partnership is forcing the EU to finally get serious about its claims to rethink ties with China – and, by association, with Russia – in what European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called the de-risking of trade and political relations. 

China is changing, and “moving into a new era of security and control”; it is time for Europe to change, too.

Brussels needs a defensive toolbox — Taiwan can help

How this can be effected, though, is still at a fragmented stage of development, and was a key point of discussion at this year’s Budapest Forum. The EU High Representative Josep Borrell has urged the bloc and its member states to work with democratic partners around the world to fight information manipulation by authoritarian regimes.

This is an important step, which marries with wider efforts to position the EU as an independent voice and force on the world stage.

By focusing on Russia and China as key foreign actors in information manipulation and interference, the EU continues to invest in strategic communication, vital to defend democracy.

But it is essential that closer coordination at home is supported by a defensive toolbox for economic security and stronger cooperation with like-minded international partners, including Taiwan, if the bloc is to effectively push back at China and Russia’s developing orbit. 

What is needed most to boost the immune system of democracies is a whole-of-society approach and an inclusive global conversation with the developing world.

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The learning pools from Taiwan, and its response to Chinese aggression, are particularly important. For, here, over decades, democracy has withstood a barrage of disinformation and hostility from China. 

And, as a testament to the island nation’s strength, it has developed an approach that reflects the collective will of society and encourages a civic spirit that empowers citizens to feel that they hold the reigns of their democracy. 

This has extended to emerging and digital technologies, which are now seen through the lens of individual citizen interest, rather than benefiting those of the country’s political class.

Can the EU lead into action?

This has established a two-way trust, which, today, not only sees Taiwan hold the status as a pivotal node in the global semiconductor supply chain but also boasts a radically transparent democratic system of government. 

The lessons for Europe are numerous, and it is in the EU’s interest to explore Taiwan’s open and technologically driven governance and its expertise in media literacy. 

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For the past decades, the government has invested in education to empower its citizens to make informed decisions about what they see and read. Together, the EU and Taiwan and other democratically-minded countries could develop a networked system that would undercut the space for authoritarian regimes to corrupt information streams with falsehoods.

The two, and others committed to this cause, should partner up and help anchor developing countries in democracy and limit China’s negative clout, mindful that significant infrastructure investment needs will remain across the Global South. 

Europe’s Global Gateway forum, for one, seeks to boost secure links in digital, energy, transport and education along with democratic values, while Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy has committed to integrating its capacity in digital technology to promote a digital New Southbound initiative. 

If the two could join forces in their endeavours, it is possible that they could fuel regional development in South East Asia and elsewhere within the Global South where China has developed influence and a rooted footprint via its Belt and Road Initiative.

All of this points to the necessity for Europe to be more global-minded in its policy, and to take on the role of upholding not just its own, but other, developing democratic ecosystems. 

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Understanding the long-term consequences of information manipulation by authoritarian regimes to the rules-based order will be key to the future of global democracy. 

The question is: is the EU prepared to fundamentally change its position, and lead in this action?

Dr Zsuzsa Anna Ferenczy is Assistant Professor at National Dong Hwa University in Hualien, Taiwan and the author of “Europe, China, and the Limits of Normative Power”.

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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At BRICS meeting, Chinese President Xi Jinping calls for immediate ceasefire in Gaza

In this video framegrab of a feed distributed by South Africa’s Presidency, China’s Xi Jinping joins other BRICS leaders for a virtual meeting of leaders of developing countries on Novemnber 21, 2023.
| Photo Credit: AP

All parties involved in the Israel-Palestinian conflict should immediately ceasefire and suspend hostilities, Chinese President Xi Jinping declared on November 21. At the same meeting of the BRICS group, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar condemned the killing of civilians in the conflict, but stopped short of echoing the Chinese demand for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Also read: Israel-Hamas war, Day 46 LIVE updates November 21, 2023

Addressing the extraordinary virtual meeting of the grouping on the Gaza crisis, Mr. Xi called for safe passage for humanitarian relief and pressed for an end to the forced relocation of the Gaza Strip’s civilian population. The supply of water, energy, and electricity must also be restored in the Palestinian enclave, which has been battered by Israeli bombs, he emphasised.

Two-state solution

The Chinese President said that the only way out of the longstanding Israeli-Palestinian crisis is to implement the two-state solution, “restore the legitimate rights of the Palestinian nation”, and establish a sovereign and independent State of Palestine. He cautioned that without a fair solution of the Palestinian question, there can be no lasting peace and stability in West Asia.

Beijing’s declaration is significant as it comes soon after the Foreign Ministers of the Arab League and the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Indonesia and Jordan met with China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi in the Chinese capital. They had called for a halt to the hostilities that have left more than 11,000 people in Gaza dead, a third of them children, and about 1.7 million homeless.

Mr. Xi urged all parties in the raging conflict to stop “all violence and attacks targeting civilians and release civilian detainees” to stop the loss of any more lives. He urged Israel to stop targeting Palestinian civilians “as a collective punishment”. The Chinese President also called on the international community to take concrete steps to prevent any further escalation of the conflict that could impact the stability of the entire region.

India condemns civilian deaths

Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not attend Tuesday’s virtual summit of the BRICS-Plus grouping that was held to discuss the Israel-Hamas conflict. The External Affairs Minister represented the PM at the virtual meeting and expressed India’s concern about the situation in Gaza and called for “direct and meaningful negotiation” between the Israeli authorities and the Palestinians.

“The ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza is causing immense human suffering, including to civilians, the elderly, women, and children. We welcome all efforts of the international community towards de-escalation. Right now there is an urgent need to ensure that humanitarian aid and relief effectively and safely reach the population of Gaza,” Mr. Jaishankar said, adding that all hostages should be released. “We believe there is a universal obligation to observe international humanitarian law,” he said.

The Minister “strongly condemned” the death of civilians, though he stopped short of calling for a ceasefire. Earlier, in a joint press conference, both Mr. Jaishankar and Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong had called for the political aspirations of the Palestinian people to be addressed by implementing a two-state solution. “Australia has, under this government, expressed its view that settlements are contrary to international law and unhelpful for the two-state solution,” Ms. Wong said.

Divergent views

It is understood that Prime Minister Modi declined to attend the summit due to other commitments, including the campaign for the Rajasthan Assembly election. The decision to skip an appearance with the other leaders of the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa grouping also indicates New Delhi’s discomfort with deliberations that were likely to be critical of Israel’s bombardment of Gaza. Unlike all the other countries in the grouping, India has taken a stand that is closer to that of the United States and other western countries, by not demanding that Israeli forces cease fire, and abstaining from a UN General Assembly vote on a resolution calling for a ceasefire; all the other BRICS-Plus members voted in favour. 

The BRICS-plus meeting, an “extraordinary joint meeting on the Middle East situation” convened by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, included the group’s soon-to-be inducted new members: Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

South Africa wants war crimes probe

South Africa and Israel have stepped up a diplomatic war, with the South African government formally referring Israel to the International Criminal Court to be investigated for alleged “war crimes” over its bombardment of the Gaza Strip in retaliation for the October 7 Hamas terror attacks. After South Africa recalled all its diplomats from Tel Aviv, and the ruling African National Congress (ANC) supported a motion in parliament calling for the Israeli Embassy in Pretoria to be shut down, Israel recalled its Ambassador to South Africa for “consultations” on Monday, citing the “latest statements”. 

In contrast, the strongest comment by Mr. Modi thus far, made at the Voice of Global South summit last week, was a “strong condemnation” of civilian deaths, and a call to focus on “restraint, dialogue, and diplomacy”. 

The BRICS meeting comes amidst moves by various members of the grouping to build pressure on the UN Security Council’s permanent members to pass a resolution calling for a complete halt in the bombing of Gaza. Last week, the UNSC had passed a resolution calling for “urgent and extended humanitarian pauses and corridors” and the release of hostages; it did not call for an outright ceasefire. Israel, which lost about 1,200 citizens in the October 7 attacks, says it is seeking out Hamas command and control centres and a return of about 240 hostages that are still believed to be in Hamas custody. 

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