Morocco welcomes Chinese firms to jointly develop electric vehicles in Morocco: Ambassador

Editor's Note:
China and Morocco share a long history of exchanges and a long tradition of friendship. Under the strategic guidance of the heads of the two countries, China and Morocco have established strategic partnership and bilateral relations have achieved leapfrog growth. Morocco was among the first countries in Africa and Arab world to join the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which has yielded fruitful results in bilateral cooperation. Global Times reporter Ma Jingjing (GT) interviewed new Moroccan Ambassador to China Abdelkader El Ansari for China-Morocco economic and trade cooperation.
GT: This year marks the 66th anniversary of the establishment of China-Morocco diplomatic ties. What are your comments on China-Morocco ties over the past decades?

El Ansari: China and Morocco have century-old relations, not only decades, because we are every year celebrating the anniversary of the Moroccan traveler Ibn Battuta who visited China already in the 14th century. And there is also a very famous Chinese traveler named Wang Dayuan who visited Morocco in the same century. So, our relations are very old. This year we are celebrating the 66th anniversary of our diplomatic relations, and I know that number six is very important in China, brings joy and hope. So, 66th anniversary double joy and double hope. We have very strong relations built on mutual respect, real friendship, solidarity, and reliability. The future is even more promising for our relations. I am very confident about that.

GT: Morocco is among the very first countries that signed the memorandum of understanding about the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). What achievements have been made under BRI cooperation between China and Morocco?

El Ansari: We have now identified many projects that could be realized under the frame of BRI. We have selected 14 important sectors in which we will implement projects because the opportunities of cooperation and exchange are very big between our two countries. The priority projects are in fields including infrastructure, health, agriculture, industry, renewable energy and technological industry. That means the industries with very high added-value. And we are progressing now very fast in that sense.

We are happy to see that Morocco will be maybe one of the pillars of the implementation of the BRI worldwide. So, this is an important compound of our relations and we hope that in the coming few years we will have a lot of projects completed under the BRI framework.

GT: People-to-people exchange is one of the highlights of China-Morocco relations, especially since the joint building of the BRI. What's the status quo of people-to-people exchanges between the two countries?

El Ansari: The geography makes distance very big between our two countries, but this doesn't prevent that we have quite good people-to-people relations in at least three fields. During His Majesty the King Mohammed VI's visit to Beijing in May 2016, His Majesty decided to lift the visa requirement for the Chinese people to visit Morocco. Since then, we have noticed a big rise of Chinese tourists visiting Morocco. Second, we have a big presence of Moroccan students here in China. Third, we have very good cooperation in the field of culture. Morocco and China are among the few countries in the world with a millenary history. So, there are big interests from Chinese people for Moroccan culture, ancestral culture, and in Morocco, there is also a big interest as well for the Chinese culture. I am convinced that the people-to-people relations and exchanges are the best cement to our friendly relations.

GT: China is one of Morocco's main trading partners. What's your view on the China-Morocco relations in the future? And what areas can the two countries deepen cooperation and promote further development of the China-Morocco strategic partnership?

El Ansari: The potential of China-Morocco economic relations is very big. China is the first economic partner of Morocco in Asia, and its third commercial partner worldwide. In 2016, the two countries decided to establish China-Morocco strategic partnership, opening new chapter in the bilateral relations. In this strategic partnership, there is a very important part of economic relations and partnership relations in economy and trade. We hope that Chinese companies and investors will come to do business in Morocco.

Morocco has a very good geostrategic location, political stability and economic vision, and is a very good platform for developing business for the Chinese companies. Morocco has signed more than 54 free trade agreements with other countries and organizations, which allows to enter from Morocco a market of 1.4 billion consumers. We are now receiving more and more Chinese companies to invest in Morocco in many fields including car industry, renewable energies, infrastructure, textile, agriculture and mining. And now Morocco has opened a lot of very ambitious programs in many fields. Morocco will be hosting the Football World Cup in 2030 with Spain and Portugal, and this can open very big opportunities for investments and for business for the Chinese companies.

GT: Morocco is now Africa's largest car manufacturer with an annual production capacity of nearly one million vehicles. China's new-energy vehicle sector has enjoyed rapid development. What opportunities do you see between the two countries' automobile sector?

El Ansari: We are happy to receive more and more Chinese companies engaged in the field such as car industry, electronic components and tires. We are very confident and ambitious for our relations in this particular sector. The future is the electric vehicles. China is a pioneer and has a very strong industry in that respect. We hope that we will find common interests and common projects to develop these electric vehicles in Morocco with the help and partnership of Chinese companies.

There is a very big interest from Chinese companies in the big ecosystem of car industry, especially the electric car industry, to come to Morocco. We welcome Chinese companies to come to see what are the opportunities of business that are available in Morocco and to have investments in Morocco. Mohammed VI Tangiers Tech City, a Chinese-sponsored manufacturing and technology zone outside Tangiers is already hosting dozens of Chinese companies. We hope to have more Chinese companies make business in Morocco, and beyond Morocco to reach other markets.

GT: The 2024 Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) is scheduled to be held in China this autumn. What's your expectations for the forum and how do you think China-Morocco relations can contribute to Africa's development?

El Ansari: Since the start of the FOCAC in 2000, Morocco has always been participating at a high level. We know that China also gives very big importance to relations with Africa, and especially in terms of development and solidarity. The vision of China and that of Morocco toward Africa are the same. We're committed to making the coming summit in September of the FOCAC a very big success, like what was the summit of 2018 in Beijing.

As we are enjoying very good relations, China and Morocco can work together to voice the interests of Africa. We also hope that we can develop trilateral cooperation projects between China, Morocco and our common partners in Africa in various sectors including infrastructure, trade and training. There are now many initiatives that Morocco has taken within the African continent, for example, Nigeria-Morocco Gas Pipeline, the Atlantic Initiative and an initiative to promote the access of Sahel countries to the Atlantic Ocean. We hope that China will also contribute to the implementation of these three big initiatives, because they have the same philosophy and the same objectives as the Chinese vision toward the development of Africa.

The upcoming summit will be a very good opportunity to exchange and to identify big strategic projects in which China, Africa and Morocco can work for peace and security, for economic development and for handling climate change and many challenges we are facing together.

Henan NEV Charging Volume Reaches Record High During May Day Holidays

On May 6, reporters learned from the State Grid Henan Province Electric Power Company that as residents' travel methods shift toward smart and green energy, there has been a surge in the charging volume of new-energy vehicles (NEVs) in Henan Province, setting a new record for daily charging volume on the provincial expressways during the May Day holidays.

According to official data, the total charging volume on the provincial expressway network during the holidays reached 2.4581 million kilowatt-hours, with an average of 491,600 kilowatt-hours per day. This represents an 89.84% increase compared to the May Day holidays in 2023 and a 27.14% increase compared to the Qingming holidays in 2024 (on a daily average basis). The first day of the holiday marked a small peak in travel, with the daily charging volume on the provincial expressways reaching 621,700 kilowatt-hours, which is 3.8 times the usual volume.

"To ensure that NEV owners could travel without worries, we released forecasts for popular service areas, helping users to arrange their charging plans accordingly. Additionally, we meticulously formulated a highway charging travel security plan and deployed mobile energy storage vehicles in heavy-duty service areas. During peak charging times at service stations prone to queuing, we were on duty to guide the charging order and alleviate the queuing situation," said Jiao Shukun, deputy director of the Marketing Center of the State Grid Henan Electric Vehicle Company.

During the holidays, the State Grid Henan Electric Power arranged 483 maintenance and on-duty personnel, completed 563 rounds of inspection (including special inspections), inspected 416 charging stations and 1,713 charging piles, handled 472 fault repair orders, involving 446 charging stations and repaired 976 charging piles. They also provided four instances of on-site emergency charging services dispatching eight agents.

Currently, the State Grid Henan Electric Power has built 243 charging stations and 1,424 charging piles in 124 pairs of highway service areas within the province, initially forming a highway charging network layout that connects north and south and that spans from east to west. This adds further assurance for NEV owners to recharge on the road, promoting green and low-carbon development in Henan.

China's economy embracing future with progress in technology innovation

The third plenary session of the 20th Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee will be held in Beijing in July, according to a decision made at a CPC Central Committee Political Bureau meeting on April 30. The announcement of the "third plenum" immediately ignited investor enthusiasm as the Hong Kong stock market surged in the following days. The mainland's stocks closed higher on Monday, with the benchmark Shanghai Composite Index up 1.16 percent to 3,140.72 points, and Shenzhen Component Index up 2 percent at 9,779.21 points after a five-day holiday break. Investors are waiting for this big news to lead to a bull run.

More pro-growth stimulus measures are expected to come out soon. The CPC Central Committee political bureau meeting said that ultra-long special treasury bonds should be issued at an early stage and put in good use, and it is necessary to flexibly employ policy tools such as interest rate and reserve requirement ratio to increase support for the real economy, while provinces and cities facing high debt risks are urged to unwind their debt burdens. 

Specifically, the meeting asked for assessing and implementing a set of comprehensive reform measures to cut housing inventories and improve the quality of newly-added housing.   

The real estate sector has been in a lull since the outbreak of the pandemic as market demand withered. Now, the property bubble has been deflated, and it is time to rejuvenate the important industry. By all metrics, the new mandate to reduce housing inventories is definitely warranted, and it's broadly deemed supportive of the industry's healthy development. 

China overcame many domestic and external difficulties to achieve an impressive 5.2 percent GDP growth rate in 2023. The State Council, the cabinet, announced in March in its annual Government Work Report to the National People's Congress that China will aim for around 5 percent growth in 2024. That target would be more difficult to attain than in 2023, due to the much higher base effect this year than in 2023. The reckless harassment by the US to stymie China's high-tech industry will make the job even harder. 

However, Chinese policymakers won't sit idle and passively see the 5 percent growth target elude them. As proved by the past four decades, economic difficulties can only be addressed through persistent and brave reforms. It was the "third plenum" in 1978 that kicked off the historic and transformative epoch of China's reform and opening-up drive, which has led to miraculous economic achievements by the country. 

The impending "third plenum" in July will make another important mark in history, by navigating the Chinese economy's path through rough seas. 

The landscape of international economic and technology competition is undergoing critical changes. China should have no illusions that the hegemonic US government will stop its obstructive, callous gimmicks to harm Chinese enterprises and slow China's development. Washington's notorious "small courtyard, high walls" policy to "starve" Chinese companies of American technology will continue, if not accelerate and harden in the coming months.

So, pivoting the Chinese economy to a more self-reliant and sustainable path has taken on greater urgency and significance. Developing and advancing new quality productive forces in the country will be the best and most effective way to offset the ruthless US containment. Domestic tech innovation will act as the biggest variable in the contest of national strengths. 

Provided that China can achieve more indigenous tech innovation, be it high-speed digital transmission methods, high-end electric vehicle batteries and renewable energy exploration, or high-quality artificial intelligence solutions and transformative robotics, this country will surely prevail in the competition. As these cutting-edge technologies can never be bought, China must continue to invest heavily in scientific research and development. 

The new reform measures to be presented and discussed at the "third plenum" in July will have a major impact on China's economic growth for the coming five to 10 years. The political bureau meeting admitted that the Chinese economy faces many challenges, like insufficient domestic demand, and the complexity, severity and uncertainty of the external geopolitical environment. 

At the current stage, it is of great importance for the country to put more energy into resolving domestic issues, which explains the meeting's call to expedite the issuance of the ultra-long special-purpose treasury bonds in order to provide extra support for the economy. 

Last week, the capital city of Beijing ended a curb on multiple home purchases outside of the Fifth Ring Road, following the removal of restrictive housing policies in Chengdu and Suzhou intended to digest inventories. 

The prospects for restructuring and upgrading China's economy, including bolstering technology innovation, shoring up the role of free market competition, expanding opportunities for all types of businesses, allocating capital more efficiently, and improving the balance between domestic consumption and investment, are better than at any point in the past.

The political bureau meeting called for enhanced efforts to develop new quality productive forces and ramp up China's high-quality manufacturing capability as well as strategic future industries. China should actively develop venture capital and shore up patient capital in the course of fostering important technology-based emerging industries, the meeting announced, which again illustrated the creativity and audacity of China's policymaking. 

China releases new regulation to tackle unfair competition in internet industry

China's State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR) on Saturday issued a temporary anti-unfair competition regulation for the internet industry, which clarifies various forms of unfair competition behaviors and provides regulatory basis to protect the rights of operators and consumers and to promote the sound development in the digital economy.

The regulation was issued to prevent and stop unfair competition in the internet industry, safeguard the market order with fair competition, encourage innovation, protect the legitimate rights and interests of operators and consumers, and promote sound and persistent development in the digital economy, said the SAMR. 

The new regulation came amid the country's master development plan of forming a unified national market and continuously improving the business environment, the top market regulator said.

Also, in line with the country's intensifying efforts to improve the business environment, an executive meeting of the State Council, China's cabinet, on Saturday also reviewed and adopted a draft regulation for fair market competition. 

The new regulation for the internet industry includes five chapters and 43 detailed rules, covering the definition of unfair competition in the internet industry, regulatory enforcement and legal liabilities clarification. It will enter force on September 1, 2024, according to the regulator.

The regulation clarifies various forms of common unfair competition behaviors such as fake information, false advertising and others to eliminate regulatory blind spots. Other forms of unfair competition in the internet industry were also listed, including traffic hijacking, malicious interference, and malicious incompatibility. 

New types of unfair competition behaviors by technical means such as reverse click farming, illegal data collection and discriminatory treatment will be also regulated. Meanwhile, the new regulation provides a regulatory basis to address potential new unfair competition issues, the market regulator said. 

Moreover, the regulation calls on platform enterprises to take more responsibility in regulating unfair competition behavior and take concrete steps for compliance. Internet operators that violate the regulation will be severely punished, according to the SAMR. 

China Coast Guard expels two Philippine vessels that illegally intruded in waters off China's Huangyan Dao

The China Coast Guard (CCG) announced that it has expelled two Philippine vessels that illegally intruded in waters off China's Huangyan Dao (also known as Huangyan Island) in the South China Sea on Tuesday.

According to a briefing released by CCG via its WeChat account on Tuesday morning, the two Philippine vessels expelled by CCG were identified as Philippine coast guard vessel 4410 and official ship 3004.

Gan Yu, a spokesperson for the CCG, said on Tuesday that after Philippine vessels ignoring China's repeated warning, the CCG has taken necessary measures such as following up, warning with water cannons, blocking and expelling illegal intrusions by Philippine vessels.

The on-site operation by the CCG has been reasonable, legitimate, professional, Gan said, noting that the behavior of the Philippine side infringed on the sovereignty of the Chinese side and seriously violated international law and the basic norms of international relations. The spokesperson urged the Philippines to immediately cease its illegal behavior.

China indisputably holds sovereignty over Huangyan Dao and its adjacent waters. The CCG has continued to conduct law enforcement activities to safeguard rights and enforce the law in China's jurisdictional waters, resolutely defending national sovereignty and maritime interests, Gan said.

According to video clips exclusively obtained by the Global Times from the CCG, Philippine official vessel 3004 was stopped by the CCG 12 nautical miles away from China's Huangyan Dao, while Philippine coast guard vessel 4410 tried to enter the lagoon on Huangyan Dao using a dangerous maneuver. The CCG was forced to use water cannons to warn the vessel, and this decisive move had an immediate effect, forcing vessel 4410 to leave the area.

A source close to the matter told the Global Times that the Philippines once again brought a large number of journalists on board with vessels for so-called "reporting" purposes. This is yet another indication that the illegal infringement by the Philippine side is a premeditated act of provocation.

Chen Xiangmiao, director of the World Navy Research Center at the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, told the Global Times that professional control measures taken by the Chinese side are required to prevent the escalation of a possible maritime confrontation.

Since the second half of 2023, vessels from Philippine Navy, the Coast Guard and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), under the guise of providing supplies to fishermen, have taken turns trying to forcibly intrude into the lagoon of China's Huangyan Dao, which has pushed Beijing and Manila on the brink of a repeat of the Huangyan Dao standoff in 2012.

If Philippine vessels achieve the objective of "intruding into the lagoon" on Huangyan Dao, the 2012 flashpoint will be repeated, Chen said.

The Philippines' latest provocation came after senior officials from the current Marcos administration once again denied that China and the Philippines had reached a "gentleman's agreement" on the South China Sea.

According to Chen, China's temporary special arrangement and the consensus and tacit understanding between China and the Philippines over a period of time in the past have spared the two countries the cost of frequent maritime confrontations and diplomatic rivalries and the negative spillover effects they generate, and thus provided a stable environment for Philippine fishermen's fishing activities near Huangyan Dao, representing a real "win-win" situation.

However, the Marcos administration's hardline policy, expansionist tendency and duplicity have compromised the tacit understanding between China and the Philippines and greatly weakened the foundation of mutual political trust, which is tantamount to driving history backwards, Chen noted.

Amid ongoing tensions in the South China Sea, Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez recently claimed that he is expecting the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to be fully ready in its defense posture against "any threats" in the region by the end of the term of Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr, especially with the help of the US.

The Philippines provocation also coincide with the ongoing Balikatan, or 'shoulder-to-shoulder' drills between US and Philippines, which took place outside of the Philippines' 12 nautical miles so-called "territorial waters."

Analysts said that the Philippines' repeated provocations relating to Huangyan Dao also reflected the Marcos Jr. administration's tendency to "rely on the US for self-importance" and "leverage its strength" on the South China Sea issue.

The Philippines is using its actions on Huangyan Dao as an important point of leverage to collaborate the US "Indo-Pacific strategy" to contain China, Chen said.

However, while this behavior may win praise from Washington, the frequent and tense confrontations are a huge drain on the military, marine police and diplomatic energies of Manila, and it has no value other than a waste of economic inputs that raise the risk of unforeseen scenarios at sea, Chen said.

While the leaders of China and the Philippines have repeatedly confirmed in their meetings that "the South China Sea issue is not the entirety of China-Philippines relations," the Marcos Jr. administration has made the Huangyan Dao a priority issue in its handling of relations with China, which seriously violates the consensus between the two countries, Chen said.

If the Philippine side furthers its provocation, China has no option than to put in place upgraded control measures in order to prevent the situation from further escalation and safeguard its territorial sovereignty, Chen said.

Global auto firms expand investment in China market as cooperation is needed to boost global green transition

While US-led Western countries are taking unilateral and protectionist actions against China's booming new-energy vehicle (NEV) sector, the world's leading automakers such as BMW Group have briskly increased their investment in the China market for greater opportunities, expressing their confidence in the world's second-largest economy and consumer market.  

Chinese observers said multinationals' active investment in China's automobile industry, especially in the NEV sector, debunks the US' accusation of "overcapacity" in China's new-energy products. They said that from a global perspective, there is a shortage of production capacity in the new energy industry, blasting Washington's false "overcapacity" narrative and saying it aims to damage China's NEV industry for its own benefits.

German automaker BMW Group announced its plans to invest an additional 20 billion yuan ($3.12 billion) into its production base in Shenyang, Northeast China's Liaoning Province on Friday, according to a press release.

The investment underlines China's pivotal role in BMW's transition toward intelligent connected vehicles, and shows the group's confidence for years ahead, said Oliver Zipse, chairman of the board of BMW.

BMW's announcement comes amid increasingly fierce competition in China's NEV market. At the ongoing 2024 Beijing International Automotive Exhibition, also known as Auto China, international auto brands are rushing to showcase their electric models to embrace the China market and the global electrification trend.

Buick, one of the fast-growing US car brands, put up two booths to showcase its products. One of the booths, close to that of Chinese new powers in the NEV industry such as Xiaomi and IM Motors, is designed to show its NEVs, according to media reports. 

It indicated Buick's resolve to get a market share in the sector, an auto industry analyst surnamed Feng, who attended this year's Auto China, told the Global Times on Saturday.

In addition, US luxury carmaker Cadillac launched a new electric sport utility vehicle under the IQ series, whose prices and product performance are attractive.

Unlike previously, when many audience members flocked to a booth when a foreign CEO appeared, this year's Auto China is seeing Chinese local NEV brands make a splash, Feng said, noting that Chinese NEV brands' strong innovations and high-growth potential are making them stand out in international competition.

China's vehicle market got off to a good start in the first quarter of 2024, with production and sales each exceeding 6.6 million units, according to latest data released by the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers. The market share of NEVs remained above 30 percent, the data showed.

US anxiety in excess

However, ignoring China's contribution to global green and low carbon transition, the US is attaching the label of "overcapacity" to China's exports of new-energy products. US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen claimed that the Biden administration is not taking any options off the table to respond to China's "excess industrial capacity", Reuters reported. 

"The US' unilateral move of labelling 'overcapacity' on Chinese new energy exports is politicizing normal international trade, which will do harm to global carbon neutrality and delay global green transition," Zhang Xiang, director of the Digital Automotive International Cooperation Research Center of the World Digital Economy Forum, told the Global Times on Saturday.

"The US exports 80 percent of its chips, and it is a large exporter of aircraft, automobiles, computers, soybeans and agricultural products to China. Are these 'overcapacity' according to US logic?" Zhang asked. 

Zhang said the proportion of export to production for Chinese new-energy vehicles is far lower than that of Germany, Japan and South Korea. "If these countries haven't seen overcapacity, the US shouldn't put the label on China," he said.

The so-called "overcapacity" claim is not a market-defined conclusion, but a man-made false narrative, and it is also another example of US protectionism and suppression of China's development, Yang Tao, director-general of the Department of North American and Oceanian Affairs at the Foreign Ministry, said on Friday.

What's "excessive" is not China's capacity, but the US' anxiety, he said when briefing the media on US Secretary of State Antony Blinken's visit to China.

According to a forecast by the International Energy Agency in 2023, the world's total sales volume of electric vehicles is set to reach 45 million in 2030, about 4.5 times the sales volume recorded in 2022, underscoring that global supply of new-energy products is not excessive but insufficient.

Advantages boosted by innovation

In today's world, supply and demand are both global, and the capacity of each country is determined by comparative advantages. Thus, Western countries hyping up so-called "overcapacity" in China's new energy industry will not help the development of their domestic green industries, analysts said.

Technological innovation, globally competitive industrial clusters, full-market competition and agile supply chains make the Chinese NEV industry strongly competitive in the international venue, Li Yong, a senior research fellow at the China Association of International Trade, told the Global Times.

"Compared with some countries that have failed to develop industrial chains or key technologies during the development of the NEV industry, China has achieved a globally leading position in innovations, technology application and interior design, enabling Chinese NEVs to meet the demand of international consumers," he said.

The development of NEVs has given a boost to the development of Chinese car brands globally. Public data has shown that more than 60 percent of NEVs are produced in China, Chinese NEV patents accounted for about 70 percent of global total and over 63 percent of the world's power batteries are supplied by China, which has mastered the core technologies and complete industrial chains of NEVs.

Given the leading position of Chinese NEV makers, what developed economies such as the US and the EU need to do is increase cooperation with China, Zhao Yongsheng, a research fellow of the Institute of Regional and International Studies at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing, told the Global Times on Saturday.

"We are willing to conduct cooperation with them in any mode, for example, component manufacturing, investment for facilities or car exports. The key is that they themselves should realize that China is very advanced and they should abandon their decoupling mentality," Zhao said, noting that ordinary people in the West will have to pay the price if they continue their containment of China.

Nation’s first People’s Armed Forces Department in financial institutions established in NW China’s Qinghai

The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Qinghai Provincial Branch established a People's Armed Forces Department in Xining, Northwest China's Qinghai Province recently, becoming the first grassroots armed forces department in financial institutions in the country.

The establishment, which took place on Friday, also marks the first grassroots armed forces department in Xining, which plays a leading role in the city, according to media reports on Thursday.

Establishing a People's Armed Forces Department in state-owned enterprises is an objective requirement to implement the militia system in accordance with the law, and also an effort to fulfill national defense obligations, according to Liu Xiang, commander of the Xining garrison.

The Qinghai branch has customized activity venues for enterprise militias, equipped them with high-standard hardware and facilities.

According to the president of the branch, the provincial bank has actively fulfilled its social responsibilities and supported national defense construction by participating in security projects, providing employment opportunities for retired military personnel in recent years.

Wu Qian, a spokesperson for China's Ministry of National Defense, told a press conference in October 2023 that establishing a People's Armed Forces Department in state-owned enterprises is a legal implementation of the militia system, as well as to fulfill national defense obligations, and strengthen national defense construction.

Australia should be bridge, rather than Western spear tip into Asia: historian

Editor’s Note:

In his recent visit to Australia, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that China welcomes Australia, an ally of the US, also a partner of China, and more importantly, a sovereign nation, to make policies independently, based on its own fundamental interests. After Wang’s visit, the two countries saw positive signs in the healthy development of bilateral ties. Given the importance of the relations between China and Australia, Global Times reporters Xie Wenting and Bai Yunyi (GT) conducted an exclusive interview with John Queripel (Queripel), an Australian historian and author, on bilateral relations, Australia’s foreign policy, how Australia views its role in Asia, as well as its relations with the US.

GT: How do you assess the outcomes of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit to Australia?

Queripel: Wang Yi’s visit, the most senior Chinese official to visit Australia in seven years, for the seventh Australia-China Foreign and Strategic Dialogue, was another important step in re-establishing China-Australia relations after a period in which, under the previous Australian government, they had sunk to great depths.

The Albanese government has spoken of its desire to consolidate and normalize relations between the two countries, and this was a crucial step in achieving that.

Core to the visit was the economic relationship between the two countries. China makes up around one third of Australian exports and imports. The economic relationship ought to be complementary, as it has been in the past, but in recent years has stuttered.

Both sides seem to have been pleased with the talks. Wang called for no hesitation, no yawing, and no backward steps in the bilateral relationship, stating that both sides should strive to make steady, good, and sustained progress as the course forward has been charted.

He expressed his hope that Australia would take measures to uphold the principles of the market economy and provide a non-discriminatory business environment for Chinese enterprises in Australia. Canberra screens foreign investment in key sectors for national security, including critical minerals, and has blocked some Chinese deals. He also highlighted the need for independence, likely a reference to China’s view that Australia’s foreign policy is dominated by its strategic alliance with the US.

His Australian counterpart, Penny Wong, stated that Australia desired a mature and productive relationship, though there is more to be done. Dialogue, she maintained, “enables us to manage our differences. We both know it does not eliminate them. Australia will always be Australia and China will always be China.”

GT: What’s the general response of the visit in Australian society?

Queripel: Australian societal attitudes toward China are strongly shaped by the attitudes displayed by the nation’s politicians and media, which are often negative, sometimes virulently so. Polls, however, indicate a gradual warming of attitudes toward Australia’s major trading partner. This visit is likely to continue that warming.

The Australian business community has often found itself at strong odds with the political and media establishment. They are the ones, along with their employees, who suffer from any breakdown in that relationship. It appears that the ever-deepening thaw in relations under the previous government has been reversed, while there also is an increased questioning of the depth of Australian subservience to the US, particularly as represented by AUKUS.

As increased numbers of Australians are now visiting China, and the Chinese are traveling to Australia; understandings and interactions are likely to warm as they increase.

GT: There has been continuous opposition within Australia toward collaboration with China, particularly due to concerns about the so-called “China threat.” How do you perceive this sentiment? In the last two years, is there any reflection now in Australia about the previous policy on China?

Queripel: The so-called “China threat” is played everywhere in Australia. Even previously respectable media, including public broadcasters, the ABC and SBS, get caught up in it. It seems all pervasive. Its worst expression was the infamous “red alert” series, wherein it was argued, with all seriousness, that China was about to “invade” Australia any day now. Of course such inanity stands at total odds with the AUKUS idea of acquiring submarines 15-20 years down the track for the nation’s defense.
While the current government, though still intimately involved in US war planning, is hosing down the extremes of the “China threat” narrative, nearly all of the mainstream media is still enthralled by it. Members of the previous government, now in the opposition, remain rabidly anti-China.
Sad to say, for many there has been little reflection on previous policy toward China. There are some hopeful signs though, with people in general seeing through the lies and duplicity, and gradually again warming toward China. Polls also indicate that the majority of Australians reject the government policy of total subservience to US foreign policy.

GT: From your perspective, is there anything that the current Australian government can learn from former prime minister Paul Keating’s China policy?

Queripel: Under the then prime minister Gough Whitlam, Australia established diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China half century ago. Relations deepened through each subsequent government change in Australia, due to both nations understanding their inter-dependence, and how that benefited both. Both sides of Australian politics understood this. Around 2015, feeling under threat due to China’s rise, US policy turned against China. That was associated with former US president Obama’s “pivot to the Indo-Pacific,” something which obviously drew in Australia. From around 2017 intense “Sinophobia” was unleashed in Australia.

Former prime minister Paul Keating has been excoriating in his criticism of it. For that he has worn much opprobrium, but of course he is right. Of former prime ministers, Keating is the only one contributing in a clear-sighted, level-headed manner to the debate.

Current Australian Foreign Minister, Penny Wong, believes the attitude of Australia needs to be one where “we seek to cooperate with China where we can, disagree where we must, and engage in our national interest…It’s Australia’s view that a stable bilateral relationship would enable both countries to pursue respective national interests, if we navigate our differences wisely.” Such an attitude sounds prescient.

GT: This year, 50 prominent figures in Australia released a joint statement, calling on the Albanian government to assume a “constructive middle-power” role in alleviating tensions between Australia’s largest trading partner, China, and its closest ally, the US. Do you believe Australia can effectively fulfill this role?

Queripel: Australia needs to play this role. Former Singaporean diplomat and now international relations scholar Kishore Mahbubani has cast the choices for Australia thus: “Australia’s strategic dilemma in the 21st century is simple: It can choose to be a bridge between East and West in the Asian Century — or the tip of the spear projecting Western power into Asia.”

Too often Australia, hamstrung by its colonial history, has acted as a white outpost in Asia. AUKUS is the latest manifestation of this, and it has a bad look in Asia, being made without any consultation with Australia’s Asian neighbors.
If Australia can accept its geographical location as part of Asia, and bring with that its allied status for some 80 years with the US, it can play a very important part in alleviating tensions between the superpowers.

GT: How do you think Australia should navigate its relationship with China while also balancing its alliances with other countries, such as the US?

Queripel: The world does not, indeed should not be seen in either or, us or them dualities. Indeed, faced with the common problem of climate change, which is presenting itself as an existential threat, it is imperative that nations of the world take a much more co-operative approach.

It is the West which has thought of itself as being separate to others, “carrying the white man’s burden,” needing to bring its “values’ to the world.” That was its reason for building its colonial power, though in reality this provided a good cover for economic exploitation. This type of “exceptionalism” still informs US policy today.

China, on the other hand doesn’t think in this manner. China is exhibiting a much more co-operative style in international relations.

Australia ought to leverage its close relationship with the US to encourage them to move beyond an aggressive hegemonic world view, to one built on cooperation. That will call Australia first of all, to commit itself to such a path. Currently it is far too closely allied to the US, something from which it has gained nothing.

It is time for Australia to step back from backing one side, and instead use its close connections with both China and the US to act as an honest broker. It can choose to be a “bridge” rather than a Western “spear tip” into Asia. That will be to Australia’s great advantage as Asia increasingly becomes the economic hub of the world.

GT: What role do you see Australia playing in promoting regional stability and cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly in relation to China?

Queripel: Currently, far from playing a stabilizing role, Australia is playing a role of destabilizing the region. Australia needs to change its own practices as well as pressing the US to stop playing a game of brinkmanship in the Asia-Pacific region, with its warships sailing provocatively close to China. Brinkmanship is always dangerous, especially when nations are nuclear armed.

Asia is committed to peace. The ASEAN is a great sign of cooperation between nations, with sometimes very different ideologies and forms of government. Marked by a special summit in Melbourne, Australia has just celebrated 50 years of dialogue partnership with the ASEAN. In that period Asia has been the great success story in dealing with conflict.

There is a role for Australia in promoting regional stability and cooperation in the Asia-Pacific. For it to do that, however, will mean a radical reorientation of the current policy, and for it to advocate with its ally, the US to change its policy.

HK DSE first Citizenship and Social Development exam 'sets reassuring precedent'

With over 45,000 candidates registered to sit for the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE)'s first exam of Citizenship and Social Development (CS) subject, replacing the previous controversial Liberal Studies subject, some representatives from the education sector told the Global Times on Thursday that the first CS subject exam sets a reassuring precedent for the future development of the subject. 

Some students who sat for the exam were quoted in media reports as saying that the level of difficulty was moderate, and the test covered a wide range of topics. 

CS has gradually been introduced as a core subject in Hong Kong high schools since the 2021-2022 academic year, replacing Liberal Studies, according to media reports. The subject's first related examination was held on Tuesday, with the assessment criteria being "met standard" and "not met standard." 

In this first exam paper, over two-thirds of the questions were related to topics such as national education and national security. 

After the exam, many students were visibly relieved, feeling that regular class attendance and the general national curriculum had prepared them well to tackle the questions. At the exam center in Concordia Lutheran School in North Point, a student named Tsang commented that the exam mainly required reading comprehension, with only a few harder questions necessitating memorization, expressing confidence in meeting the set standard, according to media reports. 

Another student surnamed Lee said the hardest part during the preparation process was content related to the Basic Law, which led to focused study before the exam.

Wong Chung Wai, vice principal of the school and CS subject teacher said that one of the aims of the subject is to enhance students' national identity. He believes that the exam's level of difficulty was moderate and anticipates that the pass rate for students will exceed 90 percent.

After implementing high school educational reform in Hong Kong in 2009, Liberal Studies became a compulsory subject. After events such as the illegal Occupy Central protest in 2014, the Mong Kok riots in 2016, and the "anti-extradition bill amendment" in 2019, Liberal Studies subject was believed to have indirectly led many young people to radicalism, increasing societal calls in Hong Kong for curriculum reform and enhanced civic literacy through stronger national education.

In June 2020, after the implementation of the National Security Law for Hong Kong, former chief executive Carrie Lam proposed, in her policy address, the strengthening of national education, and the Education Bureau soon announced the reform of Liberal Studies.

In early April 2021, the much-anticipated reform plan for Hong Kong's Liberal Studies was finally announced, renaming it to "Citizenship and Social Development," and eliminating the Independent Enquiry Study (IES) subject. 

CS is still a compulsory subject, structured around three core themes: Hong Kong, the nation, and the contemporary world, with a compulsory examination, but with reduced class hours of 130-150 hours, and opportunities for students to study on the mainland. 

Notably, high school students taking CS must visit the mainland at least once. 

This year's first DSE exam also included questions related to these educational tours. One Hong Kong student mentioned that his trip to Guangzhou, in South China's Guangdong Province, gave him a deeper understanding of different cultures, which was completely different from what he had seen online. 

Lawmaker Tang Fei, also the vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers, told the Global Times on Thursday that the new subject allows Hong Kong students to understand China's contemporary development and the historical context of Hong Kong issues more systematically, and has raised their awareness of matters related to national security. 

Local students now have more formalized and curriculum-based opportunities for interaction and field studies, as opposed to previous extracurricular activities, he said. 

Regarding the exam format, unlike the previous general studies exams, the new format includes multiple-choice questions and demands knowledge of certain facts, such as the Basic Law, the Greater Bay Area, and regulations related to the national flag and anthem, which were not previously required, Tang said. 

"Previously, the boundaries of teaching and learning were vague and unclear, and the national conditions were only very generally understood, but now it is much clearer," the education worker said. 

He also believes that the current CS curriculum and formalization policies are comprehensive, and the next steps include further implementation, especially as Article 23 legislation was just completed, requiring some updates, "sufficient time and patience are needed for everyone to adapt."

More Americans embrace prepping lifestyle, reflecting deeper anxieties linked to political polarization, social divide

Editor's Note:

Preppers are a group of people who believe a catastrophe or emergency might happen in the future and take steps to prepare in advance. They often hoard water and food, build shelters, and even stockpile ammunition and construct underground bunkers.

In recent years, the American doomsday prepper community has grown larger and more diverse, with increasingly extreme preparatory measures.

The old stereotype of doomsday preppers being "conspiracy theorists and paranoid uncles" living on the fringes of society is gradually changing.

According to Fox News, more Americans are beginning to plan for future disasters. Survival-themed reality shows are frequently featured on streaming platforms. On social media, disaster preparation bloggers have amassed millions of followers across various platforms.

Analysts from both the US and Europe suggest that the rising number of preppers and the extreme nature of their preparations reflect widespread anxiety in American society, closely related to political polarization, racial issues, and class divisions.
Enlarging community

Helena, a student from China studying in Atlanta, initially thought the "doomsday prep kits" she saw at her local Costco were incredibly novel. However, as she adapted to life in the US over the years, she came to understand the necessity and ubiquity of these products.

"Doomsday kits are very practical in the US, especially during emergencies like the 2021 Texas power outage," she told the Global Times. "A small generator is also essential. I personally own a small solar panel, though it can only power a fan."

On Costco's website, a large tub of instant noodles that serves 150 people is available for $100, providing about 25,000 calories and a shelf life of 25 years. Additionally, affordable doomsday tool kits are also available on Temu, and they are currently on sale.

"This is a totally new market," said a survival skills instructor with 20 years of experience, quoted by The Wall Street Journal. Initially, the instructor's outdoor survival courses attracted only hardcore outdoor enthusiasts, but since the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he has received more calls from clients.

According to The Wall Street Journal, many companies selling survival toolkits and other doomsday preparation products have emerged in recent years.

A report released by Zion Market Research in March this year shows that the global survival tools market is expected to reach $2.46 billion by 2030, with a compound annual growth rate of over 7 percent from 2023 to 2030.

The report indicates that sales of survival toolkits have risen, showing that Americans are more inclined to have emergency supplies on hand than in previous years.

For instance, Preppi Emergency Kits, which resemble classic doctor's medical kits, saw a 29 percent increase in sales in 2023 compared to 2022. The Ready Set Judy kits, which are bright orange, doubled in sales in June 2023 when wildfires occurred in the Northeast US. Both brands' kits include a hand-crank radio, masks, non-perishable food, first aid supplies, and other equipment.
Moreover, NBC reported that what was once a fringe idea among doomsday preppers is now becoming popular among celebrities and the wealthy.

In December 2023, reports emerged that Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg was constructing a 4,000-square-foot underground shelter at his Hawaiian home. Kim Kardashian, Tom Cruise, and Shaquille O'Neal have also built bunkers or safe rooms. Open AI founder and CEO Samuel Harris Altman is also among the doomsday preppers.

Data released in April 2023 by the US research website Finder showed that the percentage of people in the US spending on emergency preparedness increased from 20 percent in 2020 to 29 percent in 2023, with a total expenditure of about $11 billion over the last 12 months.

Political and radical

However, as the prepper community expands, its internal atmosphere is also changing.

A YouTuber, who focuses on doomsday preparation, told the Global Times that she has left the prepper community and now discusses saving money and investing instead. In her view, the prepper community has become increasingly "radical and political," even to the extent that her personal safety has been threatened.

In a video clip, she stated that she has observed an emerging mentality of comparison and competition within the community, with many boasting about their equipment and resources, claiming to be better and more prepared than others.

"But you don't need 20 different guns and 50,000 bullets; you don't need special tactics and combat training to survive," she said, advocating for a more practical and simple preparation method focused on satisfying quality of life and emotional needs, opposing the view of preparation as an extreme or luxurious activity.

According to the Business Insider website, there is a community called "Riverbed Ranch" in the western Utah desert, which is actually a land cooperative consisting of 135 shareholders, living a "self-sufficient" life. According to the community, many residents are doomsday preppers, some are conspiracy theorists, while others just want to retire. Most residents at "Riverbed Ranch" believe that their community is distinctly different from the stereotype of "armed doomsday preppers."
A resident named Priscilla Hart mentioned that many people, like them, moved there because they hoped to reduce their dependence on political, economic, and social structures, with the main reason being "the instability and ambiguity of society." "The more you can learn to take care of yourself and not rely on the government, the better," she said.

A 2023 survey by the Pew Research Center showed that only 16 percent of respondents believe the government will do the right thing, marking a historic low. Meanwhile, 79 percent of people said that Americans have "too little" or "very little" trust in each other.

USA Today reported that more and more Americans are preparing for "impending disasters" before major elections. Overall, doomsday preparation activities seem to reflect the deep uncertainties many Americans feel.

A poll conducted by USA Today and Suffolk University at the end of 2023 found that 67 percent of Americans believe the country is facing bigger problems than usual or is in the worst state they have ever seen.

A world of political polarization

US political commentator and journalist Caleb Maupin told the Global Times that the rise of the "doomsday preparation" movement reflects not only widespread anxiety in US society but also exposes a declining trust in the government and public institutions. From urban to rural areas, from left to right, a general sense of social pessimism is spreading across all strata.

Maupin explained that since the 1950s, the US has had the subculture of "preparation actions" associated with doomsday scenarios, often linked to far-right militias and more fanatical Christian sects.

In recent years, this culture has seen a noticeable uptrend due to national political polarization and economic downturns. Pessimistic media coverage has intensified people's unease and fear, causing survivalist ideas to gradually permeate mainstream society. The sense of national identity that Americans once held is fading, replaced by a widespread pessimism about the country's future and fears of civil war and economic disasters, Maupin noted.

According to Maupin, race and class issues in the US have a profound impact on doomsday preparation culture. While some media content on survival culture features wealthy individuals building luxurious "panic rooms" and installing complex security systems, a broader range of survivalist media targets the working class in economically depressed areas who distrust national institutions.
He specifically mentioned that in low-income Black communities, there has long been a perception that the government is attempting racial cleansing, a sentiment that has also led to a high rate of vaccine refusal. Meanwhile, more and more people in rural and suburban white areas feel that the country is heading toward collapse.

US political commentator and journalist Bradley Blankenship recently wrote in the Global Times, analyzing that the doomsday preparation subculture, originally present among far-right groups, has gradually infiltrated mainstream US culture.

The occurrences of recent years, including the surge of civil unrest sparked by movements such as Black Lives Matter, have laid bare the deep-seated fault lines running through American society. This polarization transcends mere ideological and policy disagreements, encompassing fundamental questions regarding the role of government, the essence of democracy and the legitimacy of societal institutions, according to Blankenship.

This political polarization is also affecting Europe, where people have become more enthusiastic about stockpiling food in recent years.

Christian Wagner, a European issues expert from Germany currently based in Beijing, told the Global Times that although Europe does not have as strong a doomsday prepper culture as the US, concerns and unease about the future are also growing in society. Wagner believes that this anxiety primarily stems from concerns about climate change and recent political polarization in Europe.

Wagner said that in Europe, the Green Party has consistently tried to influence public sentiment on the issue of climate change, describing the climate crisis as a looming doomsday disaster and using this emotional narrative to attract support. Wagner observed that since around 2015, this fear of impending disaster has taken a place in public consciousness, leading to a general feeling that the world is on the brink of collapse.

Although not digging fortresses in their backyards like Americans, Europeans are also stockpiling supplies in their apartments like "hamsters," Wagner told the Global Times.

However, this phenomenon is occurring alongside significant price increases and energy shortages. "Everything in Germany is becoming more expensive. Even though people want to be prepared and purchase a heat pump for heating or stock up on more food, they can't, because they can't afford it," Wagner lamented.

Wagner reflected that history seems to be repeating itself, with Europe experiencing a period similar to the 1920s and 1930s, which followed a "golden age" with an economic crisis and social instability, eventually leading to the rise of fascism and World War II.

Wagner said ordinary people increasingly adopt a defensive mindset, focusing more on self-protection and preparing for potentially extreme situations such as war or a global apocalypse.