Accelerating development of industrial systems is highest priority for AI industry in China: top political advisor

"The highest priority for the development of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies in China is not to create explosive applications, but to accelerate the development of industrial systems and the real economy," said Xiao Xinguang, a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference and chief software architect from Chinese cybersecurity company Antiy.

With the emergence of ChatGPT and Sora, the AI industry is accelerating its development, and human society is accelerating into the era of AI civilization. At the same time, the potential problems and uncertainties related to it may bring negative impacts and challenges to humanity. The security issues arising from it have also been put on the agenda.

"AI's extensive and deep empowerment in all industries and social fields is an inevitable trend in history. For the entire economic and social fields, there is only a difference between fast and slow, but no choice of whether to use it or not. Embracing AI may not necessarily mean success for various industries, but not embracing AI will definitely lead to elimination," Xiao told the Global Times.

Embracing AI requires a more open and collaborative mindset, said Xiao, noting that different departments have different focuses.

For example, the industrial sector needs to quickly follow up and apply AI to accelerate digitalization, intelligent upgrading, and transformation; however, government agencies should focus on how to better serve the people with AI, accelerate economic and social development, and also do well in risk control.

The field of cybersecurity, on the other hand, focuses on three major risks: the risks of AI technologies such as algorithms and data; application risks of platforms such as data leakage; and the risks of upgrading network attack capabilities under AI empowerment, Xiao said.

As a member of the national cybersecurity agency, Xiao described how he and his colleagues encounter cases of "AI-enhanced network attacks" in their daily work. "The graphic and textual content of phishing emails from some overseas attack organizations in the past two years are clearly generated by large model platforms. In cybercrime cases, deepfake technology has been frequently used."

According to Xiao, AI significantly empowers the entire attack chain. This includes, but is not limited to, efficiently exploiting software and hardware vulnerabilities and enhancing the organization of information intelligence. It also improves the exploration of attack entry points, the orchestration and automatic launching of attacks, and the writing of attack viruses. Additionally, AI enhances the ability to create highly targeted social engineering dialogues, deceiving network administrators and users, among other capabilities.

"We must pay attention to the challenges of content generation and deepfake for cognitive confrontation, and we must also conduct in-depth analysis and research on the deep empowerment of AI throughout the network attack process," Xiao said.

A thief crying "Stop thief"

The US has been the first to associate AI technology with the so-called "Chinese hackers" launching attacks on the US. In January, the FBI and US Justice Department used a court order to address vulnerabilities in thousands of internet-connected devices that are at the center of a so-called Chinese hacking campaign targeting sensitive US critical infrastructure, CNN reported.

In response, Xiao said the US continues to conduct network intrusions and intelligence activities in cyberspace to support its global hegemony system. By using its own behavior paradigm to judge others, the US was trying to shift its attack activities to China in order to muddy the waters in international diplomacy and public opinion.

The US reportedly has the most powerful global network attack engineering system, complete and continuously iterated network attack weapons and equipment, and the largest team of network attack personnel. Since the birth of the internet, the most long-term, covert, and severe network attacks and eavesdropping activities, such as Stuxnet, Flame, and Duqu, have all been initiated by the US.

"We have analyzed and disclosed the network attack activities of the US against other countries many times, including a detailed analysis and reconstruction of the attack process of the largest SWIFT service provider in the Middle East, EastNets, as well as a detailed exposure last year of the operation mechanism of the US attacking key personnel's phones and computers based on the 'quantum' system," Xiao said.

US intelligence agencies have long been concerned about the strengthening of AI capabilities in network attacks and the use of deepfake technology. It is necessary to pay close attention to the shaping of the US attack capabilities by super large model platforms, he noted.

Different paths

While smearing China for using AI technology for hacking attacks, the US is also actively downplaying China's AI technology development. In a report by CNBC on January 9, FBI Director Christopher Wray was quoted as saying "18 of the 20 most successful AI companies in the world are American." He then turned his focus to China, claiming that "You can bet your bottom dollar that foreign adversaries, especially the Chinese, are actively targeting that innovation, that intellectual property."

Xiao said that due to historical advantages and geopolitical factors, as well as long-term global dividends, the US has established a leading position in the global technology and industry. In order to solidify this leading advantage, the US government and capital groups have formed an inertia to suppress followers, especially by creating a false perception: "Whenever other countries show certain advantages in some fields, it must be the result of stealing American achievements." This is an extremely arrogant and deceptive rhetoric, Xiao said.

China's academic achievements in AI technologies have surged in recent years, with the number of top AI scholars ranking second globally. Universities and industries such as Tsinghua University and Harbin Institute of Technology have published high-level academic achievements in various subfields of AI. At the same time, scientific and technological development from basic theory to engineering implementation and application often follows a "convergence" path, so there will be a certain similarity in the basic path of technological innovation. Respecting the contributions of pioneers does not mean accepting that the first to develop can permanently monopolize, Xiao explained.

"The US has obtained more global dividends, gathered top talent resources worldwide, and naturally established a first-mover advantage in many fields; however, countries with strong self-development intentions, such as China, will also determine key development areas based on their own characteristics, relying on effective government organization, benign competition in the industry, and the diligence and unity of the people to make progress," Xiao stressed.

This cybersecurity expert believes China and the US will have certain differences in the development path of AI technologies. Information technology is the US' advantageous field, and through large-scale capital investment, it has established a large-scale intensive innovation model based on information complexes, forming a new strategic competitive capability. This system operates similarly to OpenAI+ChatGPT. The related experience is highly worthy of reference but difficult to completely imitate.

Currently, China has experienced a phenomenon of "one factory one model, a thousand-model battle with each other" in the development of general large models, which has brought about some resource waste and ineffective investment, affecting the aggregation of production factors. However, we should not be overly anxious. We are one of the few countries with all the elements to build a super large-scale general artificial intelligence platform. Our "formation" will be optimized and adjusted as we develop, Xiao said.

He noted that, at the same time, China has the most complete industrial system and a very solid foundation in the real economy. There is still a lot of room for improvement in automation, unmanned operation and intelligence. Our real industries cannot wait for the maturity of super large-scale general model platforms but must quickly gain AI empowerment and then iterate and improve. Therefore, the focus of China's AI development is still to accelerate the transition of the industrial system to new quality productivity and gain more benefits in the real industry.
Industrial development the highest priority

On February 12, NVIDIA CEO Jensen Huang said at the World Government Summit in Dubai that every country needs to own the production of their own intelligence to codify its culture while utilizing its economic potential.

In response, Xiao said that the development model of AI is highly related to the national industrial characteristics.

In the context of the hollowing out of industry due to profit-driven capital within the US, relying on information giants, capital power and rapid aggregation of talent, the best choice for the US is to establish a large-scale intensive innovation model in the field of large model platforms to form a new strategic competitive capability. On the other hand, China's overall industrial scale, completeness of the industrial system, and substantial real economy are globally leading. We have rich AI integration points and potential points in the industry and real economy, providing ample space for local innovation, he said.

However, China also needs to move from a fragmented small production model to an intensive large production model for AI platform construction. The country should gradually guide the formation of a super-scale general AI platform in terms of high-quality data sources, large-scale computing infrastructure, operational ecology, and organizational methods, supporting the industrial ecosystem, which is important for developing new quality productivity and strengthening national strategic security capabilities, Xiao noted.

Xiao added that it is also significant for building a community with shared future in cyberspace. The US government's suppression of China's high-tech industry development through a "small yard and high fence" strategy and the use of the so-called "table and menu theory" to force other countries to take sides is evident.

Especially in the field of AI, it has used a series of measures such as talent bans, access restrictions and hardware bans. In terms of AI platforms and applications, it forces other countries to make choices, which will inevitably lead to a camp-style rift in the development of artificial intelligence technology, causing a major division. This makes it even more necessary for the development of China's AI technologies to have an internationalist perspective, according to Xiao.

The development of China's universal large-scale model platform can not only provide empowering assistance for the economic development of other countries, but also help third world countries build their own sovereign artificial intelligence infrastructure, helping them break free from dependence on Western countries in modernization development. Peace-loving and progressive countries should work together to bring a new digital infrastructure system to a more equal world, Xiao noted.

Facing the rapid development of AI technologies, reducing the risk of AI proliferation is a challenge facing all governments. By 2023, the US had already signed the first executive order on AI regulation, which requires "companies developing any foundation model that poses a serious risk to national security, national economic security, or national public health and safety must notify the federal government when training the model."

Due to the significant security risks and uncertainties of AI technology, strengthening the management and guidance of technological capabilities and platforms is an important function and responsibility of governments around the world, Xiao sated.

Chinese authorities have already formulated an interim regulation on the management of generative AI services. Currently, China has a certain foundation for the management mechanism of AI technologies and platforms, but it still needs continuous adjustment and improvement. "We need to achieve better, faster, and safer growth and development, and development itself is the greatest security," Xiao said.

GT investigates: How anti-China forces launch a cognitive warfare against Hong Kong, demonize Article 23 legislation

Editor's Note:

"Cognitive Warfare" has become a new form of confrontation between states, and a new security threat. With new technological means, it sets agendas and spreads disinformation, to change people's perceptions and thus alter their self-identity. Launching cognitive warfare against China is an important means for Western anti-China forces to attack and discredit the country.

Some politicians and media outlets have publicly smeared China's image by propagating false narratives in an attempt to incite and provoke dissatisfaction with China among people in certain countries. These means all serve the seemingly peaceful evolution of the US strategy to contain China's rise and maintain its hegemony. The Global Times is publishing a series of articles to reveal the intrigues of the US-led West's China-targeted cognitive warfare, and expose its lies and vicious intentions.

In the 12th installment in the series, the Global Times looks into the tricks that some external forces and anti-China elements used to launch a cognitive warfare against Hong Kong and how the newly passed Safeguarding National Security Ordinance can punish and deter them.

The Safeguarding National Security Ordinance, a piece of legislation of Hong Kong's Basic Law Article 23 that took effect recently after being unanimously passed by local lawmakers, is another solid legal basis for maintaining stability and prosperity in the city after the implementation of national security law for Hong Kong. The bill is expected to play an essential role in preventing the US-led West's subversion, infiltration, incitement, and espionage activities in Hong Kong.

Days before the bill was passed on March 19, the government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) strongly condemned a joint statement by anti-China group "Hong Kong Watch" and 16 signatories that smeared the Basic Law Article 23 legislation.

"Not only is 'Hong Kong Watch' an anti-China organization, but also many of its members are anti-China forces in the front line," said a spokesman for the regional government.

A main subversion target of foreign forces that attempt to undermine China's national security and social stability, Hong Kong has been plagued by Western-led cognitive warfare. Colluding with a few local secessionists, anti-China forces in the West have been hyping up false narratives to demonize the management of the central government and the HKSAR government.

Experts in Hong Kong affairs pointed out that from the "China collapse theory" to the "Hong Kong collapse theory," these clichés are nothing, but some "deluded clown scripts" with the aim of misleading Hong Kong residents and whitewashing the former British colony's rule.

Tumors to Hong Kong's stability

Anti-China organization "Hong Kong Watch," together with 16 co-signatories, released a statement last month, which deliberately smeared the requirement of "disclosure of commission by others of the offense of treason" in the Basic Law Article 23 legislation of targeting religions, in an attempt to provoke discontent among religious leaders and followers.

Responding to this statement full of loopholes, the HKSAR government expressed strong condemnation in a press release it published online on March 14.

The offenses of treason and misprision of treason, whether in Hong Kong or other common law jurisdictions, have existed for a long time; they do not target religious leaders or followers, and have nothing to do with freedom of religion, said a government spokesperson in the press release.

"'Hong Kong Watch' and the co-signatories have not mentioned the relevant provisions in the countries concerned before groundlessly attacking the HKSAR Government's legislative work on safeguarding national security under the guise of religious freedom. It is a blatant, shameless, and barbaric intervention, and is also a typical example of double standards," the spokesperson noted.

Based in London, "Hong Kong Watch" was founded by Benedict Rogers, deputy chairman of the British Conservative Party's human rights commission who had participated in drafting the so-called "Hong Kong Autonomy Act" and pressed the US to pass the bill.

In 2017, Rogers was denied entry by the HKSAR government when he planned to visit imprisoned separatists Joshua Wong Chi-fung and Nathan Law Kwun-chung, reported Hong Kong media outlet Ta Kung Pao.

"Hong Kong Watch" is an unmitigated "concentration camp" for overseas forces and anti-China elements disrupting Hong Kong. One of its sponsors, Britain's last governor of Hong Kong Chris Patten, is an infamous anti-China politician who had attempted to disrupt the handover of Hong Kong in 1997, and had even tried to turn Hong Kong into a semi-independent political entity.

Along with other secessionist groups, "Hong Kong Watch" is a tumor that threatens Hong Kong's social stability. As early as March 2022, the National Security Department of the Hong Kong Police Force issued a warning to the group, pointing out that it had violated Article 29 of the national security law for Hong Kong - "collusion with foreign or external forces to endanger national security" and demanded the removal of the group's website content within 72 hours.

Scanning the "Hong Kong Watch" statement, the 16 co-signatories displayed at the bottom are also notorious overseas anti-China organizations and individuals.

Co-signatory Freedom House, for instance, was initially created in the 1940s to oppose communism in Europe. It later worked as a think tank for the US Department of Defense. With a long-term habit of interfering in China's internal affairs, Freedom House was sanctioned by China in December 2019 for its role in that year's unrest in Hong Kong.

Another co-signatory ChinaAid is a so-called nonprofit group that tries to infiltrate China through smearing the country's religious policies. On its website, ChinaAid lists the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the US government's main "white gloves" and the mastermind behind many separatist riots globally, as its major partner.
Major cognitive warfare tricks

Looking into the cognitive warfare tricks by external forces and anti-China elements disrupting Hong Kong, they attack the management of the central government and the HKSAR government mainly by using the excuse of "human rights, religious freedom violation" and badmouthing Hong Kong's economy, the Global Times found.

ChinaAid, as mentioned above, is a US-based group established in 2002 by anti-China pastor "Bob" Fu Xiqiu. The group has long supported underground Christian churches within China and their illegal activities, according to several Chinese scholars and government officials reached by the Global Times.

In previous years, ChinaAid has fostered and trained its Chinese members outside the Chinese mainland, said Zhou Shan (pseudonym), a former grassroots-level official in East China's Zhejiang Province who had been participating in religion management in rural areas in Zhejiang for years.

A usual trick employed by ChinaAid in interfering with and smearing China's religious policies is opening unregistered religious venues and organizing illegal activities. They would hype up "religious persecution" if the local government prohibits these activities in accordance with the law, Zhou told the Global Times.

In short, ChinaAid usually intentionally misrepresented China's ban on unlawful activities as a crackdown on religious freedom or human rights.

Badmouthing Hong Kong's economic performance is another main trick of their cognitive warfare against the city.

Hong Kong lawmaker Stanley Ng Chau-pei cited three examples. The first is the claim that Hong Kong's economic status would be "replaced" by another country or city, such as Shanghai, Macao, or its main "competitor" Singapore. The second is hyping up disinformation that "the central government 'mainlandized' Hong Kong," trying to create panic by spreading the rumor that Hong Kong will no longer enjoy SAR "special treatment" in trade and finance. The third is amplifying a pessimistic outlook with eye-grabbing claims, such as calling Hong Kong the "ruins of the international financial center."

"Behind these claims is their purposes to undermine Hong Kong's confidence in its own development, and the confidence of global investors and talents in Hong Kong," Ng noted.

And these claims are laughably ridiculous in the face of Hong Kong's robust economic performance.

A survey released by the HKSAR government in December 2023 showed that, the city saw the opening of 9,039 companies with parent companies outside Hong Kong in 2023, a recovery to pre-pandemic high levels.

Start-ups in Hong Kong also continued to flourish with the number of start-ups reaching a record high of 4,257, up 272 from 2023.

These data are undoubtedly a powerful counter-narrative against these stigmatization, and fully prove that Hong Kong's investment attractiveness remains, Ng said.
The will of the people in Hong Kong

There was a great round of applause at the Legislative Council of the HKSAR on March 19, when the Safeguarding National Security Ordinance was unanimously passed.

The day was a historic moment for Hong Kong, a proud moment when the HKSAR jointly wrote a glorious history, HKSAR Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu said after the vote.

The bill is the will of the people in Hong Kong. Public consultation results showed that, about 99 percent of the 13,147 submissions had spoken in support of the legislation, said local authorities in March.

Legal experts based in Hong Kong pointed out that the ordinance and the national security law for Hong Kong can, together, pose effective penalties, restrictions, and deterrence to the infiltration activities of anti-China forces and separatists, including their dirty cognitive warfare tricks.

The two are organically linked and complement each other. They can regulate criminals who engage in activities and acts that endanger national security outside the territory of Hong Kong, Willy Fu, a law professor who is also the director of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies, told the Global Times.

The Safeguarding National Security Ordinance came into force in Hong Kong on March 23. The law listed a series of offences and penalties including offences such as treason, insurrection, acts with seditious intention, external interference and theft of state secrets and espionage.

The heads of website platforms that published seditious content have legal and social responsibilities to immediately remove propaganda or illegal information that endangers national security, Fu said.

He explained that, if the Commissioner of Police has reasonable grounds to suspect that electronic information published on an electronic platform is likely to constitute an offense endangering national security, or is likely to lead to the occurrence of such an offense, they may, with the approval of the Secretary for Security, authorize designated police personnel to require the relevant publishers, platform service providers, hosting service providers, and (or) network service providers to remove the information that endangers national security; restrict or halt anyone from accessing that information; or restrict or halt anyone from accessing that platform or relevant parts thereof.

"Hong Kong is a society governed by the rule of law, where laws must be followed and violators will be prosecuted," Fu remarked.

What's China like through the lens of global vloggers pouring in?

"Welcome to the future!"

These are the first words Ansh Mishra says to the camera, in a vlog of his trip to China that he shared on YouTube in late April. With lively electronic background music, the vlog shows attractive scenes including a metro station dome with a futuristic design, the interactive screen of a service robot, and a metro train equipped with high-tech facilities.

Mishra, also known as "Indigo Trekker," is an Indian travel vlogger with some 118,000 YouTube subscribers. He is also among the recent visitors to China amid a surge in inbound tourists, including many travel vloggers who are inspired and passionate about exploring this somewhat "mysterious" country, and then share their travel experiences and observations with the world.

Data showed that China saw 1.78 million inbound trips in this past May Day holidays from May 1 to 5. Inbound travel bookings during the holidays increased by 130 percent year-on-year.

China's relaxed entry policies have resulted in an inbound tourism boom, and its continues high-level opening-up has impressed global visitors with all-time conveniences, openness, and friendliness.

The Global Times spoke to several travel vloggers, whose videos of their recent trips to China have all had numerous views on social media platforms. Their vivid experiences showed overseas audience a China that is different from what is depicted by Western narratives and stereotypes.

'Shockingly modern'
Having long planned to visit China, Mishra finally made the trip in February, amid the Chinese New Year this year.

One of the main reasons for his visit to China was to "experience its technological advancement." "It's the biggest country in Asia by its size and population, and of course, one of the hi-tech countries in the world. Hence, I really wanted to visit it," Mishra told the Global Times.

In the vlog he uploaded in late April titled "The world won't believe China's new infrastructure," Mishra explores the Gangxia North metro station in Shenzhen, South China's Guangdong Province, which he describes as "the craziest metro system design in China."

To the camera, Mishra charges his phone on a wireless charging facility on the metro train, and has his face scanned when getting out of the station. "You saw in the video that the transportation system is so modern and high-tech," he exclaimed at the end of the 24-minute vlog. "It is safe, convenient, cost-effective, efficient, fast, rapid, and environmentally friendly."

Modernization is one of the biggest impressions many travel vloggers have about China. In the vlogs they have shared online, they recommend a high-speed train ride as a must-have experience in China, pose in front of the screen showing real-time speeds of up to 350 kilometers per hour on the train, and learn to adapt themselves to the cashless society.

Travel vloggers Dan and Lyn, a couple "born in Paris with Asian origins" as described on their websites, joked that a shock they encountered during their trip in Shanghai was that cash is almost entirely a thing of the past there. "What shocked us the most is the general advancement of the country," they told the Global Times.

Similar to Dan and Lyn, "Ken Abroad," the screen name of a German travel content creator with 320,000 YouTube subscribers, said he didn't encounter any real cultural shocks in his recent trip to China, but was surprised by the fact that almost everything in the country is cashless. "I spent, in total, over one month in China, and I did not see a single person paying cash," he said.

Having been to many major Chinese cities including Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, Ken Abroad found that China is overall more modern than he had expected, as many things are digital, and that often makes life more convenient. "I even took a driverless bus in Guangzhou. That was a cool experience!" he recalled. "I also got food delivered to my hotel room by a robot, which I had never seen before."

In addition to the modern technology itself, foreign tourists can also enjoy more considerate conveniences specifically provided to them, as China continues to pursue high-level opening-up with sincerity and hospitality.

Within months, points of sale (POS) machines across several major tourist cities have been updated to accept foreign bank cards. The People's Bank of China, China's central bank, has also unveiled multilingual payment service guides to facilitate foreign payment services.

And cities like Beijing and Shanghai are making further efforts to better serve both tourists and expats living there. In Beijing, local government officials said at a press release in March that foreigners can now do a lot of things with their passports online, such as booking scenic spot tickets and hospital registration.

'Lesser-known treasures'
To many overseas tourists, China is the very first station of their trip to Asia. With the increasing convenience of entering China, many visitors are no longer content to just walk around a few iconic metropolises like Shanghai or Beijing. Instead, they prefer to explore farther and lesser-known places, so as to take a closer look at a diverse China.

Travel content creators Flora and Note are a Canadian couple. After flying from Bangkok to Shanghai earlier this year, they started their beautiful journey across China. They took high-speed trains to Zhejiang, Jiangxi provinces and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, and then spent about 10 days exploring some fairyland-like destinations in Yunnan, such as Shangri-La.

The time in Yunnan left a lasting impression on them. "We immersed ourselves in ancient towns, learned about ethnic minorities and their food culture, and were marveled by the incredible nature," they told the Global Times.

Note mentioned a destination probably even unknown to many Chinese people: Wangxian Valley in East China's Jiangxi Province. He said the valley was a big highlight of their trip to China.

"Seeing the village's fairyland-like appearance, with houses clinging to cliffs, was breathtaking, especially when illuminated at night," he recalled. "Learning about the village's role in driving economic development in Jiangxi added depth to our visit, motivating us to raise awareness of this beautiful place among foreign visitors."

Alina Mcleod, a Canadian travel vlogger born in Ukraine, has recently been to the central and southwest parts of China. She tried on Hanfu (traditional clothing of Han ethnic group) in Chengdu, and the costume of people of the Miao ethnic group in Guilin, making her look like a beautiful local woman.

She told the Global Times that the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park in Central China's Hunan Province, also known as "The Avatar Mountains," was one of her favorite destinations in China. "It was a landscape that I had never seen before!"

Mishra also went to more places during his one-month trip in China. "Miao culture in Kaili, Lijiang River in Yangshuo, Tianmen Mountain in Zhangjiajie, Muslin's street food culture in Xi'an, and of course, ultra-modern high technology in almost every single city in China, made me speechless," said Mishra.

"I have shown [this] in all my vlogs, which the global world has to know in the right ways," he said.
Travel vloggers like Mishra are a window for overseas audiences to know about a real China.

Before traveling to China, international tourists might have some concerns about this seemingly remote Eastern country, usually portrayed negatively by the West. However, when they visit China and have in-person experiences, they find that the vast majority of their previous concerns about China are entirely unfounded.

Flora and Note said that initially they worried about filming in China, as they thought they would face some resistance from local people. But later they found that filming and taking photos is a common practice, and, "as long as we weren't disrupting others, there were no issues," said the couple.

In February, Ken Abroad uploaded a video on YouTube, which showed his trip to Urumqi, the capital of Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, a name constantly spotlighted by some Western media outlets and politicians.

"This region is all over Western media for not so good reasons. But as usual, I am curious to see things with my own eyes. So, I booked a flight to Urumqi," Ken Abroad wrote in the introduction page of the video. "According to some comments on my channel, I would not be allowed to enter, as the region is apparently closed to foreigners. Well, I was able to enter without any problems and soon after I found myself exploring the city center of Urumqi."

In this vlog, Ken Abroad walks on the snowy streets of Urumqi. He sees many mosques across the city, and asks local residents the opening time of the mosques, receiving friendly responses.

"[An] interesting fact about the mosques here, as I read before, is that Xinjiang, this region of China, has more mosques than the US or any Western countries in Europe do," he says to the camera while walking alone on the street.

"And, …do you have the impression so far that the majority of people that we spoke to today, we interacted with, we saw, were Muslims?" he asks. "Yet the Western media are trying to tell us that the Muslims are being oppressed here by the Chinese government; that they don't live a normal life. I don't want to judge now, but just asking you, what is your impression of the people that we have seen so far?"

"I am happy to see that so many people watched my China videos, and the responses I got were overall mostly positive," Ken Abroad said.

China, on Tuesday, announced the extension of the visa exemption entry for citizens from 12 countries, including France and Germany, on short-term visits to China until the end of 2025. That will offer many foreign tourists like Ken Abroad greater ease when visiting or revisiting this country.

"It's a huge country and there are so many more places that I would like to see," Ken Abroad said. "I will probably return at the end of this year."

Obviously, there will be more travel vlogs flooding social media in the near future, as we have seen visitors from different countries excitedly declaring into the camera, "China, we are coming!"

China’s green capacity brings opportunities for developing countries’ industrialization

China has emerged as a global leader in the production of green and new-energy products, marking a significant milestone in its economic transformation. With exports of new-energy vehicles (NEVs), solar cells and lithium-ion battery products surpassing the 1 trillion yuan (138 billion) mark in 2023, the country has positioned itself at the forefront of the green industry revolution. This growth in emerging industries not only reflects China's commitment to sustainability but also presents numerous opportunities for developing countries seeking to accelerate their industrialization and participate in the global energy transition.

The expansion of China's green industries exhibits the country's strategic vision and attention to innovation across all productive sectors. This growth is fueled by a combination of factors, including government support, technological advancements, regional and global trade, and a conducive domestic business environment. China's proactive investment in research and development, alongside its focus on scaling up production capacity, has enabled it to achieve economies of scale and drive down production costs. Additionally, the commitment to sustainable development goals has spurred investments in renewable energy infrastructure, further catalyzing the growth of green industries.

Key to China's success in forming competitiveness in these emerging industries is its integrated approach to technology, manufacturing and market development. By leveraging its vast manufacturing capabilities, skilled workforce and extensive supply chain networks, China has been able to rapidly scale up production and meet the growing demand for green products both domestically and internationally. Moreover, the proactive policies have stimulated market demand and encouraged innovation in green technologies.

The increasing demand for green industry and new-energy products during the energy transition presents potential for growth, both for China and the global economy. As countries worldwide seek to reduce carbon emissions and transition to renewable energy sources, the demand for clean energy technologies is expected to soar. This trend is being driven by a combination of environmental concerns, regulatory incentives and technological advancements. As such, there is a growing opportunity for countries to capitalize on the burgeoning green market and position themselves as leaders in sustainable development.

In this context, the prospects of cooperation between China and other countries, particularly its neighbor - Pakistan, in the green and new-energy industries are promising. Pakistan, like many developing countries, faces challenges in meeting its energy needs while addressing environmental concerns. By partnering with China, a global leader in green technology and manufacturing, Pakistan can access state-of-the-art solutions and expertise to accelerate its transition to clean energy. Collaboration in areas such as renewable energy infrastructure, electric vehicle deployment and battery storage systems can not only enhance Pakistan's energy security but also drive economic growth and job creation.

China's contribution to the global energy transition and sustainable development extends beyond its borders. By offering cost-effective green products to countries like Pakistan, China is playing a pivotal role in promoting access to clean energy technologies and facilitating the adoption of sustainable practices worldwide. Through initiatives such as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the country is actively supporting infrastructure development and capacity-building efforts in partner countries, thereby promoting green growth and environmental sustainability on a global scale.

Despite China's commendable efforts to promote green industries and sustainable development, it faces increasing protectionism and accusations of "overcapacity" in the international arena. Critics argue that China's rapid expansion of green manufacturing capacity has led to oversupply in certain markets, undermining the competitiveness of domestic industries in other countries. However, such accusations overlook the broader benefits of China's green capacity, including job creation, technological innovation and environmental protection. Moreover, addressing global challenges such as climate change, requires collective action and cooperation among countries, rather than protectionist measures that stifle innovation and impede progress. This is where strengthening of multilateral trade regime holds immense importance.

Looking ahead, China's trade partners, particularly in the Global South, should position their industrial and trade policies in a manner which can utilize the benefits of China's green development, for example, by strengthening policy frameworks to incentivize investment in renewable energy, promoting public-private partnerships to drive innovation and investment, investing in education and training to build human capital in green technologies, facilitating technology transfer and knowledge sharing with China, addressing regulatory barriers to entry for green businesses, promoting green finance mechanisms to attract investment, and harnessing international cooperation initiatives such as the BRI to access funding, technology and expertise. Through these strategic actions, developing economies can accelerate their transition to a low-carbon milieu, achieve sustainable development objectives and pave the way for a more environmentally sustainable future.

Serbian blueberries to be imported to China, as strategic partnership gains pace

Serbia-produced blueberries that meet requirements will be allowed to be imported into China with immediate effect, China's General Administration of Customs (GAC) announced on Thursday.

The news comes as part of the achievements during the Chinese top leader's state visit to Serbia on Tuesday and Wednesday.

In a joint statement, the two countries announced a commitment to deepening and elevating the China-Serbia comprehensive strategic partnership. Serbia was the first Central and Eastern European country to become China's comprehensive strategic partner eight years ago.

As one of the milestones marking the partnership, China's National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the country's top economic planning agency, signed cooperation documents with Serbian government in areas including Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) cooperation, green development and the digital economy.

The NDRC signed a memorandum of understanding with Serbia's Ministry of Internal and Foreign Trade on a medium-term action plan for BRI cooperation, with the two sides agreeing to establish a working mechanism to implement the action plan, according to a statement on the NDRC website.

In addition, the NDRC and the Serbian Ministry of Environmental Protection agreed to carry out pragmatic cooperation in handling global climate change, environmental protection, the recycling economy, energy conservation and enhancing energy efficiency in a bid to boost the two countries' green transition.

The two countries also agreed to strengthen policy coordination on digitalization and expand partnership in fields including big data, information and telecommunication technology and cloud computing, and ramp up the digitalization of traditional industries, according to the NDRC.

These new achievements mark the extension of China-Serbia cooperation from traditional sectors such as steel to new industries, as well as an improvement in cooperation quality, Zhang Hong, a senior research fellow at the Institute of Russian, Eastern European and Central Asian Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Thursday.

With this sound cooperation basis, Serbia has seen notable yields in the joint construction of the BRI, and it is expected to have a demonstration effect on cooperation between China and the region, Zhang said.

"More importantly, high-level exchanges between the two countries will inject greater confidence into the market and attract more enterprises to invest in Serbia," he said.

Serbia is China's first free trade partner in the Central and Eastern European region.

In 2023, China was the largest source of foreign direct investment for Serbia and the second-largest trade partner, official data showed. The two countries' cooperation in trade, industrial chains and infrastructure construction is on the rise, contributing to each other's modernization.

Standing at a new starting point, the joint construction of the BRI will boost bilateral economic and trade cooperation to a higher level and a larger scope, Wan Zhe, an economist and professor at the Belt and Road School of Beijing Normal University, told the Global Times on Thursday.

The free trade agreement between China and Serbia will take effect on July 1, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

Wan said that China has industrial and technological advantages in the green economy and should give play to the driving role of the Green Silk Road to increase infrastructure investment in Serbia to contribute to the Central and Eastern European country's green transition. 

She said that the two sides should make cooperation in fields such as photovoltaic energy and new-energy vehicles a new growth point for bilateral economic and trade cooperation.

Xi arrives in Budapest for state visit to Hungary

Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived here Wednesday for a state visit to Hungary.

In a written speech upon his arrival, Xi said China and Hungary are good friends and good partners of mutual trust.

"I am delighted to pay a state visit to the beautiful country of Hungary at the gracious invitation of President Tamas Sulyok and Prime Minister Viktor Orban," he said, extending heartfelt greetings and best wishes to the Hungarian government and people on behalf of the government and people of China.

Noting that Hungary is known for its time-honored history and profound cultural heritage, Xi said the Hungarian people are industrious, intelligent, open, inclusive, pioneering and creative.

In recent years, the government and people of Hungary have been forging ahead with determination, making impressive progress in economic and social development, he said. "As a good friend and a comprehensive strategic partner, we in China, both the government and people, heartily rejoice over your achievements."

In 1949, Hungary was one of the first countries to recognize and establish diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China. In 2004, the two countries decided to forge a friendly and cooperative partnership.

In 2017, the bilateral relationship was elevated to a comprehensive strategic partnership, upgrading and speeding up the mutually beneficial cooperation and strengthening the popular support for traditional China-Hungary friendship, Xi noted.

In recent years, the two sides have seen frequent high-level exchanges, deepening mutual trust, fruitful outcomes in Belt and Road cooperation, vibrant people-to-people and cultural exchanges, and close coordination and collaboration in international and regional affairs, he said.

"Together, we have set a fine example of building a new type of international relations featuring mutual respect, fairness, justice and win-win cooperation," Xi said.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of China-Hungary diplomatic ties, bringing an important opportunity for the growth of bilateral relations, he said.

Xi said he looks forward to meeting with President Sulyok, Prime Minister Orban and other Hungarian leaders, and they will jointly outline a new blueprint for cooperation and development, with a view to steering the China-Hungary relationship forward in big strides and taking it to a higher level.

"I believe that no matter how the international landscape evolves, China and Hungary will always view and approach the bilateral relationship from a broad perspective and a long-term view," he said.

"Through vigorous and determined endeavors, we will work together toward the goal of building a community with a shared future for mankind, and make our due contribution to world peace, stability, development and prosperity," he added.

"I am confident that, with the two sides' concerted efforts, this visit will be a complete success and usher in an even brighter future of the China-Hungary relationship," he said.

Orban and his wife waited at Budapest Airport to welcome Xi. Hungarian Air Force sent fighter jets to escort Xi's plane after it entered the country's airspace for a state visit.

China signs 18 deals with France to expand economic cooperation, opening up wider for France, Europe

China and France have signed 18 cooperation agreements between government agencies, covering areas such as aviation, agriculture, people-to-people exchanges, green development and SME cooperation during Chinese President Xi Jinping's state visit to France.

At the closing ceremony of a key business council meeting in Paris on Monday, the Chinese top leader vowed to enrich the economic and trade dimensions of the China-France comprehensive strategic partnership, open the Chinese market wider to create more opportunities for companies from France, Europe and beyond, while urging China and France to jointly oppose attempts to turn business relations into political, ideological or security issues.

The remarks and cooperation agreements underscore China's open and cooperative attitude, as well as its sincerity and goodwill to foster China-France and China-Europe cooperation and represent a positive signal for European entrepreneurs and a stabilizer to China-Europe trade ties against decoupling push, experts said.

China will work with France to enrich the economic and trade dimensions of the China-France comprehensive strategic partnership, deepen China-Europe mutually beneficial cooperation, and remains ready to join hands with France to tackle global challenges, President Xi made the remarks at the closing ceremony of the sixth meeting of the China-France Business Council in Paris local time Monday.

China will further open up the service sector including telecommunication and medical services, and open its market wider to create more opportunities for companies from France, Europe and beyond, Xi said, according to a readout released on the Chinese Foreign Ministry website.

Xi also said that China and Europe are two major forces in building a multipolar world, two big markets that promote globalization, and two great civilizations that advocate cultural diversity.

China-Europe relations are crucial for peace, stability and prosperity of the world. The two sides should always define China-Europe relations as a comprehensive strategic partnership, continue to enhance political mutual trust, remove various distractions, and jointly oppose attempts to turn business relations into political, ideological or security issues, Xi said.

Xi's speech sent a clear signal that China's market is open and inclusive, and that China seeks mutual achievements and win-win cooperation with France and the EU, Zhang Jian, a vice president of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

The remarks played a significant role in promoting stable, long-term cooperation between China and France as well as China and Europe against decoupling pushes, Zhang said.

New stage of cooperation

Some key highlights of economic and trade cooperation include collaboration in agriculture, artificial intelligence (AI) and green development.

In terms of agricultural cooperation, China will continue to make full use of the "French farm to Chinese dining table" whole-chain rapid coordination mechanism, and bring more cheese, ham, wine and other quality agricultural products from France to the dining tables of Chinese families.

In terms of AI cooperation, China and France have agreed to enhance global governance of AI to promote the development of AI for the public good and effectively address the risks associated with AI, according to a joint statement.

China also signed agreements with French departments to deepen collaboration in green development and aviation.

The deals highlight the successful progress of traditional cooperation projects between China and France. At the same time, they also point to great potential for new areas, innovative models, fostering growth in various sectors, experts said.

"The economic and trade achievements of this visit are very fruitful, reflecting the upgrading and expansion of China-French economic and trade cooperation on the existing basis," Cui Hongjian, a professor with the Academy of Regional and Global Governance with Beijing Foreign Studies University, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Although nuclear energy and aerospace industries have become landmark projects of China-French economic and trade cooperation over the years, the cooperation directions covered in the deals have expanded into some new areas, offering new opportunities, Cui said.

The 18 agreements signed during the state visit were thrilling as they precisely identified the key aspects of development between China, France and Europe, which include high-tech collaborations and green development, Zhao Junjie, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Institute of European Studies, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Zhao said there is potential for France and the EU to increase collaboration with China in high-end technology and agricultural products, as the increasing living standards and purchasing power of Chinese people align with this trend.

The signing of the deals comes as China and France are celebrating the 60th anniversary of China-France relations, during which the trade ties between the two sides have flourished.

The bilateral trade has expanded by nearly 800 times since the establishment of diplomatic relations, reaching $78.9 billion. Cumulative two-way investment has exceeded $26 billion. More than 2,000 French companies have woven themselves into the fabric of the Chinese market. China is the largest trading partner of France outside the EU, and France is a major EU trading partner of China.

Rejection of decoupling

The collaboration between Chinese and the French business sectors also demonstrates a rejection of the decoupling efforts pushed by the US. This collaboration is anticipated to pave the way for a positive and mutually beneficial relationship between China and Europe, experts said.

French companies are interested in collaborating with Chinese companies in various fields, despite the push of decoupling and cutting off industrial chains from the US, they said.

A survey of French companies in China conducted by the French Chamber of Commerce and Industry in China in 2023 showed that members' willingness to operate in China over the coming three years had increased, with 47 percent saying they planned to further invest in the Chinese market.

Practical cooperation between China and France is a key aspect of China-EU relations, and it contributes positively to fostering mutually beneficial partnerships between China and Europe, Cui said.

While Europe may face competitive pressures from China in some areas, it is essential to manage this competition in a healthy and constructive manner and turn it into opportunities for cooperation between China and Europe, Cui said.

"Efforts should be made to control the competition within a reasonable range and prevent it from spilling over. At the same time, both sides can use their complementary advantages and form a strong alliance in third party cooperation," Cui said.

It is important for the European side to recognize the benefits of economic and trade cooperation between China and Europe, rather than resorting to tactics of suppression toward China, which could harm the stability and development of both parties, Zhao said.

"It is crucial for Europe to adhere to its own principles and cultivate its own strengths in certain market sectors," Zhao said.

GT investigates: How does US-led G7 wage cognitive warfare against China over South China Sea?

Editor's Note:

"Cognitive Warfare" has become a new form of confrontation between states, and a new security threat. With new technological means, it sets agendas and spreads disinformation, so as to change people's perceptions and thus alter their self-identity. Launching cognitive warfare against China is an important means for Western anti-China forces to attack and discredit the country. Under the manipulation of the US-led West, the "China threat theory" has continued to foment.

Some politicians and media outlets have publicly smeared China's image by propagating false narratives such as the "China economy collapse theory" and "China virus threat theory," in an attempt to incite and provoke dissatisfaction with China among people in certain countries.

These means all serve the seemingly peaceful evolution strategy of the US to contain China's rise and maintain its hegemony.

The Global Times is publishing a series of articles to systematically reveal the intrigues of the US-led West's cognitive warfare targeting China, and expose its lies and vicious intentions, in an attempt to show international readers a true, multi-dimensional, and panoramic view of China.

This is the eighth installment in the series. In this story, the Global Times looks into how the Group of Seven (G7) attempts to tarnish China's image and jeopardize the peace and tranquility in the region with various cognitive warfare tricks.
The Group of Seven (G7) has been hyping the South China Sea issue synchronously under the US leadership. In the latest statement released earlier this month, the G7 once again claimed to oppose China's militarization activities in the South China Sea, and, not surprisingly, mentioned the so-called South China Sea arbitration.

These cliché accusations, as well as G7's repeated hypes of the South China Sea issue, have become "a part of the group's carefully planned cognitive warfare against China," said some Chinese observers reached by the Global Times. They pointed out that, through consistently creating strife in the South China Sea, provoking conflict between China and related countries in the region, and even inciting the latter to initiate troubles against China, the G7 attempts to harm China's sovereignty, denigrates China's international image, and jeopardize the peace and tranquility in this region.

The media disinformation campaign is far from the only means used, the Global Times found. Within the framework of the G7, governments, legal professions, media outlets, and academic institutes have largely participated in this cognitive war targeting China in terms of the South China Sea issue.

Murky blue sea interference

The G7, as one of the most powerful and influential intergovernmental political and economic groups in the West, is very good at attacking China over the South China Sea issue in the form of a joint declaration or statement by government heads or top officials among its members, to delegitimize China's rights and interests in the South China Sea at superficially "official" and "formal" occasions.

Apart from the latest statement, the G7 has released several similar joint statements detailing its "concerns" over the South China Sea issue in 2023 alone.

On November 8, 2023, G7 foreign ministers released a statement in Tokyo, stating that they "remain seriously concerned about the situation in the East and South China Seas," and "strongly oppose any unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force or coercion." Similar sentiments were also seen in another statement released after they met in New York in September.

Earlier in May, the G7 also hyped China-related issues in the G7 Hiroshima Leaders' Communiqué and other documents adopted at the G7 Hiroshima Summit, including irresponsible comments on the situation in the Taiwan Straits, and accusations regarding regions like the South China Sea.

Uniformly, these statements mentioned the South China Sea arbitration, saying the award rendered by the Arbitral Tribunal in 2016 "is legally binding upon the parties to those proceedings, and a useful basis for peacefully resolving disputes between the parties."

The fact is that the arbitration, without actual legal effect, has been widely considered a political farce under the cloak of law, said scholars of boundary and marine studies.

"The South China Sea arbitration was conducted by an arbitral tribunal without jurisdiction in violation of the procedures set out in Articles 283 and 298 of the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea). There is no basis in international law, and it (the arbitration) has no legal binding force on China," said Wu Wei, an associated professor in China Institute of Boundary and Ocean Studies of Wuhan University.

Wu said that in 2023 since the US and the Philippines released the "Joint Statement of the US-Philippines 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue" in April, the US-led G7 has further meddled in the South China Sea issue.

"At the level of international law, it has violated the DOC (Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea), the UNCLOS, and the basic principles of non-intervention in domestic affairs," she told the Global Times.

Similarly, the "Limits in the Seas No.150" report that the US Department of State released in January 2022, which said it "examines the maritime claims of the People's Republic of China in the South China Sea" based on the UNCLOS, was also no more than a political tool of attack by the US against China under the guise of law, observers commented.

"The US itself has not ratified the UNCLOS," noted Wu. "Washington's interference in the South China Sea issue has hindered the normal implementation of the Convention."
Hypes from media, academy community

G7 members have continually added fuel to the fire in the South China Sea issue, with Western media outlets amplifying their incendiary talking points. This year, US media outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Time magazine have extensively reported on the maritime conflicts between China and the Philippines.

Throughout 2023, when the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) stirred up trouble in the South China Sea, it contrived the accompaniment of local and Western media entities on many occasions, with mainstream Western media outlets such as the New York Times, NBC, and AFP being invited to join Philippine journalists. The Foreign Correspondents Association, representing foreign media in the Philippines, has also been in contact with the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs and Department of Defense to coordinate journalists' boarding for interviews.

Presumably dissatisfied with journalists' inability to capture good photos on board, the US military has dispatched P-8A anti-submarine patrol aircrafts to assist the PCG in their resupply operations at Ren'ai Jiao (Ren'ai Reef). These aircrafts captured high-definition videos and photos, which were used for sensationalist purposes by Western countries and Philippine media outlets.

In an effort to assist the Philippines in its dispute with China, some third-party countries are seeking advice from their own think tanks. One notable case is that of Project Myoushu at Stanford University in the US, which focuses on South China Sea security issues.

In February, Project Myoushu claimed that "China harasses PCG vessel." Subsequently, the PCG asserted that a Chinese ship had directed laser at the PCG, and the US State Department spokesperson, Ned Price, further fanned the flames by stating that the US stands with their ally in the face of alleged laser incidents.

In the context of the Chinese Foreign Ministry's clarification of the facts and emphasis on the Philippine side's baseless accusations, Raymond Powell, Project Myoushu team lead and a retired US Air Force colonel, claimed that the actions of Project Myoushu pushed the Philippine government to finally decide to expose the maritime dispute between China and the Philippines.

In addition, the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) is also a major project in the US that focuses on researching the South China Sea issue.

Over the years, this project has repeatedly accused China of "disrupting the status quo" and "threatening regional security" when releasing information about China's rights protection and law enforcement activities in the South China Sea.

However, it selectively ignores unilateral actions such as island construction and militarization by other claimant countries in the disputed waters.

In recent discussions between several US and the Philippine think tanks, various ideas regarding the US-Philippines cooperation in occupying Ren'ai Jiao were generated. In terms of logistical support, some have suggested that Western military forces should assist the PCG in delivering supplies to the grounded vessel, or even consider airdropping them using military aircrafts.

Currently, the Philippines is intensifying its propaganda campaign in the South China Sea in collaboration with foreign media sources and think tanks, using various tactics to overstate the severity of the conflicts between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea. Behind this is a mindset of sensationalism, deliberately portraying China as aggressively attacking and bullying a smaller country - the Philippines, Peng Nian, vice president of the Regional National Research Institute at the Hainan Normal University, told the Global Times.

"The more they exaggerate and amplify these negative incidents, the more it seems beneficial for the Philippines and the West. It not only maligns China, but also magnifies the South China Sea issue, continuously attracting international attention," Peng said. However, in reality, apart from escalating tensions in the South China Sea, these performers are only deceiving themselves with the illusion of enhanced influence, he noted.

A 'test site' to suppress China

The South China Sea is another "test site" for some Western countries, including the G7, to isolate and contain China, said observers.

By constantly hyping the South China Sea issue, they try to influence the international community and the Chinese public to force the Chinese government to change its foreign policy, Chen Xiangmiao, director of the World Navy Research Center at the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, told the Global Times in a previous interview.

To safeguard China's legal interests in the South China Sea, and to contribute more to the peaceful and stable development of the region, Wu from Wuhan University suggested that China should actively take countermeasures from multiple aspects, which include hosting summits for peaceful consultations between China and ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries on the South China Sea situation, further encouraging fishermen to conduct fishing operations in the region with more guaranteed protection.

"It's also necessary to further promote international law studies on the South China Sea issue, to gain more say for China in today's global international law community on topics regarding this region," Wu told the Global Times.

Gone are the days when a handful of Western countries could willfully meddle in other countries' internal affairs and manipulate global affairs, said the Chinese Foreign Ministry on May 20, in response to the G7 Hiroshima Leaders' Communiqué released that same day.

"The international community does not and will not accept the G7-dominated Western rules that seek to divide the world based on ideologies and values. Even less will it succumb to the rules of exclusive small blocs designed to serve 'America-first' and the vested interests of the few," it noted. "G7 needs to reflect on its behavior and change course."

Dam collapse exemplifies India’s gross incompetence, sparks safety concerns about mega projects in Bhutan

Sikkim Urja Limited's 1,200-megawatt hydroelectric project Teesta-III at the Chungthang dam on river Teesta gave way on October 4, killing at least 94 people in the downstream areas of Sikkim and West Bengal. The devastation has reignited wide worries surrounding two of three India-built mega hydropower projects under construction in Bhutan, local newspaper The Hindu reported on October 15.

The collapse reinforced long-held doubts about India's large-scale hydroelectric projects under construction in Bhutan. India's assessment of the fragile geological zone in the Himalayas appears to have been inadequate, leading to significant safety risks, local media criticized.

Analysts told the Global Times that a series of infrastructure accidents in the India-China border area in recent years have exposed India's seeming inability to carry out infrastructure construction under the complex geological conditions in the Himalayas. However, in recent years, India has been attempting to "monopolize" infrastructure projects in some South Asian countries, which also shows India's attempt to counter China in the region.

India's capacity collapses again

Although the glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF) triggered the latest dam collapse, many Indian media outlets believe that catastrophe was more likely man-made.

Environmentalists have been criticizing the decision-making process of constructing a large number of hydropower projects in the geologically fragile southern foothills of the Himalayas, while politicians have also pointed out corruption issues during the projects' construction and operational management, especially flaws inherent in the duty alert mechanism.

Such doubts have raised concerns in Bhutan, which shares the southern foothills of the Himalayas with Sikkim.

"We need to re-look at the geological survey of the (Puna-I) dam because many things have changed in 15 years. There have been many reasons for the delay, including technical issues and COVID-19. The (soil) stabilization measures have not yielded the results they wanted. No expert will go on to do a project that is not technically, scientifically feasible," Bhutan's Prime Minister Lotay Tshering told The Hindu.

A note issued by the Bhutan's Central Electricity Authority (CEA) in February on the Puna-I, which was started in 2008 and is expected to be commissioned in 2024-25, said that "project commissioning is being delayed due to movement/subsidence of right bank hill mass in the dam area. Treatment/stabilization of the right bank and completion of dam work [is in] progress. The option of providing a barrage in the upstream and abandoning of the dam is being studied," according to the report.

Regarding the Puna-II, meant to be commissioned in 2023-24, the note said: "Poor geological strata and shear zone being encountered at [the] left bank and foundation of [the] dam and HRT (head race tunnel, a tunnel connecting water intake at [the] dam site to [the] power house for generation of hydroelectricity). Remedial measures are [in] progress."

The governments of Bhutan and India have tasked the Technical Coordination Committee (TCC) with reviewing and proposing a path forward for the 1,200mW Punatsangchhu Hydroelectric Project (Puna-I) dam. One of Bhutan's primary concerns revolves around the dam's safety and stability, given the potential significant downstream impacts of any dam failure on lives and properties, according to a report by Bhutan's national newspaper Kuensel.

Lin Minwang, deputy director at the Center for South Asian Studies at Fudan University, told the Global Times that India has made significant progress in infrastructure construction along the China-India border in recent years, but its infrastructure capabilities still cannot be compared with China's. Overall, the quality and construction capabilities of India's infrastructure are still relatively poor.

"In recent years, accidents have frequently occurred in the construction of bridges and tunnels by India along the border. Especially in some disputed areas, accidents of various kinds are common, and the construction quality is worrying. In fact, India lacks the ability to build large-scale infrastructure in the complex and fragile geological environment of the Himalayas," said Lin.

International landslide experts have pointed out it was a blunder to start a dam at the location that seems to be on the debris of past landslides.

Lin believes that India's massive construction and blind leap in the border areas are an "image project" by the Indian government. On one hand, it aims to deliberately create an image of India's strong resistance against China along the border to gain popularity in the upcoming elections. On the other hand, it is India's leverage to counter China in South Asia.

"However, it is evident that these construction projects are largely rushed, which inevitably leads to problems in construction quality. Several previous accidents are proof," said Lin.
Hard to find right partners

Despite its outdated infrastructure capacity, India's attempts at cornering the market in some South Asian countries, especially in the field of hydropower sector, where it has essentially monopolized the market, have been relentless. This has made it nearly impossible for some South Asian countries to introduce infrastructure companies from countries other than India into their own markets.

In the "13th Five-Year Plan" announced by the Bhutanese government, which is scheduled to start in 2024, almost all hydropower infrastructure projects will be undertaken by India.

"Among South Asian countries, whether it be Bhutan or Nepal, their choice of cooperation partners in their own infrastructure construction is largely restricted by India through legal or policy means," Lin explained. "India may even directly interfere in the internal affairs of these countries, demanding that they prioritize India in the bidding process for infrastructure projects or block them from commissioning bidders from other countries."

Specifically, in hydropower projects, taking Nepal as an example, India has proposed that it will not purchase electricity generated by hydropower stations built by other countries. However, India is actually a country with a severe shortage of electricity and energy, but it still uses this method to restrict the free development of Nepal's hydropower industry and force Nepal to reject the participation of other countries in its hydropower development, Lin said.

Lin suggested that Chinese infrastructure companies also often face pushback from India when entering the market in South Asian countries.

Chinese companies, for example, may be required by their international partners to have an Indian company as the project supervisor. These Indian supervisory companies tend to set unreasonably high standards for the projects and deliberately make it difficult for Chinese companies.

"Although Chinese infrastructure companies can typically cope with this, it will inevitably increase unnecessary costs. India often uses this method to hinder the entry of Chinese projects in South Asia," Lin said.

Strict control becomes commonplace

According to Bhutan's 2023-24 budget report, the 10 projects in the pipeline include the 600mW Kholongchhu hydroelectric project, Kuensel reported. Several projects, represented by the Kholongchhu hydroelectric project, are being carried out through a joint venture between India and Bhutan.

An anonymous expert on South Asian affairs told the Global Times that although these hydropower projects are officially managed through joint ventures, the engineering team, technical personnel, and even the management team are all Indian.

Lin further pointed out that the electricity generated by Bhutan's hydropower plants is not only used to meet Bhutan's own needs but also sold to India, allowing India to implement a strategy of total economic dependence by Bhutan. In addition, India has also exercised strict control over Bhutan's importation and exportation of goods, military defense, and other fields.

And in terms of diplomatic issues, India's interference in Bhutan is now commonplace. India controls Bhutan's foreign policy through various means. On the one hand, India limits Bhutan's establishment of diplomatic relations with other countries. Although India has repeatedly stated that Bhutan is an independent sovereign country, it remains incredibly vigilant regarding Bhutan's development of foreign relations and even opposes Bhutan's contacts with other countries, according to Sun Xihui, an associate research fellow with the National Institute of International Strategy at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Moreover, New Delhi interferes in China-Bhutan border negotiations. China has resolved most of its land border issues through negotiations since the 1950s, but is yet to complete its border talks with Bhutan, largely because India insists on representing Bhutan in the negotiations, while China hopes to directly engage with Bhutan, Sun noted.

The 25th Round of Boundary Talks between China and Bhutan was held in Beijing on October 23 and 24. The two sides held in-depth discussions on the boundary negotiations and noted the progress made through a series of Expert Group Meetings held since the 24th Round of Boundary Talks in 2016. The two leaders of the delegations commended the Expert Group for the work done and agreed to build on the positive momentum.

This meeting brings expectations for the establishment of official diplomatic ties between China and Bhutan.

Observers believe that despite the strong desire for diplomatic relations between the two countries, it is still difficult for China and Bhutan to complete border negotiations and establish diplomatic relations in the short term due to India's significant interference in Bhutan's internal affairs. However, it should be noted that this meeting undoubtedly injects new momentum into the successful completion of border negotiations and the promotion of the diplomatic processes between the two countries.