China, PNG to speed up cooperation

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi wrapped up his visit to Papua New Guinea (PNG) with a meeting with Prime Minister James Marape, confirming mutual interests of speeding up cooperation in broad fields, which analysts said will inject more vitality into the South Pacific region. 

"The mutually beneficial cooperation between the two countries has been expanding and deepening, providing a steady stream of impetus for their respective development and revitalization... and in the process of PNG's development, China will be your most reliable partner," Wang told Marape on Sunday.

Chinese observers noted that the productive discussions between the two sides highlight the warmer ties between the island country and China. They cautioned against the US's attempts to stir discord between China and PNG, emphasizing that the tangible benefits derived from partnering with China in the region cannot be overlooked by local government and the people. 

The two countries have drawn up Belt and Road cooperation plans and established a working mechanism. Both sides need to implement them one by one and advance them in a timely manner to ensure that the results of the cooperation will be tangible as soon as possible and bring benefits to the PNG people, Wang said.

China is ready to maintain high-level exchanges with PNG and launch free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations as soon as possible, the Chinese foreign minister said.

For the PNG side, the Pacific island country's foreign minister said that PNG is committed to promoting the development of bilateral relations to achieve greater results. 

Bilateral cooperation has yielded great results and has very solid foundations, Chen Hong, executive director at the Asia Pacific Studies Center of East China Normal University, told the Global Times on Sunday, expressing his optimism toward finalizing the FTA agreement in the future. 

The signing of an FTA would be beneficial to both sides, increasing China's imports from the island country, ranging from agricultural products to iron structure and telecommunication products, and at the same time, boosting the PNG economy, Chen noted. "Though it is the largest country in the region, PNG's economy has been suffering from an unbalanced economic layout due to a long history of colonization. But in just years of cooperation with China, the actual changes in PNG is apparent." 

If an FTA agreement is reached, it is expected to drive and empower the economic development of the entire region, Chinese observers noted. 

Wang emphasized that China's assistance to Pacific island countries has always been free of political conditions and impositions, and China has never issued "blank checks."

However, Chinese cooperation and assistance with South Pacific island countries were hyped up by the US. Yu Lei, chief research fellow at the Research Center for Pacific Island Countries of Liaocheng University, told the Global Times that the primary reason for the unease among Western countries, led by the US, stems from the deepening and accelerated scope of cooperation between China and the regional countries, Yu noted.

For example, in the Solomon Islands election, the US and others continuously list infrastructure projects involving China's cooperation as creating a "debt trap" and "resource plundering." The US believes the significant foundational effects generated by the Belt and Road Initiative pose a serious threat to Western interests and political influence in this region.

Chen pointed that placing the Pacific family as a strategic anti-China bloc serves US' Indo-Pacific strategy. This might include using PNG as a military base to contain China. 

But Chinese observers underscored that sowing discord over cooperation between China and PNG has no foundation whatsoever and cannot deceive people in the region. "Cooperation between China and South Pacific island nations has brought tangible benefits to the region, benefits that any rational government and people would not ignore," Chen noted.

The South Pacific region should not become an arena of big power rivalry, and no country should treat the island countries as its "backyard," or engage in zero-sum competition and exclusive arrangements, Wang said in a meeting with PNG Foreign Minister Justin Tkachenko. 

US eyes on new sanctions on Iran, urged to be responsible in Mideast affairs

The US-led West is once again eyeing a series of new sanctions against Iran, as Israel's war cabinet has put off a third meeting to decide on a response to Iran's attack. However, analysts warned that more sanctions are unlikely to stop Iran or an escalation of the tensions in the Middle East, but could instead trigger more aggressive decisions from Iran. The US should take responsibility and use its influence to prevent Israel from escalating the conflict, they said. 

On Tuesday local time, the White House announced that it will impose new sanctions targeting Iran, including its missile and drone program as well as new sanctions against entities supporting the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Iran's Defense Ministry, and will work to "further erode the effectiveness of Iran's missile and UAV capabilities."

With Washington saying that it anticipates that "its allies and partners will soon be following," the UK's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said that he was working with G7 partners on further sanctions against Tehran, The Guardian reported.

Nonetheless, experts told the Global Times on Wednesday that new sanctions are unlikely to have a significant impact on Iran, as the country has experienced long-term sanctions and has essentially become accustomed to striving under such sanctions. 

"Economic and technological sanctions will not have a major effect on Iran, at most it will only create some pressure in terms of public opinion," Zhu Yongbiao, executive director of the Research Center for the Belt and Road at Lanzhou University, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

On the other hand, sanctions will only worsen the relationship between the US and Iran, and may even lead some decision-makers in Iran to believe that they should launch more aggressive attacks, warned Lü Xiang, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

If Iran and Israel were to engage in serious attacks, it would have irreversible consequences for the entire region, likely on a scale not seen since the earlier Middle East wars, and would have a very negative impact on global energy supply, said Lü, who described the scenario as "unimaginable."

Lü believes that the key to this issue still lies in the US, which is the biggest influencer in the Middle East. 

"Now that we know the US always has a special relationship with Israel, it should take the responsibility and use its influence to suppress Israel's warlike impulses," Lü said. "If the US instead encourages Israel, the situation will be very difficult to handle."

The current US government's Middle East policy is the most chaotic, on which the Biden administration needs to reflect, Lü said. He noted that its overall foreign policy is also very chaotic, with issues involving Russia, Iran and China all mixed up without a clear boundary or clue.

Zhu described the US' attitude toward Middle East issues as "duplicity." "On one hand, it tries to portray itself as a maintainer of order in the Middle East. On the other hand, it is deeply tied to Israel, heavily favoring Israel, with a stark contrast in its rhetoric," he said.

Zhu noted that Israel is adopting a comprehensive strategy against Iran, counterattacking economically, politically, and in terms of public opinion, including its recent statements and calls for Western countries to sanction Iran, which are both a threat and a form of psychological warfare.

On the contrary, observers pointed out that Iran is currently adopting a restrained attitude, as its latest attacks against Israel caused no deaths and little damage.

From the current situation, it appears that there are communication channels between Iran and Israel, Lü said. "If the international community also exerts the right influence, the entire conflict still can potentially be controlled within manageable limits."

Zhu believes that while the likelihood of military conflict between Israel and Iran is increasing, the possibility of it catalyzing a large-scale war in the Middle East is relatively low.

"The basic ecology of this region has not fundamentally changed - The US does not want to be dragged into another Middle East war, and Arab countries also do not want to see another large-scale war," he said. "Due to the lack of willingness from all parties, the likelihood of a full-scale war breaking out in the short term is very low."

US smears China-Russia trade to shift blame for failed Western sanctions

The US' farfetched accusations of "Chinese firms supplying Russia with drone, missile components" are just another attempt to smear normal China-Russia trade and fabricate a vicious China-Russia alliance to account for Russian resilience to Western sanctions, analysts said on Monday. 

The comments came after a Bloomberg report, citing senior US officials, claimed "China is providing Russia with significant quantities of components to build cruise missiles and drones, as well as optical parts for tanks and armored vehicles, allowing Moscow to ramp up defense production in its war against Ukraine."    

The Bloomberg report acknowledged there is no evidence that China is providing lethal assistance, but said people familiar with the US intelligence assessment characterized the aid as just as significant, saying that "without the imports, Russia's military industrial base would struggle."

The report named multiple Chinese firms, including Hikvision, which was already on the US sanction list. It also claimed Chinese firms are selling nitrocellulose, which Russia uses to make propellants for weapons. 

Lü Xiang, a research fellow of US studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Monday that such unwarranted accusations are targeted at normal China-Russia trade, which is developing at a fast pace and stood at $240 billion in 2023. 

As Russia is rich in energy while China is a manufacturing giant, these products in bilateral trade are very reasonable, Lü said, adding that the US' tactic is to amplify the argument that products China sold for civilian use can be used for military purposes. 

But "can be used" does not equal "are being used"; common industrial components can be used for military systems just as food for civilians can also feed soldiers, Lü said, "The US can always fabricate so-called proof for its preset charges against China."

China does not take sides in the conflict and we mean it, analysts said, adding that it is the US that keeps sending weapons to the battlefield and fueling the war. 

The US has heightened its attacks on China-Russia ties against the backdrop of Russia ramping up production of military equipment and Western aid to Kiev dwindling, while further US assistance is tied up in Congress.

Shen Yi, a professor at Fudan University in Shanghai, told the Global Times on Monday that the US' accusations were "pure slander" to divert pressure away from its inability to defeat Russia on the battlefield. 

With Europe paying a heavy price for the prolonged conflict and rounds of sanctions, the incumbent US administration has to find someone to blame for Russia's resilience in front of Americans and their European allies. Whenever the US is in any kind of trouble, China is a convenient scapegoat, Lü said. 

Analysts warned that the US may also use the smear campaign to manipulate public opinion and justify further sanctions on Chinese firms. 

According to Bloomberg, the US sanctions office is investigating several companies involved in shipments of chips that ultimately end up in Russia. 

China blasts US-Japan-Philippines summit, lodges representations

Chinese authorities on Friday expressed strong opposition to the US, Japan and Philippines' highly-targeted summit in Washington, as the group vowed to enhance military ties to cope with "China's threats," ignoring its deeds that undermine regional peace and stability. 

Analysts termed the trilateral summit an "anti-China gathering," which moves a step closer to the US' goal of forming a mini-NATO in the Asia-Pacific. However, with disparate calculations between US allies and China's sufficient capability, the "ironclad" alliance commitment does not look as solid as China's resolve in safeguarding sovereignty and regional stability. 

Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mao Ning said during a regular press conference on Friday that "China strongly opposes the practice of bloc politics by relevant countries. We firmly oppose any acts that stoke and drive up tensions and harm other countries' strategic security and interests. We are seriously against forming exclusive groupings in this region."

"Certain countries keep seeking backing from non-regional countries as they infringe on China's sovereignty and rights and make provocations at sea. What they have done has escalated the tensions. Certain country outside the region keep fueling the flame and stoking confrontation," she added.

Responding to the US, Japan and Philippines' smearing and hypes, Mao reiterated that the Taiwan question is purely China's internal affair, and that China has indisputable sovereignty over Diaoyu Dao and its affiliated islands and Nanhai Zhudao.

Liu Jinsong, director general of the Department of Asian Affairs of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, summoned Chief Minister of the Embassy of Japan in China Yokochi Akira to lodge solemn representations and express serious concerns and strong dissatisfaction over Japan's negative moves during the Japan-US summit in Washington and the trilateral summit among the US, Japan and the Philippines. Liu also made solemn representations to the Philippine ambassador to China Jaime FlorCruz over the Southeast Asian country's "negative words and deeds" related to China during the summit. China's Embassy in the US also lodged a solemn representation to Washington. 

Senior Colonel Wu Qian, a spokesperson for China's Ministry of National Defense, said on Friday that China upholds that defense cooperation between countries should not target any specific country or undermine regional peace and stability. China's relevant activities in the South China Sea are justified, lawful and beyond reproach, he said. 

In contrast, a certain non-regional country frequently sends military vessels and aircraft to the South China Sea to flex its muscles, gathers its allies to build up "small cliques" against China, and even threatens and coerces China with so-called mutual defense treaties. These acts are irresponsible and extremely dangerous, Wu said.

Undermining regional peace
The first-ever trilateral summit between the US President Joe Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and the Philippine President Ferdinand Romualdez Marcos Jr was held in Washington on Thursday local time, with the three countries' leaders vowing to enhance defense ties, targeting China. 

According to a joint statement released by the White House, the three countries expressed "serious concerns" over China's actions to safeguard its sovereignty, which it termed as "dangerous and aggressive behavior" in the South China Sea, and "attempts to unilaterally change the status quo by force or coercion in the East China Sea."

It also mentioned the Taiwan question, which is China's internal affair, claiming that there is no change in their basic positions on Taiwan, and called for a "peaceful resolution of cross-Straits issues."

The statement also announced the establishment of a trilateral maritime dialogue to "enhance coordination and collective responses," adding that the US and Japan will continue to support Philippine Coast Guard capacity building.  

The statement said the three countries plan to conduct a maritime training activity around Japan in 2025.

"Within the next year, our coast guards also plan to conduct an at-sea trilateral exercise and other maritime activities in the Indo-Pacific to improve interoperability," said the statement. 

Da Zhigang, director of the Institute of Northeast Asian Studies at the Heilongjiang Provincial Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Friday that with words and deeds blatantly targeting China, the summit has made itself an "anti-China gathering." 

According to the joint statement, the three countries said they "welcome efforts to support a peaceful and stable, rules-based Indo-Pacific region," including from the Quad, AUKUS, and the US-Japan-South Korea trilateral framework.

Kyodo News said on March 31 that the US is making arrangements for trilateral talks with Japanese and South Korean leaders in July when the NATO summit is held in Washington. 

With the deepening of the trilateral military alliance between the US, Japan and the Philippines, and the aforementioned mini-multilateral framework among the US and its Asia-Pacific allies, Washington is moving one step closer to building a mini-Asia-Pacific NATO, Da said, "This is not only a serious provocation to China, but also a grave threat to regional peace and security."

"From the perspective of its strategic goals, the US does not want to see a united Asia. In the absence of its own strength, the Biden administration has tried to mobilize the sea power countries in Asia, such as Japan, South Korea and the Philippines, to contain the land power countries such as China and Russia, which serves its goal of being the dominant power in the sea power game in the Asia-Pacific region," a Beijing-based expert told the Global Times, requesting anonymity. 

The US wants to perpetuate the confrontation within Asia, just as it did in Europe, the expert noted, "Under the cloak of morality, provoking conflicts outside its territory to maintain Washington's hegemony is an important external environment for US policy elites to sleep well at night."

Lü Xiang, research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Friday that a joint statement of this nature is actually telling China that the US and its allies may cross the red line in the future. 

We will not take the initiative to launch the attack, but the Chinese side will be on high alert, and any small step across the red line will be met with a firm counterattack, said the experts. 

The US is well aware of China's military capabilities in the Western Pacific, and it does not dare to carry out any substantive acts other than provocations, otherwise it will incur unbearable consequences, Lü said. 

Disparate calculations 

In the joint statement, Biden reaffirmed the "ironclad" US alliance commitments to both Japan and the Philippines. 

The White House also gave Kishida a grand reception during his visit, including a Congress speech, swanky state dinner, and as many as 70 new cooperation agreements to boost defense and intelligence ties, which Biden described as the "most significant upgrade in our alliance."

However, Kishida's acceptance of the warm hospitality in Washington means that Japan will share more costs and responsibilities for the geo-defense of the US, such as in the field of arms production and technology research and development, Da said.

In addition to actively participating in various mechanisms to maintain US hegemony and contain China, Japan may even be required to cooperate with the US in other ways, such as encouraging Japanese companies to invest in the US, Da added. 

Biden also wants the summit to show off his diplomatic success and boost his popularity ahead of the US presidential elections. More importantly, Americans want Japan and the Philippines, which are on the front lines of containment of China in the Asia-Pacific region, to risk their own destruction at a critical moment, Da noted.  

Analysts said Kishida also took his US visit as an opportunity to boost his popularity, but in reality, the effect seems to have been unsatisfactory. A Jiji Press poll shows that public support for Kishida's cabinet fell to 16.6 percent in April, a new record low since the administration came into power in October 2021. 

Japan hopes to use the US as a backer to expand its military and gradually unleash militarism, and even export troops and security capabilities to areas with disputes in the future to further enhance its influence, Da said. 

"But holding the country's fate and strategic interests hostage to the US comes at a price. It is not acceptable to all citizens, including the economic community," Da said.  

With regard to the Philippines, analysts said Manila hopes to demand more non-military rewards, such as economic benefits, from Washington through a pro-US posture, such as a US transfer of investment and industrial chain to the Philippines. By provoking China in the South China Sea, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr could also gain more support from the Philippine military, which is regarded as pro-US, to secure his rule.

In the joint statement, the three countries expressed concern over and strongly opposed economic coercion, and announced the launch of the Luzon Corridor, the bloc's first global infrastructure partnership and investment corridor in the "Indo-Pacific."  

The Philippines needs to be clear that once it is determined to become a country that pulls external risk factors into the Asia Pacific, then it will become an outlier in ASEAN, and that in any case, ASEAN-China ties are the most helpful to the Philippine economy, Lü said.

"Marcos still has time to reflect, as China will exert maximum restraint and minimal actions to stop the Philippines from its harassing and provocative acts. But the Philippines will suffer huge losses if it crosses the red line," he noted. 

China's top legislator to visit N. Korea, strengthen traditional friendship

China and North Korea are set to engage in the most senior-level diplomatic activity since 2019 as China's top legislator Zhao Leji will visit North Korea from Thursday to Saturday.

Chinese analysts said that the friendship and close ties between China and North Korea will add certainty to the Korean Peninsula, and China will help North Korea realize post-pandemic recovery. 

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning announced on Tuesday Zhao's visit to North Korea, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

This is the highest-level diplomatic activity between the two countries since 2019, and Zhao is the most senior Chinese leader to visit North Korea since the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, which makes the event not only significant to China-North Korea relations, but also to the regional situation. 

Wang Junsheng, a research fellow of East Asian studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, told the Global Times on Wednesday that in 2024, the friendship year for the two countries, the two sides will have deeper and closer strategic communication to overcome the challenges brought about by the profound changes of the international situation.

"Apart from senior official exchanges, the two countries will also have exchanges between youths, think tanks, and literature and artistic circles. These will further improve the China-North Korea friendship in broader areas," Wang noted. 

Zheng Jiyong, director of the Center for Korean Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, told the Global Times on Wednesday that the Korean Peninsula is now at a sensitive moment, as the tension between North Korea and the US-South Korea alliance is getting increasingly heightened, and the strengthening of China-North Korea ties will add certainty to the regional security situation and prevent a potential crisis. 

Chinese experts said development and economic recovery after the pandemic is always a key mission for the Workers' Party of Korea, and the friendship with China will help North Korea to effectively boost its recovery. Pyongyang is also seeking greater strategic influence in the region at a time when the world is experiencing turbulence, so this is why North Korea is actively further developing ties with major powers like China and Russia, as well as other socialist countries like Vietnam and Laos. 

China will help North Korea overcome its challenges and realize sustainable development to benefit the North Korean people, as the stability and prosperity of a neighbor serves not only China's national interest, but also regional peace and development, experts said.   

China struck by first serious flood of 2024 in Pearl River Basin

China's first serious flood of 2024 has occurred in Beijiang River in the Pearl River Basin, the Ministry of Water Resources said on Sunday. A flood is given a number if it reaches a certain level of severity, so this was named China's No.1 flood of the year. It's also the earliest time in the year that such a flood has occurred since the numbering system began in 1998, the ministry said.

More than 4,600 people in Shaoguan, Yingde and Guangzhou in South China's Guangdong Province have been evacuated due to heavy rainfall in the Pearl River Basin. The operation of railroads, highways and waterways in some places has been suspended while daily rainfall at many national observatories have broken records for April.

According to China's National Meteorological Center (NMC), Guangdong will have heavy rainfall from Sunday to Monday. On Sunday morning, accumulated rainfall in parts of Guangdong reached 350 to 500 millimeters, and continued heavy rainfall triggered flooding, landslides and other secondary disasters in many places.

Officials have put in place a level IV flood control and flood defense emergency response and sent a working group to assist in guiding the defense against flood damage.

The NMC also warned that the risk of disasters such as landslides is higher in the central and northern regions of Guangdong due to the high cumulative rainfall and the high water content of the soil. Experts said the public should strengthen measures to protect against waterlogging and landslides.

Fu Bao, the first panda born in South Korea, returned to Sichuan; set to meet public following quarantine

Giant panda Fu Bao arrived at Chengdu on Wednesday night after being delivered on a chartered flight from South Korea. The panda is in good health and will be subject to a month-long quarantine period until it meets the public again.

In order to welcome Fubao back home, the Shenshuping giant panda base under the China Conservation and Research Center for Giant Panda started preparations early.

Currently, the center has prepared an enclosure, built multiple work teams, and carefully established an animal care team including two experienced keepers. A special seasonal "menu" including fresh bamboo shoots and arrow bamboo shoots has also been specially prepared.

In order to help Fu Bao readapt to life in his hometown Sichuan, during the one-month quarantine period, two Chinese keepers will remain on call along with Kang Cheol-won, Fu Bao's breeder in South Korea, who accompanied the giant panda on her flight.

They will also help the panda overcome a "language barrier" after returning to China - learning to understand Chinese, especially Sichuan dialect. The China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda will also officially assign a chief keeper for Fu Bao based on his preferences towards the two current keepers.

The mating season for giant pandas mainly takes place during spring, and currently, Fu Bao has not shown any signs of mating behavior. Experts believe that "Fu Bao" will not be involved in breeding research this year. Many suggest that the "mating" of "Fu Bao" may have to wait until the following year or the year after.

As for when "Fu Bao" can be seen by the Sichuan public, expert Zeng Wen from the center said that it is difficult to estimate at the moment. Based on past experiences, the adaptation period for returning giant pandas can range from 1-2 months to 7-8 months, or even longer.

Video of Fu Bao's arrival at Chengdu airport stirred controversy as netizens claimed the panda was being probed by a member of veterinary staff.

In response, the center said that the vet probed Fu Bao in order to conduct a necessary health inspection.

Large screens in Chengdu, Chongqing, and Beijing were lit up on Wednesday night to welcome Fu Bao home. These large screen advertisements were purchased by dozens of Fu Bao fans from Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, and South Korea. The organizer of the media purchase told reporters that they saw Fu Bao being embraced in South Korea, and many fans posted advertisements to support Fu Bao. They wanted to respond to South Korean fans by saying, "Fu Bao is our national treasure, and there are also so many people in China who love this panda," she said.

In accordance with the cooperation agreement signed between China and the South Korea, Fu Bao started her journey back to China on Wednesday. "We welcome Fu Bao's return and express our thanks to Fu Bao's caretakers in the South Korea," Wang Wenbin, spokesperson of China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on a Wednesday briefing.

Ma's mainland trip reflects mainstream of Taiwan that calls for anti-secessionism, cross-Straits peace: expert

Former chairperson of the Kuomintang (KMT) party Ma Ying-jeou kicked off his 11-day trip in the Chinese Mainland on Monday, with observers from both the island and the mainland paying great attention to his visit, as they expect Ma will be able to boost exchanges between youths from both sides, and balance the negative impact brought by the secessionist Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) authorities.

Ma and 20 young students from Taiwan arrived at Shenzhen airport on Monday afternoon. During their trip, they will reportedly visit Guangdong Province, Shaanxi Province and Beijing, and according to Taiwan media, they are expected to meet with senior mainland officials and engage in communication and exchanges with mainland people and students.

Song Tao, head of the Taiwan Work Office of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, met with Ma on Monday in Shenzhen.

Song said compatriots on both sides of the Taiwan Straits are all Chinese, and they should uphold the 1992 Consensus and firmly oppose "Taiwan independence" separatist activities and external interference.

He called on people from across the Straits to actively promote exchanges and cooperation in various fields, jointly promote the Chinese culture, enhance kinship and wellbeing of the compatriots on both sides of the Straits, boost peaceful and integrated development of cross-Straits relations and strive for national reunification and rejuvenation.

Ma said that compatriots on the two sides of the Straits are closely bound by blood, he called for boosting cross-Straits exchanges and cooperation, particularly among young people, on the political foundation of upholding the 1992 Consensus and opposing "Taiwan independence."

Before his departure, Ma told the media that he hopes the trip can send a message of the Taiwan people loving peace amid cross-Straits tensions. "This is a trip of peace and friendship," he said, adding that he holds no public post in the island authorities or political parties, and the only thing he can do is to boost exchanges between the youths of two sides to reduce hostility and accumulate kindness.

In April, 2023, Ma and a delegation of Taiwan youth also visited the mainland in a trip that covered multiple major cities including Shanghai, Nanjing, Wuhan, Changsha and Chongqing. When seeing Ma off, Song, told him that his visit had positive significance for promoting exchanges between compatriots on both sides of the Taiwan Straits and the peaceful development of cross-Straits relations.

Wang Zhenwei, director of the Institute of Politics under the Taiwan Research Center at Xiamen University, told the Global Times on Monday that "Although the DPP won the regional leadership election in January, about 60 percent of Taiwan voters didn't vote for the secessionist candidate Lai Ching-te, which means that the majority of Taiwan residents call for peace and development and oppose secessionism that could provoke war."

Ma and the young students who came with him can represent the 60 percent of public opinion to some extent, so by receiving them with friendship and kindness, the mainland is also responding with kindness not only to Ma and his delegation but also to the majority of Taiwan residents, said Wang.

"The majority of the island that calls for peace and cross-Straits development are the key force to restraining secessionism and the DPP, and to prevent extreme secessionist acts that could provoke a direct military conflict between the mainland and the island," Wang noted.

Expectations within Taiwan

Taiwan media outlets are paying great attention to Ma's mainland trip, as they expect that Ma will be able to meet senior mainland leaders in Beijing. Some media commentators and politicians in the island expressed hopes that Ma can help fix cross-Straits ties that were seriously damaged by the DPP's secessionist, provocative and hostile policies against the mainland.

However, other analysts from Taiwan said that Ma might only be able to play a limited role. Kuo Jeng-liang, a former Taiwan politician and media commentator on politics, said on a local TV program that "Now the DPP is the ruling party, and Ma is a former regional leader, and has no position in the KMT, what he can do to impact policies on both sides is a question."

If Ma can effectively influence DPP leaders like Lai and Tsai Ing-wen, or at least the KMT leaders that have effective control in relevant authorities, "then we can say Ma's trip can bring an impact to the policies, otherwise the effect will be limited," Kuo said.

Wang Bing-Chung, a political commentator and former politician of the pro-reunification New Party in Taiwan, also told the Global Times on Monday that "Ma's trip is symbolic rather than one that focuses on concrete affairs. But if he can continue exchanges under the DPP's rule, this kind of activity will be meaningful to reinforcing the foundation for cross-Straits peaceful development."

And if Ma can reinforce his firm attitude of anti-secessionism and receive a positive response from the mainland, this will encourage the pro-reunification or at least anti-secessionism forces in the island to correct the mistake made by the DPP and be encouraged when fighting against the secessionists, Wang Bing-chung noted.

Analysts from the Chinese mainland said that the DPP has imposed many obstacles for mainland people to visit Taiwan island, and many local Taiwan media outlets also fail to report on the mainland objectively, while the mainland is confidently opening its arms to welcome Taiwan compatriots. This has caused a huge misunderstanding between the two sides, especially among Taiwan residents, as they are unable to learn facts about the mainland.

"By receiving Ma and young students from the island, with Taiwan media outlets paying great attention to their trip, we can break the wall built by the DPP and build a bridge on our own to let more Taiwan residents see and hear from the mainland without prejudice and bias," said a Beijing-based expert on cross-Straits affairs who asked for anonymity.

"We can show millions of Taiwan compatriots through Ma, the young students and Taiwan media which travel with him the achievements in cutting-edge technologies and development that we have made in recent years. We can let them see that they can be proud of the development of the whole of China," the expert said.

"We can also show them the shared memories of our country's history, about the fight that we had against foreign invaders, and we can also honestly tell them that the Chinese mainland has already become much more advanced than Taiwan in many aspects. These are not directly related to policies and sensitive affairs about politics, but could also quietly influence public opinion within the island," the expert noted.

Impressions of the New Era: Technology empowers modern agriculture across China

A Chinese proverb says, "The plan for a year lies in spring." 

Looking across the fertile countryside, regions everywhere are seizing on the agricultural season to carry out spring farming. With the advancement of science and technology, more and more new technologies are being applied in agricultural production, unveiling a scene of modern agricultural development across the vast fields of China.

With the Qingming Festival, also known as "Tomb-Sweeping Festival," approaching, West Lake Longjing, known as one of China's best green teas, has entered the large-scale picking period. In the tea gardens in Hangzhou, East China's Zhejiang Province, tea farmers are busy picking, sorting, and collecting fresh tea leaves. 

Alongside these tea farmers, three "iron tea-picking workers" work diligently. Their hands are flexible robotic arms and their eyes are movable cameras, while their heads are  "hats" made of solar panels. These three "workers" are intelligent tea-picking robots created by the agricultural robotics and equipment innovation team at Zhejiang Sci-Tech University. 

This year, the robots have been upgraded to the 6th generation. Through continuous research and testing of technology such as artificial intelligence deep learning, depth camera positioning, and robotic arms, the new generation of robots has improved efficiency while reducing operating costs, the Zhejiang News reported. 

The sixth-generation intelligent tea-picking robot has improved its work efficiency by 50 percent compared to the fifth generation. Capable of picking 0.75 kilograms of dry tea per day, it is estimated that one machine can replace 1.5 human labors, reducing costs by one-fourth. 

However, compared to manual labor, a gap still exists when it comes to quality, meaning there is a long way to go before tea-picking robots can be widely promoted and popularized.

The application of BeiDou intelligent agricultural machinery is a strong guarantee for stabilizing and increasing grain production across the country. 

To date, more than 2 million agricultural machines with BeiDou positioning operation terminals have been installed nationwide, including more than 150,000 plant protection drones, according to Science and Technology Daily. 

"Installing the navigation system on agricultural machinery not only saves manpower but also land. Our work as drivers has become much easier than before, and the land plowed is straighter than the crooked planting before," said a farmer using the system in Bole city, Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

Currently, cotton planting in Xinjiang region has entered the preparation stage, so machinery operators are busy testing and maintaining equipment, and attending technical training to get ready for sowing. 

Next to the Three Gorges Reservoir in Central China's Hubei Province, drones are working with humans to transport sweet navel oranges out of the mountains. 

In Zigui county, Yichang city of Hubei Province, a method combining farmer-raised funds and government subsidies was adopted to build more than 1,700 orchard rail transport machines with a total length of 356,000 meters, help fruit farmers purchase more than 200 agricultural drones and provide free training to over 500 operators. 

The widespread promotion of agricultural machines has vigorously driven the development of the navel orange industry.

Meanwhile, agricultural departments and scientific research institutes across the country are actively organizing agricultural technology experts to go into the fields and villages to provide point-to-point, face-to-face technical services. 

For example, the Fujian Provincial Department of Agriculture and Rural Affairs in East China dispatched a group of agricultural experts to combine online and offline methods and go into villages, enterprises, and households to carry out agricultural technology services. 

Smart agriculture has become a major highlight of this spring's management and spring planting. New technology such as big data and the Internet of Things are deeply integrated with agricultural production, and information technology is widely used in all aspects of cultivation, management, and harvesting, with the digitalization rate of large-scale planting reaching 26.4 percent, according to People's Daily.

Digital and intelligent technology also plays a significant role in agricultural disaster prevention and mitigation. 

China's vast territory, continental monsoon climate, complex geographical environment and climate conditions, along with diverse planting and breeding types, lead to the frequent occurrence of a variety of agricultural disasters that have a wide range of impact. 

To this end, various regions are actively improving crop disaster information systems, carrying out digital and intelligent disaster monitoring station construction pilot projects, strengthening consultation with meteorological, emergency management, and water conservancy departments, and enhancing disaster early warning and prediction capabilities.

Prohibition of manufacturing, selling joss paper in Nantong before Qingming Festival sparks heated debate

Authorities of Nantong, East China's Jiangsu Province, issued a release on Monday banning the manufacture and sale of joss paper and other "superstitious" funerary products by any unit or individual, sparking a heated debate as the traditional Chinese Qingming Festival approaches.

The Nantong authorities referred these items, which are typically burned as offerings to the deceased, as "superstition funeral supplies." They stated that individuals who violate the regulation will have these items confiscated and may face a fine ranging from one to three times the amount of the manufacture or sale. 

Offenders may also be subject to administrative penalties or be held criminally liable in accordance with the law.   

Qingming Festival will fall on April 4 this year. People traditionally burn joss sticks and joss paper to pay tribute to the dead and worship their ancestors.

The decision by Nantong authorities has sparked a heated debate. The staff members of the service hotline "12345" in Nantong, a channel for people to offer suggestions on city governance, said on Monday that they received numerous phone calls seeking clarification on the decision, with some callers disagreeing with the regulation, calling it "one size fit for all." The staff members said they have reported the callers' opinion to relevant authorities, but noted the policy hasn't been adjusted at this time.

Some netizens also called the policy disrespectful to tradition and lacking compassion. 

Later, in a move to defend their actions, the local civil affairs bureau said that they had not prohibited the use of items such as joss paper. It said that the public discussion was caused by a misunderstanding of the government's regulation. "We only banned production and sale of such items, not their use." It emphasized the decision was made out of consideration for spiritual civilization construction and environmental protection. 

Authorities in Nantong have also published an initiative suggesting that people adopt green and environmentally friendly ways to pay tribute to their ancestors, including offering flowers, planting trees in memory of the decreased, writing messages, and memorializing them through the internet.

China National Radio commented that burning joss paper is just a part of traditional rituals, similar to offering flowers and other expressions of affection. Local officials could call for people to honor their ancestors through offering flowers, planting trees and other environmentally friendly ways, but they shouldn't prohibit the burning of paper, and even penalize merchants who engage in manufacturing and selling joss paper in a simplistic and crude manner using "feudal superstitions" as a reason, China National Radio noted. 

According to previous reports, many incidents caused by illegal wildfires and paper-burning at gravesites have frequently occurred across China during Qingming holidays every year. Some places in China have already introduced regulations prohibiting the sale of joss paper in accordance with local funeral management regulations.