Xi leaves for state visits to France, Serbia, Hungary

Chinese President Xi Jinping left Beijing on Sunday morning for state visits to France, Serbia and Hungary at the invitation of President Emmanuel Macron of the Republic of France, President Aleksandar Vučić of the Republic of Serbia, and President Tamás Sulyok and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán of Hungary.

Xi's entourage includes his wife Peng Liyuan, Cai Qi, a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and director of the General Office of the CPC Central Committee, and Wang Yi, a member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee and foreign minister.

Blinken faces difficult task ‘to stop bloodshed in Gaza’ with visit to Middle East

US State Secretary Antony Blinken arrived in Saudi Arabia on Monday, the first stop in a broader trip to the Middle East that aims to mediate between Israel and Hamas and stop the bloodshed in Gaza. The conflict has already brought huge domestic and external pressures to Washington, as pro-Palestine protests across major universities in Western countries are making Washington's policy of tolerating Israel's operations look increasingly unjustified and embarrassing.

Analysts said that the UN Security Council resolution for a ceasefire is being challenged, as Israel is still bombing Rafah, and if Blinken fails to make breakthrough, a brutal ground attack planned by Israel is very likely to happen and cause huge civilian casualties.

In Riyadh, Blinken is expected to meet senior Saudi leaders and also hold a wider meeting with counterparts from five Arab states - Qatar, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan - to discuss what governance of the Gaza Strip might look like after the Israel-Hamas war ends, according to a senior US State Department official, Reuters reported.

Blinken will also discuss with Saudi authorities efforts for a normalization accord between the kingdom and Israel, a deal that includes Washington giving Riyadh agreements on bilateral defense and security commitments as well as nuclear cooperation. In return for normalization, Arab states and Washington are pushing for Israel to agree to a pathway for Palestinian statehood, something Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly rejected, Reuters reported.

Israel has regularly carried out airstrikes on Rafah since the start of the war and has threatened to send in ground troops, saying the city is "the last major Hamas stronghold" in the coastal enclave. Over a million Palestinians have sought refuge in the city on the Egyptian border. Members of the international community have urged Israel not to invade, fearing a humanitarian catastrophe, AP reported.

According to AP on Monday, Israeli airstrikes on the southern Gazan city of Rafah killed at least 22 people, including six women and five children, Palestinian health officials said. One of the children killed in the strikes overnight into Monday was just 5 days old.

Hundreds of bodies were found days ago buried deep in the ground at Nasser Hospital and Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said reports continued to emerge about the discovery of mass graves in Gaza, media reported. 

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lin Jian said on Monday that "We are deeply shocked and strongly condemn the perpetrators of the atrocity. Vast swaths of Gaza are now left in rubble and over a million civilians are struggling in despair on the brink of death."

While answering a question about what role China has played in "the meeting between Hamas and Fatah in Beijing this day" reported by foreign media, Lin Jian that "China and Palestine share a traditional friendship. We support Palestinian factions in achieving reconciliation and increasing solidarity through dialogue and consultation. We will continue to work actively towards that end."

Wang Jin, an associate professor at the Institute of Middle Eastern Studies at Northwest University, told the Global Times on Monday that now the problem between Israel and Hamas is that they cannot reach agreement on an exchange of Israeli personnel detained by Hamas with an Israeli ceasefire, but if Blinken fails to make a breakthrough, the ground attack against Rafah is very likely.

Mei Hualong, an assistant professor at Peking University specializing in Middle East studies, told the Global Times on Monday that there is almost no mutual trust between Hamas and Israel, as Hamas believes that if they release all the detained Israeli personnel, Israel might break the ceasefire agreement and take military actions to try to eliminate Hamas in Rafah, despite the possibility of huge civilian casualties. 

The US agrees with Israel's objective that Hamas needs to be eradicated and cannot play a role in Gaza's future, Reuters reported, but Washington does not want Israel to re-occupy the Gaza Strip. Instead, it has been looking at a structure that will include a reformed Palestinian Authority with support from Arab states.

Chinese experts said this is why Hamas cannot trust the US as a mediator, and hopes for an effective mediation remain low, because the idea of "eradicating Hamas" and a "sustainable ceasefire" cannot coexist. The bloodshed in Gaza will continue as long as the US and Israel believe that they can eradicate

Giant panda pair Yunchuan and Xinbao bound for San Diego Zoo on 10-year cooperation project

China's National Forestry and Grassland Administration announced on Saturday that the China Wildlife Conservation Association has signed a giant panda conservation cooperation agreement with the San Diego Zoo in the US and will select a pair of giant pandas to be relocated to the San Diego Zoo to initiate a 10-year international cooperation project for giant panda conservation.

The Chinese side has selected giant pandas "Yunchuan" (male) and "Xinbao" (female), from the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda, and has arranged experienced keepers and veterinarians to accompany the two pandas to the US, according to a release from the National Forestry and Grassland Administration.
The zoo is currently renovating and upgrading the giant panda facility to create a larger and more comfortable living environment for the pandas and has assembled a professional team with experience in giant panda care and management, daily care, and related research technologies, who have previously studied and exchanged experiences in China, to take care of the two pandas.

To ensure the health of the two giant pandas in the US, in March of this year, the China Wildlife Conservation Association organized experts to travel to the US and conduct in-depth discussions with the San Diego Zoo, providing technical guidance and exchanging experiences to clarify standards and requirements for giant panda care, living environments, and health care, said the release.

The San Diego Zoo is one of the top five zoos in the world. According to the agreement, both sides are actively advancing preparations related to the giant pandas' journey to the US.

China urges US to stop arming Taiwan after aid bill passed

China has condemned the US for its passing of a $95 billion aid package containing military assistance for the island of Taiwan, urging Washington to honor its commitment of not supporting "Taiwan independence" and to stop arming the island.

Zhu Fenglian, spokesperson for the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, said at a press conference on Wednesday that the Taiwan question is purely an internal matter for China, and no outside interference will be tolerated.

The Taiwan-related content in the US congressional bill seriously violates the one-China principle and the three China-US joint communiques, and sends a wrong signal to the "Taiwan independence" separatist forces, Zhu said.

"We are firmly opposed to it. We urge the US side to honor its commitment of not supporting 'Taiwan independence' and to stop arming Taiwan in any way," Zhu stated.

The remarks came after the US Senate on Tuesday passed a package to provide billions in aid to Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan, sending the legislation to President Joe Biden's desk to be signed into law after six months of political battles over it, CNBC reported.

The final vote tally was 79-18, a rousing show of bipartisanship in an era of deep political divisions, according to the US media outlet.

The funding includes roughly $60 billion for Ukraine, $26 billion for Israel and $8 billion for Taiwan and Indo-Pacific security.

Chinese analysts said that in recent years, the US has been doing more than just providing weapons and equipment to the island.

The US has also been providing military training, intelligence sharing and technology, said Xin Qiang, a deputy director of the Center for American Studies at Fudan University.

Given that the US' assistance to Ukraine, Israel, and the Taiwan region has left the super power stretched thin, it is possible that in the next step, the US may assist Taiwan in producing its own weapons, Xin said.

That would definitely escalate tensions in the Taiwan Straits, analysts warned.

Xin predicted that the elected Taiwan regional leader Lai Ching-te is almost certain to continue the policy of the current regional leader Tsai Ing-wen by seeking secessionism with US support and adopting a strategy of using force to resist reunification.

The more intense the military security cooperation between the US and Taiwan island becomes, the more emboldened the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) authorities will be, leading to more provocative pro-secessionist rhetoric and actions, further escalating tensions in cross-Straits relations, Xin warned.

Zhu said that most people in Taiwan want peace rather than war, development rather than decline, exchange rather than separation, and cooperation rather than confrontation. The DPP authorities in the island disregard public opinion, willingly acting as a pawn for external forces to use Taiwan to control the mainland, and are taking Taiwan toward a dangerous situation.

The DPP authorities have been warned that any attempts to "seek independence with arms" and "seek independence by relying on outsiders" are doomed to failure, according to the spokesperson.

She also expressed that she hopes that the majority of Taiwan compatriots fully understand the danger of the DPP authorities hooking up with external forces to seek "Taiwan independence," and called for joint work to promote peaceful development and integrated development of cross-Straits relations for compatriots on both sides.

Commenting on whether the Chinese mainland would launch countermeasures in response to the US bill, Xin said the mainland will definitely increase pressure on the US and the DPP authorities in various areas such as military, politics and the economy.

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.