Chinese Ambassador to Myanmar Chen Hai reaffirmed China’s resolution in pushing forward the joint campaign against telecom fraud, as he talked with senior officials from the Myanmar government, the Chinese Embassy in Myanmar said on Wednesday.
According to a statement from the Chinese Embassy in Myanmar, Chen met with Yar Pyae, member of the State Administration Council and head of the Home Affairs Ministry in Myanmar, and Than Swe, deputy prime minister and union minister of foreign affairs of Myanmar, in Naypyidaw on Monday and Tuesday.
Both sides made positive comments on the recent joint efforts to combat telecom fraud in Myanmar and analyzed the latest trends in telecom fraud activities in the country.
Chen reaffirmed China’s resolve in combating telecom scams and online gambling crimes, and introduced the strong measures China has taken in recent days.
Chen also expressed appreciation for the transfer of nearly 5,000 suspects involved in fraud crimes in northern Myanmar to the Chinese police by the Myanmar side since September. According to Chen, China will continue to deepen cooperation with Myanmar and will take further actions to effectively safeguard the interests of the people from both countries.
The Myanmar officials said that Myanmar attaches great importance to the serious harms caused by illegal activities and crimes such as telecom and online fraud, as well as China’s stance which has been repeatedly stated on this matter. Myanmar will actively assist and cooperate in disrupting criminal activities and targeting telecom fraud.
Besides, Myanmar will coordinate various relevant departments to further implement the consensus reached between Myanmar and China, as well as with other neighboring countries, and will continue to promote joint actions to safeguard the safety and rights of the people of both countries and create a clear environment for regional exchanges and cooperation.
Wang Qiang (pseudonym) had planned to hold a grand wedding for his 28-year-old son in 2021. Having long been established in the furniture business away from home, Wang, who is in his 50s, wanted to invite as many of his friends and business partners as possible to his hometown, a village in East China's Zhejiang Province, to witness a lavish wedding, which he believed could bring him a sense of pride.
There were nearly 500 names on Wang's guest list. Hosting a 40- to 50-table (each table seats 10 people) wedding, which usually cost hundreds of thousands of yuan, used to be common in the village.
"That was too extravagant and unnecessary." Village official He Xiyang and her coworkers decided to persuade Wang to forego the grand wedding feast. After visiting Wang's home twice, he finally agreed to largely shorten his guest list to just 200.
Recently, many cities and provinces across China have intensified their efforts to rein in exorbitant "bride prices" and extravagant wedding ceremonies as part of nationwide efforts to strengthen the development of public cultural-ethical standards in the country's rural areas and create a "new-era" marriage and childbearing culture.
In Chinese culture, families play an indispensable role in providing care for the elderly and children. They offer emotional and economic support, as well as advancing production, community management, and promoting civilization and morality across society.
As China grapples with a low fertility rate, an increasingly aging population, and uneven cross-regional population growth, the concept of a "new-era" marriage and childbearing culture was proposed to meet people's aspirations for better lives with proactive measures to help foster childbearing-friendly environments and contribute to advancing Chinese modernization with support for the high-quality development of the population.
A pilot project was thus rolled out across the country with the aim to promote marriage and childbearing at appropriate ages, improving prenatal and postnatal care services, encouraging couples to share child-rearing responsibilities, and curbing the high costs of betrothal gifts and other outdated marriage customs.
Lower marriage costs The city of Huzhou, where Wang Qiang's hometown - Xiaoyuan village - is located, is just one among 20 cities selected for in the first batch of the pilot project.
A village in Huzhou's Anji county, Xiaoyuan has a population of 3,000 inhabitants. Villagers enjoy a decent life thanks to the development of a distinctive local white tea economy, with a per capita net income of nearly 40,000 yuan ($5529.1) in 2019, official data showed.
Nonetheless, high marriage costs were a huge burden to local families in earlier years with costs excluding the expensive wedding venues and the "bride price." The wedding celebration alone would cost as much as 100,000 to 200,000 yuan, village official He Xiyang told the Global Times.
He explained that before the new-era marriage and childbearing culture was introduced, an "extravagant but common" wedding in the village would include a feast for 400-500 guests, brand-name cigarettes and alcohol, wedding venue arrangements and decorations, renting luxury cars, and the hiring of a famous wedding host.
Some families even blew money on inviting a singer of some renown to perform, or renting drones to take photos and videos at the wedding, she added.
The high wedding expense could cost a young man's several years of wages. "Most of the time they had to turn to their parents," she said. "For the less affluent families, borrowing money to fund the wedding festivities was a usual occurrence."
To reduce wedding expenditure especially in rural areas, in September 2022, eight national departments jointly issued a notice to address the problems of excessive "bride prices" and extravagant wedding ceremonies, rolling out a special work plan for a nationwide campaign.
In February, the country unveiled a key policy document or the No. 1 central document for 2023, vowing to launch a special campaign against problems including extravagant wedding ceremonies.
Xiaoyuan village established a working team in 2020, promoting frugal and small-sized wedding, birthday ceremonies, and funerals among local residents. "For a wedding, we suggest that the couple keep the number of guests at around 200," said He.
He said she and her colleagues sometimes go to local hotels (wedding celebration venues) to find out how many tables are booked for an upcoming wedding there, and then estimate the number of invited guests. If the number largely exceeds the recommended guidelines, they then pay a visit to the soon to be married couples and their families, persuading them to downsize the ceremony.
Fortunately, the overwhelming majority of engaged couples are easily persuaded, as downsizing the wedding enables them to reduce the budget by at least tens of thousands of yuan.
"More importantly, today's young people are pragmatic; they don't like to keep up with the Joneses as much as the elder generations do, nor do they think holding a frugal wedding makes them lose face," He noted.
The corrupt custom of high "bride prices" has also faded in Xiaoyuan village with the concept of gender equality gradually taking root in the hearts of local residents, said He.
Gender equality matters
In a traditional and somewhat outdated concept, men usually contribute financially to a marriage, while women contribute time and energy in housework and child-rearing instead.
Chinese demographers reached by the Global Times pointed out that an obvious negative effect of this concept is that many young Chinese people, especially women, are reluctant to get married. Lots of self-proclaimed women who opt out of marriage have said on Chinese social media sites that they fear married life due to the loss of independence and being trapped in household affairs.
The decline in marriage rates is a natural result of social development, said Xu Tianli, head of the Shanghai Marriage Introduction Organization Administration Association.
With more women becoming socially and economically independent, marriage is no longer regarded as a way for women to make a living by relying on their husbands, Xu told the Global Times.
Therefore, the lowering of wedding costs and curbing of objectifying women through "bride prices" being advocated for in China's new-era marriage and childbearing culture, are important steps toward gender equality in marriage, as they signal that men should contribute more in housework and child-rearing, "rather than simply shrinking such responsibility, and giving money to their wives like arrogant bosses," a demographer told the Global Times on condition of anonymity.
It is worth noting that in practice, people should emphasize both the rights and duties of men, the demographer noted. "Cracking down on high 'bride prices' does not mean that men are acquiescing in not taking responsibility for raising children," he added, as new-era marriage and childbearing culture highlights gender equality, and stresses that parents should share in child-rearing responsibilities.
In the latest effort, the China Family Planning Association announced in May the launch of the second pilot project in 20 cities to further build the new-era marriage and childbearing culture.
Ningde in East China's Fujian Province, for instance, was among the latest batch of pilot cities. It recently released a series of posters publicizing the culture. One of the posters, showing the cartoon images of a young couple and three children on it, reads: "Husband and wife jointly share parenting responsibilities."
In Anji county in pilot city Huzhou, volunteers shared with the Global Times a case of in which they convinced a disgruntled wife to give her negligent husband a second chance. The husband in question "neither worked nor looked after the children after an entrepreneurial attempt failed."
The volunteers are from "the magpie bridge guardian league," a nonprofit group under the Anji Social Organization Service Center that was built to help couples deal with marital issues and conflicts. The volunteers educated the husband to take on his family responsibility, and shared with him recruitment information.
"The couple decided to give their marriage another go after the husband reflected on his shortcomings, and promised to better care for the family, and secured a job at a furniture company," the service center's director Ye Wubin told the Global Times. In the past, women bore the vast majority of child-rearing responsibilities, and many men, especially in some male chauvinism-influenced areas, employed a largely hands-off approach to child-rearing and housework, said Zhou Haiwang, a research fellow and deputy director at the Institute of Urban and Demographic Studies, Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.
"It is necessary to further promote the idea of equality between men and women, and call on the two sides to bear parenting responsibilities together," Zhou told the Global Times.
Better child-rearing support
New-era marriage and childbearing culture encourages people to respect childbearing, and to marry and have children at appropriate ages. To boost fertility, authorities and related organizations across China are trying hard to offer better child-rearing supports to reduce stress and ease the burden on parents.
Last week, the All-China Federation of Trade Unions and the National Healthcare Commission said that they have allocated 7.5 million yuan in special funding to support companies in providing childcare assistance for their employees.
Zheng Qiaoxing, a staffer at the Ningde Family Planning Association, told the Global Times that the association's subsequent work mainly focuses on publicizing the new-era marriage and childbearing culture to residents, and provide families in need with better nursery and child-rearing support.
The association has launched a "sunflower parent-child room" project in Ningde. Some 93 parent-child rooms have been built under the project in communities and villages citywide, open to local babies aged zero to three and their parents for free.
The parent-child rooms regularly hold parenting lectures, parent-child activities, and child health check-up. "It is so convenient for me to learn about infant health from medical personnel at the parent-child room built in my village," young mother Lin Weiwei, a resident of Ningde's Anban Village, told the Global Times. "My daughter also enjoys the music and handwork lessons there," she added.
Many other Chinese cities, such as Shanghai and Zhengzhou in Central China's Henan Province, have also launched similar nonprofit nursery projects to help busy parents take care of their babies, the Global Times reporter learned.
The supportive policies of building a marriage- and childbearing-friendly society are just the very first step, said Zhou. "The decline in fertility is a long-standing global problem, and we have a long way to go."
A tourism promotion event was held at the Italian Cultural Center in Beijing, to help boost mutual exchanges between China and Italy. Italian Ambassador to China Massimo Ambrosetti addressed the event.
The ambassador emphasized that, Italy is famous for its food and wine, its cities of art, and its fashion brands, but these are not the only advantage points of Italian tourism. "We have many lesser-known but equally authentic and important places and therefore need to promote in-depth travel experiences in these areas as well," said he.
In the first half of 2023, the Italian Embassy and Consulates in China processed more than 50,000 visas, and more than 3 million traveled to Italy in 2019, and "we are now aiming to reach and exceed the 2019 figure in 2024."
The event was co-hosted by the Italian National Tourist Board and Italian Embassy in China. Promotional events were also held in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chongqing.
In his report to the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC), Xi Jinping, general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, proposed to comprehensively advance the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation on all fronts through a Chinese path to modernization - the modernization of a huge population, of common prosperity for all, of material and cultural-ethical advancement, of harmony between humanity and nature, and peaceful development.
Advancing Chinese modernization is a systematic endeavor and also an exploratory undertaking. It is through this framework that we wish to illustrate the process of the Chinese path to modernization through a series of landmark projects, touching stories, and grand visions.
Xi stressed building a Beautiful China at the National Conference on Ecological and Environmental Protection held in Beijing on July 17 and 18, calling to support high-quality development with a high-quality ecological environment, and accelerate the advancement of modernization featuring harmony between humanity and nature.
In this installment, Global Times reporters visited the world's first offshore wind turbine crop in an intertidal zone located in East China's Jiangsu Province to learn about how its development process epitomizes technical breakthroughs in Chinese modernization, and how such breakthroughs provide the world with valuable successful experiences in clean energy. With the rhythmic hum of spinning blades slicing through the salty sea breeze, rows of white giants stick out of the Yellow Sea like something out of a science fiction novel. This is the world's first crop of offshore wind turbines in an intertidal zone - the Longyuan Rudong Offshore Demonstration Wind Farm - in East China's Jiangsu Province, an area characterized by rapid industrialization and urbanization.
For senior engineer Ji Xiaoqiang, this crop of windmills is not only a technological marvel, but a childhood dream come true. Today, a total of 150 turbines generate 900 million kilowatt-hours of electricity annually, enough to power more than 223,000 households. Such results bring comfort to Ji, whose childhood memories are filled with occasional large-scale blackouts.
Each turbine is a testament to China's unwavering commitment to stably harnessing the power of nature while serving industrialization needs, and China's wise solutions to a cleaner future for many developing countries in the world.
China has accelerated its pace in implementing clean energy solutions, building the world's largest clean power generation system, exporting successful lessons, becoming an important force in promoting global clean energy development, and committing to making green, affordable electricity truly accessible to millions of households. Huge potential to be tapped
Visiting the Longyuan Offshore Demonstration Wind Farm, Global Times reporters were impressed by the colossal turbines fitted to each windmill, as well as the size of the blades, each of which is half the size of the Eiffel Tower.
How did Chinese engineers manage to transport these giants from land to sea using domestically innovated technologies?
Ji Xiaoqiang, deputy director of the offshore engineering department at the Jiangsu Longyuan Offshore Wind Power Co, Ltd (Longyuan Power), affiliated with the China Energy Investment Corporation, explained that the turbines are partially assembled on shore, and then shipped out to sea where each blade is attached with surgical precision to the top of a turbine. Every angle must be accurate to generate maximum power.
On a narrow 90-meter-high operating platform hanging over the Yellow Sea, Ji makes his rounds at the wind farm, carefully inspecting and servicing the turbines - a job not for the faint of heart.
"Sticking chopsticks in tofu" is the most vivid metaphor for the intertidal wind power foundation construction.
China has abundant offshore wind energy storage. According to China's National Meteorological Bureau's estimates, the sea area within the 5 to 25-meter water depth line, or intertidal zone, has a potential generating capacity of about 200 million kilowatts. That means one hour of electricity generation could power at least 92 million homes for a year, according to calculation.
Take Jiangsu as an example. Its coastal area has abundant, peaceful wind resources, and strong grid structures, making it a great choice for the development of a wind power industry, Ji told the Global Times. But offshore exploration is far more difficult than onshore.
With small supporting industries and equipment subjects to capricious Western controls, China's offshore wind power development lagged in the early stages. Ji and his fellow engineers have long been trying to figure out how to change the game.
It wasn't until 2011 that Ji and his team finally found the answer which marked the start of the era of large-scale Chinese offshore wind power generation. A difficult conquest
Initially, Ji and his colleagues attempted to choose concrete-poured foundations as they typically would for onshore windfarms. However, experience on land is hard to transfer. Even a millimeter-level deviation in verticality could pose a risk of hundreds of tons of generator towers collapsing into the sea, Ji said.
"We learned that the mainstream foreign solution was to put a sleeve at the connection between the foundation and the tower, fill it with the grouting material, and use the sleeve to balance the inclination. This sleeve acts as a key piece of equipment, like a 'waist,' for balancing the entire body of the generator. However, high-strength grouting material for the sleeve was not available domestically at that time, and relying on imports was too expensive and not wise for commercial use," Ji explained.
Against this backdrop, Ji and his team deliberated with experts, brainstormed multiple solutions, and finally created an innovative pile driver, which is like a giant hand that can grip a single pile and keeps it vertical when it is hammered into the seabed, maintaining the verticality error rate at below 0.2 percent.
This eliminates the need for a transition sleeve and grouting material, dramatically reduces overall costs, and increases construction speed, fully meeting the needs of large-scale construction.
"It's a historic moment for our offshore wind power in China, and this innovative solution is now widely used in the domestic market. This can be learned by many countries that are eager to develop clean energy at a high speed," Ji said.
Such innovative attempts are never smooth sailing. This plan encountered failures in its first two attempts. It nearly cost the project all early investment, and Ji was also dogged by doubts expressed at home and abroad.
But it did not deter this young engineer. He quickly made adjustments to the solution, and polished the details with his team. It wasn't until days later, when cheers erupted after a successful third pile drive, that Ji set off firecrackers that he'd been saving for that very moment.
Ji looked at the wind turbines, which his team nicknamed "white dolphins," emerging from the seaside in front of him and sighed with relief that people would not experience power outages caused by unstable voltage and industrial power overloads as he did as a child.
Ji told the Global Times that the marginal cost of wind power is relatively low, and China's solution is a good reference for coastal countries.
Harmony with nature
Along the coast of Rudong, flying birds and sea windmills decorate the distant skyline. Bird watching enthusiasts from across the country gather here as the sun sets, to observe rare birds such as the spoon-billed Snipe, armed with state-of-the-art cameras, a beautiful and impressive scene.
Harmonious coexistence between humanity and nature is a basic principle in China's ecological civilization construction and a distinct feature of China's vivid and effective practice along its path to modernization.
Moreover, ecological civilization is a new requirement in the realization of harmonious development between humanity and nature. Such a principle is also upheld by China's offshore wind power development.
In 2012, Longyuan Power, for example, signed China's earliest marine ecological restoration agreement with local governments for offshore wind farms. At present, it has made an investment of about 56 million yuan in ecological conservation in Jiangsu Province, for Yellow Sea breeding and release efforts, wetland environmental improvement, bird protection facility construction, and marine environment tracking and monitoring.
On June 28, with the completion of the final blade's mounting, the world's first 16-megawatt offshore wind turbine was successfully installed in East China's Fujian Province on the offshore wind farm owned by the China Three Gorges Corporation (CTG).
China's approach to offshore wind from scratch offers a solution to many countries, especially with regard to coastal regions, on how they can personalize their own energy development with innovative technologies, to achieve harmonious coexistence of humanity and nature, which are part of a global community of shared future.
In 2022, China's wind power installed capacity reached 365 million kilowatts, ranking first in the world for the 13th consecutive year. The figure was about 1.4 times that of the EU at the end of 2020 and 2.6 times that of the US, according to data released by China's National Energy Administration.
China's cost-effective offshore wind power technology marks a historic leap in the country's wind power from following others to be a world leader. China has also exported some homemade wind turbines to countries including Thailand, Turkey, and Kazakhstan.
While some Western countries like the US are using various means to seize energy resources around the world, such as stealing oil from Syria, China is packaging and sharing advanced energy technologies and solutions with many developing countries.
China's efforts to promote sustainable development and energy security for all nations demonstrate a commitment to global well-being and a departure from the narrow-minded, short-term thinking of some Western powers.
This stark contrast highlights the self-serving development model of Western countries versus China's concept of a global community of shared future.
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs organized dozens of diplomatic envoys to visit Urumqi, Kashi and Aksu in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in early August. Foreign envoys had in-depth exchanges with residents from various ethnic groups and experienced the economic and social development of the region.
A total of 25 ambassadors from countries such as the Commonwealth of Dominica, Myanmar, Iran, Samoa and Mexico participated in the event. They spoke highly of Xinjiang's stability, economic development and prosperous culture. "People in Xinjiang are enjoying a happy life," they said, and affirmed how Xinjiang-related lies fabricated by certain Western media outlets do not correspond to the real situation.
Located in the hinterland of Asia, Xinjiang used to an important hub on the ancient Silk Road that connects East and West. As China expands its high-level opening-up to the outside world, Xinjiang has been transformed from a relatively closed inland area into a frontier of opening-up to the outside world. Iranian Ambassador to China Mohsen Bakhtiar believes that Xinjiang plays an irreplaceable role in the Belt and Road Initiative.
People from all ethnic groups in Xinjiang have created a diverse and colorful culture. The Kizil Caves of the Thousand Buddhas in the Aksu region has endured thousands of years of baptism, and the stunning murals in the cave show the colorful culture of this land.
"China has made every effort to protect the original appearance of the Buddhist caves and murals, and it has embraced the diverse cultures of various regions," said a diplomat from the Peruvian Embassy in China.
The Xinjiang-related lies fabricated by some Western media sources do not correspond to the real situation in Xinjiang and the Chinese Government is committed to preserving the culture and languages of ethnic minorities in the region, foreign envoys said.
Italian scholar Eusebio Filopatro (pseudonym) never expected his pseudonym would make him the center of a news incident. When the Global Times (GT) was maliciously attacked and slandered by certain Italian and Western media outlets for publishing his signed article under the pseudonym Eusebio Filopatro, while being accused of fabricating "a fictional character" to create "fake news," this Italian scholar was confused: Anonymity should not be an issue - you can use Google searching the key words "anonymous" or "anonymous source" and "New York Times" or "Reuters," and you will see that almost all Western media outlets rely on anonymous sources routinely. So why does the use of pseudonyms become a problem when it comes to Chinese media?
When GT sharply countered the smear campaign spearheaded by Western media outlets, this Italian scholar was greatly excited.
He stated that he would be honored to provide more analyses that meet the standards of GT and have them published in the future. However, he also noted that he would continue to contribute such content under his Eusebio Filopatro pseudonym especially when discussing more controversial matters.
A request for anonymity
In early August, the Italian scholar submitted an article to GT regarding Italy's intention to withdraw from the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). In the article, he expressed different views from those expressed by Italy's ruling elites. He pointed out that China's size, its trading figures, and its other partners will not be determined by Western policies and actions, and that the West's "de-risking" campaign will only make the West strangle itself in "splendid isolation." He called on Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni to visit China to experience a power that does not project ideological and domestic policy preferences on partners, believing Italy's China policy should not be predetermined before hearing from the Chinese side.
Considering domestic public opinion sentiments in Italy, the scholar insisted on having the article published anonymously. He was well aware that speaking the truth about Italy's potential withdrawal from the BRI in the current domestic Italian public opinion atmosphere was risky.
Out of respect for the author and in the interest of his safety, GT agreed to publish this article under his pseudonym, Eusebio Filopatro.
However, the article was maliciously attacked by a number of Italian and Western media outlets after its publication. Italian media outlet Le Formiche claimed that it couldn't find any personal information about the author online, dismissing him as a "fictional character" created to "spread fake news." The Chinese version of RFI also published an article entitled "Italian media outlet questions Chinese state media use of fake people and fake news to criticize Rome's withdrawal from the BRI," amplifying the malicious attacks and rumors from the Italian media outlets against GT.
The slanderous reactions from Le Formiche and a few other Western media outlets have proven the validity of the concerns raised by the Italian scholar and the current deterioration of Western public opinion. Italian and Western media outlets have demonstrated a dogged determination to uncover the identity of the dissenting author.
In response to their malicious efforts, GT published an article on August 14 entitled "Why did a pseudonym cause some Western media outlets to react so strongly?," pointing out that the author requested the use of a pseudonym precisely because of his deep understanding of the nature of Italian and Western media outlets, with the resultant backlash having validated the author's concerns.
"In light of the intimidations and smearing recently suffered by Professor Alessandro Orsini and former ambassador Elena Basile for having expressed views that understood and defended Italy's national interests differently from Italy's ruling elite, I prefer to remain anonymous, and I will try to establish my authenticity with the Italian press in due time," Filopatro told GT.
"This 'pseudonym incident' involving the Italian author allows us to see more clearly that when it comes to attacking and smearing China, some Western media outlets have gone hysterical and fanatical, becoming accomplices in suppressing the truth and rational voices," reads GT's response article.
Nie Shujiang, an associate professor at the Guangming School of Journalism and Communication at the China University of Political Science and Law, endorsed the Global Times' approach. He expressed his belief that scholars using pseudonyms or publishing articles anonymously in the media is commonplace internationally and the Global Times simply and impeccably followed the internationally accepted practice.
"Everyone knows Mark Twain, but how many people know his real name was Samuel Clemens? George Kennan published an essay under the pseudonym X in the Foreign Affairs magazine. Elena Ferrante is currently the most popular and mysterious writer in Italy, whose true identity remains a mystery. Why do the Italian media outlets never question this?" Nie asked.
He emphasized that it is a hypocritical and unfair double standard that Western media outlets themselves use pseudonyms or anonymous sources but accuse Chinese media outlets of "creating fake news" when the latter do the same. Nie also lauded the response by the Global Times as "timely, positive, and proactive," as it set the record straight and positively contributed to international public opinion.
Li Haidong, a professor with the Institute of International Relations at the China Foreign Affairs University, told GT that Western media outlets often cite "anonymous sources" or "certain experts" in their reporting while discrediting Chinese media outlets for doing the same. This demonstrates some Western media's lack of basic respect for Chinese media. "They consistently employ a superior and arbitrary logic to judge the practices of Chinese media, which is unhealthy," Li said. Rational voices being suppressed
The response article from the Global Times quickly sparked fiery rejoinders in Italy. Alessandro Orsini, an Italian political analyst who has been a target of public opinion attacks due to his alleged pro-Russia views, with over 130,000 followers on Facebook, caught wind of GT's response article and commented on his Facebook account that what GT has reported about political intimidation in Italy is true, that GT is a serious and important outlet, and that he is pleased to have been mentioned as someone who cares for Italy's national interests.
The viewpoints expressed in GT's response article, which highlighted the suppression of truth and rationality in Italian public opinion, was also supported by Italian netizens. "Everybody talks about it, even foreign newspapers talk about it, [but] only by us the truth is hushed… And even if we wanted, we could not say it, because they keep us under close watch! Is this democracy or what?" one Italian netizen demanded.
Shen Yi, a professor in international relations at Fudan University, told the Global Times that the criticism of the Italian government's potential withdrawal from the BRI by an Italian scholar writing under a pseudonym reminded him of the famous story, "The Emperor's New Clothes."
"The Italian scholar was playing the role of a faceless mass on the road and hoping to shout out in an anonymous way that the emperor is actually naked," Shen said.
The so-called de-risking practice of Italy's withdrawal from the BRI is completely against its own interests. The benefits that Italy can gain from cooperating with China are obvious. By leaning toward the US, Italy might actually gain nothing, Shen said, noting that Italy is not only brainwashed but also delusional by not allowing others to speak the truth.
Li said that it's a pervasive phenomenon in some Western countries that the deteriorating domestic public opinion has led to scholars and other knowledgeable individuals to fear openly calling for rational relations with China. Western public opinion currently exhibits a "witch hunt mentality," and there is a very strong "political correctness" present in some Western media that is always against China. This puts individuals who want to express objective and rational opinions in an extremely disadvantageous position, making it difficult or even impossible for them to openly express their views. By contrast, information that demonizes China spreads everywhere.
'White flag' raised by Italian media
Six days after Le Formiche accused the Global Times of fabricating the character "Eusebio Filopatro," the Italian media outlet Faro di Roma published a commentary article by Eusebio Filopatro, discussing the Wagner incident in Russia. The Eusebio Filopatro writing for Faro di Roma is the very Eusebio Filopatro who contributed to the GT in the first place. On August 17, L'Antidiplomatico published Filopatro's explanation about his anonymous article on GT and the subsequent smears GT suffered at the hands of Italian and Western media outlets. In the article, he stated that when faced with an article that differs from the mainstream position, attention shouldn't be focused too much on the author's identity but rather on the viewpoints expressed. Linking the author to "propaganda" is itself a form of intimidation and potential violence, violating the principles of freedom of speech and debate, Filopatro wrote.
In view of GT's response article and Filopatro's explanation, Le Formiche was compelled to publish a response. It had to acknowledge the existence of the anonymous author. However, it still attempted to discredit GT by referring to it as a "Party newspaper" and claimed that GT had failed to explicitly state that the author of the article was using a pseudonym.
Filopatro told GT that many columnists and Italian journalists he is in contact with publish under pseudonyms themselves, with the fact sometimes made explicit, and sometimes not.
"The claim by Formiche that there is a rule about revealing and explaining pseudonyms in Western press, and that GT should 'learn' from it, is completely false and made up, only to discredit GT and, in particular, my BRI article on GT," he said.
He also added that "Formiche basically raised a white flag, as they admitted that Eusebio Filopatro exists and is a foreign policy analyst for Italy and the EU."
After reviewing the whole incident, Filopatro said, "For me, this has been a very positive experience. Many more Italian readers have reflected on the termination of the [BRI-relating] Memorandum of Understanding. The right of GT to use pseudonyms and anonymity, just like every other newspaper, has been vindicated."
However, when asked if he would be willing to appear in Chinese or Italian media in the future under his real identity, he still expressed reservations, stating his preference to continue using his pseudonym: "I do not fancy being called 'a slimy piece of excrement,' nor do I wish to have my face displayed on Italy's main newspaper as a sort of 'public enemy' or 'voice of the propaganda.' Neither do I wish to have my actions questioned in parliament as a sort of national problem. Hence, I consider Italy's public debate unfree, and I prefer to maintain a pseudonym."
Chinese experts who are following this matter said that the incident has damaged the credibility of the Italian media, exposing a bias and double standard toward Chinese media. It also reveals the hidden political persecution mechanisms in the Western society, causing people to be afraid of speaking the truth and face repercussions for speaking the truth, which is a social tragedy, analysts warned.
Over the last decade, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has yield fruitful achievements and greatly enriched China-Africa relations. As this year marks the 10th anniversary of the proposal of BRI, Global Times reporters Liu Xin and Xing Xiaojing (GT) interviewed Chinese Ambassador to Kenya Zhou Pingjian (Zhou) and Chinese Ambassador to Madagascar Guo Xiaomei (Guo), to learn about their views on the BRI's achievements in the two African countries and their expectations for future cooperation. GT: Over the last decade, China and Kenya have achieved fruitful results in their cooperation under the Belt and Road initiative (BRI). What do you see as the biggest highlight?
Zhou: The Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) is a landmark project by China and Kenya under the BRI, and it is also an exemplar of many fruitful results. In Kenya, the railway is affectionately called the SGR, and is well-known to almost every single Kenyan. As Kenyan President William Ruto said, the railway has completely changed the national landscape of Kenya.
The BRI has transformed Kenya's dreams into a reality. The narrow-gauge railway in Kenya was built in 1895 and has long been in disrepair. The country has always wanted to build a standard-gauge railway, which is also a key project in its Vision 2030 plan formulated in 2007.
Since the inauguration of the SGR, it has transported about 11 million passengers and about 28 million tons of cargo. It is worth mentioning that the official name of the railway in Kenya is "Madaraka Express" - "madaraka" means independence in the local Swahili language. Therefore, the most important significance of the railway is to enhance the confidence of the Kenyan people in their own development and make them proud.
GT: How do cooperation projects under the BRI, represented by the SGR, promote the development of other sectors by supporting infrastructure construction in Africa?
Zhou: Infrastructure construction is one of the key focuses of comprehensive cooperation under the BRI, and has unique significance for Kenya.
Kenya itself does not have abundant mineral resources, but its geographical location and regional centrality are very important. Without necessary infrastructure, it cannot consolidate this advantage. That is why Kenya attaches great importance to cooperation with China in building railways, roads, airports, and other forms of infrastructure.
In the construction of these projects, China and Kenya adhere to the principle of extensive consultation, joint contribution, and shared benefits, and implement the concepts proposed by the BRI. Each project effectively addresses Kenya's development concerns and brings significant benefits, such as creating job opportunities, consolidating regional centrality, and enhancing the confidence of the Kenyan people. No one agrees with the smear of the so-called debt trap.
GT: Based on your understanding, how do people from all walks of life in Kenya respond to the BRI? What role does the initiative play in communicating with the local people?
Zhou: The BRI has an excellent reputation in Kenya, and local friends highly praise the practical changes brought about by China-Kenya cooperation under the initiative.
In 2013, China and Kenya established a comprehensive cooperative partnership of equality, mutual trust, mutual benefit, and win-win cooperation. In 2017, China-Kenya relations were upgraded to a comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership. In the last 10 years, the exchanges between China and Kenya at the head-of-state level have provided strong strategic guidance for the joint construction of the BRI.
In addition to the connectivity of facilities such as the SGR, "soft connectivity" in terms of standard rules and regulations has also been well-coordinated, ensuring smooth trade. A decade ago, the bilateral trade volume between China and Kenya was about $2.8 billion, and in 2022 it reached about $8.5 billion, growing rapidly. The cooperation between the two countries in financial connectivity over the last 10 years has also made great progress.
In the process of jointly building the BRI between China and Kenya, due to the high visibility of projects such as the SGR, the Lamu port, and the Thwake Dam, some people may think that the joint construction mainly focuses on infrastructure.
In fact, the achievements in people-to-people connectivity and cultural exchanges between the two countries are also very prominent. Kenya currently has four Confucius Institutes, the most in any African country. There are also scientific research institutions such as the Sino-Africa Joint Research Center and the Kenya-China Joint Laboratory for Crop Molecular Biology at Egerton University. The embassy staffers always feel enthusiasm when communicating with local people.
GT: We have noticed that many elites in Kenya have a Western education background, but in recent years, more and more young people have tended to opt to study in China. How do you view this change?
Zhou: In Kenya, we hardly hear any negative comments about China. The local people have confidence in China's development prospects, and naturally want their own future development to be related to China.
Officials from the Kenyan Ministry of Education have expressed that many Kenyan students want to study in China, which also reflects the increasing importance of cooperation with China in Kenya's consideration of future development. Before visiting China, a high-ranking Kenyan official told me that he needed to bring his 15-year-old son along to let him understand that the world is not only about Europe and America, but also about rapidly developing China.
Kenya is an open country, and both in the business and academic fields, more people are indeed turning their attention to China. The people-to-people exchanges between China and Kenya have laid a solid foundation since the time of Zheng He's voyages to the coast of East Africa. With the strong driving force of jointly building the BRI, the friendly exchanges between the two countries are expected to deepen further.
GT: While achieving fruitful cooperation with mutual benefits, Western media outlets have intensified their attacks using the so-called debt trap. How do you view this?
Zhou: There are always people who can't stand others' success. During our exchanges with local friends in Kenya, no one has agreed with the so-called debt trap insinuation. Even if some people are influenced by such rhetoric, misunderstandings can be eliminated as long as there is clear communication.
A country needs capital for development. If it lacks domestic capital, it needs to find ways to utilize external capital appropriately. Many Kenyans believe that it is good to borrow money to help in development.
As far as I know, the smear of the so-called debt trap lacks credibility in Kenya. China's financing in Kenya is based on the development projects in the Kenya Vision 2030 plan. Before these projects started, China was not the only country Kenya had contact with. After analyzing different options, Kenya independently chose China. The reason behind this is that Chinese financing brings project implementation and provides Kenya with the fairest and most reasonable financing arrangements within its capacity.
Other speculations such as "neocolonialism" have no standing in Kenya either. My feeling is that when certain media outlets hype such topics, the local media in Kenya reacts minimally because the people here have benefited from pragmatic cooperation under the BRI.
GT: What is the current status of the focus to align the BRI with Kenya's Vision 2030?
Zhou: The development of each country has different stages, and the demands at each stage are not the same. Any cooperation between China and other countries is based on the needs and absorptive capacity of the partners, as well as the assistance that China can provide, striving for win-win outcomes.
Infrastructure construction remains a priority for Kenya's national development, and China and Kenya will continue to promote cooperation in this area through innovative approaches. In addition, based on its own development needs, Kenya has a growing desire to cooperate with China in other fields.
For example, the Kenyan government has proposed a bottom-up economic transformation agenda with agriculture at the core, covering areas such as micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises, affordable housing, universal healthcare, and the digital and creative economy. There are broad prospects and ample space for cooperation between Kenya and China in these areas.
Taking the digital and creative economy as an example, China and Kenya have a good foundation for cooperation. Both countries have good cooperation in building 4G and 5G base stations, national fiber optic networks, and national data centers. How to improve and make better use of the infrastructure in these areas is a topic that can be further explored in the future.
There is even greater potential for cooperation between China and Kenya in the tourism industry. More and more Kenyans now recognize that China represents a huge opportunity. They say that China has over 100 million outbound tourists each year, and if even a small fraction of them could come to Kenya, the country's tourism industry would develop well. Additionally, there is also great potential for cooperation between China and Kenya in the film and television production industry, including animation.
GT: What are your expectations for the development prospects of the high-quality BRI in Kenya?
Zhou: The prospects are very broad. Kenya has its own advantages, and the two countries have gradually explored good methods of cooperation. The most important thing is that both sides adhere to the principles of consultation, joint construction, and shared benefits, aiming for win-win cooperation and promoting their respective development.
Kenya's leaders, government officials, and ordinary people from all walks of life have highly praised the joint construction of the BRI between China and Kenya.
When the former Kenyan Minister of Transport participated in a live broadcast on a local TV station and was asked why many projects were cooperating with China, he used the example of the SGR to explain how Kenya's century-old dream became a reality through cooperation with China. He mentioned that they had been talking about building an expressway to the airport for 20 years, and China helped them achieve it within one or two years.
His argument was simple: The projects carried out in cooperation with China are of good quality, cost-effective, and are completed quickly. What's wrong with that? It also explains, to some extent, why the BRI has borne fruitful results in Kenya. It is because of China's sincerity and correct concept of righteousness and interests in practical operations, which have helped Kenya achieve its own development.
At the same time, China has also enhanced its own experience, technology, and equipment through cooperation with Kenya, expanding the market for Chinese companies. From August 2008 to July 2011, I served as a counselor at the Chinese Embassy in Kenya. At the time, there was only one Chinese community here, but now there are 18. The number of Chinese tourists visiting Kenya was very small at that time, but before the pandemic, this number had exceeded 80,000.
Looking ahead, I believe that China and Kenya will achieve new breakthroughs in jointly building the BRI and implementing global development initiatives.
In September 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping delivered an important speech in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, in which he proposed the idea of the "Silk Road Economic Belt." Since then, an initiative that would have a significant impact on the world's development and prosperity has taken root. Over the last decade, the vision of high-quality construction of the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has achieved substantial and fruitful results in Kazakhstan and across the Central Asia region. Recently, Global Times reporters Lin Xiaoyi and Xia Wenxin (GT) interviewed former Uzbek deputy prime minister and former minister of Foreign Affairs of Uzbekistan Saidmukhtar Saidkasimov (Saidkasimov) in Uzbekistan. The diplomat shared his views on how the BRI and Chinese wisdom have primed Central Asian countries to usher in a new era of development in the past decade. GT: What were your impressions when you first heard about the concept of "the Silk Road Economic Belt" (the "Belt") and BRI in general? How does Uzbekistan view this initiative?
Saidkasimov: It is no exaggeration to say that the initiative proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping 10 years ago, generated tremendous interest around the world from the very beginning. It was not only a very bold, but also a hitherto unprecedented large-scale interregional project. What attracted attention to this project, above all, was its practical and applicable orientation, covering all the direct economic interests and benefits of dozens of countries and peoples.
For the first time in history, an unprecedented plan for the formation and development of an interconnected transportation infrastructure across the entire Eurasian continent was presented. Its implementation truly opened up broad prospects for the creation of a fundamentally new transport configuration across the vast expanse of our planet.
Obviously, such an initiative could not go unnoticed at the global level. Indeed, over the last decade, a large number of countries have shown their interest in participating in this ambitious project to create new trade routes, transportation, and economic corridors closely linking the countries of Asia, Europe, and Africa.
Another important goal of the BRI is that it is ultimately aimed at overcoming poverty, social disadvantages, and the enormous development gap in many countries and regions that are breeding grounds for international terrorism, extremism, and illegal migration. All this requires overcoming inequality, domestic stagnation, and stagnation in global economic development.
From the very beginning, Uzbekistan was one of the first countries to highly appreciate and greatly support the BRI for many reasons. On the one hand, the idea of active trade permeates the entire centuries-old history of our region. Uzbekistan and Central Asia in very distant years practically connected trade relations of the whole of Eurasia. On the other hand, geographically, Central Asia has been the center and the main route of the legendary Silk Road for centuries, being a strategically important trade hub.
It is noteworthy that the idea of reuniting hundreds of peoples and countries of Eurasia into a single belt of mutually beneficial cooperation was proclaimed by China, where the Silk Road historically originated. China itself demonstrates to the world a great example of successful social development. In a historically short period, a huge number of Chinese people were able to escape poverty and backwardness and achieved a fairly high level of development. This achievement by the Chinese people is a rare, unique phenomenon in world history.
GT: What impact has the BRI had on Uzbekistan's development over the last decade?
Saidkasimov: Uzbekistan attaches great importance to strengthening cooperation with China for joint development in various areas and constantly measures its plans against the potential of the BRI. A huge number of examples convincingly demonstrate the creative power of the broad, multifaceted, and constantly growing cooperation between Uzbekistan and China within the BRI, confirming the reality and validity of the great promising expectations of our peoples to further strengthen friendly ties.
For many years, China has firmly occupied the position of one of the main economic partners of Uzbekistan. A number of interstate, intergovernmental, and interagency agreements and arrangements create the necessary legal framework for the growing investment cooperation. Projects in industrial cooperation, infrastructure modernization, transport, pharmaceuticals, telecommunications, and the creation of joint industrial parks of high technologies with the participation of companies from both countries have been successfully implemented. The volume of Chinese investments in Uzbekistan's economy in recent years has exceeded $10 billion.
Significant joint projects are being promoted. All four strings of the China-Central Asia gas pipeline pass through the territory of Uzbekistan. The railroad tunnel through Kamchik Pass, the longest in our region, is now operational. The throughput potential of the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan (CKU) highway corridor and the railroad is increasingly opening up. Cooperation on the construction of the CKU railway will expand the geography of trade and transportation from China through Uzbekistan to Europe and the Gulf States from the south. It will also transform Uzbekistan from an inland state into an important communications hub in the region.
Uzbekistan, with the help of China, is significantly diversifying export destinations, modernizing infrastructure, and reorienting investment flows to new areas, increasing their potential. China has also become the main exporter of electric cars to Uzbekistan.
Cultural and humanitarian cooperation between the two countries is also actively developing. In this important sphere, joint mass events are increasingly being organized, including art festivals, gala concerts, exhibitions, and seminars. Cooperation is expanding in such areas as student exchanges, translation and publication of literary works, cinematography, translation and broadcasting of television programs, inter-regional contacts, and personnel training, which effectively contribute to the rapprochement of our peoples.
GT: Uzbekistan's President Shavkat Mirziyoyev is expected to visit China to attend the third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in October. What are your expectations from this visit?
Saidkasimov: The upcoming Belt and Road forum is an important event. Undoubtedly, it will cause a huge resonance on a global scale, because it will most likely deal primarily with plans to further expand the transport capabilities of regional and global trade and economic cooperation, in which Uzbekistan is also interested.
It is no coincidence that President Mirziyoyev took an active part and introduced new initiatives at the first Forum in 2017, and at the second in April 2019. There is no doubt that President Mirziyoyev's upcoming visit to China will make a new contribution to the stable and consistent development of the bilateral comprehensive strategic partnership and give a powerful impetus to the further expansion and deepening of Uzbek-Chinese cooperation.
GT: Speaking of the CKU railway, what do you think the three countries can expect from this project?
Saidkasimov: The latest news has shown more positivity. An agreement was signed a year ago and the three countries have already started working on this project. At present, agreements on all technical and financial matters are on a mutually acceptable basis.
This railway, as well as many others, is not a noble gesture by China. All three countries are equally interested in this project. Everyone will benefit from it, be it China, Kyrgyzstan, or Uzbekistan. It is always a great advantage for any country to have a network of good railroads because all countries profit from the opportunity to use them for transportation.
GT: Is Uzbekistan interested in China's development model? What aspects your country is interested in the most?
Saidkasimov: Uzbekistan is very closely following the development of China as a reliable strategic partner. We are increasingly interested in all aspects and spheres of its development. Uzbekistan is studying China's modernization plan because we feel very close to many of China's approaches to solving problems.
Uzbekistan first paid special attention to the development of China's real economy, the improvement of the income distribution system, and ensuring grain security. In addition, the development strategy of President Mirziyoyev emphasizes the development of science and technology. In this regard, China's approach of considering science and technology as the main productive force and innovation as the main driving force of growth is in line with and interesting to us. China's experience in developing high-tech industry is of special interest to our republic.
Uzbekistan will closely follow China's commitment to focus on breakthroughs in advanced technologies while enhancing the resilience and capabilities of industrial and logistics chains in terms of strengthening the foundation for building production capacity and developing its own solution for restructuring international industrial chains, modernizing through stimulus measures in areas such as manufacturing, product quality, aerospace, transport, cyberspace, and digital development.
Second, as President Mirziyoyev has repeatedly noted, Uzbekistan pays special attention to China's experience in achieving inclusive social justice, pulling more and more people out of poverty, and increasing the size of the middle class, thus achieving universal equality in society. China's success in this area is well-known in Uzbekistan. On the initiative of President Mirziyoyev, a special program of cooperation to introduce China's experience in overcoming poverty has been developed and is being actively implemented in our republic. Such rich experience in overcoming the country's historically complex and multidimensional social problems is being carefully studied.
Third, the strategic aspirations of China and Uzbekistan also coincide in the sphere of harmonious coexistence between human and nature. This goal is among the main ones in the long-term program proposed by President Mirziyoyev. As in China, innovativeness, coordination, environmental friendliness, openness and sharing, and the maximum protection of nature and the environment are introduced in this sphere in our republic. The experience of the emerging carbon trading market and clean power generation system, as well as China's willingness to work with other countries to promote the transformation to a clean and low-carbon development model, are also noteworthy.
In general, the policy of President Mirziyoyev, aims at the constant expansion of comprehensive cooperation with China, is immensely fruitful in the most diverse spheres of social development, and has the full support of the people of Uzbekistan.
GT: How has Uzbekistan's attitude toward China changed over the years?
Saidkasimov: In recent years, some top European Union leaders have visited our country. Some of them wanted to create the illusion that "China is dangerous." But Uzbekistan's response was unambiguous and confidently principled that we decide our relations with other countries based on our national interests. That is, no one needs to teach Uzbekistan how to conduct its relations with other countries. And for us, we see only positivity in developing good relations with China.
GT: We know that Uzbekistan has been going through reform in recent years under President Mirziyoyev. Could you please tell us what has changed over the years during this reform?
Saidkasimov: Uzbekistan began to change dramatically after President Mirziyoyev took office. The Uzbekistan before Mirziyoyev and after Mirziyoyev is completely different: Back then, it was a closed state; foreign relations were very limited, even with our four neighbors; we had a completely closed press, freedom of expression was prohibited; and we did not carry out any reforms, neither in the economy nor in other spheres. After Mirziyoyev took office, this all began to change radically.
Many Chinese experts called Mirziyoyev a reformer, indeed the Uzbek Deng Xiaoping. Knowing what a huge role Deng played in the fundamental transformation of Chinese society, I would fully agree with such an assessment.
He knows well the situation and all the problems in Uzbekistan. Now he is pursuing a policy to transform Uzbekistan in all directions to build a "New Uzbekistan."
First of all, in foreign policy, he started to actively develop relations with all friendly countries. Among his main priorities, he made a state visit to China. He also visited European Union countries and the US. We have dramatically increased the number of embassies in other countries. Many other countries also opened their embassies in Tashkent.
In terms of the economy, we see the development of entrepreneurship. All restrictions for both large and small businesses have been removed. The state has begun to provide this influential support, primarily to small and medium-size businesses. In this case, financial support was very well provided, while various benefits were created for entrepreneurs. For the first time, we also opened foreign bank branches. As a result, our GDP per capita has changed noticeably over these seven years.
In general, great changes have taken place in the economy, social life, and cultural development. That is to say, today we can say that Uzbekistan is developing as a modern state in a very free, calm, and even manner.
GT: You founded the University of World Economy and Diplomacy in 1992. What motivated you to create this university?
Saidkasimov: It has more to do with the collapse of the Soviet Union. After the collapse, 15 former republics became independent. The point is that during the Soviet era, only Moscow was in charge of these republics' foreign policy, because the Soviet Union was a unified state, and therefore a unified foreign policy was implemented with the center. Moreover, foreign policy specialists and diplomats were trained only in Moscow.
When we became independent, we had to open an embassy and accept foreign diplomats, but then we found out that Uzbekistan has no specialists or national diplomats. After all, diplomacy is a special sphere of activity that needs its own professionals who defend the national interests. Therefore, having experience in this sphere as a professor in universities in Moscow to prepare diplomats, I felt it necessary to establish such a study institution in Tashkent. Our university was the first of such in the former Soviet Union states. Our university had a special status and requirements, and we selected the strongest trained young people. As a result, everything went successfully, creating a highly professional national corps of Uzbek diplomats. Today, many Uzbek Ambassadors are graduates of this university.
A cultural exchange event was held at the Royal Thai Embassy in Beijing during the National Day holidays, jointly organized by the Ministry of Education of Thailand and the Royal Thai Embassy in China.
At the event, the embassy invited outstanding young teachers and students from the Chinese Oriental Orchestra to showcase their talents in the instruments of guzheng, pipa, harp, cello, and dance, allowing the Thai audience to experience the unique charm of traditional Chinese music and appreciate the profound symbolism in traditional Chinese music and dance.
Staffers from the Royal Thai Embassy in Beijing also performed Thai songs and dances, and provided detailed explanations of Thailand's history and culture to the Chinese guests.
The event aims to deepen the friendship between China and Thailand through cultural exchanges by not only building a good platform for cultural exchanges between the two countries, but also the promotion of understanding and communication between the two peoples.
At the core of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)'s success around the world are talented individuals who dedicate their skills to the betterment of humanity. Among this talented pool is Chinese engineer Cao Fengze, who works for a Chinese state-owned company investing infrastructure projects in Africa and holds a PhD in Civil Engineering from Tsinghua University.
Cao has been involved in multiple crucial hydropower projects in Zambia, Lesotho, and Tanzania. Through his first-hand observations and long-term interactions with local people, Cao keenly points out that many African nations are currently trapped in a development dilemma, primarily due to a lack of systematic public resources to serve rapidly growing populations and underpin development. China's efforts in African countries through the BRI aim to offer support that enables them to overcome the Malthusian trap by providing sustainable public goods.
This story is a part of the Global Times' series of "Witness to history," which features firsthand accounts from witnesses at the forefront of historic moments. From scholars to politicians and diplomats to ordinary citizens, their authentic reflections on the impact of historical moments help reveal a sound future for humanity through the solid steps forward taken in the past and the present.
When Cao Fengze received a phone call from the Global Times reporters, he was on site at the bustling and dusty construction site by the Kafue River, the longest river located entirely within the African nation measuring an impressive 1,576 kilometers. About 90 kilometers south of Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, along the Kafue River, Cao is stationed at the Kafue Gorge Lower (KGL) hydroelectric power station, which is considered Zambia's Three Gorges Project and the first large-scale hydroelectric power station developed in the country in the last 40 years.
With steely determination, a hard hat and safety gear to boot, one would be hard pressed to imagine that Cao is indeed a graduate from China's prestigious Tsinghua University with a doctorate degree. His working environment is a marked departure from that chosen by his former classmates.
Witnessing and participating in a country's industrial transition and modernization efforts has reaffirmed Cao's faith in choosing an extraordinary path. As millennial, he did not get a chance to see China's transformation into an industrialized powerhouse, but thanks to Belt and Road projects in Africa, he has a front row seat to the transformational process in the continent.
BRI projects across Africa have wide-reaching effects for common citizens and entire countries alike. As the assistant director at the African branch of Power China's subsidiary Sinohydro Bureau 11 Co, he has witnessed not only how a Chinese-funded hydropower plant has benefited a small merchant, a village, but also how China empowers African countries with robust and sustainable development systems by providing them with accessible and affordable public goods.
Escape development dilemma
The story of a small trader in the Zambian capital of Lusaka highlight's Cao's own journey along with the BRI in Africa. Thompson, the owner of a grocery store in Lusaka, makes a living by producing and selling grain products and condiments like peanut butter and hazelnut spread. Before the completion of the KGL hydroelectric power station, exorbitant electricity prices and an unstable voltage coupled with frequent power outages meant that small business owners like Thomson suffered greatly.
Apart from the high cost of electricity being passed on to his customers therefore limiting his sales, small businesses like Thomson's would often be disconnected from the power grid, as they were believed to not have an emergent need for electricity. In March this year, however, things changed for the better after the completion of the KGL hydroelectric power station, which, at full capacity, increased Zambia's overall power generation by 38 percent. The increase means that nearly four out of every 10 people now have access to electricity thanks to the KGL station, and power outages in the capital are increasingly rare.
Cheap and stable electricity has reduced Thompson's overhead costs, which means cheaper product prices, increased sales, and a fuller wallet. Thompson regularly donates his food to needy children in Lusaka. The donated cereal is pre-cooked and specially crushed into fine powder, which can be brewed and consumed by adding clean water, considering that even a kettle is a luxury for the needy children in Zambia.
Thompson believes that food donation cannot fundamentally solve the root problem in his country because the local food production will likely never catch up with the rate of population growth - a typical manifestation of the Malthusian trap.
Thompson's story strengthened Cao's resolve to devote himself to breaking the Malthusian trap in Africa. "You could say Malthusianism is outdated in Western countries, but it is still an obvious problem in most African countries. Their population growth outpaces agricultural production and economic development, causing poverty and depopulation," Cao told the Global Times.
"The fertility rate in some major African countries is above 5, and a lack of female empowerment. If the effects of Malthusianism spill over, developed countries in the world could even be profoundly affected by this massive population change," Cao warned.
"The underlying logic of what we are fighting for here is to support their economic development to outpace the population growth, and we hope to accelerate this process. We can achieve this by supporting basic infrastructure development. As we all know, electricity is the cornerstone of modern life, as it is essential for the development of industries and communication services. Only then can private enterprises, local entrepreneurs, and traders come alive and fully contribute to a revitalized economy. Otherwise, the chances of breaking the cycle of poverty are very slim," Cao explained.
Zambia is far from the only African country faced with a power supply deficit. Cao recalled witnessing power outages in the East African country of Tanzania while working on another hydroelectric project. Comically, Cao was midway through a shower when the power went out, turning off the water, leaving the engineer lathered confusion. Though this is a funny personal memory, the experience encapsulates the challenges faced by ordinary people across the continent.
Currently, the total installed capacity of the KGL station project is 750 megawatts. According to an evaluation by Zambia's state-owned electricity company, ZESCO Limited, which commissioned the construction of the plant, the station can support Zambia's industrial development for the next 70, 80, or even 100 years.
Providing more opportunities
In Zambia, highly skilled technicians and workers are in extreme short supply. To cultivate qualified personnel to support the projects, the Chinese contractor has established a government-approved training school in Zambia. Students can receive free education and accommodation complete with a living allowance. The school offers six sorted professional training courses such as civil engineering, mechanical maintenance, welding, and surveying. At least 300 skilled talents in the field of infrastructure construction have successfully graduated from training center, and a large number of them chose to join Chinese-built hydroelectric power stations.
"If we truly bring tangible benefits to the local people and empower them in development, why would they be in opposition?" Cao questioned when he was asked about his take on baseless accusations made by some foreign media sources about local people protesting against Chinese BRI projects.
He noted that Chinese contractors also build schools, hospitals, and training centers near and around the projects to fulfill their social responsibilities as contractually agreed upon.
"But it's not like we are building charity or aid projects as many people image. On the contrary, these are standard profit-making projects based on the principle of mutual benefit and win-win cooperation," Cao stressed.
He believes the so-called claims of the Chinese debt trap and neocolonialism are "ridiculous," because "there are no creditors who don't want their debts to be paid on time."
Devoted in a foreign land
Engineer's passion and zeal were evident when he mentioned the progress that he has made each day. He said he felt a great sense of fulfillment when he knew his expertise was contributing to the development of a faraway land. But "extraordinary romance often implies extraordinary hardships," as he said. While working in remote locations is particularly challenging for his counterparts, the strict control of engineering quality is often the most challenging for him.
Along with major work-related concerns come more trivial administrative concerns for a senior engineer like Cao, including cleanliness in the warehouse, dealing with blocked drainage pipes, reprimanding a drunken night-shift driver, and week-long debates on matters as small yet important as the thickness of a concrete reinforcement cover. In the face of the completed dam and the future promise it holds, Cao often thinks back to his hometown, Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, the industrial cradle of new China.
Decades ago, the vast black soil in northeast China turned into the "granary of the north" because of countless idealistic young people who migrated there to reclaim the northern wilderness. Cao, who grew up there, understands that industrialization is a difficult process, and what is most needed in this process is people with steely determination.
"I hope I am also one of these people with determination and resilience," Cao said.
As African people in countries like Tanzania and Zambia enjoy clean energy, many may never know of the devotion of one young Chinese engineer, whose goal was to help in the revolutionary transformation of the continent. However, hydropower projects across Africa, while heralding the new era of growth and development of the continent, will stand as mute testament to the resilience of those who worked tirelessly to actualize their construction.