July 2019

Despite profound transformation, big powers vie for influence among Central and Eastern European Countries

The year 2019 marks the 30 years’ transition of Central and Eastern European countries, a region that experienced massive change since 1989. Under the Constitutional framework, the states have established a multi-party parliamentary system, set up separation of powers, held regular elections, and continuously improved the legal system. And most have a functioning market economy that has shown continuous growth.

Central and Eastern European countries are not only narrowing the gap between their economies and average economic levels of the European Union (EU) nations, but have gradually become a new growth engine for the EU economy.

The past 30 years have not changed geopolitical predicaments that have haunted these countries for centuries. Since the end of the Cold War, nations worldwide have enjoyed the benefits that emerged after the US-Soviet Union feud ended.
The world has entered a new stage of peace and development. However, this does not change the fact that Central and Eastern Europe region is a hot spot of strategic significance for big powers and continues to witness long-standing rivalries.

There seems to be a golden rule in modern and contemporary European international relations that, for security reasons, most small and medium-sized countries choose to align themselves with single powers or blocs, and they choose various allies at different times and it continues to be the case long after the end of the Cold War.

Out of political, economic, military, and geopolitical considerations, with various regional and sub-regional organizations in the European region, Europe has become the region with the most concentrated international organization network.

A few Central and Eastern European countries in the former Soviet bloc “returned to Europe” after exiting the Warsaw Pact, requesting to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which offers security guarantee while the EU provides economic and development support.

Today, 13 Central and Eastern European countries are NATO members, while 11 have joined the EU, while the other countries are expected to join either group. This is the first time in the modern era that Central and Eastern European countries have participated in Europe with full sovereignty and can share part of other countries’ sovereignty.

Central and Eastern European countries, confronted with multiple crises in Europe, are seeking a path of political and economic development in line with their interests within the EU framework, thus affecting EU governance, common policies and European integration.

Given the growing regional power of the Central and Eastern Europe and its increasing impact on related factors, major world political powers all wish to boost their influence in the region out of their own interests.

These nations, in particular, have started a new competition in the region. At present, there are five major forces active in the Central and Eastern European arena: the EU, Germany, the US, Russia, and China.

As more Central and Eastern European countries join the EU, it is natural that the EU will take advantage of institutional ties to regulate the political, economic and social lives of its members.

It is for this reason that most countries in Central and Eastern Europe have completed the “grand project” of social transformation in less than 30 years. Germany, the biggest beneficiary of EU’s eastward expansion due to its geographic proximity, developed economy and market size. It has become the largest partner and source of funds for many Central and Eastern European countries in foreign trade.

By launching the Berlin Process, Germany has promoted EU expansion in the western Balkan region to obtain economic and political benefits. Russia is an old ally of Central and Eastern European countries. Adhering to its traditional security concept, Russia makes use of its advantages – its resources and close connection with Orthodox Church as well as Slavic peoples – to maintain its influence in some Central and Eastern European countries to resist NATO’s containment of Russia.

In recent years, Russia’s involvement in Central and Eastern European countries, especially with the Balkan nations, has aroused strong vigilance in European countries and the US, while the US has strengthened its influence over the years.

While sanctioning Russia on the issue of Crimea, the US greatly strengthened its military presence in Central and Eastern Europe and transformed the countries bordering the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea into NATO’s eastern front to confront Russia militarily.

As a latecomer, China has launched multi-faceted cooperation efforts with Central and Eastern European countries. However, some nations expressed concerns out of self-interest and a precautionary mentality and tried various approaches to interfere or constrain such cooperation.

While continuing to promote cooperation with Central and Eastern European countries, China adheres to established diplomatic policies, calmly observes changing European geopolitics, reviews and assesses situations, and meanwhile, cooperates rationally with other states while trying its best to safeguard national interests.

The author is research fellow at Institute of East European, Russian, and Central Asian Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

Thailand, Russia pledge to expand cooperation

Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai held talks with visiting Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Bangkok on Tuesday, and both sides agreed to expand their cooperation to potential areas.

Lavrov paid an official visit to Thailand on Tuesday prior to his participation in the ministerial meeting between Russia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Wednesday.

According to a statement from Thailand’s foreign ministry, both ministers noted with satisfaction the overall relations and cooperation between Thailand and Russia which have become more dynamic over the past four years.

They agreed to follow up on implementation of the 7th Joint Commission on Bilateral Cooperation between Thailand and Russia in December 2018.

The two ministers also agreed that the two countries should expand cooperation in other potential areas, including science and technology, security, and education.

The two minister also exchanged their views on regional and international issues of mutual interest such as the ASEAN-Russia cooperation, the situation in the Asia-Pacific region, and the Thai-Russian cooperation within the United Nations framework.

The statement said Thai foreign minister Don proposed that Russia purchase more food and agricultural products from Thailand and jointly address the non-tariff barriers between the two countries, particularly the mutual inspection and certification of the pending livestock and fishery processing plants.

The Thai foreign minister also invited Russia to invest in Thailand’s Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) and S-Curve industries in the areas of Russian expertise, such as aerospace, digital and smart city.

American couple relish life in ‘land of unexpected opportunities’

The Banker couple say they enjoy their life in Zhanjiang and the great hospitality of city residents.

Guangdong Ocean University teachers Zach and Amanda Banker love their life in Zhanjiang, from the students they teach and also learn from, to the village atmosphere of living on a lush green campus 20 kilometers from the city’s downtown area.

The married couple moved to China in 2011 from Portland, Oregon, and spent six months in Beijing while applying for university positions, then chose Zhanjiang from six job offers.

Zach has a bachelor’s degree in business and a master’s in culture, and Amanda has a bachelor’s in public relations. Both also obtained master’s-level TESOL certificates before relocating to China.

Zach said they chose to live in Zhanjiang because of its location and climate.

American couple relish life in ‘land of unexpected opportunities’

“It’s pretty much always summer here,” he said, “and for the most part, the sky is always blue.”

“We don’t like big cities,” Amanda added. “If we live in China, we want to feel like we are living here. We love the rural areas because this is where we see the most hospitality. We wanted to experience the culture. We wanted to be challenged.”

While studying at Murray State University, where she and Zach met, Amanda took part in an exchange program to the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region in 2001. She returned in 2004 to see her former students graduate, bringing Zach with her. Amanda teaches spoken English and Zach teaches English writing at Guangdong Ocean University, sharing about 300 sophomore students.

Having worked at the university for the past five years, Zach and Amanda feel very much at home with both the residents and nearby shopkeepers, who often help them with their Chinese language studies, and the students they teach who come from all around China.

“I love the diversity,” Amanda said. “We have students that come from Guangzhou, we have students who come from really poor villages and we have students that are the first in their family to come to university. The stories that they share with us are very unique.”

The couple have been invited to students’ hometowns and also find themselves introducing residents to parts of their own city.

“When we get there, they’ll say, ‘I’ve lived here for 20 years and I didn’t know this was here’,” Zach said. “We love going around and seeing things.”

The pair have traveled through most of Guangdong province, as well as visits to Guangxi, Yunnan, Shanghai and Beijing and the surrounding areas, and Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan. Amanda said it seems like they have seen a lot of China, until they look at a map and see how much they have yet to visit.

They have no plans to return to the United States in the near future. “Five years,” Zach said, referring to their time at Guangdong Ocean University, “and if they let us stay for 10, we will.”

“We laugh and say that this is the land of unexpected opportunities,” Amanda said. “Everything from being in a TV show to really just finding our place. We’ve found our niche here. We love what we do.”

Investigation casts doubt on FedEx claims

?[Photo: Nanfang Daily/Yao Riwen]

FedEx’s claim it “inadvertently misrouted” Huawei-related packages to the United States is not consistent with the facts according to a recent investigation by relevant authorities, People’s Daily reported on Friday.

FedEx was also found to be involved in the detention of more than 100 Huawei-related shipments to China from abroad.

Investigators found clues relating to other behavior from FedEx’s which breached laws and regulations, the report said.

Further investigation into FedEx (China) Co Ltd is underway, based on law and following the principles of comprehensiveness, objectivity and fairness.

In May FedEx rerouted four packages bound for Huawei’s headquarters in Shenzhen, Guangdong province to the United States, claiming “inadvertent misrouting.”

Beijing starts buying US soybeans, Washington needs to reciprocate

In a statement on its website on Wednesday, the State-owned China Grain Reserves Group, or Sinograin, said it had bought soybeans from the US. This is good news for US soybean farmers whose crops were left rotting in fields, and more importantly, an embodiment of Chinese sincerity to fulfill a promise to ease trade tensions with the US.

The Chinese Ministry of Commerce confirmed on Thursday that China and the US will hold negotiations in January as scheduled. But the success of negotiations cannot solely depend on one side’s efforts.

China is implementing the consensus reached between Chinese and US heads of state on the sidelines of the G20 summit on December 1 to alleviate trade tensions, and it’s expected the US will act reciprocally, avoiding any diversions that might curtail the chance of reaching an agreement within the 90-day framework for trade negotiations.

There have been signs that the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, Chinese tech giant Huawei’s chief financial officer, could be used by the US as leverage in trade talks with China. US President Donald Trump said directly last week that he was willing to intervene in the case if that helped secure “the largest trade deal ever made.” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin sought to play down the president’s explicit comments on Tuesday before a vice-ministerial-level talk by phone between China and the US. But it is obvious to the outside world the arrest is a politics-driven case.

China will never yield to such political blackmail. It has been increasingly clear that the arrest of Meng is a part of US efforts to suppress China’s high-tech development and the radical action taken against Meng has made the US target of wide criticism. In a Washington Post article, commentator Zachary Karabell called the case against Huawei and its executive “a hideous political mistake.”

The Meng case and trade talks should go on separate tracks and trade friction should be dealt with by trade methods. China’s position is clear: It is committed to protecting its citizens abroad, firmly demanding Meng be set free, while it will fulfill its promises, trying to wrap up trade talks with the US before March 1. Washington should understand there is no room for it to blackmail China.

Seizing the opportunity of the 90-day truce to reach an agreement and stabilize China-US trade and economic relations is in line with US interests. The trade war has exerted a negative impact on the US economy. It’s hoped that the US could treat the trade negotiations with sincerity and not let political factors disrupt trade talks. The 90-day countdown has already started, and the risk of losing opportunities and its catastrophic impact cannot be underestimated.

Mainstream view supports Sino-Russian ties

A Chinese article harshly criticizing Beijing-Moscow relations has been recently translated into Russian by a Russian website. VOA Chinese reported the event, saying that the article has drawn attention in Russia and continues to ferment on China’s internet.

The article used the Chernobyl accident as an example to disparage Russian technology. It accused Sino-Russian nuclear cooperation of harming Chinese citizens’ interests and harshly attacked Beijing-Moscow ties and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Apparently, the post only reflects a minority of Chinese’ view on developing strategic ties with Russia. These people worship the West and have no understanding of the strategic significance of developing Sino-Russian ties. They often hype Russia’s invasion of China in history and the country’s isolation by the West.

Such a view is absolutely not Chinese society’s mainstream perception of China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination. Voices praising Russian people and President Putin are frequently heard on China’s internet.

Polls suggest that the Chinese approval rating of Russia is among the highest of all countries interviewed, and such an appreciation is reflected in many aspects of Sino-Russian communications.

For instance, unlike the West, Chinese society supports Russia’s hosting of the World Cup and cheers for the Russian national team.

The article is extremely sensational and unprofessional, with many examples fabricated. It has clear-cut political purposes of instigating Chinese “anti-Russia” sentiment and jeopardizing Sino-Russian ties. Whether the post was uploaded from outside China is hard to say.

Russia is one of the few major powers in the world that is still exploring and constructing nuclear power stations. Among all nuclear power plants exported in the post-Soviet Union era, eight nuclear power units have already been put into operation, six are being constructed and deals have been reached on many other units.

The nuclear power units exported to China are completely different from those of Chernobyl. Russia-exported units under operation in China have extraordinary security records, and their comprehensive performances are not inferior to those exported from the West.

Russian technology has played an active and even indispensable role in China’s technological development. It has not only addressed China’s imminent realistic demands, but also provided China with bargaining chips in negotiations with Western firms. Allegations that China’s purpose of importing Russian technology is to better develop Sino-Russian ties are ignorant and absurd.

Although the article has been translated and circulated in Russia, it doesn’t mean Russian society would equate the article with China’s popular attitude on Russia.

Chinese media outlets have also quoted Russia’s radical minority’s voices on China before, but given the diversity in the internet era, we are clear about the extent to which those views truly represent the Russian public.

The article also accused China of purchasing oil from Russia at a much higher price than from the US. This is nonsense. The Chinese public should beware that those making such claims either have no basic knowledge of Sino-Russian energy cooperation or are instigators with ulterior motives.

Shenzhen airport handles over 25 mln passenger trips in H1

Shenzhen Bao’an International Airport handled more than 25 million passenger trips in the first half of this year, up 6.2 percent year on year, according to the airport.

The volume of international passengers grew 30.6 percent to more than 2.44 million people in H1, accounting for nearly 10 percent of the total passenger throughput.

The growth is due to the opening of more international airlines linking the southern Chinese city with the world as well as a 144-hour visa-free transit through the airport.

As China’s tech hub and due to its vicinity to Hong Kong, the city welcomes millions of travelers and business people every year. So far, the airport has launched air routes to 50 overseas cities.

Summer camp promotes Cantonese Opera in GBA

Young artists perform classic Cantonese opera in Guangzhou on July 28. [Photo: Zhuang Xiaoni]

Over 100 youngsters from Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macao staged 12 performances from classic Cantonese operas at the Cantonese Opera Art Museum in Liwan District, Guangzhou on the afternoon of July 28. All performers were members of the 2019 Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Youth Opera Art Learning Exchange Summer Camp, with the youngest participant being seven years old.

Young artists perform classic Cantonese opera in Guangzhou on July 28. [Photo: Zhuang Xiaoni]

The young campers will go on tour to Macao on July 29 and Hong Kong on July 31 for another two shows before the camp comes to an end. The 12-day summer camp, which started on July 22, was held at the Guangdong Dance and Drama College (GDDC) in Guangzhou. Many young performers said that they not only improved their Cantonese Opera performing skills through the camp, but also made many new friends. Yang Weiwen, a drama teacher from GDDC said it is more important to teach the youngsters to understand and follow the rules since nothing can be accomplished without them.

A young artist performs classic Cantonese opera in Guangzhou on July 28. [Photo: Zhuang Xiaoni]

The 2019 Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Youth Opera Art Learning Exchange Summer Camp is one of the key cultural exchange projects between the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong and Macao launched by China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism. It is organized by GDDC, Hong Kong Young Talent Opera Troupe and the Macao Neighborhood Association.

Author: Monica Liu

Editor: Chris

What Cuba can learn from China’s reform and opening-up

Cuban President declared Saturday the country will learn from the experiences of socialist countries such as China, Vietnam and Laos. On the same day, Cuba’s National Assembly approved the draft of the nation’s new constitution. Private business, which used to be considered a form of exploitation, has been legitimized. The significance of foreign direct investment is further acknowledged. Some observers therefore call the move the starting point of the Cuban version of reform and opening-up.

Today’s Cuba is confronting low economic growth, decreasing export earnings, huge debt and unsatisfying performance in agriculture and tourism. Meanwhile, in this era filled with liberalism and individualism, the Cuban peopleare still holding onto a belief in social equality and socialism. How to implement reform and opening-up based on such circumstances without causing a disparity between the rich and the poor as well as social instability? An exploratory process is needed. According to China’s experience, the initial stage of reform and opening-up is the toughest of times.

Many Western media and netizens have failed to come up with these questions while merely focusing on whether this marks Cuba’s political transformation. Some claimed this is a step learned from China’s political system. Apparently, when it comes to “learning from China,” Western people are overwhelmed by suspicions and even fear. As an Australian journalist Richard McGregor suggested in the Wall Street Journal, instead of sharing China’s wisdom, Beijing is actually “encouraging the spread of authoritarianism.”

Setting misjudgment aside, their biggest mistake is equating learning with copying.

When it comes to China’s experience or the Chinese model, one can certainly not neglect the Chinese system. Yet the crucial part of the Chinese experience is to understand oneself correctly, objectively and make a development strategy based on such recognition. The core is to ensure economic reforms and opening-up to the world are proceeding at the same time. Especially in the initial stage of the process, it requires wisdom and courage.

After 40 years of reform and opening-up, China has developed quite a few experiences that are worth learning. For instance, Vietnam is privatizing state-owned enterprises, helping medium and small enterprises boost their competitiveness in the global value chains. African nations and Pakistan are discussing how to learn from Beijing about reducing poverty.

As these countries increase their interactions with China and participate in the Belt and Road initiative, they have noticed more and more merits to learn from the Middle Kingdom. Yet some Westerners constantly raise the issue of political system, as if countries with different political systems cannot learn anything from China or once they learn, all they get is authoritarianism. The West consistently misleads developing nations in their choice of development path.

The role of political system cannot be neglected. Thanks to China’s system, reform and opening-up have been carried out in an orderly fashion. Cuba is adjusting amid difficult circumstances. It is learning from China amid the hard reality while attempting not to break its pursuit of social equality. This is worth encouraging.

China doesn’t expect to export its model. Beijing has never believed that one size fits all. Anyone who tries to understand Chinese experiences or models, or anyone who has tried to forecast China’s future, should first of all understand why and how China is sticking to reform and opening-up. Openness brings progress and closing one’s doors against the world only leads to falling behind.

Turkey blocked from F-35 program for accepting Russian S-400: White House

The White House confirmed on Wednesday that Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 air defense systems has led to the termination of Ankara’s involvement with the F-35 program.

“Turkey’s decision to purchase Russian S-400 air defense systems renders its continued involvement with the F-35 impossible,” the White House said in a statement.

The statement noted the F-35 jets cannot coexist with S-400 systems, arguing that its intelligence collection platform would be used to learn about the advanced capabilities of F-35 stealth fighters.

“Much of the F-35’s strength lies in its stealth capabilities. So, the ability to detect those capabilities would jeopardize the long-term security of the F-35 program,” Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord told the media at the Pentagon later on Wednesday.

The US and other F-35 partners are aligned in this decision to suspend Turkey from the program and initiate the process to formally remove Turkey from the program, Lord said.

Turkey suppliers, which provide over 900 parts for F-35, would no longer receive 9 billion US dollars in projected work share over the life of the program, according to Pentagon.

“Turkey will certainly and regrettably lose jobs and future economic opportunities from this decision,” Lord added.

Turkey has ordered over 100 F-35 fighter jets, and a handful of them had been scheduled to transport to Turkey in the coming months. The arrangement of those F-35 was still under discussion, according to Lord.

Ankara’s acceptance of the S-400 not only has detrimental impacts on Turkish interoperability with the NATO alliance but also undermines the commitments all NATO allies made to each other to move away from Russian systems, the White House said.

The Trump administration, at the same time, sought to reduce the repercussion for the bilateral relations.

Washington still greatly values the strategic relationship with Turkey, the statement added, saying US-Turkey military-to-military relationship is strong and the two allies would continue to cooperate extensively.

The United States has been actively working with Turkey to provide air defense solutions to meet its legitimate air defense needs, said the statement.

The statement, however, made no mention of possible sanctions against Turkey as required by law under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

Pentagon officials also deferred all questions about possible sanctions to the Department of State.

In December 2017, Ankara and Moscow signed a 2.5-billion-dollar agreement for two batteries of the S-400 system. Turkey began taking the delivery of the S-400 system Friday.