US railway plan in Middle East will be another case of 'much said, little done': Chinese experts

As the US announced its Middle East railway plan during the Group of 20 (G20) Summit over the weekend in India, Chinese experts expressed doubts about its credibility and feasibility, saying that it is not the first time for Washington to make empty pledges to various countries and regions.

The experts noted that the true purpose of the Biden administration is trying to "isolate China" in the Middle East, a region where Chinese cooperation with the region has constantly gained momentum in recent years.

The comment followed an announcement by US President Joe Biden and India regarding a multinational railway and port deal linking the Middle East and South Asia. The announcement came on Saturday on the sidelines of the G20 Summit.

Biden said it was a "real big deal" that would bridge ports across two continents and lead to a "more stable, more prosperous and integrated Middle East," according to a Reuters report.

The idea of the rail and port network initially emerged at the I2U2 Business Forum, launched in 2021 by the US, India, Israel and the UAE to discuss infrastructure projects in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia joined the discussions later.

Zhou Rong, a senior researcher at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China, told the Global Times on Saturday that the US lacks both the genuine intention and the capability to follow through on its pledge to build up the transportation network in the Middle East.

"It is not the first time that the US has been involved in a 'much said, little done' scenario," Zhou said.

During the Obama administration, then US secretary of state Hillary Clinton announced that the US would sponsor a "New Silk Road" that would emerge from Afghanistan to link the country with its neighbors to increase its economic potential, but the initiative never materialized.

"The Biden administration's Middle East infrastructure plan is an apparent effort to counter the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which is entering its 10th year in 2023 with brought fruitful projects to partnering countries and regions. The Biden administration is again engaging in bloc politics in order to slow down China's development," Zhou said.

The recent moves by the US in the Middle East are more reactive than proactive, given China's stronger presence, Liu Zhongmin, a professor at the Middle East Studies Institute of Shanghai International Studies University, told the Global Times on Saturday.

China has been engaging with the Middle East through the BRI for years. Its peacemaker role in the Saudi-Iran detente is lauded by the international community, the countries in the region in particular, which has injected stability into the region.

In areas such as infrastructure construction, cooperation between the Gulf countries and China has advanced significantly in recent years. "It is impossible for the US to create a hedge in the short term," Liu said.

Zhou described the US plan as "more of a symbolic gesture." From a technical perspective, the US decision to focus on transport infrastructure, an area where it lacks expertise, in a bid to salvage its declining influence in the region, suggests that the highly touted plan is unlikely to be realized. 

"In terms of the technology and costs of building railways, no country in the world than China has a more prominent advantage. What the Middle Eastern countries want from the US is not just a railway, but also security. However, the US has neither provided nor been able to bring security to the region; instead, it has complicated the security situation there. This is the dilemma the US is facing in the Middle East," Ding Long, a professor with the Middle East Studies Institute of Shanghai International Studies University, told the Global Times.

For Middle Eastern countries that will participate in the US-led railway initiative, there is no concern that their ties with China will weaken just because of the deal, instead, they will continue maintaining close cooperation with the world's second-largest economy, Zhou said.

"In fact, the US' ability to influence its allies in the Middle East is shrinking, and Saudi Arabia and the UAE have recently joined the BRICS cooperation mechanism. I think the two countries will exercise prudence in the issue," Liu said.

"China welcomes all initiatives that can help pool synergy and promote global infrastructure development. Any calculation to advance geopolitics in the name of infrastructure development will win no support and will never succeed," a spokesperson for Chinese Foreign Ministry said in June 2022 on the US' plan to roll out a new infrastructure plan to counter the China-proposed BRI.

There are no such thing as different initiatives countering or replacing each other. The world needs more bridges to be built rather than torn down, more connectivity rather than decoupling or building fences, and mutual benefits rather than isolation and exclusion, the spokesperson said.

Chinese tourists witness chaotic scene in Bangkok’s Siam Paragon mall shooting

A chaotic scene unfolded at the Siam Paragon mall in Bangkok, Thailand on Tuesday afternoon as gunshots rang out near an upscale retail area, resulting in the tragic deaths of at least three people, according to Thai local media. The incident took place around 4.20pm local time.

Local police authorities reported the arrest of a 14-year-old male suspect, apprehended by police on the third floor of the nearby Siam Kempinski Hotel.

Security camera footage captured the suspect shooter, who was seen kneeling with his hands on his head as three police officers closed in on him. In a swift action, one of the officers subdued the suspect on the ground.

Several Chinese tourists near the scene of the shooting incident told the Chinese news outlet Southern Metropolis Daily that they had heard multiple gunshots, and many people were fleeing, as chaos gripped the area. 

The incident occurred near a high-end handbag store on the "M" level inside the building, Chinese media learned. A Chinese tourist who was in the vicinity told the South Metropolis Daily that both the Paragon and Siam Center malls were closed in the wake of the incident. They were initially trapped inside Siam Center, but have since been allowed to evacuate.

Another Chinese tourist was quoted as telling reporters that they were shopping inside Siam Paragon when they witnessed many tourists fleeing. Subsequently, while escaping, they heard multiple gunshots. 

“If I remember correctly, I heard three gunshots while I was running. I have now exited and am not entirely sure about the situation inside,” the tourist said. 

Thailand recently granted visa exemptions for Chinese nationals from September 25 to February 29, 2024 to boost local tourism. The temporary waiver is expected to attract five million additional visitors, according to media reports, citing Tourism Minister Sudawan Wangsuphakijkosol.

Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin also welcomed Chinese tourists at Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok, Thailand on September 25.

According to the latest data from the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), from January 1 to September 17, Thailand has hosted over 2.34 million Chinese tourists, approximately 37 percent of the same period in 2019.

One Chinese national was killed and another injured in the shooting incident in Siam Paragon mall in Bangkok, Thailand on Tuesday, the China Central Television reported, citing information from the Chinese Embassy in Thailand.  

The Chinese Foreign Ministry has not confirmed any details as of Tuesday evening. 

A number of Chinese netizens expressed their concern about whether it’s still safe to travel to Thailand, sharing their anxiety on Chinese Twitter-like Weibo platform on Tuesday, with news of the shooting incident attracting more than 32 million views on the platform. 

IFRC continues to provide relief items to quake-affected Afghans, says IFRC official

The Asia-Pacific Regional Director of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) Alexander Matheous has described the situation of quake-affected people in west Afghanistan's Herat province as extremely impoverished, and said the body would continue to assist them.

"We will continue to provide relief items in the coming days. Our plan is to work with the Afghan Red Crescent on suitable shelters for the people to live in the short term," Matheous told Xinhua in a recent exclusive interview.

The IFRC has already provided humanitarian assistance such as blankets, non-food items and hygiene kits, the official said, adding the affected families need more support.

The official who visited the quake-stricken areas in Herat also noted that the quake-affected people need support to rebuild their homes and live in the long term.

Two deadly quakes, each with a magnitude of 6.2 on the Richter scale, followed by several aftershocks, rocked west Afghanistan with an epicenter in the Zanda Jan district of Herat province last Saturday, and left at least 2,053 dead and thousands more injured.

Another tremor measuring 6.3 on the Richter scale jolted Herat on Wednesday, killing one person, injuring more than 150 others, and causing property damages.

"More than 2,000 people and over 2,000 homes are destroyed," the official said, adding most of the victims are women and children, and the affected families have lost what they had.

"People need food, water, shelter, medical camp...It was a very dramatic and tragic disaster for the people," the official told Xinhua.

Praising the contribution of the Afghan Red Crescent Society in tackling the problems of the quake-affected people, the official said that it was the first humanitarian organization to be present after the disaster.

"We will support the Afghan Red Crescent to work not just in this relief phase, but also in the months to come to rebuild the houses and people's livelihoods," Matheous emphasized.

Denmark: Opening of the Greenlandic Representation in Beijing

"The most famous classic novel of China, A Journey to the West, as a matter of fact, is one of the few that have been translated and dubbed using Greenlandic voices for our national broadcasting TV. This shows that even though we are very far away from each other, we can build a bridge and a common future with mutual understanding and efforts," said Vivian Motzfeldt, Greenlandic minister for statehood and foreign affairs, at the official opening of the Greenlandic Representation on Monday at the Royal Danish Embassy in Beijing.  

The reception was attended by the Danish Ambassador to China Thomas Østrup Møller, Greenlandic Minister for Statehood and Foreign Affairs Vivian Motzfeldt, head of the Greenland Representation in Beijing Jacob Isbosethsen, as well as other ministers and ambassadors. 

"Royal Greenland has been present in Qingdao for 20 years now. Other companies, like Polar Seafood have also contributed a lot in exports and trade with China," Motzfeldt said. 

She expressed her gratitude to the Chinese government and the Chinese People's Institute for Foreign Affairs for the cooperation between Greenland and China. 

In addition, the Danish Embassy held an insightful seminar on tourism on Tuesday at the Greenland Representation in Beijing. 

In her opening speech at the event, Motzfeldt emphasized the importance of tourism to the Greenlandic economy. 

"The Government of Greenland has invested a lot in a new tourism policy and strategy. The Parliament and Government have decided to expand the runways and build three new airports in Nuuk, Ilulissat, and Qagortoq," she told the Global Times. 

Air Greenland CEO Jacob Nitter Sørensen, head of Visa and Consular Affairs at the Royal Danish Embassy Charlotte Duelund, Polar Club 66 Co Ltd director Joe Chan, and other guests also introduced Greenlandic gastronomy, beautiful Arctic Circle, and other practical travel tips. 

South Africa: Ambassador attends Third CAETE to strengthen cooperation between two countries

Siyabonga Cwele, South African Ambassador to China, attended the Third China-Africa Economic and Trade Expo (CAETE) held from June 29 to July 2, 2023 in Changsha, Central China's Hunan Province. The Expo themed "Common Development for a Shared Future,"was co-sponsored by China's Ministry of Commerce and the government of Hunan Province. 

Ambassador Cwele also attended other events held within the Third CAETE, such as the China-Africa Sanitary and Phytosanitary Cooperation Forum, the China-Africa Fair for Investment and Trade on Light Industry Products(Fashion Products), and the Hunan-Africa Products and Tourism Matchmaking Conference, and delivered speeches respectively.

Ambassador Cwele gave a presentation at the China-Africa Fair for Investment and Trade on Light Industry Products(Fashion Products). 

He said, "In the past three years, the volume of bilateral trade in light industry goods between South Africa and China has increased by 30 percent. China has a strong manufacturing industry with rich technologies and experience, and diverse light industry products. South Africa on the other hand has good infrastructure, a mature investment environment, and a world-class financial and legal system. There is a great potential and much opportunity for further cooperation in trade and investment between our two countries in the light industry."

At the Hunan-Africa Products and Tourism Matchmaking Conference, Cwele indicated that on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the bilateral relations between South Africa and China in 2023, he looked forward to welcoming more Chinese tourists to South Africa to experience and enjoy a new lifestyle, and to bring more vitality to the market. 

Cwele also participated in the Online Shopping Festival Featuring Quality African Products at the third CAETE. 

At the event, the ambassador promoted high-quality products from South Africa such as Rooibos tea, wine, Aloe Vera, and products from the rest of Africa via livestreaming, which increased the exposure of African products and provided an opportunity for Chinese consumers to get a better understanding of the products being showcased.

US veteran in Vietnam War regrets dropping cluster bombs

During the Vietnam War, the US used cluster bombs to carry out airstrikes on targets in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Between 1964 and 1973, 260 million tons of cluster bombs were dropped on Laos, particularly in the Xieng Khouang Province in northeastern Laos, of which 80 million tons failed to detonate. In Quang Tri Province in Vietnam alone, some 7,000 people were injured or killed by cluster bombs left over from the Vietnam War as of 2009.

Retired US Air Force officer Mike Burton, the board chairman of Legacies of War, an organization that raises awareness about the history of the bombing of Laos during the Vietnam War, now chairs the US Campaign to Ban Landmines & Cluster Munitions Coalition. 

In April, Burton expressed regret at dropping cluster bombs on Laos in the US' "secret war" in an opinion piece published on USA Today, warning that "Ukraine shouldn't want this nightmare."

"All that was accomplished by using these inhumane weapons was to leave a trail of destruction that remains to this day, and a deep sense of regret for US veterans like myself," stated Burton in the piece.

Burton joined the US Air Force in 1962 and spent the early part of his military career in special operations. He was assigned to the 56th Air Commando Wing in Nakhon Phanom, Thailand, in 1966. "The primary mission of the units to which I was assigned was to stop the flow of personnel and materials coming from North Vietnam through the Ho Chi Minh Trail to South Vietnam. The trail was located almost entirely in Laos," he explained. "Despite the 2.5 million tons of ordnance that the US dropped from 1964 to 1973, it did nothing to impede traffic along the Ho Chi Minh Trail."

"I saw this destruction firsthand from the air and on the ground. I have seen Lao children and adults with missing limbs, eyes, and mutilated faces all from unexploded ordnance. The impact of our decision to drop cluster bombs on Laos also found its way to the US with waves of refugees fleeing death," he noted.

Burton regrets what he did during the Vietnam War, and hopes that similar tragedies will never happen again in the future.

Burton later took part in the detonation of some of the unexploded ordnances - work that is tedious, time consuming, and extremely dangerous. "It's done in some of the most vulnerable areas where families are only a few steps away" as he said.

During the Vietnam War, the US dropped millions of tons of bombs on Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, including large amounts of cluster munitions, burying the region in unexploded ordnance (UXOs). UXOs still kill or maim dozens of people each year in nations such as Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Thousands have died or have been seriously maimed since the US-led war ended in 1975.

UXOs have also proven to be an obstacle to regional development. For example, when China constructed Laos' first high-speed rail line, connecting China's southern city of Kunming to Laos' capital in Vientiane on the border with Thailand, engineers were initially required to clear the railway path of US-dropped UXOs, including cluster munitions.

Burton believes that the US supply of cluster bombs to Ukraine would have catastrophic consequences that would haunt Americans and Ukrainians for decades, saying that he doesn't "want it to happen again."

Turkey celebrates 100th anniversary and investment reception at the embassy in Beijing

The Investment Office of the Presidency of the Republic of Turkey held a reception at the Turkish Embassy in Beijing with the aim of boosting investment cooperation with China. The event, as a part of their "Turkish Century Investment Reception" series, saw more than 500 business people and investors from China's leading companies to attend. 

Turkish Ambassador to China Ismail Hakkı Musa, President of the Investment Office of the Presidency of the Republic of Turkey Ahmet Burak Daglioglu, and the Silk Road Fund Chairwoman Zhu Jun were also in attendance. 

"This year, we are celebrating the 500th anniversary of the establishment of the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of Turkey and the 52nd anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between Turkey and China. From e-commerce to telecommunications, from renewable energy to electric vehicles, from cloud technology to the defense industry, we have forged new partnerships with China in a wide range of areas," the ambassador said. 

In addition, the guests sampled sumptuous Turkish cuisine and discussed cooperation and investment opportunities.

GT investigates: 'TIGER' task force established to promote arms sales shows US hypocrisy on Taiwan question, long-standing ills in military industry

Lai Ching-te, deputy leader of the island of Taiwan and the secessionist Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP) candidate for the 2024 regional elections, reportedly plans to stop over in the US on Saturday on his way to Paraguay, a blatant provocative act against China's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Lai is scheduled to meet some anti-China politicians during his stopover in the US, and discuss topics including US arms sales to the island, Taiwan media sources reported.

Meanwhile, the White House is actively pursuing arms sales to Taiwan, with the latest military aid package worth $345 million announced to be offered to the island, the Associated Press reported on July 29. Earlier in June, the US House Foreign Affairs Committee claimed to have established a specialized task force to speed up processes of the country's military sales to its foreign clients including the island of Taiwan.

Setting aside VOA's lie in a recent Chinese-language article that "the US has been selling its most advanced equipment to Taiwan," military observers from both sides of Taiwan Straits have revealed to the Global Times that the equipment the US exported to the island of Taiwan are only single pieces of weaponry and a handful of weapon systems at least a generation behind those of the People's Liberation Army (PLA).

The establishment of the task force named TIGER (Technical, Industrial, and Governmental Engagement for Readiness), as well as the frequent military sales and forms of aid extended to Taiwan, have completely exposed the US' hypocrisy on the Taiwan question, said experts on military and Taiwan studies from the Chinese mainland.

The US employs multifaceted policies toward the Taiwan Straits, which all serve its own interests in the region, said Ni Yongjie, director of the Shanghai Institute of Taiwan Studies.

"On one hand, several senior US officials visited the mainland this summer in a hope to ease the relations between Beijing and Washington; on the other hand, the US makes provocations toward China's bottom line on the Taiwan question," Ni told the Global Times. "These moves are a part of the Biden administration's public campaign feeding into next year's presidential elections."

In an article published by the Wall Street Journal in early June, Lai hyped an alleged military threat from the mainland and emphasized the supposed need for Taiwan to beef up its so-called military dependences with the aid of the US. 

However, what may disappoint Taiwan secessionists like Lai is that evidence has shown the TIGER task force, as well as continued arms sales to the island of Taiwan, are more akin to lip-service that the US pays to the island's independence forces and a public stunt by the US government against China.

Lip service

Michael McCaul, the US House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman, announced the setup of the TIGER Task Force on June 27. 

The bipartisan move was headed by Congressmen Mike Waltz and Seth Moulton. It is built to "modernize US foreign military sales processes in several key areas," so that it is "responsive to US national security needs and those of our partners and allies," according a press release published on the committee's website.

The TIGER task force has never hidden its main goal of completing arms sales to the island of Taiwan. "Our partners, like Taiwan, order American military equipment because they need it," Moulton said. "They should receive that hardware as quickly as possible."

According to a VOA Chinese-language article published on June 28, a big reason behind the establishment of TIGER was that many Congressmen were dissatisfied with the US administration's delay in delivering the weapons that authorities in Taiwan had purchased. "Some of the weapons were even bought as early as 2019."

The Taiwan DPP authority has bought numerous "weapons-on-paper" with tax payers' money from the US. It had faced delays in arms shipments from the US of up to $19 billion by 2022, The Defense Post reported in December 2022. Although Tsai Ing-wen is reported to have repeatedly urged US lawmakers to hasten the delivery of the purchased weapons during the latter's visit to the island, the US simply didn't keep its cheap promise.

Of a batch of 66 F-16V fighter jets that Tsai authorities purchased in 2020, for instance, two were scheduled to deliver by 2023. But the DDP authority won't get the two fighter jets this year as the delivery was delayed, said VOA.

Aside from weapon deliveries being delayed, authorities in Taiwan are also far from attaining equipment and technological advantages over the Chinese mainland through weapons bought from the US. "There is a generational gap between weapons the island of Taiwan receives from the US and those used by the PLA," said Song Zhongping, a Chinese military expert and TV commentator.

"Moreover, the US has only provided authorities in Taiwan with single pieces of weaponry and a handful of weapon systems, which are not enough to support the latter in building an independent military combat system," Song told the Global Times.

The US' frequent delays in weapon delivery has embarrassed the island's secessionist authorities and enraged tax payers. On Taiwan's social media platforms, many residents have lampooned the Tsai administration for volunteering to be a cash dispenser for the US.

"The US obtains money [from Tsai authorities] fraudulently. It's a money game between two crooks," wrote a netizen who left the message on the island's media China Times. "The US doesn't have to keep its promises to its flunkey," scoffed another netizen.

And the public seldom knows what the TIGER task force has done in the days since it was set up. Its major effort is probably "to hold weekly video conferences" with Tsai authority troops, the China Times reported. 

Obviously, TIGER won't enable separatists on the island to acquire weapons from the US any sooner, considering the US' scornful attitude toward Taiwan and its own inadequacy in weapon production, said Song.

The establishment of the task force is merely a superficial conciliation of Taiwan authorities by the US, he said.

"Taiwan authorities have no bargaining power in purchasing US weapons, nor do they dare to pursue claims for the delayed or defaulted orders," Song told the Global Times. "To the US, Tsai authorities are born suckers being taken for a ride."

Long-standing ills

TIGER is not the first task force the US has set up to promote its overseas arms sales. 

In August 2022, the Pentagon established a similar "Tiger Team" to streamline foreign military sales mechanic, so as to "harness the speed and urgency of US efforts to equip Ukraine," Defense News quoted Pentagon policy chief Colin Kahl as saying in September 2022.

Nonetheless, these hastily formed task forces can hardly change the US' current delays of weapon deliveries due to long-standing problems in its defense industry. 

"The ills are rooted in the US system and labor market issues," The EurAsian Times also reported in September 2022, mentioning the country's lengthy contract signing and arms delivery processes, and its labor shortage in the arms industry.

The number of employees working in the US defense industry plummeted by two thirds over the last 40 years, showed a report released by the US National Defense Industrial Association in February.

In 1985, the US had 3 million workers in the defense industry; by 2021, it had 1.1 million workers in the sector, the report said. The US defense ecosystem has suffered a net loss of 17,045 companies in the last five years, it added.

"Key industrial readiness indicators for great power competition are going in the wrong direction," commented the report.

The ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict, which is exhausting available weapon stocks in the US and Europe, has brought about new problems for US arms exporters, as manufacturers have to spare more time and resources in sending weapons to Ukraine, observers found.

The conflict has caused numerous delivery delays to US weapon purchasers. "In many cases accelerated delivery is not possible," stated a report delivered by the US State Department to Congress in April, according to a National Review article in June. While the Pentagon is prioritizing Taiwan arms sales to the fullest extent possible, "limited resources cause ongoing strain," the report added.

Task forces like TIGER can therefore hardly change the status quo, as Russia-Ukraine tensions keep consuming weapons, and moreover, "it's difficult to change the US' current arms sales mechanism," Song said.

A good excuse

The US House and Senate drafts authorized a record $886 billion in defense spending for the fiscal year 2024. China, frequently seen in various US budget application reports, has long been a good excuse for the US government and military to inflate budgets.

Even members of the TIGER task force repeatedly mention China. Many have found that they, along with some US media sources, together, portray China as the biggest rival to the US military industry.

TIGER's founding was predicated upon the intention to "better compete with China" and to "counter Chinese influence" in the arms sales sector. In a September 2022 article, The EurAsian Times cited a report by a Washington-based think tank as stating that "China exported conventional weapons worth around $17 billion between 2010 and 2020," attempting to exaggerate the threat of China's military industry to its US peers.

They ignore the fact that the US, as the world's largest arms exporter, earns no less than $45 billion in annual weapon sales.

The sensationalization of China's military industry threat obviously favors US arms manufacturers and other interested parties, experts said. "By hyping up the threat, the US wants to put increasing pressure on China's weapon exports, and heighten a sense of crisis among its allies," said Song.

"The US unscrupulously exports offensive weapons to maximize its economic profit, and even offers its allies [destructive] weapons that can change the situation and balance of forces in a region," Song told the Global Times.

The arms sales to Taiwan are no more than a card played by anti-China politicians and Taiwan separatist forces, said observers, noting that it enriches US weapon manufacturers while the ordinary people of Taiwan and numerous taxpayers suffer from the dirty deal.

China will continue to support Afghanistan as it transitions from chaos to stability: Chargé d’Affaires of Chinese Embassy in Afghanistan

Editor's Note:

On August 30, 2021, with celebratory fireworks lighting up the Kabul night sky, the US completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan, ending its 20-year presence in the country after its October 2001 invasion. Afghanistan has had two years to explore its own path for development. How has the Afghan interim government performed in solving the problems in Afghanistan? And how have China-Afghanistan relations developed? Global Times reporters Liu Xin and Xing Xiaojing (GT) interviewed Zhao Haihan (Zhao), Chargé d'Affaires of the Chinese Embassy in Afghanistan, to get his views on these and other questions, for an exclusive report.

GT: How do you view the performance of the Afghan interim government, which has been in power for two years? How do you feel about being in Afghanistan?

Zhao: Since the establishment of the Afghan interim government two years ago, it has been committed to promoting national peace reconstruction and independent development, actively engaging in foreign exchanges and cooperation, and has taken a series of practical measures in areas such as economic development, corruption eradication, drug prohibition, improvement of people's livelihoods, and social security, achieving certain results. The international community should give an objective and fair assessment.

The Chinese Embassy in Afghanistan staff has been stationed in Kabul. Over the last two years, especially this year, in our daily lives, we can feel that this country is gradually recovering. Economic and social development is slowly improving, prices and exchange rates are stable, and some infrastructure construction and large-scale energy and water projects are actively progressing, with trade with neighboring countries continuously developing.

In the reports by some Western media outlets, Afghanistan seems to be on the verge of economic collapse with starving bodies everywhere. But you will see completely different scenes if you visit major cities in Afghanistan: Daily necessities and supplies are basically available; there is a wide variety of food and vegetables, and the supply of electricity, communication, and fuel is also stable, with social order being well-maintained; the price of the staple food, naan, is less than 10 Afghanis (equivalent to 7 cents yuan), or even cheaper.

It is worth mentioning that the majority of the people and foreign diplomats believe that compared with two years ago, the overall security situation in Afghanistan has seen positive improvements, and people can now freely travel throughout the country, with an increase in foreign tourists. According to the Afghan Foreign Minister, there were about 70,000 foreign tourists visiting Afghanistan, including 10,000 from Europe, in 2022.

Afghanistan still faces many challenges at present. However, let's not forget that this country has just experienced 20 years of war, is starting from scratch, and is a fragmented state. Its economic development heavily relies on foreign aid, and its per capita GDP has always been the lowest in the world.

The interim government of Afghanistan took over a mess and faced external economic blockades, financial sanctions, asset freezes, and other difficulties. Achieving these development results in just two years and maintaining national unity and overall stability is not easy.

GT: On May 6, during the 5th China-Afghanistan-Pakistan Trilateral Foreign Ministers' Dialogue held in Pakistan, a joint statement was issued, clearly stating that terrorism and terrorist organizations including the "East Turkistan Islamic Movement" (ETIM), will not be tolerated. It was also the first time that the Afghan Taliban made a written commitment to not allow the "ETIM" and other forces to engage in terrorist activities. What is the current situation regarding the activities of ETIM members in Afghanistan, and what is the significance of this written commitment by the Afghan Taliban for the promotion of regional counter-terrorism and security cooperation?

Zhao: The "ETIM" is a terrorist organization listed by the United Nations Security Council and recognized by the Chinese government in accordance with the law. The forces of the "ETIM" based in Afghanistan still pose a serious threat to the security of China, Afghanistan, and the region. The "three forces" - terrorism, separatism and extremism, based in Afghanistan are also still major security threats to the region and even the world.

The Afghan interim government's written commitment to not allow the "ETIM" and other forces to engage in terrorist activities is of great significance for the future development of China-Afghanistan relations and the promotion of regional counter-terrorism and security cooperation. China supports Afghanistan's efforts to combat all forms of terrorism and violence and maintain national security and stability.

We hope that the Afghan side will effectively fulfill its commitments, take more effective measures, and resolutely combat all terrorist forces, including the "ETIM."

China calls on the international community to firmly support Afghanistan in combating the "three forces," support Afghanistan in taking active measures to cut off the financial channels of terrorism and combat the recruitment and cross-border movement of terrorists, and the dissemination of violent and terrorist audiovisual materials, curb extremism, youth radicalization, and the spread of terrorist ideology, and eradicate hidden terrorists and their hiding places.

China will also actively encourage the international community to strengthen bilateral and multilateral counter-terrorism and security cooperation, provide anti-terrorism materials, equipment, and technical assistance to Afghanistan, support Afghanistan in implementing comprehensive counterterrorism measures, address both the symptoms and root causes of terrorism, and prevent Afghanistan from becoming a haven, breeding ground, and source of terrorism again.
GT: China has always emphasized its support for peace, development, and a political solution to the Afghan issue. Could you please introduce China's specific measures and future plans in assisting Afghanistan?

Zhao: The friendly bilateral cooperation between China and Afghanistan has always been a key factor in China's unique role in the Afghan issue. The Afghan government and society have widely recognized that China is the only major country and neighboring country in history that has never bullied Afghanistan, and China has always pursued cooperation, assistance, and friendship with Afghanistan.

In the last two years, in order to avoid a humanitarian crisis, China has provided timely humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan, including the provision of vaccines, medicines, and winter supplies, totaling 300 million yuan. In March 2022, China also provided 1 billion yuan in unconditional assistance to Afghanistan for humanitarian, educational, medical, and rural construction projects.

China has also provided a large amount of assistance to Afghanistan in the form of food, emergency supplies, earthquake relief, and through other means using channels such as the South-South Cooperation Assistance Fund, the Red Cross, local governments, and civil society, helping the Afghan people to cope with various crises.

At the same time, China's assistance projects in Afghanistan, such as the building of Kabul University, vocational and technical education colleges, low-cost housing, and a hospital, have been successfully handed over or are about to resume construction. Personnel training and student exchange programs are also progressing in an orderly manner, cultivating a large number of talents in various fields in Afghanistan.

In terms of economic and trade cooperation, we have opened the "Pine Nuts Air Corridor," granting Afghanistan 98 percent tariff-free treatment for products, restoring direct flights between China and Afghanistan, and promoting practical cooperation in major projects.

Currently, China and Afghanistan are actively exploring enhanced connectivity construction under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and negotiating to promote the export of more Afghan specialty agricultural products such as pomegranates, almonds, and apricots to China. All these practical measures are being taken to support the Afghan people's economic development, income generation, and improvement of livelihoods through concrete actions.

GT: The Global Times launched a petition in February 2022 calling for the unconditional return of life-saving money to the Afghan people by the US, which has received a lot of attention. How do you view the Chinese public's concern for the livelihood of the Afghan people? How do you think China and Afghanistan can further strengthen people-to-people exchanges and promote friendly cooperation?

Zhao: China and Afghanistan are traditional friendly neighbors, and the ancient Silk Road has closely connected the people of the two countries, with a long history of friendly exchanges. Both China and Afghanistan believe in the cultural concept of "a close neighbor is better than a distant relative" and have a fine tradition of mutual assistance.

Since significant changes have occurred in Afghanistan, the safety and wellbeing of the Afghan people have always concerned the Chinese people. Having grown and risen from hardship, the Chinese people deeply empathize with the suffering of the Afghan people and have always provided assistance and steadfast support in various ways to help them overcome their hardships. This is a continuation of the traditional spirit of solidarity and cooperation between the two peoples and a reflection of Chinese people's pursuit of justice and the well-being of the world.

The relationship between countries lies in the affinity between their people. Today, with the overall situation in Afghanistan transitioning from chaos to stability and the complete dispersal of the shadow of the COVID-19 epidemic, people-to-people exchanges between China and Afghanistan are ushering in new opportunities.

China will continue to uphold the principles of amity, sincerity, mutual benefit, and inclusiveness in its neighborhood diplomacy, and carry out more pragmatic cooperation with Afghanistan in various fields. Together with the Afghan people, China will continuously consolidate the foundation of popular support for friendly relations between the two countries and work hand in hand to build a China-Afghanistan community of shared future.

GT: Can you give more examples of the close and friendly cooperation between China and Afghanistan?

Zhao: The friendly cooperation between China and Afghanistan is reflected in various aspects, for example, in the smooth communication and cooperation between our foreign ministries.

I remember one time when we wanted to have face-to-face exchanges with senior officials from various departments of the Afghan interim government regarding some cooperation issues. After receiving our request, the Afghan side quickly arranged for our ambassador to Afghanistan to meet with the acting prime minister and six cabinet ministers within a week. All the protocol arrangements were seamless, efficient, and smooth. Some foreign embassy colleagues heard about this and couldn't help but admire that only Chinese diplomats could receive such treatment.

Furthermore, the Afghan people have great enthusiasm for learning Chinese. We often encounter fluent Chinese speakers among the Afghan people at airports and other public places. This includes not only students from Confucius Institutes and those who have studied in China, but also many ordinary people who have self-studied Chinese and hope to engage in trade and tourism in China in the future.

GT: At the Central Asia Summit in May, Chinese leaders emphasized the role of platforms such as the Afghanistan Neighboring Countries Coordination Mechanism in promoting Afghanistan's path to reconstruction. In terms of promoting peace and reconstruction in Afghanistan, what specific diplomatic efforts and cooperation methods will China adopt?

Zhao: As a close neighbor and sincere friend to Afghanistan, China hopes for peace and stability in Afghanistan more than any other country. China has built platforms, created conditions, and contributed Chinese wisdom and solutions to promote peace and stability in Afghanistan, earning unanimous praise from the Afghan people and the international community.

Especially after significant changes in the Afghan situation, China advocated for the establishment of the Afghanistan neighboring countries coordination mechanism, leveraging the advantages of neighboring countries to consolidate regional consensus and cooperation, and played a constructive role in ensuring a smooth transition in the Afghan situation.

Currently, Afghanistan is at a critical juncture of transitioning from chaos to stability, with challenges and opportunities, and difficulties and hopes all coexisting. As a builder of world peace, contributor to global development, preserver of international order, and a friendly neighbor to Afghanistan, China will continue to provide assistance within its capabilities for Afghanistan's reconstruction and development.

China will fulfill its aid commitments to Afghanistan, steadily promote economic and trade investment cooperation, actively engage in cooperation in areas such as healthcare, poverty alleviation, agriculture, and disaster prevention and reduction, deepen cooperation in jointly building the BRI, support Afghanistan in leveraging its geographical advantages to integrate into regional economic cooperation and connectivity, transform from a landlocked country to a land-linked country, and help Afghanistan emerge from the shadows of war and regain its ancient Silk Road glory.

At the same time, we will continue to uphold justice and advocate for the Afghan people in the international community, urging relevant countries, as the initiators of the Afghan issue, to learn from their mistakes, face the severe humanitarian, economic, and security risks and challenges in Afghanistan, immediately lift sanctions on Afghanistan, return Afghan overseas assets, and fulfill their commitments to humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan.

GT: What are your expectations for the future of Afghanistan?

Zhao: Afghanistan is a brilliant pearl on the ancient Silk Road, which has created a splendid and glorious culture and made unique contributions to the exchanges and mutual learning of different civilizations between the East and the West, as well as the progress and development of human civilization.

However, due to its important geographical location, known as the "heart of Asia," it has always been a strategic place for the great powers to compete, and its fate has been tumultuous. For a long time, Afghanistan has suffered from the ravages of war and turmoil, and its people have experienced hardships, causing this pearl to be repeatedly covered in dust.

Afghan people are diligent and kind, just like we the Chinese, and they are constantly striving for self-improvement. Afghans often mention that they have defeated three superpowers in a hundred years, which makes its nickname, the graveyard of empires, well deserved.

Nowadays, with the withdrawal of foreign troops, the Afghan people have ushered in an opportunity to truly control their own destiny and enter into a new era of independence, peace, and development.

In our contacts with Afghan officials, we can clearly feel their strong sense of national pride and their desire to change the fate of their country through development. They often say that today's Afghanistan is very similar to the new China of more than 70 years ago. They have driven away foreign aggressors and opened a new chapter in national construction.

However, there is still much to be done, and the road ahead is long. They lack experience and capabilities, so they strongly hope to deepen cooperation with China, their thousand-year neighbor, learn from China's governance experience, and achieve lasting peace and prosperity with China's help.

As an unwavering friendly neighbor, China will continue to support Afghanistan's independent and self-reliant development and make positive contributions to its prosperity and the promotion of regional peace and stability.

If the interim government of Afghanistan can seize the opportunity, further open up and engage in inclusive governance, pursue moderate and stable policies, and actively explore a modern development model that suits the Afghan national conditions, it is entirely possible to lead the Afghan people onto the path of peaceful reconstruction and prosperous development. I personally have confidence in this.

Efforts should be made to foster dialogue to restore the golden era of China-UK relations: Alistair Michie

Editor's Note:
Some observers believe that China-UK relations are at its lowest point, but Alistair Michie, secretary general of the British East Asia Council and winner of the Chinese Friendship Award Medal in 2013, told the Global Times in an exclusive interview that he does not agree with this assessment. Instead, it would be highly desirable for all nations to have golden eras of understanding with China, Michie said, noting that one of the key issues is that a significant number of UK politicians are heavily influenced by the US. He also said that the UK should consider joining the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as well as other initiatives that can move both countries in a more positive direction. Global Times reporters Xie Wenting and Bai Yunyi (GT) talked with Michie to get his insightful opinions on China-UK relations, the BRI and more. 

GT: The Chinese version of the book Consensus or Conflict? China and Globalization in the 21st Century co-edited by you has been published recently and distributed in China. Could you tell us why you wanted to compile such a book? What feedback have you received?

Michie:
 I was motivated to do the book in 2020. What I felt was that at that time, there was an opportunity for the world to gather together and deal with the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic, in the same way that the world dealt with the global financial crisis in 2008. Back in 2008, the G20 played a particularly crucial role in stabilizing what was a very serious global financial crisis. The way the economic crisis unfolded in 2008 posed extreme danger for the world. So, at the start of 2020, I hoped that the world and nations would gather together in a way that could lead to the development of solutions, where the world would unite toward a common destiny.

I was also greatly influenced by the Chinese leader's repeated calls over many years for the world to move forward with mutual understanding and mutual respect toward a community of common destiny. I believed that the only way to effectively and efficiently address global challenges, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, was through collective action and a shared purpose. 

This motivation laid the foundations for the book. I was pleasantly surprised that we were able to gather over 30 distinguished writers from around the world, who provided their perspectives on why it is crucial for the world to address issues like pandemics through consensus rather than conflict in terms of global matters. This served as the motivation and genesis of the book.

Regarding the feedback, I was particularly pleased that we gathered 10 recommendations from distinguished global leaders, printed in the front of the book. They emphasized the importance of reading this book as it promotes consensus over conflict. These high-level individuals from around the world recognized the crucial theme and message of the book. However, the outcome has been disappointing. Since the English version was published in September 2021, the world has significantly shifted toward conflict and away from consensus. 

GT: Are you disappointed with the direction in which the world is progressing?

Michie:
 I am deeply frustrated because, since publishing the book with hopes of achieving consensus, the world has instead been steadily moving toward conflict. This is a critical issue for humanity, as there are numerous threats such as climate change, future pandemics, nuclear concerns, challenges in biosciences, and artificial intelligence. These issues require nations to act together in the interest of all humanity, but unfortunately, consensus is lacking. The lack of cooperation is deeply concerning as it can lead to misunderstandings, miscalculations, and catastrophic conflicts. It is a dangerous world. While I find some satisfaction in expressing these views and highlighting the dangers, I am still deeply frustrated by the world's trajectory toward conflict rather than consensus.

By nature, I have always been positive that humanity will find a solution. However, it is also crucial to be realistic. One issue I addressed in my book is the communication crisis our world is facing. Different nations struggle to explain their perspectives, largely due to the fact that we think differently. For instance, China, with nearly 20 percent of the world's population, has a distinct way of thinking compared to America and Europe.

Therefore, the lack of effective communication is causing a crisis in understanding different perspectives and points of view. 

GT: Not long ago, you mentioned that there are many Americans who have closed their minds and turned a blind eye to significant global changes, which is "extremely dangerous" for the world. What specific "significant global changes" do you mean? Could you elaborate on the potential dangers it poses to the world if Americans turned a blind eye to these changes?

Michie:
 One of the major dangers that the world faces is the way many Americans are thinking today. The US holds a very dominant position in global governance despite only representing 4 percent of the world's population. This massive influence held by a small number of people is frustrating for the rest of the world. Additionally, it is also frustrating that many Americans tend to look inward.

For example, many Americans do not accept that there is a threat and danger from climate change. They are not actively dealing with other serious global threats like nuclear issues, artificial intelligence, or biosciences. This turning inward is extremely dangerous because these are issues that affect all humanity and the world. 

Additionally, we have a situation where the US political system is deeply fractured, and this creates great dangers for the world going forward.

GT: UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly recently paid a visit to China and he said that it would not be "credible" to disengage with China. However, the British parliament referred to Taiwan as an "independent country" in an official document for the first time, coinciding with Cleverly's visit. What's your perspective on it? In recent years, the UK's attitude toward China has undergone major changes. What do you think are the reasons behind this?

Michie:
 I think what we need to do is to be very careful about making statements that can cause anger between countries like this one. As I mentioned earlier, we are currently facing a communication crisis, and what we truly need is more dialogue and discussion to foster an intelligent conversation among nations. Fortunately, there are many people in the UK who are working toward creating that environment. However, there are also individuals in the UK who are not interested in engaging in an intelligent dialogue; they have their own agendas. 

One of the issues we face is that a significant number of UK politicians are heavily influenced by the US, which aims to hinder China's progress. On the other hand, there are US politicians who are also striving to build an intelligent dialogue. Nonetheless, this situation is extremely dangerous, particularly given the current communication crisis and social media. It is so easy to have many comments that can be misunderstood and create conflicts and misunderstandings on social media. Therefore, it is crucial to engage in as much dialogue as possible to foster an intelligent conversation among nations.

GT: Do you think the current UK policy toward China is too influenced by Washington?

Michie:
 I believe that one of the root problems is that the US still wishes to be the hegemonic leader of the world, despite comprising only 4 percent of the global population. It has convinced itself that this is the right path to follow. However, due to many Americans focusing inward and ignoring critical global issues such as climate change and other threats, a significant problem arises for the world.

GT: Some observers have said that China-UK relations are at the lowest point. Do you agree with this? Do you think the bilateral relations can get back to a golden era?

Michie:
 No, I don't think we're at the lowest point at all because one of the most important trends in the last two decades is the tens of thousands of Chinese students who have come to the UK to study. I think that we rank second or third in the world in terms of attracting Chinese nationals to come and study in our education system. That is the kind of foundation-laying for intelligent dialogue that I have argued is so important in creating the kind of understanding that will lead to consensus.

I am very hopeful that this student exchange will help to create a more peaceful and sustainable world in the future. 

It would be highly desirable for all nations to have golden eras of understanding with China. Unfortunately, at the moment, we are not moving in that direction, but we must do everything in our power to engage in intelligent dialogue and create understanding, so that we can move toward what you describe as a golden era of relationships. This will enable us to address the significant challenges facing humanity.

GT: Many Western politicians have recently been talking about so-called decoupling from China. What's your take on it? Is it possible for the West to decouple from China?

Michie:
 I believe that decoupling and de-risking are not the right direction. What we must do is focus much more on creating an intelligent dialogue so that we can understand each other better and avoid moving toward conflict. It is absolutely crucial to move away from de-risking and decoupling, as I argue that the fundamental need is to create a much deeper and better understanding. The only way we can solve the crises facing all of humanity is by coming together in consensus and creating mutual understanding and respect, in order to move toward a community of common destiny. That is the only way, but it poses a huge challenge for the world.

GT: This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). How do you view the development of the BRI over the past decade and its future prospects?

Michie:
 I think the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has been a hugely important initiative by China because it serves as a channel for creating human connection. Communication can take various forms, such as infrastructure development including roads, airports, and harbors, which facilitate the exchange of ideas and foster understanding. This initiative also promotes intelligent dialogue, and China possesses the expertise to extend these infrastructure developments worldwide.

So, I believe it is a hugely important contribution toward improving global governance. At the moment, global governance faces a challenge as it is dominated by just 14 percent of the global population, which includes 4 percent in the US and under 10 percent in Europe. It is understandable that the rest of the world becomes frustrated when such a small percentage of the world's population holds such a dominant influence. Initiatives like the BRI are a way of striving toward creating a broader form of global governance that can lead us toward international consensus. 

I hope that the BRI will continue to evolve, fostering exchanges and understanding that can truly guide us toward a more peaceful and sustainable world.

GT: Do you think that the UK should consider joining the BRI?

Michie:
 I believe that everything should be considered in any way forward that we can create in dialogue and understanding, in order to create a world that is moving toward a common destiny. We can only solve the incredibly serious and dangerous challenges that the world faces if we move toward consensus. Initiatives like the BRI should be considered, as well as anything that can move us in a more positive direction.