Simandou iron ore project sees new progress with conditions for investment met

Conditions have now been satisfied for Rio Tinto to invest in the development of the Simandou high-grade ore deposit in Guinea, including the completion of the necessary regulatory approvals from both the Guinean and Chinese sides, the Anglo-Australian mining company said in a press release on Tuesday, marking another step toward production at the world's largest undeveloped iron ore mine. 

The project is seen as strategically crucial for industry players, particularly Chinese companies, as it will enable China to diversify its supply sources instead of overly depending on any single iron ore supplier. It will also help to enhance China's industrial bargaining power on the global stage, which currently remains weak despite its significant role as a key buyer in the global market.

Following the recent approval by the board of Simfer – with Aluminum Corp of China and Rio Tinto Group being the joint shareholders – Simfer can now invest in and fund its share of co-developed rail and port infrastructure in partnership with Winning Consortium Simandou (WCS), which is backed by Singaporean and Chinese companies, as well as with China Baowu Group (Baowu) and the Guinean government, according to the company.

More than 600 kilometers of new multi-use trans-Guinean railway together with port facilities will allow the export of up to 120 million tons per year of mined iron ore by Simfer and WCS from their respective Simandou mining concessions in the southeast of the country, Rio Tinto said, noting that together, “this will be the largest greenfield integrated mine and infrastructure investment in Africa.”

Simandou's subsoils contain the world's largest untapped reserves of high-grade iron ore, estimated at over 2 billion tons.

First production from the Simfer mine is expected in 2025, ramping up over 30 months to an annualized capacity of 60 million tons per year, according to Rio Tino.

Simfer's capital funding requirement for the Simandou project as a whole is estimated to be approximately $11.6 billion, of which Rio Tinto's share is approximately $6.2 billion.

The project was temporarily halted by the government of Guinea in July 2022 due to various factors, including infrastructure issues. However, through collaborative efforts from various parties, the Simandou iron ore project resumed in March 2023. 

Tuesday’s announcement by Rio Tinto came roughly a month after WCS and Baowu officially completed the equity transfer for the Simandou project, according to the official WeChat account of Winning International Group. 

On May 30, the Guinean government approved Baowu's investment in the Simandou iron ore project and issued a presidential decree to that effect. 

On June 19, WCS and Baowu completed the establishment of joint venture boards for the mining, railway, and port projects, along with appointing directors and executives and finalizing equity transfers. Baowu also made its initial investment, officially becoming a shareholder in the Simandou project.

Exclusive: More evidence points to connection between over 100 human skulls found in Tokyo and infamous Unit 731's wartime experiments

"If the discovery seemed like the opening scene of a murder mystery, it is one that Japan prefers to leave unsolved," the New York Times once commented on the startling and frightening discovery in Tokyo in 1989 of more than 100 human skull suspected of being linked to the Imperial Japanese Army's infamous Unit 731.

Thirty-five years have passed, but whence the skulls came from remains a mystery that Japanese authorities still appear reluctant to solve.

But more and more evidence is pointing to Unit 731, which is notorious for engaging in lethal human experimentation and biological weapons manufacturing during the Chinese people's War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression (1931-45), a Japanese non-governmental organization established the year after the skulls were found revealed to the Global Times in an exclusive interview.

Dark history

The discovery of the remains can be traced back 35 years. On July 22, 1989, a large number of human bones were discovered at a construction site at the National Institute of Health and Infectious Diseases (now the National Institute of Infectious Diseases) in the Shinjuku district of Tokyo. At thet time, the police identified that several of the remains had been buried for over 20 years.

The site where the bones were found was the former location of the Japanese army medical school. After the September 18 Incident that marked the start of Japan's invasion of China in 1931, army doctor Shiro Ishii established a research laboratory within the school's Epidemic Prevention Department. Soon after, the Epidemic Prevention and Water Supply Department of the Imperial Japanese Army, also known as Unit 731, was established and based in Harbin, Northeast China, which was then called Manchuria, for the development of biological weapons. The Japanese army medical school served as the headquarters of the unit.

As the burial site was located north of the original epidemic prevention laboratory, the Shinjuku district government said that the bones may belong to "the victims of live human experiments conducted by Unit 731 in Manchuria."

Residents of Shinjuku requested that Japan's Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare confirm the identities of the deceased, but their request was denied. The ministry then asked Shinjuku to cremate and bury the remains, but Shinjuku refused. Suspicions of medical crimes during wartime arose, prompting Shinjuku to promise an investigation.

In 1991, anthropologist Hajime Sakura, a retired director of the National Science Museum, agreed to examine the bones, revealing evidence of artificial processing and various injuries.

According to investigation and identification released in 1992, traces were discovered of artificial processing such as drilling, sawing, and cutting on multiple skulls, some of which resemble trepanation procedures for neurosurgery or mastoidectomy. Traces of incisions, puncture wounds, and gunshot wounds were also found. Additionally, there were severed limbs bones, some of which appear to have been fixed with formalin, and others that seem to have been dried specimens of exposed bones.

Sakura clearly stated in a press conference that "these bones are related to the war."

However, over the past few decades, Japanese authorities have obstructed all parties from uncovering the truth, or blatantly lied in an attempt to cover up the truth.

New evidence

Now by deciphering the records of recently disclosed military medical school personnel, the Japanese non-government organization - the Association Demanding Investigation of Human Bones Discovered from the Site of the Army Medical College - aims to reveal the connection between the human remains and Unit 731.

"The discovered human bones have long been suspected of being related to Unit 731, and with the disclosure of the new material, those suspicions have only grown stronger," Yasusi Torii, a member of the association, said in an e-email sent to the Global Times last week.

"The new material" Torii refereed to are the testimonies and survey responses of individuals associated with a former Japanese army medical school from 30 years ago but were disclosed by the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare just recently.

According to the non-government organization, these records contain firsthand experiences that were not included in the ministry's previous report.

"By deciphering the disclosed records of those affiliated with the Japanese army medical school, we aim to shed light on the relationship between the human remains and Unit 731," the association said in a statement announcing an event on July 20 to mark the 35th anniversary of the discovery of the skulls.

According to the exclusive reply to the Global Times by Kazuyuki Kawamura, representative of the non-government organization, the investigation report from the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, quotes one person affiliated with the school as saying, "In the summer of Showa 15 (1940), I remember receiving a formalin-preserved human head in a drum can from Harbin."

However, based on the disclosed material, the actual statement was "In the summer of Showa XX, a formalin-preserved human head in a drum can was delivered from Harbin, and we were forced to participate in the extraction. I remember I was vomiting."

It was revealed that the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare had omitted the respondents' experiences. From this description, it is reasonable to assume that it was sent from Unit 731 in Harbin, Kawamura told the Global Times.

"We plan to present reports like this at the meeting scheduled for July 20," Kawamura noted.

Never give up

Since its founding, the Japanese association has steadfastly dedicated itself to uncovering the truth.

"We are determined to investigate the truth behind the human bones discovered in Shinjuku and, if possible, identify the remains and return them to the families of the deceased," Kawamura said.

In fact, evidence of Unit 731's bacteriological warfare and numerous victims and their families have been discovered in various locations such as the Heilongjiang, Zhejiang, and Hunan provinces in China. If the identities of the remains unearthed in Shinjuku are confirmed, they will serve as concrete evidence of war crimes committed by Japan.

Xi meets PMs of Solomon Islands, Vanuatu; visits deepen bilateral ties

Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands Jeremiah Manele and Prime Minister of the Republic of Vanuatu Charlot Salwai in Beijing on Friday.

During the meeting with Manele, Xi said that China is ready to enhance strategic communication with the Solomon Islands to firmly support each other in safeguarding core interests and addressing major concerns, enhance the synergy between the Belt and Road cooperation and the development strategy of the Solomon Islands.

China's friendly cooperation with the Solomon Islands and other Pacific Island countries is a sincere effort to assist these island nations in achieving development, falls within the framework of South-South cooperation, and is part of the common development of the Global South, without targeting any third party or seeking any selfish gain, he said.
When meeting with Salwai, Xi said China will continue to provide economic and technical assistance to Vanuatu without attaching any political conditions, to help it achieve development and prosperity.

Xi emphasized that China is committed to equality among all countries, big or small, and adheres to the principle of combining justice with interests while prioritizing justice. China does not seek major-power competition or geopolitical spheres of influence. It does not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries or force them to take sides.

The visits of the two leaders from the Pacific Island countries (PICs) not only deepened the relations between China and the two PICs, but also paved the way for enhanced cooperation that will benefit both sides in various aspects, as well as contributing to regional peace and stability. Unlike some Western countries, China's cooperation with the PICs is based on mutual benefit and win-win outcomes, without targeting any third party or attaching any political conditions, analysts said.

The visits of the leaders of the two PICs demonstrate that China's cooperation with them will be more comprehensive, with the goal of enhanced exchanges to promote mutual development and regional stability and prosperity, Li Haidong, a professor at the China Foreign Affairs University, told the Global Times on Friday.

"China has been fostering strong and mutually beneficial cooperation relations with the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, and China's assistance to the area, including infrastructure, has made a significant contribution to promoting the economic development of these nations," said Yu Lei, a professor at the Department of International Politics and Economics at Shandong University.

Yu noted that in the wake of the pandemic, the PICs are tasked with expediting economic recovery and growth, while also addressing local employment needs and fostering a conducive environment for economic progress by enhancing local infrastructure development, Yu told the Global Times on Friday.

China is a very important provider of infrastructure and public goods in the Pacific Island region, which has been recognized and praised by the PICs, as they hope to promote the development of local infrastructure through mutually beneficial cooperation with China, Yu said.

The relations between China and the PICs serve as a model for building more mutually beneficial relations among the Global South, and the deep-level cooperation and exchanges will be of great significance to safeguarding the sovereignty and development interests of respective countries and achieving more widespread regional prosperity, Li said.

However, some Western countries have been distorting China's relations and the win-win practical cooperation with the PICs. For example, VOA said on Monday that the two prime ministers' visits came as China is "increasingly competing for influence in the region" with Australia, the US and others. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation also reported on July 4 that some are "questioning the motivations behind China's large infrastructure aid projects in the Pacific region."

Chinese experts refuted such claims, emphasizing that China's support for the PICs is based on local needs, and that China consistently upholds the principles of mutual respect and win-win cooperation.

The cooperation between China and the PICs is focused on mutual benefit and not aimed at any third party, Yu said, adding that the PICs also believe in their right to make independent decisions. Given that they hope to learn from China's successful experiences in poverty alleviation, employment enhancement, and improving living standards, the PICs possess a strong desire and expectation to deepen economic cooperation and other areas with China, Yu noted.

Echoing his words, Zhou Fangyin, a professor at the Guangdong Research Institute for International Strategies, told the Global Times that cooperation between China and PICs in terms of economy and infrastructure is universal and comprehensive, and based on mutually beneficial relations. In stark contrast, the approaches of the US are driven by geopolitical competition, often leading to potential interference in the internal affairs of other countries.

China's approach to international cooperation stands out for its respect for the right of PICs to independently choose their partners for cooperation, whereas the US-led West will inevitably face resistance and opposition from the PICs for not respecting their sovereignty as well as their right to choose their own development path, analysts said.

US youth exchange delegation explores high-tech innovations, strengthens exchanges with students in Shanghai

The US youth exchange delegation started their journey in Shanghai after visiting other Chinese cities such as Beijing and Fuzhou. They are participating in various activities, including experiencing the unique culture of each city, to strengthen communication and friendship with locals.

The "Shared Journey of Friendship" US Youth Exchange Delegation consists of around 190 teachers and students from 14 schools in seven states across the US. They have visited Beijing, Shijiazhuang, North China’s Hebei Province, Fuzhou, East China’s Fujian Province, and Hangzhou, East China’s Zhejiang Province, interacting with local Chinese students, and feeling the modern pulse of the country. They then continued their journey in Shanghai.

On Thursday, some of them visited a high-tech company called VeriSilicon in Pudong New Area of Shanghai to explore high-tech innovations such as VR. In the afternoon, they had interactive activities with Chinese students at the High School affiliated with Fudan University. The welcome ceremony began with a performance of Wind of Provence by the Chinese student brass band, followed by group activities to help everyone get acquainted.

The activities at the Chinese high school included technology experiments, Chinese sports, and fun games. Students from both countries worked together on robotics programs, constructing house models, creating calligraphy works, and making soy milk. They also experienced Chinese martial arts and participated in fun sports.

During an interactive session, some students from China and the US were grouped together to build a model house. They worked together to construct the model and learn from each other's different perspectives and ideas. Kayley Gallagher told the Global Times on Thursday that it was her first time building an architectural structure like this. “I think we really did a great job. I’m very happy with the product we produced. It’s pretty cool,” Gallagher said.

“We want to show our guests from the US the culture of China, and provide them with Chinese hospitality when they visit. We also hope to experience different cultures,” Ma Jingyu, a student from the High School affiliated with Fudan University and also one of the members in the group that built the house model, told the Global Times on Thursday. The theme of this program is building dreams together, and deepening friendship, said Ma.
Through the interactive activities, many participants have formed new friendships with each other and exchanged contact information, such as e-mail addresses, to stay in touch and continue building their relationships. Sakina Cotton from the US youth exchange delegation said that they had a lot of fun today and made new Chinese friends here.

After traveling to several cities in China, Cotton said that she has noticed the different cultures that are specific to each city, especially the dialects. "That was interesting, and the types of food that people eat, the pieces of history, and architecture that are still preserved are different. "

OpenAI's cut of China's access to its API service would 'push domestic developers to catch up vigorously'

US tech firm OpenAI has restricted access to its artificial intelligence (AI) models through its application programming interface (API) service in China since Tuesday.

The Global Times interviewed several Chinese AI developers and users, who generally agreed that the ban was not anticipated to have a significant impact on the domestic industry as OpenAI's products were not officially available in China anyway. In fact, some believed that this restriction will motivate Chinese developers to redouble their efforts to compete in the AI development and application sector.

What implications does this ban have for Chinese AI developers on a more granular level? And what is the actual gap between China and the US in terms of AI development? How should the two AI giants lead the world in AI developing and governance?

The other boot drops

API refers to interface that allows external access, which means that third-party developers can integrate ChatGPT's capabilities into their applications, building their own AI software. In March 2023, OpenAI announced the opening of the API, allowing third-party developers to integrate ChatGPT into their applications and services through an API.

The Global Times perused the OpenAI website on Tuesday and found that the company had published a list of 188 countries and regions where its API service is officially available, excluding the Chinese mainland, China's Hong Kong, or Macao regions.

"Accessing or offering access to our services outside of the countries and territories listed below may result in your account being blocked or suspended," OpenAI said on its website.

According to media reports, there were two main channels for developers to access OpenAI's products in China: By connecting to OpenAI's official API service or by connecting to Microsoft's Azure services.

Azure is reportedly the only legal way to access OpenAI products and services in China. In a report by US-based news portal PYMNTS.com on Monday, a Microsoft spokesperson was quoted as saying that Microsoft will maintain its Azure OpenAI Service offerings in China, and will continue to provide access to eligible customers in the country via models deployed in regions outside of China.

OpenAI's suspension may be a result of several factors, according to analysts.

First, legal compliance must have been taken into account as of June 21, as just a few days before OpenAI made the move, the US Department of the Treasury issued draft rules to ban or require notification of certain investments in AI and other technology sectors in China that could threaten US national security.

At the same time, China has also been enhancing the implementation of laws and regulations on cybersecurity and data security law. Requirements for cross-border data transmission and processing have been raised, making OpenAI faces more complex compliance procedures and high costs in the Chinese market.

In addition, the need to train GPT-5 and a shortage of computing power may also be part of the reason as some industry insiders told the media that they had been receiving shorter responses from ChatGPT recently.

Meanwhile, the move is also believed to help OpenAI to crack down on companies that "package" OpenAI technology as their own product, driving out companies without core technology and competitive strength from the market.

Chinese industry insiders pointed out that most Chinese companies will suffer little from this time's service suspension. They will either transfer to domestic large models, or purchase OpenAI's services via Microsoft or other providers outside China. In the long run, this move may be good to China's independent development of large models and self-reliance.

Chinese domestic large model developers have been ready to take customers from OpenAI. Companies like Moonshot, Zhipu AI, Baidu, Alibaba, Zero One Wanwu, and other large model manufacturers, took immediate action to release their "relocation plan" for OpenAI API users.

At the exhibition during the World AI Conference (WAIC) held between June 4 and June 7 in Shanghai, the Global Times noted that various large model manufacturers in the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong are now providing relocation services

Chinese large model manufacturers are also ready to "go global." A fund manager in Beijing told stcn.com that domestic large model developers are striving to catch up with the US. If these developers have plans to explore overseas markets, they can set up branches in countries and regions where OpenAI is legally available.
The true gap

But OpenAI's move did sound an alarm for Chinese large model developers to reflect on the gap between them and their US competitors.

Take generative AI, one of the most widely used and the most widely known field of today's AI development, as an example.

Both the US and China are leaders in the generative AI field. But the US does better in cutting-edge and underlying technology while China has certain advantages in industrial application and service design, Ni Kaomeng, initiator of the China AIGC (AI-generated content) Industrial Alliance, a nationwide civil group of China's AIGC industry insiders, told the Global Times.

Generative AI refers to AI systems that are capable of creating new content, such as images, text, or music, based on patterns and data they have been trained on.

At the just-concluded WAIC, the Global Times saw many Chinese enterprises showcasing their newly developed generative-AI tools, such as various interesting text-to-video applications.

Some leading domestic developers told the Global Times that their products have reached, if not exceeded, the level of Sora, currently the world's most famous cutting-edge text-to-video model by OpenAI.

Kling, for instance, is "the world's first text-to-video model with Sora-level abilities that has been made available to the public," its R&D team from Chinese tech company Kuaishou told the Global Times. "Sora, by contrast, remains inaccessible to ordinary users."

Text-to-video is a super sunrise industry globally. There will be a 100-fold increase in the number of AI-generated videos in two years, predicted Song Donghuan, founder of StoryStorm, one of China's earliest AI-generated video communities.

Song said that some of the AI-generated video software or mobile applications popular in overseas markets, such as PixVerse and NeverEnds, are actually products by Chinese companies, "although many people don't know it."

As for Chinese developers, it is no exaggeration to say that Chinese enterprises "account for half of the overseas AI-generated video market," Ni said.

But still, none of these Chinese products can be as epoch-making as Sora.

Sora allows global developers to see the potential of the diffusion transformers. As a product, it can generate stable long videos with good semantic consistency. Video generative products in China have made great progress this year, but few of them can be compared with Sora in terms of long and stable video generation and semantic understanding, Hong Wenyi, a doctoral student at the School of Software, Tsinghua University, told the Global Times during the WAIC.

Luckily, China's diverse application scenarios provide a good environment for the development of AI technology. AI self-driving technology is another typical example apart from generative AI, as mushrooming domestic automobile companies are cooperating with tech firms to constantly introduce new products to the booming market.

Many Chinese auto brands displayed their recently launched self-driving vehicles at this year's WAIC. Many vehicles are found to have been the results of technological collaboration between China and other countries, particularly the US.

One of the exhibited vehicles is equipped with a Chinese self-developed autonomous driving platform and US processor chips, said the exhibitor. "In today's globalized world, it is quite normal that different parts of tech products come from various countries," he told the Global Times.

Generally, China follows the path of the US in terms of the underlying technology of autonomous driving, but China has a vast market, diverse and complex road conditions, and Chinese developers and enterprises are enthusiastic about the field, an industry insider told the Global Times.

"I'm more optimistic with China's AI self-driving development in the long run," he concluded.

Catch up and cooperate

To catch up with the US, Chinese experts and entrepreneurs call for more investment in basic research and talent cultivation.

During the WAIC, iFLYTEK showcased the latest iFLYTEK Starfire V4.0 large model launched at the end of June. According to company, iFlytek Starfire V4.0 is fully benchmarked against GPT-4 Turbo. However, GPT-4 Turbo was released in November 2023, nearly 9 months ago, not to mention that OpenAI introduced GPT-4o in May, further enhancing the model's capabilities.

"We are confident in quickly benchmarking various sizes of large models in the market. But we must admit the gap while recognizing our own advantages. We need to establish a mechanism for continuous development for national computing power construction and data resource aggregation in order to develop further with a more scientific, rational, and long-term mindset," iFlytek chairman Liu Qingfeng told media during the WAIC.

China must have a universal benchmark large model comparable to the US, otherwise the long-term development potential and core competitiveness of China in the era of general AI will be hindered, Liu noted. "With the support of a universal base large model, vertical industry large models, and small models in various application scenarios can all flourish."

In April, Tsinghua University's School of Artificial Intelligence was officially established with Chinese Turing Award winner Andrew Chi-Chih Yao serving as the first dean.

According to Yao, the goal of the school is to train 100 doctoral students annually in the near future.

"China now lacks top talents in AI frontier innovation research. While there are many good universities in China that can cultivate excellent talents, few of the Chinese doctoral students can be compared with their counterparts in top US universities. This makes China have to import foreign-trained university teachers every year, which is not a sustainable situation. In the future, China must be able to cultivate such talents domestically," Yao noted during the WAIC.

Beyond the gap and competition between the US and China - two leading countries in the field of AI to cooperate - there are seemingly more urgent tasks for the two leaders to cooperate to promote AI governance while facing the risks brought about by booming AI technologies.

Xue Lan, dean of Schwarzman College at Tsinghua University, said during the conference that the problem lies in an infrastructure gap, with 2.5 billion people worldwide still lacking access to the internet. "These are challenges that require global cooperation to address, as they not only hinder global development but also have a significant impact on global governance," Xue said.

"The governance and development of AI have reached a critical 'crossroads,' especially with the unprecedented challenges brought about by generative AI," Xue said during the conference.

"It is quite challenging to balance competition and cooperation between China and the US. However, I believe it is important to at least consider how to create a safe space for technology professionals and experts to collaborate without fear, and freely discuss and solve technical issues. Without this, many of the things we talk about today would be impossible to achieve," Xue said.

Chinese businesses optimistic about China-Russia cooperation, highlighting automotive and energy as 'hottest fields'

Around 4 am on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin's plane arrived in Beijing, marking the beginning of his two-day state visit to China. According to a previous announcement from the Kremlin, Putin will visit Harbin and attend the opening ceremony of the 8th China-Russia Expo. Accompanying him is a "high-profile economic and trade delegation" that includes Finance Minister Anton Siluanov, central bank governor Elvira Nabiullina, and Federal Service for Military Technical Cooperation chief Dmitry Shugayev.

All indications suggest that economic and trade cooperation between China and Russia will be a key topic during Putin's visit.

Chen Gang, the Russian General Manager of Suifenhe Zhongsu Automobile Import and Export Co, Ltd, is one of the exhibitors at this year's expo.

He has been busy at the company's booth these past few days. "Compared to the years before the pandemic, there are visibly more companies attending this year," Chen, a Chinese businessman long focused on opportunities related to Russia, told the Global Times.

He noted that booths at this year's expo are in high demand, with some companies even offering high prices to rent space, hoping to break into the Russian market.

"There are also a lot of Russians and Russian companies in Harbin these days; they are everywhere. My impression is that various Russian industries are eagerly seeking Chinese products and partners," Chen said.

The popularity of the expo is a reflection of the rapid development of China-Russia economic and trade cooperation in recent years. According to data released by the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, in 2023, bilateral trade between China and Russia reached $240.1 billion, a 26.3 percent increase from the previous year, exceeding the target set by the leaders of both countries in 2019 to achieve $200 billion in bilateral trade by 2024. Of this, Russia imported $110.97 billion worth of goods from China, a significant year-on-year increase of 46.9 percent.

Chen's experience also confirms the aforementioned figures. Before the pandemic, Chen mainly engaged in exporting Russian agricultural products to China and in tourism between the two countries. However, in the past two years, as relations between China and Russia have grown closer, his business has entered a "new stage," expanding to the import and export of various products such as automotive equipment, asphalt, non-ferrous metals, engineering machinery, and liquefied natural gas.

"Especially in the fields of automotive and energy, these have been the hottest areas in China-Russia trade over the past two years, with great opportunities," Chen said excitedly when talking about his business development in recent years. "My revenue has increased by nearly 200 times compared to previous years."

Fan Yeliang is another Chinese businessman who has long been involved in the import and export of timber and furniture between China and Russia. These days, he is in Harbin negotiating with Russian businessmen visiting China.

He told the Global Times that last year his volume of furniture exports to Russia "increased by four to five times" compared to the period before the pandemic, and his timber import business "at least doubled."

Amid the booming market, many new "gold seekers" have also entered the trade with Russia. Fan told the Global Times that previously, most of the businesses involved in Russia-related trade were from Northeast China. Now, many companies from South China's Guangdong, East China's Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces are also participating.

There is a large market gap in Russia that needs to be filled, Chinese business representatives said. From the perspective of these Chinese businessmen, the rapid development of China-Russia economic and trade relations in the past two years is partly due to the withdrawal of countries such as the US, Europe, South Korea, and Japan from the Russian market, citing sanctions, leaving a lot of market space.

On the other hand, it is also because Chinese-made products are cost-effective and of good quality, making them very popular with overseas customers. Additionally, the strengthening of political trust between China and Russia has further increased Russian customers' trust in China.

Using his automotive business as an example, "sales of new and used Chinese cars have been very good in Russia in recent years. Brands like Changan, Geely, Haval, Great Wall, and Chery are particularly popular for their good quality and affordable prices," Chen said.

"Possibly influenced by political factors, Russians have become more inclined to cooperate with Chinese people in recent years. In daily interactions with them, one can clearly feel that various Russian sectors are eager to collaborate with China. Against this backdrop, the business environment in Russia's Far East has improved significantly, and local administrative efficiency in this regard has also increased," Chen said.

In the view of Chinese businessmen, there are several major challenges that need to be addressed for further development of China-Russia economic and trade relations. The first is the need for more convenient cross-border settlement.

Both Fan and Chen told the Global Times that in the past two to three months, due to increased US financial sanctions on Russia, banks have had to strengthen their review of cross-border trade settlements between China and Russia.

Many Chinese private enterprises with business dealings with Russia have encountered problems in receiving payments or settling accounts, sometimes facing rejection or delays of over two months. This increases the costs and cash flow pressure on small businesses.

They hope that China and Russia can expedite the integration of their respective payment settlement systems to meet the market demand for trade settlements between the two countries while avoiding secondary sanctions.

Also, the infrastructure level in Russia's Far East needs further improvement. Due to many European ports refusing to handle Russian cargo, the cargo throughput at St. Petersburg port in the Baltic Sea has significantly declined.

Additionally, as Russia's economic cooperation shifts toward the Asia-Pacific, ports in the Far East, including Vladivostok, are now handling a large volume of Russia's import and export maritime business.

Vladivostok port is currently operating at overcapacity, Chen said. "With the surge in China-Russia trade, there is a great need for more ports or the expansion of existing ports in the Far East. Therefore, we look forward to more cooperation between the two countries in infrastructure construction in the Far East."

Wang Xiaoquan, an expert with the Institute of Russian, Eastern European & Central Asian Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times that the economies of China and Russia have unique complementarities, with China being the largest economy capable of comprehensive economic cooperation with Russia.

Given the significant reduction in Russia's economic relations, particularly energy relations, with the US and the West, and the need to advance the "Turn to the East" strategy, Russia will place greater emphasis on the strategic role of the Chinese market in exporting its oil and gas products.

Russia also views China as a source of funds and technology for implementing its import substitution policy and modernizing infrastructure, aiming for comprehensive integration in areas such as energy, defense, aerospace, agriculture, finance, and technology, Wang said.

"During President Putin's new term, China-Russia practical cooperation in all fields is likely to develop rapidly, with significant breakthroughs expected in areas such as energy, agriculture and manufacturing," the expert said.

The industrial and supply chains of the two countries are expected to achieve integrated development, he noted.

In recent years, Russia has shown an increasingly positive attitude toward the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), especially in terms of connectivity, capacity cooperation, finance and trade. China and Russia are expected to implement more multilateral economic cooperation projects under the framework of aligning the BRI with the Eurasian Economic Union. Russia is also expected to provide more support for the internationalization of the renminbi, the expert added.

Apple’s Vision Pro gains 3C certification in China, paving way for its entry to the huge market

US tech giant Apple's headset Vision Pro has achieved a significant milestone before entering the Chinese market, gaining official approval from China Compulsory Certification 3C certification, paving the way for its sale on the Chinese mainland market.

According to the website of the China Quality Certification Center, the certification for Apple's Vision Pro was issued on May 13, 2024, with validity extending until May 12, 2029.

Despite being priced at $3,499 in the US market, equivalent to 25,325 yuan, Apple has yet to disclose the official pricing and localized name for Vision Pro for the Chinese mainland market. 

Notably, the trademark for Vision Pro in China has been owned by Huawei.

Vision Pro, initially released in June 2023, was not available in other regions outside the US market until today, according to media reports.

Reuters reported on May 14 that Apple plans to unveil Vision Pro in international markets following the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) scheduled for June 10 -14 this year.

In addition, Apple is currently conducting training sessions for its employees in seven countries, including China, on effectively showcasing its Vision Pro products to customers in new markets. 

The introduction of Apple Vision Pro to the Chinese mainland market, coupled with potential local production, is expected to "facilitate a exchange of digital product-related technologies and research between Apple and local Chinese teams," Liang Zhenpeng, an independent tech analyst, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Apple's fiscal second-quarter earnings report this year said the company's overall sales fell 4 percent to $45.96 billion and iPhone sales fell 10 percent year on year, suggesting weak market demand for the current generation of its smartphones. 

Apple's Vision Pro entering the Chinese market could also help the company boost its global market share and brand influence in China, as the company fends off concerns over decreasing consumer confidence in this market, Liang noted.

Healthy Life Area Expected at SPIEF 2024

The St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) 2024 will host a variety of Healthy Life events dedicated to healthcare and a Healthy Life Area thematic exhibition during which key members of the healthcare community will share cutting-edge technology projects and innovative developments. The SPIEF will also feature a series of expert discussions on healthcare.

Leading government and scientific figures will join representatives of the pharmaceutical and medical industries to hold talks on important healthcare topics in the area presentation zone.

“The Healthy Life Area has always been a place for presenting significant healthcare achievements at SPIEF. The expert discussions that take place there cover a wide range of issues facing healthcare, medical and scientific development, the accessibility of medical care, digitalization in the industry, in addition to human resources. The event’s business program has been drawn up with the support of experts from leading scientific centers to the ensure current topics are covered correctly. Experts will discuss major issues surrounding import substitution for medical and pharmaceutical products, advanced technologies for active longevity, new opportunities for medical and health tourism in Russia, corporate and social initiatives coming from Russian companies, opportunities to invest in the development of biomedical technologies, neurotechnology, digital health ecosystems, the application of artificial intelligence to new innovative products, and the development of healthcare technologies within BRICS,” First Deputy Director for Development and Head of the Healthcare Directorate of the Roscongress Foundation Anastasia Stolkova said.

The expert discussions have been organized with the support of the Federal Medical-Biological Agency of the Russian Federation, the Russian Research Institute of Health, the Center for Healthcare Quality Assessment and Control of the Ministry of Health of the Russian Federation, and the Sechenov University Institute of Leadership and Health Management among others.

“The topics up for discussion in the Healthy Life Area at SPIEF reflect the current healthcare agenda: training for human resources, digitalization and artificial intelligence, telemedicine and innovative technologies, and disease prevention.  The Russian Research Institute of Health has always provided expert support for the event and taken an active part in the preparation of sessions for the business program,” Russian Research Institute of Health Director Olga Kobyakova said.

The Healthy Life project is an industry platform for direct dialogue between representatives of the government and the expert community and a place to share experience with innovation, discuss target benchmarks, global trends, and the outlook for healthcare system, and work on practical proposals for building a healthier society.

Official website of the event: forumhealth.ru.

The 27th St. Petersburg International Economic Forum will be held from 5 to 8 June, 2024 at the ExpoForum Convention and Exhibition Centre.

The Roscongress Foundation is a socially oriented non-financial development institution and major organizer of nationwide and international conventions; exhibitions; and business, public, youth, sporting, and cultural events. It was established in pursuance of a decision by the President of the Russian Federation.

Israel leaves Biden with few options as breach over Rafah operation grows

Israeli leaders said the army had enough munitions on hand to proceed with its plans in Rafah, despite US President Joe Biden's threat of pausing some arms deliveries. Israel, its close ally, has put the US in an awkward position, according to observers. They attribute this situation to the deep-rooted flaws in the US political system.

President Biden quoted by CNN threatened to stop the supply of specific weapons if Israeli soldiers entered populated areas of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. The threat was widely interpreted as a turning point with relation to Israel in the seven-month conflict. 

Reacting to Biden's announcement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that "If Israel is forced to stand alone, Israel will stand alone." Other Israeli officials also expressed disappointment and criticism over Biden's remarks. 

On Friday, the General Assembly is scheduled to hold a vote on Palestine's bid to become a full member of the UN, a move seen by many as largely symbolic. In a surprising move, Israel's UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan spoke on behalf of the US, stating, "If it is approved, I expect the US to completely stop funding the UN and its institutions, in accordance with American law." 

Asked why before any official stance of the US has been taken, an Israeli diplomat stationed at the UN seems to have made diplomatic decisions on behalf of the US, Chinese experts said the development was not surprising. 

Earlier, the US House of Representatives surprisingly passed an "Anti-Semitism Awareness Act" aimed at addressing rising antisemitism among college students who are angered by Israel's acts in Gaza and the US' long-standing biased Middle East policy.

Ding Long, a professor from the Middle East Studies Institute of Shanghai International Studies University, told the Global Times that despite increasing pressure from the international community, the Biden administration has stood firm with Israel by providing weapons and other assistance. But this time, Biden is eager to remove the burden of Israel and doesn't want it to become a negative factor for his election campaign. 

A few days ago, during the negotiations in Cairo, the US dispatched the CIA director in hope of achieving a deal between Israel and Palestine to cool down the conflict. However, the current problem is that Netanyahu, whose position as prime minister is in peril, simply does not listen to the US, and proceeding the war is the only option for Netanyahu to continue political career, Ding noted. "Once you get on the tiger's back, it's hard to get off again."

The military possesses the required weaponry for its planned operations, including those in Rafah, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari stated on Thursday.

Despite conditioning its military shipments to Israel, Biden remained committed to making sure Israel is secure in terms of Iron Dome and their ability to respond to those attacks. Li Jianmin, academic dean of the Institute of Central Asian Studies at Northwest Normal University, told the Global Times that the Biden administration cannot risk completely angering Israel. 

One reason for the Biden administration not to completely turn its back on Israel is that protecting Israel is in line with its overall policy of playing a bigger role in the Middle East, Li said. 

Israel's recent actions in Rafah has forced approximately 80,000 residents to flee their homes, with most seeking refuge in Khan Younis or Deir al Balah. These areas are lacking essential services, according to the United Nations. 

The Israeli military instructed around 110,000 civilians to leave parts of Rafah, which has become a haven for many displaced Palestinians living in inadequate conditions, media reports said. Previously, Jordan condemned Israeli settlers attacked a humanitarian aid convoy on its way to Erez crossing in northern Gaza. 

Observers warned of more humanitarian disasters as they predicted Netanyahu is determined to continue the military operation in Rafah. Lin Jian, a Chinese spokesperson for foreign ministry on Friday also condemned Israel's behavior of attacking aid convoy, urging Israel to implement international humanitarian aid law and provide guarantee for the aid.

Hamas delegation to visit Cairo for cease-fire talks, yet 'prospects slim'

Hopes remain slim of a Gaza cease-fire as a Hamas delegation is expected to visit Cairo, Egypt on Monday for talks, after the group said it is studying a reply from Israel over a cease-fire proposal. Analysts said that while both Israel and Hamas could benefit from a temporary cease-fire, it still lacks factors to be positive. Under the growing international and domestic protests, the moral pressure and diplomatic isolation of Israel and the US may deepen. 

According to media reports, Hamas said in a Saturday statement that it has received Israel's official response to its latest cease-fire proposal in Gaza and will review it before submitting its reply, amid the latest efforts by Egypt as a broker. 

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Hamas official told Reuters on Sunday that a delegation will visit Cairo on Monday for Gaza cease-fire talks. And the group will deliver its response to Israel's latest counterproposal for a Gaza cease-fire.

During an interview with local media Channel 12 television earlier, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said the release of hostages is the "top priority," and if there is a deal with Hamas on it, "we will suspend the operation," according to a Reuters report on Saturday. 

Citing two Israeli officials, Axios reported that Israel told Egyptian officials on Friday that it was ready to give hostage negotiations "one last chance" to reach a deal with Hamas before moving forward with a ground invasion of Rafah, where more than one million displaced Palestinians are sheltering due to the conflict, which has lasted more than six months. 

Israel Defense Forces chief of staff General Herzi Halevi and director of the Shin Bet security agency Ronen Bar visited Cairo earlier for talks on the Rafah operation and the hostage deal, Axios reported.

The Israeli officials said the talks with the Egyptians on Friday were "constructive" and that the Egyptians made it clear they intend to put pressure on Hamas to secure a deal for the release of hostages, according to Axios. However, a Wall Street Journal report said on Saturday that talks toward a hostage deal had little chance of success, according to Egyptian officials familiar with the negotiations.

Chinese experts said there is demand on both sides for a cease-fire, but the prospects for an actual cease-fire are still bleak. 

"Despite Hamas seeks a cease-fire when Rafah is almost their last stronghold in Gaza, the 'one last chance' claimed by Israel is also for themselves, as in the face of domestic pressure, they need Hamas to free as many hostages as possible before it attacks Rafah," said Niu Xinchun, executive director of the China-Arab Research Institute of Ningxia University. 

Amid the efforts to break the deadlock, on Saturday, Hamas released a video of two hostages, which US media interpreted as a tactic to increase pressure on the Israeli government to reach a cease-fire deal.  

Liu Zhongmin, a professor at the Middle East Studies Institute of Shanghai International Studies University, believes that the possibility of reaching a cease-fire deal is still limited, especially regarding the attitude from Qatar, a major mediator that has been promoting a cease-fire since last November. 

Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, who is also foreign minister, said there was a "misuse of this mediation for narrow political interests, and this necessitated Qatar to undertake a full evaluation of this role."

In an interview with Israeli media Haaretz published on Saturday, Qatar's Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Majed Al-Ansari said that the Israel and Hamas "are not showing enough commitment" to reach a cease-fire and a hostage release deal, and "it gets sabotaged by both sides" when a deal gets close.  

Qatar's attitude illustrates how difficult the task of brokering a cease-fire will be, Liu said. 

Cease-fire talks between Hamas and Israel since the conflict broke out last October, have been more about hostage release and humanitarian aid, but they have never touched on the fundamentals of a permanent cease-fire. It means it is just about short-term expediency, Liu said. 

The Hamas side wants a complete cease-fire, and the Israelis want a complete elimination of Hamas, and that has not changed, Liu said. 

By claiming "one last chance," Israel is aiming to put more blame on Hamas and ease its pressure in the diplomatic sphere, especially after a top Hamas official said they will agree to a truce of five years or more and that it would lay down its weapons if an independent Palestinian state is established along pre-1967 borders, Liu said. 

Growing pressure

The cease-fire deadlock comes alongside a summit attended by regional and global leaders in Saudi Arabia, including US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. 

Speaking at a World Economic Forum (WEF) special meeting in Riyadh on Sunday, Abbas urged the US to ask Israel to stop the Rafah invasion, as the US "is the only country capable of preventing Israel from committing this crime," which would be "the biggest disaster in the history of the Palestinian people."

Citing diplomats, Reuters said on Friday that China will host Palestinian unity talks between Hamas and Fatah in Beijing.  

An Israeli attack on Rafah, which has been the main channel of outside aid into Gaza in the past six months, would be a further humanitarian disaster, Niu said. 

According to the Gaza health ministry on Sunday, Israeli's war in Gaza has killed at least 34,454 Palestinians since last October. 

Israel now faces a dilemma: with increasing diplomatic isolation and moral pressure from the international community, Israel must find some way to protect the over 1 million Palestinians in Rafah and even arrange for the transfer of civilians, but on the other hand, it is still unwilling to give ground on stopping the military operation in Gaza, Liu said.  

Whether or not a cease-fire is reached, Israel may opt for a compromise in the next phase of the conflict, Liu said, noting that Israel may keep up its partial bombardment of Gaza, but the large-scale invasion in Rafah may be postponed. 

Despite the Biden Administration warning Israel against a possible Rafah invasion, US President Joe Biden on Wednesday signed legislation that includes $26 billion in additional wartime assistance to Israel. 

After more than 100 protesters at Columbia University in New York City were arrested, student protests over the Israel-Hamas war have spread to other campuses, with more university students rallying for a cease-fire in Gaza. Pro-Palestine demonstration have occurred in London and Paris in recent days. 

To some extent, the growing campus protests in the US are a result of US duplicity and hypocrisy, which would put more pressure and cause dilemma for the US, Liu said. 

In fact, the US and Israel have the same fundamental interests and war objectives, and the US still supports Israel to completely eliminate Hamas, which means a Rafah invasion is inevitable, Niu said.