Li replaces Li as China’s no 2 but with or without power?



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Xi Jinping’s close associate Li Qiang has become the new Chinese Premier, but the question is whether he will wield any influence at all as his superior is busy consolidating all power in his hands.

The flip side, however, is that given their close relations, Li may have more freedom than expected at least in the field of economics.

Still, the new Li would be wary of what happened to his predecessor, the older Li Keqiang, who was weakened and sidelined during his tenure.

Li’s task for this year is already cut out by lifting the economy from the doldrums it is in thanks largely to the Zero-Covid policy that both he and Xi forced down the people’s throats for over six months.

But Li played a leading role in freeing China from zero-Covid and refocusing the government on economic growth, according to people familiar with the matter. Those moves have kindled cautious optimism among entrepreneurs, investors and political analysts that he may be able to exert a moderating influence on his boss, Xi.

Internally, consumer demand has not bounced back as expected after the Covid restrictions were lifted. That is attributed to large-scale joblessness, the inability of young graduates to find jobs, price rise and other demographic issues.

Facing low business confidence, lacklustre consumer demand, a trembling property sector, a debt crisis among cash-strapped local governments and escalating geopolitical tensions with the United States, the biggest challenge for both Xi and Li remains ensuring the economic recovery stays on track, according to observers.

According to a media report, Wu Qiang, an independent political analyst based in Beijing, said Li’s appointment essentially put an end to more than 40 years of China’s two-headed governance system – often called the rivalry between southern and northern Zhongnanhai, in a reference to the president and premier’s respective quarters within the Beijing complex that houses Communist Party and state leadership.

China observers insist Li should study how his predecessor Li Keqiang survived in the post if he has to have any chance at doing what he plans to do to the Chinese economy.

The new Premier faces a 5 per cent target of economic growth for China this year, indicating a shift in priorities away from raw economic expansion. It may be a conservative target comparatively, largely due to strict Covid restrictions and a crackdown on the private sector.

Li’s challenge is all the more severe as he has no experience of overseeing the economy at this level. He has never held office at the national level before his promotion last fall to the party’s top leadership. That lack of experience and a close relationship with Xi dating back to the early 2000s have led many political observers to speculate that he may be nothing more than a yes-man.

Having said that, Li did show exceptional talent in taking leaders of diverse opinion along with him when he was handling the Covid pandemic. He brought the same skill to bear in trying to revive the Chinese economy, observers say.

He is not alone either. On broader economic policy, Li enlisted the help of He Lifeng, the head of China’s top economic planning agency, who joined the party’s 24-member Politburo in October. Together, they led the drafting of a plan to pivot away from regulation toward encouraging economic growth.

Chinese officials are preparing for Li to attend the Bo’ao Forum, a Chinese government-backed political and business conference, in late March, where he could boost his international profile by meeting foreign leaders, including from Singapore, Malaysia and Nepal, according to people briefed on the matter.

In contrast, the other Li, Li Keqiang, had a quiet exit as Premier after serving as China’s number two leader for a decade. It is unclear if he is unhappy with the leadership for the manner in which his exit was planned.

Apparently, he told his staff, “While people work, heaven watches. Heaven has eyes.” Nobody knows if it is a cryptic message conveying his frustration to Xi Jinping.

According to a media report, “Li’s words betrays a deep sense of frustration over a decade in which he could have exerted his largely reformist agenda but was hamstrung by being in the shadow of a political strongman and other crises, according to Dr Wang Juntao, a friend of Li at the prestigious Peking University 40 years ago. ‘This is [the voice of] a defeated person … who hopes that the divinity would vindicate him,’ said Wang, a political dissident jailed in the 1989 Tiananmen democracy movement and now living in exile in the US.”

Li is considered “the weakest premier after the Chinese Communist party took power in 1949 despite his expertise in western legal traditions and a degree in law and a doctorate in economics. When he became premier in 2013, it was thought he would be a liberal reformer. But he was unable to make headway as his power was curbed by Xi, who placed his allies in key strategic positions over him. Over the years, Xi increasingly sidelined him.

According to media reports, analysts said Li would nonetheless be remembered for the moderating effect he had on Xi and his concern for ordinary people. Li promoted the private economy and foreign investment, in contrast to Xi’s focus on state ownership, and he relied on data from private industry to parse the state of China’s economy.
He once described China’s official GDP statistics as “man-made”, according to a US diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks, and said he relied on data such as electricity consumption and rail cargo volumes to understand his own economy.

Source: Always First

Peshawar BRT at risk of closure as operators denied Rs500m payments



International Desk, Barta24.com
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PESHAWAR: The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government’s failure to clear over Rs500 million dues of the Peshawar Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) operators has caused fears of the suspension of the bus service, which caters to 300,000 commuters in the provincial capital on a daily basis.

Officials told Dawn that the BRT operator Daewoo Pakistan as well as the privately-owned LMK-Resources Pakistan, which is responsible for intelligent transport system, fare collection and station management, had taken up the issue with the provincial government for early resolution.

They said the provincial government owed over Rs500 million to both companies.

The officials said the government company TransPeshawar, which owned the BRT, had the required funds at its disposal but “political interference” in its affairs was to blame for the delay in payments.

Caretaker transport minister Shahid Khan Khattak expressed ignorance about the matter.

“You need to talk to the additional chief secretary in whose domain lies the issue of funds,” he told this correspondent.

The documents available with Dawn show that Daewoo took up the dues issue with TransPeshawar on April 27 and May 17.

On May 23, the company formally requested caretaker Chief Minister Mohammad Azam Khan to get its dues cleared by the company.

“This petition is being initiated to draw your kind attention towards an alarming issue, which if not urgently resolved, may adversely affect the interest of people of Peshawar, by depriving more than 300,000 people from transportation service, affecting their livelihood and domestic activities,” it said.

The company said that under the terms and conditions of the respective agreements with TransPeshawar, the provincial government was bound to release payments against monthly invoices within 10 days of each month.

“However, in violation of agreements and despite repeated demands and reminders, our invoices have not been cleared and presently an outstanding amount of Rs450 million approximately against invoices of February, March and April 2023 is payable,” it said.

Daewoo also said that it had already raised serious concerns to the relevant authorities on April 27 and May 17, but no response was received until now.

“We also had meetings with the chief secretary and chief executive officer of the TransPeshawar. However, the issue has not been addressed,” it said.

The company pointed out that though the requisite funds were available with TransPeshawar, the payment to them was being unnecessarily delayed.

“The project requires significant injection of funds for payment of procurement of diesel, lubricants and parts besides payment in lieu of electricity and salary expenses which can only be met if timely payment as per contract are disbursed,” it said.

The company also said that non-payment of Rs450 million was causing severe financial burden on them and if the same continued, they were afraid about not being able to operate the service due to lack of sufficient funds, which may badly affect the project.

“Foregoing in view, your kind indulgence is required to resolve the issue of overdue payment in order to ensure smooth operation of the projects. You are requested to kindly direct the official concerned to immediately overdue payments,” it said.

In another letter to the CEO of the TransPeshawar on May 17, the BRT operator warned it would suspend the bus service from May 23 if due payments were not released.

In a letter to the CEO TransPeshawar, LMK-Resources Pakistan noted that it had deployed over 1,800 staff members at the BRT system and they included those responsible for operating ITS, automated fare collection and bus scheduling system, station management, data centre, control centre and other auxiliary centres as well as subcontractor staff responsible for ticket sales, customer service, security, and cleaning service.

It added that the majority of its subcontractor staff members were employed on the minimum wage.

The company said under the contract, its monthly payment would be made by the 15th of every month for the preceding month but it had been facing unprecedented delays.

“We have conveyed our concerns to the TransPeshawar while requesting it to resolve them. Until now, we have been able to manage the financial burden on our end and ensured timely payment to our subcontractors, preventing any disruption in the service. However, it is becoming increasingly challenging to sustain things,” it said.

On the other hand, sources claimed that the TransPeshawar had hundreds of millions of rupees at its disposal, while its request for additional funds was also in process.

They added that payment delays were meant to renegotiate the BRT contract or issue a new one.

The sources said that the TransPeshawar CEO had informed the provincial government in writing about the “pressures exerted on him.”

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Chinese authorities face difficulty in overcoming challenges of declining baby population



International Desk, Barta24.com
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Chinese authorities are in a fix as they are finding it difficult to overcome the challenges of a declining baby population in the country as the growing number of millennium youth, especially women prefer owning pets instead of marrying and having kids due to unaffordable housing prices and high cost of child care, Inside Over reported.

The number of pet owners in China will reach 62.94 million in 2020, witnessing a rise from 62.8 million in 2019, Inside Over reported citing a 2021 White Paper released by China Pet Industry Association. Of the total number of Chinese pet owners, 88 per cent are women who are well educated and enjoying high income per annum, Inside Over reported citing a consulting firm PwC.

With regards to the number of pets, China's urban regions witnessed the presence of 100.8 million dogs and cats in 2020, witnessing a rise from 1.7 per cent in 2019 and a 10.2 per cent increase in 2018, Inside Over reported citing the White Paper. The White Paper estimated that the pet market will be worth 445.6 billion yuan (USD 70 billion) in 2023, Federico Giuliani said in the Inside Over report.

According to London-based international professional services network, Deloitte's report, the number of pet dogs and cats in China is fast approaching 200 million after their household penetration rose from 12 per cent in 2012 to 25 per cent in 2021. As per the news report, cats are winning more hearts than dogs, Inside Over reported.

According to the Deloitte report, the total number of cats stood at 96 million while there were 92 million canines as pets in China in 2021. Analysts have said that the trend of owning pets will receive support in China as more and more well-educated and high-salaried urban residents prefer to stay alone, abhorring marriages and having kids as the cost of living is high and working hours are very long in the country, according to Inside Over report.

The inclination is especially very high among people aged between 20-30 years. According to a survey of 2,905 unwed urban people aged between 18-26 conducted by the Communist Youth League in October 2021, 43.9 per cent of women had no intention of getting married or were unsure if it would happen.

Meanwhile, 24.6 per cent of males expressed their wish to remain single. Among all the surveyed people, there was one commonality that all of them treated their pets as sons and dogs. It has triggered a major concern among Chinese authorities as China has entered an era of negative population growth.

In order to fix the problem of declining population growth, Chinese authorities want youth to reverse the trend of remaining unwed and spending life with pets. According to China's National Bureau of Statistics, the population of the country reduced by 850,000 to 1.41 billion people in 2022.

Since the 1990s, China's fertility rate has declined to below the replacement level of 2.1. According to several studies, rising costs of raising children and lack of welfare provisions have been significant factors for China's low fertility rate, as per the Inside Over report.

Fearing its effect on the number of working-age people, which will shrink beyond estimation, the Chinese government in recent years has started to offer incentives like tax breaks, subsidies for childcare and longer parental leave while discouraging singlehood among the young population, as per the Inside Over report. In China, couples are now permitted to have three children.

However, Chinese government's measures are falling flat and the nation's keen desire for a baby boom is not getting translated into a reality. Instead, urban areas of China are witnessing a pet boom. According to the Guangzhou based data mining and analysis organisation, iiMedia Research, China's pet industry is set to rise by 68 per cent to 811 billion yuan (USD 116 billion) by 2025, in comparison to 494 billion yuan this year. (ANI)

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Covid Is Coming Back in China; Lockdowns Are Not



International Desk, Barta24.com
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In December, China abruptly abandoned its draconian “Zero Covid” policies, battered by a surge of infections and rising public anger against lockdowns. Half a year on, Covid cases again are on the rise, but this time the nation appears to be determined to press on with normal life as the government focuses on reigniting economic growth.

Though other countries have long settled into such a pattern, it is a shift for China. Until late last year, its national leadership was still ready to lock down whole neighborhoods and districts, even cities, in a bid to stamp out what were sometimes just small clusters of cases.

The Chinese health authorities have reported a rise in Covid cases since April, especially from newer subvariants that are spreading across the world. Dr. Zhong Nanshan, a prominent doctor who was among the first to openly confirm in early 2020 that Covid could easily spread among people, estimated on Monday that by late June as many as 65 million people a week could become infected with the coronavirus across China. (That would be up from what he estimated at 40 million infections a week in late May. China no longer publishes regular official nationwide estimates of infections.)

By comparison, after “Zero Covid” controls were set aside in December, new infections reached 37 million a day in China at their peak, according to estimates cited by Bloomberg.

Even if, as Dr. Zhong acknowledged, the pace of rising infections is laden with uncertainty, a rebound in cases was always likely, and many in China appear steeled to living with a background hum of Covid infections, and sometimes Covid deaths.

“People have become used to infections, and they see this as normal in the post-Covid era,” Lin Zixian, 36, who works for a technology company in Beijing, said in a telephone interview. China’s leader, Xi Jinping, still often wears a medical mask when he meets people indoors. But Mr. Lin said that he and other members of his family had stopped masking in most public spaces, as have many people in China.

“Many of my friends got infected last year and got infected again this year,” Mr. Lin said. “Personally, I’m pretty calm about the virus and pandemic.”

Officials across China appear to be trying to prepare the population for a rise in infections without reintroducing the heavy controls that by late last year had exhausted public patience. Since abandoning its tight restrictions on domestic travel, the government has shifted to reviving growth and job creation. The jobless rate of about 20 percent among urban youth may appear more politically pressing than rising Covid numbers.

“After most people had caught the last wave, the intensity was gone,” said Dali Yang, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago who has been finishing a book on China’s handling of the pandemic.

He added that China now treated Covid as a “Class B” illness — not the most urgent category — and officials, though monitoring the latest increase in cases, “have also been trying to reassure the public, saying that the symptoms are relatively mild.”

Health officials in Beijing have recommended wearing masks on buses and subways, but it is not mandatory and quite a few passengers do not, especially younger ones. While the recent rise in cases may yet strain hospitals, many people appear more willing to endure the illness at home rather than heading to fever clinics.

“Even if my son got Covid, I wouldn’t mind staying in the same room with him,” said Mr. Lin, the technology worker.

For many younger patients, infection can mean a week or so with a fever and other symptoms. Over recent weeks, people have chronicled their symptoms on social media, often in a tone of mordant resignation.

More worrisome are older people, many of whom have not had Covid and who may not have received a full round of vaccination shots. Up to three-quarters of Chinese people infected in the recent rise were not infected in the first wave, Dr. Zhang Wenhong, the director of the center for infectious diseases at Huashan Hospital in Shanghai and a major voice in China’s response to Covid, said in a recent interview with Chinese media outlets.

Nonetheless, the resurgence in cases “should not have a huge impact overall on economic activity and life,” Dr. Zhang said, according to Yicai, a Chinese business newspaper. “We should not go too far in taking pandemic prevent measures in response.”

Dong-yan Jin, a professor of virology at the University of Hong Kong who has tracked China’s response to Covid, concurred that many of those recently infected were likely to be older or physically frail people who were fenced off from the “tsunami” of infections late last year.

“The elderly were well protected in the period of the tsunami, because their families and carers tried their best to protect them,” Professor Jin said. “But now, the risks for them are high, because people are less vigilant.”

China should increase vaccination rates, especially among old people; upgrade its homegrown vaccine to better protect against new variants; allow the introduction of internationally developed vaccines; and make anti-viral drugs cheaper and more available to Covid patients, Professor Jin said.

“Most people have recognized from their own experience that Covid is not a monster and is not so terrifying, and that’s actually positive,” he said. “But it is not true that Covid is gone and will never come again, so this message also has to be made clear to the public.”

Source: New York Times

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Arunachal: Project Digi-Kaksh launched to empower students



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Project Digi-Kaksha, an innovative educational initiative, was officially inaugurated at the Upper Primary School in NTC Deomali in Arunachal Pradesh on Saturday.

Spearheaded by Deomali ADC Vishakha Yadav in collaboration with PGCIL, the project aims to bridge the gap between technology and education, thereby revolutionising the educational system while ensuring its sustainability.

Digi-Kaksha has set a new standard as the first-of-its-kind project in any government school within the state. The school now boasts of a state-of-the-art 4K HD Interactive Android teaching board, poised to transform the teaching and learning experience.

Loaded with comprehensive offline and online creative learning content, aligned with the CBSE curriculum, Digi-Kaksha caters to students from Nursery to XII. Specifically designed for both slow and average learners, the content offers virtual experiments, PhET simulations, and interactive question banks.

Following the BALA (Building as a Learning Aid) model, Digi-Kaksha empowers students through active learning while ensuring equal access to all. This milestone initiative democratizes education, enabling children with special needs to participate fully. The integration of phonetics, animated videos, and real-life concept demonstrations fosters a stimulating and inclusive learning environment catering to diverse learning styles.

Emphasizing the significance of foundational learning, PHE and IT minister Wangki Lowang highlighted the importance of instilling civic values such as hygiene and promoting anti-drug awareness.

As part of the Digi-Kaksha initiative, engaging documentaries will be screened on a weekly basis with an aim to cultivate a strong sense of civic responsibility among students.

Lowang further encouraged teachers and students, emphasizing the transformative power of education in shaping a brighter future.

During the ceremony, ADC Yadav shed light on the evening Pathshala program, led by volunteers, which aims to reintegrate dropouts into the education system.

Yadav stressed that the primary objective of the Digi-Kaksha project is to address the challenges of poor exam performance and rising dropout rates.

“The project’s resounding success can be attributed to the seamless collaboration among various departments and stakeholders, paving the way for a transformative educational landscape,” she said.

The project was executed by Namsang block development officer and his education counterpart from Deomali.

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