Guangdong remains only province to record over 1 million births for four consecutive years: official data

South China's Guangdong Province has maintained its position as the only province with the number of births surpassing 1 million for four consecutive years, and the province has also been the top performer in terms of births for six consecutive years, official data showed.

Analysts noted that the combination of traditional fertility attitudes and the influx of a young population structure has contributed to Guangdong's continued success in maintaining a leading position in fertility growth. Meanwhile, China still needs long-term policy support, such as developing childcare services to ease the fertility burden on young parents, as most provinces are facing a decline in birth rate. 

According to statistics that have been published by local authorities, a total of 1.03 million births were recorded in 2023 in Guangdong, resulting in a birth rate of 8.12 per thousand. Central China's Henan Province followed behind with 695,000 births, while East China's Shandong Province trailed with 610,000 births, claiming the third spot in the rankings.

In terms of birth rate, among the provinces which have published their population-related data, there are five with a population birth rate exceeding 8 per thousand, namely Guizhou, Hainan, Qinghai, Yunnan, Guangdong, and also the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, mainly located in the country's western and southern regions.

In general, places with higher birth rates tend to have lower urbanization rates. However, there are exceptions, such as Guangdong, which has an urbanization rate of 75.42 percent, ranking fourth in the country, but with a high birth rate of 8.12 per thousand in 2023.

Peng Peng, executive chairman of the Guangdong Society of Reform, said this is because Guangdong has the highest permanent resident population in the country, with a high influx of people from outside the province. The population inflow structure is relatively young, with a high proportion of individuals in the age range for marriage and childbearing, said Peng, who was quoted on Wednesday by Yicai, a business and financial media outlet.

Traditional beliefs about childbirth in Guangdong are also a contributing factor, Mu Guangzong, a professor at Peking University's Institute of Population Research, told the Global Times on Thursday, noting that this cultural factor leads to a higher willingness to have children among people in Guangdong.

South China's Hainan Province also shows a rebound in birth population. The data released by the provincial authority reveals that in 2023, the total number of births in the province was 96,000, an increase of 7,900 from the previous year, and the birth rate was 9.28 per thousand, an increase of 0.68 per thousand points year-on-year.

However, as the birth rate in many Chinese provinces are declining, population experts emphasized the importance of long-term policy support. Liu Zhijun, a professor of sociology at Zhejiang University, told the Global Times on Thursday that it's essential to promote childcare services and enhance public support for child rearing and education. This will alleviate the burden of raising children on young couples, and, as a result, more couples will decide to have children.

In addition to birth-related data, the statistics released by various regions also reveal the trends of growth in the resident population as well as population migration.

Out of the 28 provinces which have published the data, nine have a positive growth in their permanent population. Among them, Zhejiang has a population increase of 500,000 and Guangdong, 490,000, Yicai reported.

Population migration trends indicate that the Yangtze River Delta and the Pearl River Delta have emerged as the primary destinations for population influx. While within each province, there is a consistent flow of population from small and medium-sized cities and rural areas to central cities. Despite a decrease in total population in some provinces, the population in the provincial capital cities continues to rise.

Liu noted that since the provincial capital city is the center of a province's economy, politics, culture, medical care, as well as education, which also means higher incomes and more job positions, it will attract an influx of people from other cities within the province itself.

Renowned brand survey reveals China's soft power ranks in world’s top 3 for first time

Editor's Note:

Brand Finance, the internationally renowned brand valuation agency based in London, recently released the "Global Soft Power Index 2024," which shows that the US and the UK have maintained their positions as the top two most influential countries in global soft power. It is noteworthy that China is the fastest-growing nation brand this year, surpassing Japan and Germany, and for the first time, ranking third in the soft power index, with the country's progress exceeding that of any other country.

Brand Finance has been tracking the performance of global soft power in multiple countries for five consecutive years, and this year's report is based on surveys of over 170,000 respondents from more than 100 countries, ranking all 193 member states of the United Nations for the first time.

What is behind the world's fastest-growing soft power? The Global Times recently interviewed Brand Finance's officials, as well as scholars and observers from various countries, to discuss how China's soft power is steadily improving and bringing benefits to the world.

Two pillars

According to Scott Chen, Managing Director China of Brand Finance, the agency defines soft power as "a nation's ability to influence the preferences and behaviors of various actors in the international arena - states, corporations, communities, public, and etc. - through attraction or persuasion rather than coercion."

Chen told the Global Times that the Global Soft Power Index is a research study, commissioned by Brand Finance, covering 193 countries around the world. With responses from more than 170,000 people in over 100 markets, the survey is also the most comprehensive and extensive field survey of its kind.

To conduct the fieldwork, in more developed markets, Brand Finance's established online research panels were used, Chen noted. "Each respondent was shown a random sub-set of nation brands - drawn from the 193 [countries] included in the Index - and asked about their familiarity. For countries about which the respondent had some knowledge, we obtained a detailed assessment of reputation, influence, and performance on 35 characteristics representing the core 8 Soft Power Pillars," he said.

In the 2024 Brand Finance Global Soft Power Index, China made the most significant advancement among all nations, rising from fifth to third place, and its overall score increased by 6.2 points from 65.0 to 71.2 over the previous year.

Chen explained that this growth is due to China's significant improvement in the two pillars of "Business and Trade," and "Education and Science."

"Our latest research finds that the Business and Trade pillars are crucial indicators of a nation's global influence. This directly reflects a nation's economic strength, innovation, and integration into the global market," Chen said.

Chen pointed out that in terms of soft power, Brand Finance found that a nation's ability to engage in trade effectively, maintain economic stability, and provide attractive investment opportunities is pivotal in shaping global perceptions.

In terms of specific indicators, China's performance is equally impressive. Since the first release of the Global Impact Index report in 2020, China has been ranked first in the world for being "easy to do business with" under the Business and Trade pillar, and has been No.1 for "future growth potential." In the education and science pillar, China ranks second in the world in indicators such as being a "leader in technology and innovation" and "invests in space exploration."

Chen noted that soft power holds immense significance for a nation as it enables it to exert influence, shape perceptions, and achieve goals.

"A nation's soft power, encompassing its culture and heritage, people and values, and international relations, enhances its reputation and fosters goodwill with other nations. By promoting such attributes, a nation can effectively engage with the global community and enhance its interests on the global stage. Soft power ultimately serves as a crucial tool, not just for diplomacy, but also for economic development, by attracting investment, trade, talent, and tourism to a nation," he said.

Multiple drive

Several years ago, back when BlackBerry phones were popular in the US, some of my friends wanted to keep up with the trend, yet couldn't afford them, so they bought Chinese knock-offs instead. During dates with their girlfriends, they were often too embarrassed to bring out their "fake BlackBerries." However, things are completely different now. "Made in China" is no longer synonymous with "inferior" or "counterfeit." Many Indonesians are using Chinese-made smartphones like Oppo, Vivo, or Xiaomi, and TikTok, whose user base has surpassed that of YouTube, Novi Basuki, a prominent Indonesian sinologist, told the Global Times.

The shift in Indonesians' perception of "Made in China" reflects China's enhanced soft power. Observers have pointed out that such enhancement is driven by multiple factors.

For example, in terms of electronics, China currently offers high-quality products at highly competitive prices, which continues to contribute to an enhanced perception of having "products and brands the world loves," for which the nation ranks 6th overall, Chen noted.

At the same time, Chen pointed out that while being ranked third overall in the index, China performs strongly in attributes such as "easy to do business with" and "future growth potential," with a prime example being the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

"As key objectives of the initiative, China's focus on promoting economic development, both domestically and among participating nations, especially in areas lacking infrastructure, has been key. Additionally, the BRI has played a role in facilitating international trade," he said.

In terms of the index of Education and Science, Chen noted that Brand Finance's latest research found that China has made significant strides in recent years. Underscored by various breakthroughs in areas like Artificial Intelligence, renewable energy, and space exploration, China has been able to cultivate an international reputation for its innovation capabilities and technological prowess.

The answer to this conclusion can be found in the cooperation between China and many countries in the world.

For example, in Brazil, people's views on China's soft power regarding are undergoing positive changes. Surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center show that about 70 percent of respondents from Latin American countries approve of China's technological development. Chinese cars, especially new energy vehicles (NEVs), are favored by Latin Americans for their excellent performance, cost-effectiveness, and technological advantages.

"In recent years, more and more Chinese companies have invested in Brazil, bringing not only capital but also advanced management techniques, creating a large number of job opportunities for the locals," Letícia, a Brazilian student majoring in international relations, told the Global Times.

According to statistics released by Chinese Customs, in 2023, China's exports of electromechanical products reached 13.92 trillion yuan ($1.92 trillion) with an increase of 2.9 percent, accounting for 58.6 percent of total exports. Among these products, the combined export of the New Trio, which includes electric vehicles, lithium-ion batteries, and solar cells, increased by 29.9 percent and reached 1.06 trillion yuan, breaking the trillion-yuan mark for the first time.

The Financial Times recently reported that thanks to excellent performance and affordability, the market sales of Chinese NEVs continue to grow, with obvious advantages over their counterparts from other countries. Mathias Miedreich, CEO of Umicore headquartered in Belgium, which is part of the NEV supply chain, stated that Chinese electric vehicles are good enough and provide what the market and consumers truly need.
Significant trend

In the 2024 Index, Brand Finance highlights a significant trend: hard power undermines soft power. "Going back to Brand Finance's definition of soft power, in that it revolves around influence through persuasion or attraction, rather than coercion, hard power - which is often associated with military strength - tends to undermine this approach by its very nature of coercion," Chen explained.

In my view, China's rise in the global soft power index reflects the world's appreciation for a country with great civilization and culture. It's also a positive response to the achievements that the country has made in technological innovation and development, Enrique Cornejo, a Peruvian political and economic analyst, told the Global Times.

Li Long, Executive Vice President of the Institute of Public Opinion and Social Governance at the South China Normal University, analyzed the three reasons why China's soft power has left a deep impression on the international community.

First, China embraces openness and inclusiveness. It has implemented a series of new policies and measures to strengthen its connections with the world. Activities such as trade, tourism, and cultural exchanges are becoming more frequent, and China continues to provide internationally shared public goods and services, promoting the construction of an open world economy.

Second, it values technological innovation, a core element of developing new productive forces. The country is enhancing its technology and capacity for independent research and development.

Third, China calls for cooperation and mutual benefit. As a responsible major country, China has always adhered to the principles of peaceful development and mutual benefit, actively promoting peace and development in the international community.

"Peruvians believe that China's soft power manifests a friendly value system, which distinguishes it from other influential countries, whether in North America or Europe," Juan Carlos Capuay Chávez, former Peruvian Ambassador to China, told the Global Times.

Julien Segbo, Director of the Confucius Institute at Benin's University of Abomey-Calavi, said that more and more African students are choosing to study in China. "It's not only because China offers a variety of scholarship programs, but also because the quality of higher education in China is gaining wide recognition. Like many classmates, I came to China for education. I have gained professional knowledge here, broadened my horizons and experienced the charm of different cultures."

According to Al Gomhuria, a state-owned Egyptian Arabic language daily newspaper, China's economic and trade cooperation with Africa has driven the development of local African companies and increased job opportunities.

China's educational aid projects have improved education in Africa, providing the younger generation with broader room for development. The friendly cooperation between China and Africa has not only promoted the economic development of both sides, but also deepened the emotional bond between the two peoples.

Analysts pointed out that although some Western media often report on China-related news from the perspective of Western values and political positions, leading to a higher proportion of critical reports on certain Chinese policies and actions.

However, currently, many countries, especially in developing countries, recognize China's soft power and influence. With the deepening of globalization and the diversification of information channels, more and more people are beginning to understand China through various means, including direct visits to China, participating in cultural exchange activities, and social media. More and more people are looking forward to China's soft power accelerating further.

At least 10 dead, 934 injured after strongest earthquake in decades hits Taiwan island

At least 10 people were confirmed dead, 934 were injured, and 56 people trapped awaiting rescue after a 7.3-magnitude quake struck the east coast of Taiwan island on Wednesday, local media reported on Wednesday, with the rescue being underway in the worst-hit region of Hualien. 

A 7.3-magnitude earthquake jolted an area of sea near Hualien in China's Taiwan at 7:58 am Wednesday (Beijing Time), followed by two aftershocks which measured 6.0-magnitude and 5.9-magnitude at 8:11 am and 8:35 am respectively, according to the China Earthquake Network Center (CENC).

According to the statistics of local meteorological department in Taiwan, as of 19:30 on Wednesday, 190 aftershocks had occurred, including 97 aftershocks of magnitude 4 or above, Taiwan-based media reported. 

According to local Taiwan media reports, a landslide occurred in Hualien, a county closest to the epicenter, after the earthquake, causing vehicles to be hit by falling rocks.

With a population of abut 100,000, Hualien county is known for its mountainous terrain.

Among the dead persons, three were hikers who were hit by falling rocks, one was a bus driver, killed by falling rocks as well. 

Videos on social media revealed some buildings in Hualien were seriously damaged and partially collapsed. Local authorities said there are still people waiting for rescue in these buildings.  

Taiwan's local weather authorities said the earthquake is the largest one since a 7.3-magnitude quake in 1999. Aftershocks of magnitude 6.5+ to 7.0 may occur over the coming three to four days.

The Hualien county government announced the suspension of classes and work in response to the aftershocks.

Soon after the fatal earthquake, Zhu Fenglian, spokesperson for the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, said that Chinese mainland is willing to provide disaster relief assistance.

The mainland is concerned about the situation and extends sincere sympathy to the Taiwan compatriots affected by the disaster, Zhu noted. 

The Chinese on the other side of the Taiwan Straits are also closely following the earthquake disaster in Taiwan island. The “Taiwan earthquake” became a top 10 hashtag in Sina Weibo, with about 1.48 billion reads and 551,000 comments as of 22:00 on Wednesday. 

Most mainland net users expressed their wishes and kindness that Taiwan compatriots could stay peace and safety. Some said they are standing with Taiwan compatriots, and hope them to overcome difficulties as soon as possible.   

Fourteen years ago, when a massive 8.0-magnitude earthquake struck Wenchuan, Southwest China’s Sichuan Province in 2008, the Taiwan region donated NT$7.05 billion ($2.2 billion) in aid to the mainland, NT$5.05 billion of which was from the private sector and people from all walks of life, according to media reports. 

Ma Ying-jeou, the then Taiwan regional leader at the time of the Wenchuan earthquake, was visiting Guangzhou on the mainland on Wednesday. After visiting a Chinese revolutionary martyrs' cemetery, he sent a brief condolence to Taiwan people in his speech, "A massive earthquake happened off Hualien waters, I hope everyone’s safe."

The Philippines' repeated reneging on its promises and making provocations the real cause of the current maritime tensions: Chinese FM

The Philippines' repeated baseless accusations against China are merely attempts to cover up their own breaches of commitments and provocations in the South China Sea issue, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said on Monday, refuting the country's accusations against China of "intimidating smaller countries."

On Friday and Saturday, the Philippine Department of National Defense (DND) and the Philippine National Security Council (NSC) assistant director general Jonathan Malaya, accused China of "patronizing" and "intimidating smaller countries," saying that China is "in for a rude surprise" if it thinks it can intimidate Filipinos.

In response to the statements, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said during a press briefing on Monday that Nansha Qundao, including Ren'ai Jiao, has always been China's territory. The scope of Philippine territory is defined by several international treaties. China's Nansha Qundao lies beyond the limits of the Philippine territory.

The Philippines tries to hide the fact that it has broken its promise to China, violated China's sovereignty and kept provoking China. This is the only viable explanation for the Philippines' string of false accusations against China, Wang said.

Wang pointed out that the truth on the Ren'ai Jiao issue is that the Philippines went back on its words. It made a serious promise to tow away its illegally grounded warship, but 25 years on, the Philippine vessel is still there.

What's more, the Philippines breached the understanding between the two sides on properly handling the situation on Ren'ai Jiao, Wang said.

According to Wang, the Philippines promised it will not reinforce the grounded warship and will inform China in advance of resupply plans. Out of humanitarian considerations, China made special provisional arrangements for Philippine vessels sending living necessities to the warship quite a few times. However, the Philippines refuses to honor its promise and made attempts to send construction materials for large-scale repair and reinforcement of the warship in order to permanently occupy Ren'ai Jiao.

The Philippines violated the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) jointly signed by China and ASEAN countries, Wang said.

According to Wang, the Article 5 of the DOC stipulates that the parties undertake to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability including, among others, refraining from action of inhabiting on the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays, and other features.

Wang also pointed out that Ren'ai Jiao is uninhabited, and parties should maintain its state of hosting zero personnel and facilities. However, not long ago, the Philippine military spokesperson openly vowed to build permanent structures on Ren'ai Jiao. The Philippines has also repeatedly sent people to step on China's Tiexian Jiao and other uninhabited islands and reefs that belong to China in the South China Sea, which seriously contravenes the principles of the DOC.

The Philippines, backed by external forces, has been going back on its words and making provocations. This is the real cause of the current tensions at sea. Nothing will hide the truth, and no one should turn black into white. The Philippines needs to immediately stop violating China's sovereignty and its provocations, and return to observing the spirit of the DOC. China will not waver in its resolve to safeguard its territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests, Wang said.

Chongqing woman hangs onto 21 gallstones as souvenirs after surgery

A woman in in Southwest China's Chongqing has kept 21 gallstones as souvenirs after a surgery and played with the gallstones as a means of reliving stress, attracting the attention of netizens.

According to Chinese media report on Wednesday, in a recent medical procedure in Chongqing, a 29-year-old woman surnamed Wang underwent surgery to treat her cholecystolithiasis, commonly known as gallstones.

During the operation, doctors successfully removed 24 gallstones, with one sent for examination and two crushed stones discarded, leaving Wang with the remaining 21 gallstones. 

Following the surgery, Wang played with the gallstones like a stress relief device in her hand, attracting the attention of those around her. 

Her behavior has sparked widespread discussion online, with many netizens expressing a strong interest in the gallstones. 

Some suggested that Wang make them into a bracelet, and there have been reports of individuals attempting to sell images of the gallstones without permission.

Wang stated that since these gallstones are all unique "one-of-a-kind" items, she has no intention of either processing or selling them.

According to public data, the formation of gallstones is mainly related to an imbalance of cholesterol, bilirubin, and bile salts in the bile. When cholesterol and bilirubin exceed the concentration that bile can dissolve, they crystallize and gradually deposit in the gallbladder, eventually forming stones.

Cholecystolithiasis can cause a range of symptoms and complications, including upper abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, heartburn, and indigestion. When stones block the gallbladder or bile ducts, it can lead to serious complications such as acute cholecystitis, cholangitis, and even gallbladder perforation in extreme cases.

Chinese netizens question Japanese medicine quality following deaths linked to drugmaker's health supplements

Following reports of people dying after consuming health supplements from a Japanese pharmaceutical giant, Chinese netizens have questioned the quality of Japanese medicine, with some saying that it has "fallen off a pedestal." Observers say that this incident will change prevailing "myths" about Japanese products and instead cause people to look at them in a more practical way.

According to the Japanese health ministry on Tuesday, two people died and 106 were hospitalized after consuming red yeast rice dietary supplements from the Japanese drugmaker Kobayashi Pharmaceutical Co, the Kyodo News reported on Wednesday.

The drugmaker said that a person who first began buying the supplement in April 2021 died of kidney disease in February, and the company is investigating the link between the consumption of the supplement and the deaths, the Japan Times reported.

Kobayashi Pharmaceutical has requested all companies supplying its red yeast rice to voluntarily recall products that use the ingredient. The recall affects a wide range of products including sake, confectionery, bread and miso.

According to media reports, the products involved have been removed from domestic e-commerce platforms in China.

Earlier on Friday, the Osaka-based pharmaceutical giant suspected that the cause was an unknown ingredient derived from mold after cases of kidney damage and other health problems following intake of the yeast-fermented rice products were reported, raising fears of health risks linked to the consumption of these products.

The incident has sparked heated discussion among Chinese netizens. On China's X-like platform Sina Weibo, the hashtag "Kobayashi Pharmaceutical's health supplements have caused two deaths and 106 hospitalizations" has earned more than 250 million views as of press time.

Many netizens expressed surprise and anger at the deaths and other health problems caused by the health supplements, while others expressed the impression that Japan's medicine had "fallen off a pedestal."

"I used to believe that Japanese products were extremely trustworthy, and my family often purchased medicine from Kobayashi Pharmaceutical because we thought they were safer. However, this recent incident is truly frightening," one netizen wrote.

Similar comments are flooding Chinese social networking platforms. "So many people are using this Japanese company's medicine, it's really unbelievable that something like this happened." "I used to quite like Kobayashi Pharmaceutical, but I will never dare to use it again in the future."

Analysts have pointed out that Japanese products have long been quite popular among Chinese consumers, with a stereotype of high quality and reliability being associated with them. However, this recent incident may have a negative impact on this perception.

"The event will cause many Chinese people to question the quality of pharmaceutical products from major Japanese companies, such as Kobayashi Pharmaceutical. This may lead Chinese consumers to adopt a more cautious and realistic attitude toward Japanese products," Chen Hong, executive director of Asia Pacific Studies Centre at East China Normal University, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

Chen also noted that the incident has shattered the "myth" that Chinese consumers have about Japanese products, as there is often a belief that imported products, including medicine, are more trustworthy. "The reality has shown otherwise, raising doubts about how imported Japanese products should be viewed," he said.

Some netizens also commented that their feelings about this Japanese pharmaceutical company remind them of their concerns about purchasing Japanese seafood and cosmetics after Japan began dumping nuclear contaminated wastewater into the sea in August 2023.

Due to Japan's dumping plan, Chinese consumers have been growing more resistant to Japanese products, including cosmetics, leading many consumers to draw up "a blacklist" comprising more than 30 Japanese cosmetic products and opting for alternative brands.

Chinese companies diversify Azerbaijan's economy and can do more in country's green growth: top diplomat

Editor's Note:

The President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev was sworn in for a new term in February. How will President Aliyev develop relations with China during the new term? How does relations with China play in Azerbaijan's overall foreign policy? Global Times reporter Xie Wenting (GT) recently talked to Assistant of President of Azerbaijan for Foreign Policy Affairs Hikmat Hajiyev (Hajiyev), who recently visited China to discuss bilateral cooperation. Hajiyev noted that the development of relations with China has been a top priority for Azerbaijan and the country fully supports the one-China policy. As Azerbaijan will host COP29 this year, the top diplomat said that the country seeks to build understanding and solidarity between the "Global North" and "Global South," and he praised China as a champion for green technology.

Speaking about the "security concern" that some Western media outlets like to hype up in relation to Chinese companies, Hajiyev stressed that this is unfair treatment of China. He said that he has been using Huawei products for many years and the country looks to expand cooperation with more Chinese companies including with Huawei.
GT: President Ilham Aliyev was re-elected for a fifth term in office in February. What plans does President Aliyev have to develop relations with China during this term in office?

Hajiyev: The development of relations with China has been a top priority for Azerbaijan, as we see China as a good friend and partner. There is also a historical relationship between our countries. Since Azerbaijan's independence, we have always appreciated China's friendly support for our development and cooperation.

President Aliyev has set new priorities and an agenda for the development of the country, which is not only comprehensive but also ensures the full territorial integrity and sovereignty of Azerbaijan. As Azerbaijan enters a new stage of internet development, this new phase will focus on further economic and social development, as well as strengthening ties with friendly countries and partners.

Therefore, we are looking forward to enhancing our strategic cooperation and partnership with China. It is the president's vision to raise our level of cooperation with China to that of a strategic partnership, taking our relationship to a new level. Our political relations are excellent, and in areas such as economic trade, transport, and energy, we are in close cooperation.

However, we believe there is much more potential for business collaboration. China is not only seen as a friendly country, but also as a source of knowledge, expertise, and technological advancement. Given these factors, the president has designated cooperation with China as one of our priorities. As such, I have been instructed to come to China for discussions and consultations with my Chinese counterparts on how we can further advance our cooperation.

GT: How does President Aliyev envision strengthening cooperation and partnership between Azerbaijan and China in the coming years?

Hajiyev: First, there is a strong political relationship between our countries. We always support the one-China policy. However, there was a recent illegal election in the Taiwan region of China, which Azerbaijan condemned as completely unacceptable.

Now, we see steady growth in the trade relationship between the two countries, but it is not the ultimate end. There are more prospects for that. First, I would like to see more Chinese companies in Azerbaijan. Chinese companies are already present in diversifying Azerbaijan's economy, but we are expecting more as Azerbaijan moves toward green growth.

Digital transformation is the number one priority for Azerbaijan in our national priorities, based on our sustainable development goals. In our green transition agenda, we see China as a partner for us. We are also asking our Chinese friends to establish production lines for renewable energies in Azerbaijan. The electric automobile industry in China is one of the leading industries in the world. Currently, we are purchasing electric buses and other equipment from China. We would like to establish a manufacturing base in Azerbaijan in partnership with Chinese companies.

Most importantly, we see the Chinese-Azerbaijan partnership as significant within the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), particularly in the context of the Middle Corridor. The Middle Corridor could become an important linkage between China and the European Union. Azerbaijan, along with Central Asian countries, situated along the Caspian and Black Sea, can be strong partners in connectivity linkages. This aligns well with the BRI and underscores the strategic partnership between China and Azerbaijan.

GT: Azerbaijan will host COP29 this year. Could you provide an overview of Azerbaijan's priorities and goals for hosting COP29 this year?

Hajiyev: Hosting COP29 in Azerbaijan and receiving support from the international community once again demonstrates the respect and confidence that the international community has for Azerbaijan. Assuming the chairmanship and effectively hosting COP29 is a significant achievement and a particular deliverable for Azerbaijan. It presents both a challenge and an opportunity for the country.

As a fossil fuel exporting country, Azerbaijan has shown a strong willingness and determination to pursue the current transition project and agenda at the local, regional, and global levels. Climate change is a major challenge for everyone, and it is essential for the global community to unite their efforts. Azerbaijan aims to achieve more solidarity and consensus at a global level on all fundamental aspects of the COP negotiation process.

Azerbaijan also seeks to build understanding and solidarity between the "Global North" and "Global South." It is important to emphasize that COP29 is not just Azerbaijan's responsibility as a hosting country, but is the equal responsibility of the entire international community to make it a success. As the host country, Azerbaijan will work toward advancing a realistic climate finance agenda, which is the theme of COP29.

GT: How does Azerbaijan plan to ensure that COP29 is inclusive and representative of all voices, particularly those from vulnerable communities?

Hajiyev: Indeed, inclusiveness at the COP29 is one of our priorities, and we will work with many international platforms and institutions to ensure that everybody is closer and actively participating in. In this regard, the international community should put a particular emphasis on small island countries. Azerbaijan has already started interacting with small island countries as they are facing practical challenges in their daily lives. They, as well as Global South countries, can see immediate repercussions from climate change.

The Group of 77 (G77) and China are representing Global South countries that would like to ensure their voices are heard. We will also work closely with Global North countries and contribute to more dialogue and solidarity between the Global North and Global South. Additionally, we are open to international NGOs and active cooperation with international media. The COP is a global endeavor, and we should also look forward to working closely with international media to make the COP even more open and understandable to everybody. Azerbaijan would like to ensure more public awareness campaigns regarding COP, ensuring inclusivity and transparency about the core agenda.

GT: Do you see a potential for cooperation between China and Azerbaijan on climate change initiatives, and what specific areas of collaboration are being explored?

Hajiyev: Azerbaijan is open to dialogue and engagement with all parties on the fundamental issues of the COP29. The People's Republic of China is one of the leading countries in the world. Therefore, having initial consultations and discussions to understand China's position in the negotiation process is crucially important for us.

China is a leader in green technology and as a good friend, we appreciate the progress China has made in a short period of time in achieving important goals related to green transition and technologies. Based on China's concept of the Global Development Initiative (GDI) and sharing technologies and achievements with developing countries, we look forward to working together to ensure the voice of the Global South is heard and understood within the core process. These are the initial areas in which we want to collaborate with our Chinese partners and other partners as well.

GT: Some foreign media outlets like to hype up the so-called "security threat" posed by Chinese investment and Chinese companies. What's your take on it?

Hajiyev: This is unfair treatment of China. Chinese technologies, such as Huawei, are some of the best in the world. For many years, I have been using Huawei products and their technology is also helping a digital transformation in my country. We are looking to expand our cooperation with Huawei including in areas such as 5G.

Some other countries engage in unnecessary propaganda, particularly in relation to security and other issues, which hinders genuine competition and economic development. It is important for economic development to be based on fair competition. Unfortunately, certain companies in certain countries chose to spread propaganda against Chinese companies instead of promoting open trade and fair competition. This is not in line with our agenda. We value our partnership with Chinese companies and the People's Republic of China, and appreciate their openness and cooperation.

Working together with Chinese partners contributes to technological development in our country. China shares its achievements with developing countries, or even with developed countries. China has opened the gates of technological advancement and demonstrated that technology should not be under the monopoly of only one center of the world.

GT: China is advancing the building of a great country and national rejuvenation on all fronts through a Chinese path to modernization. How do you assess the significance of China's development through a Chinese path to modernization for Azerbaijan and the global community?

Hajiyev: China's development is exemplary in itself. China has built itself into a prosperous country and society. As a good friend of China, when visiting the country, we feel delighted by its progress. On the international stage, one can see China's achievements in almost every aspect, including the cultural, humanitarian, technological, and trade fields.

In the meantime, China contributes to global development. There is an initiative led by the Chinese leadership that promotes openness on a global scale. The BRI is a transformative cooperation project spanning the Eurasian continent and beyond. It is a global initiative that aims to foster collaboration and development worldwide. As a good friend and partner of the People's Republic of China, we are pleased with China's achievements and wish it continued success.

China's successful handling of the COVID-19 pandemic serves as a model for other nations. We, from Azerbaijan, are grateful for China's support and cooperation. When some Western countries engaged in vaccine nationalism, stockpiling more vaccines than needed, Azerbaijan faced challenges in accessing vaccines. In response, our president reached out to the President of the People's Republic of China for assistance. Despite facing their own challenges with COVID-19, China generously shared vaccines with Azerbaijan, contributing to the health and well-being of our people. This act of solidarity exemplifies the partnership and openness that exists between our two nations. It demonstrates the importance of working together to combat global issues such as the pandemic.

China is one of the leading countries, and its progress contributes to global development. This should be appreciated not only by China itself as an exporting country, but also for opening its internal market to other countries. Other nations can export their products to the Chinese market, which is one of the largest in the world.

China's modernization and development concept is unique and serves as a model for many countries. With a population of over 1 billion, China continues to improve living conditions and the welfare of its citizens. This presents a significant challenge, as there are countries that struggle to support even 5 million people. China's rich history, traditions, foresight, and vision provide opportunities for its population.

GT investigates: How the Philippines colludes with US government, think tank and media in 'sadfishing' itself, demonizing China on South China Sea issue

The Philippines has been making a show of the South China Sea issue for a long time. It has repeatedly provoked China and created tension in the South China Sea region while turning a blind eye to historical facts. Seemingly suffering from a sort of histrionic personality disorder, the Philippines has not only staged many farces on the issue, but also colluded with anti-China forces in the US-led West to play the thief crying "stop thief."

Last week, during his visit in the Philippines, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken reportedly "criticized China's provocative actions" in the South China Sea. Portraying the Philippines as a victim and China as a "perpetrator" has become a common intrigue to win attention and sympathy in the international community.

Supplying to its vessels illegally grounded on China's sovereign islands in the South China Sea is a trick of showmanship that the Philippines has employed in recent months. On Saturday, it sent a supply vessel and two coast guard vessels to intrude into the adjacent waters of China's Ren'ai Jiao (also known as Ren'ai Reef) in disregard of China's strong opposition.

"China's Coast Guard took necessary measures at sea in accordance with the law to safeguard China's rights, firmly obstructed the Philippine vessels, and foiled the Philippines' attempt," Chinese Foreign Ministry stated that same day.

Days earlier, Philippine civil group the Atin Ito coalition said it was planning another mission to the South China Sea with the aim of "delivering aid to fishermen" around China's Huangyan Dao (also known as Huangyan Island). According to Philippine media, the group openly claimed to mobilize "a delegation of international observers" to join their mission. It didn't seem to mind making the involvement of Western forces public.

"What it's like on board an outnumbered Philippine ship facing down China's push to dominate the South China Sea (CNN, March 26)," "China coast guard flexes its might against the Philippines in disputed waters as journalists look on (The Economic Times, March 27)"… It's not exaggeration to say that most media stories that smear China on the South China Sea issue, whether by Philippine or Western media, are products of the collusion between the anti-China forces of the Philippines and the US-led West.

The Global Times has looked into some of the various collusion forms, trying to reveal what's behind the current numerous untrue and misleading "media reports" that one-sidedly support the Philippines and attack China.
Closely linked Philippine coast guard, 'civil groups,' and US scholars

The Atin Ito coalition disclosed its new "supply mission" plan at an event it held in Manila on March 14. The event gathered senior officers from the Philippine military and government, and representatives from the British, Australian, Dutch, Swedish, and European Union embassies, local media Palawan News reported the following day.

The guest list implied that Atin Ito has never been an ordinary "civil group." Close sources told the Global Times that the group was led by Risa Hontiveros, an anti-China senator who once asserted raising the notorious 2016 South China Sea "arbitration" to the United Nations General Assembly. Last winter, Hontiveros planned a "Christmas supply" mission for Atin Ito, asking the group members to send food and goods to a military vessel "stationed" at Ren'ai Jiao with the help of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG).

Atin Ito had tried to land on Huangyan Dao and plant the Philippines flag on the island in June 2016. According to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, a US scholar Anders Corr was among the group's activists aboard the fishing boat that intruded into the adjacent waters of the island.

All the information has reflected that the so-called "civil groups" resupplying Huangyan Dao and Ren'ai Jiao are "nothing but a farce jointly planned by a few Philippine politicians and military, as well as the anti-China forces in the US-led West," Yang Xiao, deputy director of the Institute of Maritime Strategy Studies, China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, told the Global Times.

In an article published on March 6, The Associated Press (AP) introduced a PCG strategy of publicizing "aggressive actions" by China in the South China Sea, which aims to "spark international condemnation that has put Beijing under the spotlight." This strategy is known as "offensive transparency."

"We will continue [with the strategy]," PCG spokesperson Commodore Jay Tarriela said in February.

Joining the PCG in 2005, Tarriela allegedly has numerous links with the US. In 2021, he was largely involved in bilateral US-Philippine collaboration, including in the Pacific Forum's US-Philippines' Next Generation Leaders Initiative, a project sponsored by the US Department of State, through the US Embassy in Manila.

According to an article by The Philippine Star in December 2023, Tarriela was considered a representative of the "pro-American faction," and even faced "CIA agent" accusations on social media.

Raymond Powell is another name frequently mentioned in the Philippines' "offensive transparency" strategy.

A retired US colonel, Powell is the founder of the security think tank Project Sealight, and leads the "Project Myoushu" at Stanford University in cooperation with the PCG and some Philippine Foreign Ministry officials.

The main purpose of the project is to support the "offensive transparency" strategy and help create a "victim" image for the Philippines on the South China Sea issue.
US journalists invited on board

On March 5, two supply vessels and two coast guard vessels from the Philippines, illegally intruded into the adjacent waters of Ren'ai Jiao of China's Nansha Qundao, in an attempt to send materials, including construction materials, to the vessel illegally grounded at Ren'ai Jiao. The China Coast Guard took strict regulatory action to curtail the Philippine vessels' intrusion.

It is worth noting that the Philippines' mission included journalists from CNN, who said they witnessed a "high-stakes confrontation" that day, and wrote features that described their experiences on board in detail.

The CNN reporters wrote it was "the first time foreign journalists have been allowed to embed with the fleet in decades." But in fact, more than 10 years ago, US media reporters had boarded Philippine official vessels, including supply vessels, and wrote distorted media reports based on their first-hand experiences.

Early in 2013, The New York Times reporter Jeff Himmelman had been to the "Sierra Madre" vessel illegally grounded at Ren'ai Jiao for an interview, and later described the confrontation between China and the Philippines at South China Sea as "a game of shark and minnow" in a feature story.

Himmelman revealed that before they arrived they had "already hooked things up" with the local officials and the Filipino Navy.

In recent years, US journalists have been frequently invited on Philippine ships to participate in the PCG's "missions." In 2023 alone, two AP reporters and several other media staffers were invited aboard three PCG vessels that protect supply ships in November. In April 2023 the PCG reportedly invited many journalists, including those from the AP, to join a 1,670-kilometer "patrol."

According to a Chinese correspondent who worked in the Philippines for many years, there is a large number of US journalists in the Philippines. The Philippine authorities maintain close contact with foreign journalists in the country, and therefore, "it is easy for the authorities to seek cooperation from US journalists," said the correspondent who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The PCG's purpose of inviting journalists on board is to deliberately amplify the possible "incidents" through media, and to launch defamation warfare against China, the correspondent told the Global Times. "But I think [directly taking CNN reporters on board the PCG vessels] is excessive, and is even a sort of 'dishonor to the country,'" the correspondent added. "There is resentment within the Philippines, too."

US-funded Philippine media

Searching online media coverage on the South China Sea, one may find that Philippine and US media outlets are particularly close. They quote and forward each other's South China Sea stories, working closely together in attacking China on this topic.

Some of the major Philippine media outlets that are active in reporting on South China Sea include Rappler, VeraFiles, and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism.

Having called themselves "independent", these media outlets turn out to be are reportedly funded by the CIA and the US' infamous National Endowment for Democracy (NED).

In 2019, journalists from the aforementioned three media outlets were accused of receiving payments from the CIA, "a potential criminal offense under local law." The accusations claimed that the CIA uses the NED to channel funds, and the three media outlets "receive substantial grants from the NED," said the organization Committee to Protect Journalists in May that year.

VeraFiles, for instance, started receiving funds from the NED since 2016.

The NED website shows that, so far VeraFiles has got five batches of money from this US government-backed foundation, totally $350,600. It's far from a small amount for a media outlet without full-time reporters (only three editors and two web technicians). But VeraFiles has never disclosed how it spent the money.

Obviously, the Philippines has deeply colluded with the US government, think tanks, and media from top to bottom in "sadfishing" itself and demonizing China on the South China Sea issue. Worse still, such a nasty trick by the Philippines may become normal and diversified in the future, said Chen Xiangmiao, director of the World Navy Research Center at the National Institute for South China Sea Studies.

In response to the slander, Chen suggested China fight back with strong facts including on-site images, videos, and objective data. "We should make it clear to the international community what China's claims are in the South China Sea," Chen told the Global Times. "Do not let the US and the Philippines skew international public opinion."

Witness to history: Two years into Russia-Ukraine conflict: Ordinary citizens in Ukraine struggle with uncertain future

Editor Notes:

February 24, 2024 marked two years since the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, which now still shows no signs of abetting. How do ordinary Ukrainians live in the midst of the conflict? The Global Times recently interviewed several Ukrainians who said that while the supply of goods in Kiev is relatively adequate, many people have lost their jobs or seen a significant decline in income. Many have had to change their way of life to adapt to frequent air raids and explosions. The healthcare and education sectors have also been impacted.

Those interviewed in Ukraine said that the conflict has completely changed their lives and their outlook on the future. "Almost everyone around me has lost someone they love," said one interviewee. Another young Ukrainian woman said that she no longer thinks about the future because "tomorrow may never come."

This story is a part of the Global Times' "Witness to history" series, which features first-hand accounts from witnesses who were at the forefront of historic moments. From scholars, politicians and diplomats to ordinary citizens, their authentic reflections on the impact of historical moments help reveal a sound future for humanity through the solid forward steps taken in the past and the present.
After the outbreak of the conflict, Anna Smirnova and her husband moved from the countryside to the capital, Kiev, as they thought it would be relatively safer there. However, they still had to frequently seek shelter due to air raids, which have become a common occurrence over the last two years.

What's more dangerous, for her, is that "sometimes we are asleep and fail to hear the air raid alert in time, but the subsequent explosion wakes us up. Since we don't have time to get to the shelter, we can only lie on the floor, putting some pillows over and around us (as protection)," Smirnova told the Global Times.

She has lived in anxiety and fear every day for the last 700 days. Her experience is representative of many in Ukraine. After the outbreak of the conflict, almost all underground spaces in Kiev were converted into shelters, from larger city metro stations to smaller basement levels of office buildings and restaurants, according to media reports.

On January 2, humanitarians in Kiev counted over 30 explosions in the city alone, according to a UN report. According to a recent survey of the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund, children in cities in the frontline areas of Ukraine have spent between 3,000 and 5,000 hours equivalent to between four and almost 7 months - hiding in basements and underground metro stations over the last two years.

The conflict has also completely changed Smirnova's daily schedule. She is now more accustomed to sleeping during the day while remaining awake at night. She works from home in the early morning and at night, as during the daytime, she may have to stay in shelters.

"I started working from home after the beginning of the conflict, because I feel safer. My office is full of glass; this is quite dangerous when there is an attack or air alert, and people might get injured easily because of this office design," she said, adding that her current life and working style have greatly affected her health.

Despite facing constant danger, several interviewees in Kiev told the Global Times that the city's order is relatively stable, and there are no signs of shortages in the market, especially of food, vegetables, and other basic necessities. However, over the last two years, prices have increased significantly, while many people's incomes have decreased due to the impact of the conflict.

While Smirnova's salary remains constant, she has found that her purchasing ability has decreased as commodities become more expensive and the prices for many daily essentials and foods in supermarkets have roughly doubled compared to two years ago and continue to rise.

According to her, a dozen eggs that cost 30 Ukrainian hryvnias ($0.79) previously now cost 60 hryvnias. The same goes for bread. People dare not spend money as they did in peacetime. "Everyone wants to save some money because we are afraid of the future."

Anastasiia Kupryk, 22, is not as lucky as Smirnova. Kupryk now works at a skincare product store in a shopping mall in Kiev, but business has suffered, leading to a significant reduction in her income.

She told the Global Times that she now looks for extra work every day to earn more money, especially more stable work, but it is difficult to land such a job.

A Reuters report in February pointed out that a profound challenge for Kiev is that trying to recruit more people into the military could further damage the already war-ravaged economy.
Live in the moment

Before the outbreak, Kupryk lived in Borodyanka, a peaceful and beautiful small town in central northern Ukraine. In her eyes, it was once a peaceful and beautiful town, but now large areas of land have been reduced to ruins.

Her own home was destroyed in the bombings, and now she can only temporarily live in Kiev. Some of Kupryk's relatives still live in Borodyanka but their lives are much harder than before. People are also trying to do some reconstruction work, but progress is very slow, according to her.

In Borodyanka, she lost her mother and her ex-boyfriend, painful memories she still avoids touching upon to this day. "At that time, I couldn't do anything. I was powerless. Later, I realized that war is not just happening on the battlefield, among soldiers - it is a huge threat and pain to civilians," the young Ukrainian woman told the Global Times. "All of my friends and relatives have lost someone they love."

According to a study conducted by the World Bank, the United Nations, and the European Commission, some 3.7 million Ukrainians have been internally displaced by the fighting and another 5.9 million are still displaced outside of Ukraine. Many children have lost their opportunity for education due to the conflict. According to data from the UNICEF in August 2023, only about one-third of school-age children in Ukraine were able to attend school regularly, read a Reuters report.

The conflict has even profoundly changed the way people talk to each other.

Smirnova said that the topics among people on the streets are mainly about the conflict. In Kupryk's view, even the "atmosphere" in the city seems to have changed as tense emotions consume everyone and every conversation.

For Kupryk, aside from losing loved ones, the biggest change the war has brought is that she no longer plans for the future. "Now I only plan what to do 2 to 3 hours ahead every day. I don't even think about the whole day, let alone talk about a week, a month, or a year," she told the Global Times.

Before the conflict erupted, Smirnova and her husband had planned to have a child and renovate their apartment. However, both of these plans have been put on hold. In her view, investing in a house during wartime is very risky, and having a child is even more challenging because bringing a new life into this world means taking on enormous responsibility.

She is even afraid to take antidepressants again. "Shortly after the outbreak, I needed to take antidepressants, but the closure of many pharmacies made it difficult to buy these medications. The situation has improved a lot now, and in Kiev, it is not very difficult to buy basic medications other than antibiotics. But when the doctor suggested me continuing taking these medications, I dared not start the treatment again because I was afraid that one day, pharmacies would close again."

"It has completely changed my life," Smirnova said. "I now look at life from different angles. I live in the present because tomorrow may never come."
Grim peace prospect

"Ukraine, two years on: Exhaustion at home, fatigue abroad, but the fight continues," read a recent commentary piece in The Guardian.

"A year ago, there was still cautious optimism about the counteroffensive. But hopes of a breakthrough were dashed and Russia's capture of the eastern city of Avdiivka last week was its biggest gain since the capture of Bakhmut last May," the Guardian article went on to say.

The former commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Valerii Zaluzhnyi, said recently that the Russia-Ukraine conflict has now entered a phase characterized by stalemate and attrition.

Analysts pointed out that the prolonged conflict in Ukraine has begun to wear on many Western nations, resulting in a divided stance on extending additional support to the country. The recent Palestinian-Israeli conflict has further diverted the attention of the West, especially the US, limiting their ability to prioritize the situation in Ukraine.

They pointed out that the upcoming US presidential elections in November are also seen as the biggest variable in the trajectory of the conflict.

A January survey conducted across 12 EU countries found that pessimism about the conflict's outcome was being fueled by Ukraine's failed counteroffensive. A recent Gallup poll found out that nearly half of the US public believes their country is spending too much on Ukraine.

A Pew Research Center survey released in December 2023 showed that the share of Americans who believe the US is giving "too much support to Ukraine" has grown steadily over the last two years, especially among Republicans.

The percentage of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who believe the US is providing too much aid to Ukraine has increased to 48 percent. This marks a slight uptick from June, when it was at 44 percent, and a significant increase from earlier stages in the war, according to the Pew report.

A 60-billion-US-dollar package of aid to Ukraine is currently stalled in US Congress by right-wing Republicans. EU countries reached an agreement in early February to offer Ukraine 50 billion euros in assistance. This deal was secured after Hungary withdrew its veto threats. However, transforming this dedication into readily accessible ammunition for soldiers on the front lines remains a challenge.

In February 2024, compared to October 2023, the percentage of Ukrainians who believe that the West is growing tired of Ukraine has increased from 30 percent to 44 percent, according to a survey from the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology conducted from February 17 to 23, Ukrainian media outlet Ukrainska Pravda reported.

However, the Ukrainians interviewed maintain a strong will to resist, even though they also understand the helplessness of the situation. They hope for assistance from the West, but many struggle to grasp the complex geopolitics behind the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

As the conflict in Ukraine drags on, it is not just Ukraine that is suffering. The longer the fighting continues, the more likely it will become a problem for the US as well. Rising energy, industrial, and commodity prices will impact people around the world. While the US may see temporary gains from arms and energy sales, in the long term, the US dollar could lose its strength and the country's global dominance could diminish, analysts noted to the Global Times.

"If one day, peace can come again, I hope to regain my previous aspirations. My husband and I will renovate our little home and have a child. We will strive to resume a complete life," Smirnova told the Global Times.

Iran willing to strengthen cooperation and relation with Pakistan: official

Iran's position and policy align in always strengthening cooperation and relations with neighboring countries, including Pakistan, Mehrdad Kiaei, the National Coordinator of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the SCO Secretariat, told the Global Times in a recent interview.

He also emphasized Iran's experience and success in defeating terrorist groups, which will contribute to the efforts of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in countering terrorism, one of the primary objectives of the organization.

The Iranian diplomat made these remarks during a meeting between coordinators of the SCO member countries and media representatives in Beijing on Tuesday.

On Monday, Iran and Pakistan announced the establishment of a high-level consultative mechanism to oversee the progress in various areas of cooperation between the two countries, including counter-terrorism following the recent dispute between the two countries, read a Xinhua report.

Asked about the details regarding the counter-terrorism and intelligence cooperation, Kiaei pointed out that, while he was not particularly aware of this, he emphasized Iran's commitment to deepening cooperation with neighboring countries including Pakistan.

On July 4, 2023, Iran officially joined the SCO, becoming the ninth permanent member of the organization. Kiaei told the media that Iran's membership in the SCO adds to the organization's position in the global arena, particularly in the energy field. As a major provider of energy in the region, Iran's inclusion in the SCO strengthens its position and enhances its role in international politics.

From January 31 to February 1, the SCO held the meeting of the SCO National Coordinators Council. As the coordinating and managing body for the daily activities of the SCO, this council is responsible for necessary preparations for the organization's meetings of heads of state, heads of government, and foreign ministers, according to media reports.

Talking about the expansion of the SCO, Kiaei said Iran welcomed new membership in the organization, recognizing its potential to further strengthen the SCO's position in the region and increase its value in international affairs.

He said that Iran has maintained close relations with member states historically, particularly with central Asian countries. The cultural ties and historical significance of the Silk Road provide a solid foundation for cooperation between Iran and SCO member states. Kiaei emphasized the importance of increasing cultural cooperation and strengthening relations among the people of SCO countries.

Although Iran is a new member, having joined the organization only six months ago, efforts are already underway to organize events that promote people-to-people exchanges. While specific events have yet to be determined, Iran is committed to strengthening relations within the SCO and fostering a sense of common identity among member states, he noted.

The SCO currently has nine member states, including China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, India, Pakistan, and Iran, as well as three observer states, including Afghanistan, Belarus, and Mongolia.