A special journey to memorable sites that bond China to France, Serbia, Hungary

Chinese President Xi Jinping and French President Emmanuel Macron had an in-depth engagement during a restricted meeting at Col du Tourmalet in the Pyrenees mountains in southwestern France, an area dear to Macron for being the birthplace of his maternal grandmother. The special arrangement allowed the two leaders to establish a more direct dialogue in a personal and friendly atmosphere.

Holding a meeting in the tranquil southern French mountains is also viewed a continuation of the pleasant memory when Xi and Macron held an informal talk in April 2023 in Guangzhou, the capital of South China's Guangdong Province. At that time, the two leaders listened to a live performance of the ancient Chinese music piece "High Mountains and Flowing Water" in the Pine Garden, which represents cherished friendship in Chinese culture.

Besides France, there are also many representative buildings and sites in Serbia and Hungary that have witnessed and serve as testimonies to their friendship with China.

After Xi embarked on a state visit to France, Serbia, and Hungary on May 5 - his first overseas trip of the year - these significant locations have once again captured people's attention.

The former site of the Lyon Sino-French Institute is located on a hill in Fourvière in the city of Lyon, France. After 100 years of wind and rain, the towering stone gate at the old site still bears a clear inscription of the institute's name in both Chinese and French.

The only overseas university that China founded in modern times, the Lyon Sino-French Institute was established in July 1921. It trained many Chinese who later became crucial leaders in the founding of the People's Republic of China (PRC), including Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping. Since its resumption in the 1980s, the institute has continued to educate various talents for China's reform and opening-up.

During his first visit to France in March 2014, President Xi visited the Charles de Gaulle Foundation in Paris. He visited the office of General Charles de Gaulle, laid a wreath at his bronze statue and wrote "Paying Tribute to the Great Man and Composing a New Chapter in Chinese and French History" in the guest book.

In Serbia's capital Belgrade, people are easily captivated by a unique modern building - the China Cultural Center - that looks like a beautiful ancient Chinese landscape painting drawn along the banks of the Danube River.

What you cannot tell from the design is that the edifice was built on the site of the former Chinese embassy that was destroyed by a NATO bomb in May 1999 in what was then the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. This special history makes the center not only an important bridge and bond for cultural exchanges between the two countries, but also a seal of approval for the ironclad friendship between China and Serbia amid the development of the times.

At the hot mill at HBIS Smederevo steel plant, or Hesteel Serbia, Nenad Cvetanovic and his colleagues were thrilled to get a reply letter from Xi at the end of April, a few days before the Chinese president's second state visit to Serbia after eight years.

Established in 1913, the steel plant used to be a pillar of former Yugoslavia's metal industry, but was on the verge of closure in the 1990s. It struggled for about two decades until China's Hesteel Group purchased it in 2016. President Xi made a trip to the steel plant in June 2016 and interacted with workers in the dining room, encouraging them to work hard to bring benefits to local residents.

In Budapest, the capital of Hungary that is dubbed the "Pearl of the Danube," nine unique bridges connect Buda and Pest across the river, enhancing the accessibility and charm of the city.

With a total length of 341.7 kilometers, the Hungary-Serbia railway, a flagship project of the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative, is now bridging Budapest and Belgrade closer together, injecting new impetus into the economies of the two countries.

The special significance of bridges was also noted by President Xi during his first visit to Europe. "A bridge not only makes life more convenient, it can also be a symbol of communication, understanding and friendship," Xi said.

With President Xi's visit, the friendship between China and Europe is also warming up again. People on both sides hope that this visit will build more bridges of friendship and cooperation between China and France, Serbia and Hungary, and even the whole of Europe.

‘Overcapacity’ claim violates economic principles, denies division of labor

Recently, the West has been unreasonably hyping up the false narrative of "overcapacity" in China. Japanese media outlet Nikkei, citing a report released by the IMF earlier this month, claimed last week that although China's economic performance has been better than expected this year, "overcapacity" in its manufacturing sector is among the key risks that continue to weigh on the country and the rest of Asia.

Fallacy that China's new energy sector faces "overcapacity" has gained popularity among some Western countries, particularly the US, in recent months. Yet, whether or not China has excess capacity should be determined by economic rules and facts, not political agenda led by the US.

The current global distribution of production capacity is a result of the combined effects of industrialization and market-based economic activities over the past few decades. Cooperation based on comparative advantages is crucial for optimizing the resource allocation of global factors, also an important approach for improving productivity and well-being among countries.

From the perspective of economic principles, equating fluctuations in supply and demand with excess capacity goes against the normal rules of the market economy and actually works counter to the rationality of international division of labor and economic globalization. If a country with supply exceeding demand is recklessly considered to have excess capacity, then all export economies in the world, not only China but also the US, have overcapacity issues in terms of their exported products.

In this sense, the narrative of "overcapacity" and criticisms of industrial subsidies are merely rhetoric fabricated by the US to hinder China's competitiveness.

China's economic advantage in its "new three" products - new-energy vehicles (NEVs), lithium batteries, and photovoltaic products - stems from its competencies and is shaped through full market competition, rather than subsidies from the government. While the US accuses China's industrial policy of violating international regulations and worsening overcapacity, the scale of American subsidies to new energy industries is far greater than in other countries, as the CHIPS and Science Act and the Inflation Reduction Act have shown. For example, the detailed rules of the Inflation Reduction Act stipulate that only electric vehicles assembled in North America are eligible for a maximum subsidy of $7,500 through federal tax deductions, which is a blatantly discriminatory subsidy law.

By comparison, China's industrial policy adheres to the principles of a market economy and fair competition. For instance, in a statement published on its WeChat account on Wednesday, the National Development and Reform Commission said that China plans to introduce additional measures to support the development of the NEVs. These measures include fostering industrial innovation through scientific and technological advancements, encouraging enterprises to increase investment in research and development, and facilitating the optimization and restructuring of the new energy vehicle industry. Moreover, China will remove all restrictions on foreign investment in manufacturing, inviting global auto companies to participate in the Chinese market and industrial chain to benefit from the advancements in new energy vehicle technology.

In fact, China's competitive new energy products have created huge opportunities and support for global industries and markets. Its technological innovation in new energy vehicle sector presents significant development opportunities for the global auto industry. Also, China is the only country in the world that has all the industrial categories listed in the United Nations industrial classification system, including 41 industrial categories, 191 medium categories and 525 subcategories. Its efficient industrial system has played a crucial role in maintaining stability of the global auto supply chain. 

Furthermore, China is a major driving force behind the world's rapid expansion of renewable power generation capacity. China's installed capacity of renewable energy exceeded 1.45 billion kilowatts in 2023, accounting for more than 50 percent of the country's total installed power generation capacity, according to data released by the National Energy Administration. Power generated from renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power now accounts for more than 15 percent of China's total electricity consumption.

China has always been committed to promoting high-level opening-up and offering opportunities for market access to other countries, with the aim of achieving mutually beneficial results. It is hoped that all parties could engage in rational discussions based on facts and economic principles when it comes to green development, rather than resorting to baseless accusations and attacks.

China’s foreign trade in first four months hits 13.81 trillion yuan, rising 5.7% year-on-year: GAC data

China's trade in goods in the first fourth months of 2024 recorded an increase of 5.7 percent year-on-year to reach 13.81 trillion yuan ($1.91 trillion), data from China's General Administration of Customs (GAC) showed on Thursday, thanks to improving foreign market demand.  

Total goods exports recorded year-on-year growth of 4.9 percent to hit 7.81 trillion yuan from January to April, while imports increased by 6.8 percent to reach 6 trillion yuan, the administration said.

Notably, in April alone, China's imports and exports reached 3.64 trillion yuan, rising 8 percent year-on-year. In breakdown, exports stood at 2.08 trillion yuan with a year-on-year growth of 5.1 percent, while imports surged by 12.2 percent year-on-year to reach 1.56 trillion yuan.

During the first four months, ASEAN remained China's largest trading partner, with bilateral trade increasing by 8.5 percent year-on-year to hit 2.18 trillion yuan, accounting 15.85 percent of China's total foreign trade. 

The EU and the US were China's second and third largest trading partners. China's imports and exports with the EU decreased 1.8 percent to 1.75 trillion yuan, while trade with the US increased by 1.1 percent to reach 1.47 trillion yuan. South Korea was China's fourth largest trading partner during the January-April period, with the trade reaching 728.7 billion yuan, up 5.5 percent year-on-year.

China's total trade with the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) partner countries amounted to 6.54 trillion yuan with a yearly increase of 6.4 percent, of which, exports increased by 6.7 percent year-on-year to reach 3.64 trillion yuan, while the imports grew by 6 percent to 2.9 trillion yuan. 

Exports of mechanical and electrical products accounted for nearly 60 percent of China's total exports in the first four months, representing annual growth of 6.9 percent to 4.62 trillion yuan. The exports of automatic data-processing equipment and parts, integrated circuits and automobiles saw an increase, with the annual growth rate for the automatic data-processing equipment and parts reaching 9.7 percent, 23.5 percent for integrated circuits, and 24.9 percent for automobiles. 

Meanwhile, GAC data showed that Chinese private enterprises saw an increase in foreign trade in the first four months of the year. The trade of private firms totaled 7.54 trillion yuan, up 10.7 percent year-on-year, accounting 54.6 percent of China's total foreign trade and increased by 2.5 percentage points compared with the same time last year.

China, the US should both be on board to drive real climate action: director of Climate Group

Editor's Note:

With the conclusion of COP28, or the 28th session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change on December 12, 2023, a "historic" climate deal was inked, which, for the first time, pledged to transition away from the use of fossil fuels while boosting renewable energy. Representatives from nearly 200 countries agreed, at the summit, to begin reducing the global use of fossil fuels, drawing worldwide attention. At the summit, China talked with every relevant party to find an acceptable solution to promote the success of the COP28. Over the years, the efforts that China has made in climate change have won wide recognition and the cooperation between China and the US is also of importance to the world. On the heels of COP28, Global Times reporter Xie Wenting (GT) spoke with Champa Patel (Patel), Executive Director for Governments and Policy at the Climate Group, an NGO dedicated to climate change, on issues related to COP28 and global cooperation on climate change among other topics.
GT: What are your thoughts on the outcomes from COP28 and what are the key takeaways from conference? How do you believe this conference has contributed to global climate action?

Patel: The main takeaway from COP28 was the first explicit recognition that the world has to transition away from fossil fuels. While it did not go as far as saying "phase-out" from fossil fuels, this still sends a strong signal on what is expected of countries and that a fossil-fuel-free future is the only way forward. It sends an important message that fossil fuels are on their way out, and might not be worth investing in.

With that in mind, it was great to see commitments on tripling renewables and doubling down on energy efficiency, measures which earlier on in the year had been taken on by the G20 in its communique as well. There was also a welcome recognition that nation states should work closely with subnational governments - as the level of government often closest to impacted communities - to set climate action plans and ensure an integrated multi-level approach.

But there were significant gaps as well. Climate finance was not the focus as much as it should have been.

In many ways, we do not have a crisis of ambition - most countries are signed up to what needs to be done to achieve net zero - but for many developing economies this will require substantial investment and funding. Where will the money from? There is still much more that needs to be negotiated on new sources of climate finance and how existing funds can be scaled up - so there, we do see a crisis of ambition.

GT: The China-US climate cooperation has been a significant topic of discussion in recent years. In your opinion, what are the key areas in which China and the US can collaborate effectively to address climate change? How can this cooperation be strengthened further?

Patel: Prior to COP28, China and the US released "The Sunnylands Statement on Enhancing Cooperation to Address the Climate Crisis." The two sides have also agreed to establish a working group on enhancing climate action in the 2020s, to advance discussions on methane, the energy transition, and resource efficiency among others. This provides an important vehicle for enhanced cooperation. Interestingly, and for Climate Group more importantly, was an explicit recognition of the role of subnational cooperation bringing together states, regions, and cities in climate action. This is really important as local governments are often best placed to know the specific needs of their communities.

To drive real climate action, we need to have both China and the US on board - without them, action is meaningless. So it's great to see climate as one of the few areas which is not prey to the great power competition. The climate crisis has the opportunity to bring the great powers together. We need China and the US on board, not just because of political power or their large economies, but also because they are facing the devastating impacts of climate change within their own countries, whether heatwaves, flooding, or droughts. So these steps are a positive sign but much more needs to be done to drive action further and faster as time is critical to ward against a 1.5-degree rise in temperature.

GT: How can NGOs contribute toward fostering collaboration and driving impactful change? In light of recent COP28 commitments, what specific actions or policies do you believe the US and China should prioritize to accelerate their transition to a low-carbon economy?

Patel: NGOs have an important role to play as they can support and foster partnerships, encourage peer exchange and facilitate relationship building between China and the US. They can also help identify policy measures that can accelerate climate impact.

Both countries can show true climate leadership by including concrete steps toward the transition away from fossil fuels in the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), the national action plans on climate. That would send an incredibly strong signal to the rest of the world.

GT: Looking ahead, what are your expectations for future China-US climate cooperation? How can this partnership evolve and expand to tackle emerging challenges and seize new opportunities in the fight against climate change?

Patel: Looking ahead, it is critical that the US and China identify concrete projects, initiatives, and funding that can help accelerate climate action. There is an opportunity to drive leadership not just from their respective countries but also to model what is needed from other major powers and developed economies.

The signal on action needed on methane sent through "The Sunnylands Statement on Enhancing Cooperation to Address the Climate Crisis" is important. It is the first time China has mentioned methane, as it focuses its mind on this short-lived pollutant that is often sidelined when considering decarbonization measures. But tackling methane emissions is essential as, arguably, we cannot stay within 1.5 degrees of temperature rise without also addressing methane emissions.

By coming together, the two countries can help unlock global ambition and provide a model of leadership that is sorely needed to drive forward faster climate action.

China's seed breeding industry thrives, as nation seeks to bolster food security

Seed breeding at the Nanfan breeding base, which has been dubbed the "Silicon Valley" of China's seed industry, continues to thrive, with an output value exceeding 10 billion yuan ($1.39 billion) in 2023, a senior provincial official said on Sunday. The base, in South China's Hainan Province, plays a significant role in China's efforts to bolster food security. 

"Seeds are the 'chips' of agriculture, and to build Nanfan into the country's largest experimental zone for agricultural science and technology is essential for seed production and food security," Liu Xiaoming, governor of Hainan Province, said at the opening ceremony of the 2024 China Seed Congress in Sanya, Hainan. 

At the conference, Liu detailed some remarkable achievements during the past few years, including the construction of major research platforms, the integration of resources for seed enterprises, and further development of the national seed breeding base. 

Experts said the conference showcased China's achievements and innovations in the seed industry. It also comes amid the central government's increasing efforts to ensure food security, which have highlighted the importance of support for sci-tech innovation in the agricultural sector, as well as revitalization of the seed industry.

China is the world's second-largest seed market, with a market value of 120 billion yuan ($16.3 billion), according to a 2021 report published by the agricultural ministry. 

The seed industry is a national resource that has been deemed strategic. Without an independent seed industry, which is key to increasing food production and ensuring food security, there is no strong agriculture, Chinese agricultural experts said.  

However, the foundation of seed industry development is still not solid enough, Li Guoxiang, a research fellow at the Rural Development Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Monday.

"The most fundamental way to nurture the indigenous seed industry is to create a market environment that respects innovation and protects the intellectual property rights of the seed enterprises," Li noted. It would also be good to encourage companies to invest more in the research and development of breeding technology, so as to cultivate new quality productive forces in the seed industry.

This would form a virtuous cycle allowing the sustainable development of seed enterprises, Li said. 

At the conference, Tao Kaiyuan, vice president of the Supreme People's Court, said China has continued to strengthen the protection of intellectual property rights involving seeds, with stricter penalties for violators.

According to Tao, the court has dealt with a total of 619 cases involving infringement of new plant variety rights in 2023, up nearly 40 percent compared to 2022. 

China has attached great importance to agriculture and the seed industry. In this year's Government Work Report the central government said it would redouble efforts to invigorate the seed industry and make breakthroughs in key agricultural technologies. 

Li pointed out the urgent need to enhance the competitiveness of China's soybean industry and advance the self-reliance of the seed industry in science and technology. "China has advantages in breeding technology for rice, wheat, and some unique varieties, but the yield level of soybean varieties still needs to be further improved," Li said, noting that more efforts are still needed to boost innovation in cutting-edge breeding technologies. 

To realize an upswing in the development of the seed industry, Liu said Hainan will ramp up efforts in seed breeding, focusing on such aspects as seed sources, the seed industry, and germplasm resources.

Chinese political advisor calls for greater AI integration in manufacturing sector

A Chinese scientist and national political advisor has proposed further integration of artificial intelligence (AI) in the manufacturing industry, with the aim of boosting its high-quality development and dealing with the challenges ahead.

"AI is an important driving force in the new round of technological revolution and industrial change. It has emerged as a useful tool for significantly facilitating the upgrading process of the basic manufacturing industry as well," said Zhao Xiaoguang, associate professor of the Institute of Automation at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Zhao is also a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).

In a proposal shared with the Global Times, Zhao called for accelerating the application of AI technology in industry, so as to tackle the challenges raised by a new round of technological revolution and transform scientific and technological achievements into practical results.

China has been expanding the applications of AI technology in its real economy, according to Zhao, especially in areas such as advanced manufacturing, the new material and new energy sectors, and medicine. Also, new quality productive forces empowered by AI technology are in the pipeline.

Having been committed to research projects in the field of robotics, intelligent control systems, and wireless sensor networks for years, Zhao believes that by embracing AI, China's basic manufacturing sector will ratchet up its capability to meet various demands on the supply side and raise its competitiveness in the global market.

China has already made significant progress in AI advancement and high-quality development of its robotic industry. For instance, Shenzhen-based UBTECH Robotics has successfully developed humanoid robots that can be used at a new energy vehicle (NEV) factory. This was the world's first case of a humanoid robot being used to collaborate with humans in assembly and quality inspection operations in an automobile factory.

With the rapid development of AI and its expanding industrial applications, China has large room for development in the manufacturing industry, and will continue to make contributions to the world's economic growth, Zhao said, noting that Chinese domestically made products have gained competitiveness in terms of scale and quality.

China will strive to modernize the industrial system and develop new quality productive forces at a faster pace, according to the Government Work Report submitted to the second session of the 14th National People's Congress on Tuesday.

The report listed several tasks, including industry and supply chain improvement and upgrading, and the cultivation of emerging sectors and future-oriented industries such as hydrogen power and new materials. Innovative development of the digital economy will be promoted, with an AI-Plus initiative to be launched, according to the Xinhua News Agency.

The AI Plus initiative is set to become a significant factor in bolstering the high-quality development of the manufacturing industry as well. To realize this goal, Zhao told the Global Times that efforts should be made to establish a diversified evaluation and reward system in order to encourage research teams and academic institutions with scientific and innovation advantages to give strong technical support in development of the sector.

Zhao also suggested diversified resources including private capital, industrial funds, and multi-channel financing could help to develop more professional large-scale AI models in specialized and new enterprises in the manufacturing industry.

Meanwhile, the authorities should help to release a number of open-source projects in the manufacturing industry so that they can empower enterprises to embrace digital and intelligent transformation, Zhao said.

Blinken's fifth Israel visit since Gaza war for diplomatic posture, rather than real mediation: experts

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, after touring multiple Arab countries, is meeting Israeli leaders on Tuesday amid the enduring Gaza humanitarian disaster, Houthi attacks on Red Sea shipping and the escalation in hostilities at the Israel-Lebanon borders.

Speaking alongside Israeli President Isaac Herzog ahead of their meeting on Tuesday, Blinken said he would share what he had heard from regional countries during a day of meetings with Israel's government, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Reuters reported.

Blinken's agenda for his fifth Israel visit in three months includes discussing the next phase of Israel's military campaign and pressing on the protection of civilians, according to the US Department of State. 

But Chinese observers have low expectations that Blinken's trip can help alleviate the tension, as Israel shows no signs of softening its military assertiveness while the US eyes a diplomatic posture rather than real mediation. 

Since Friday, Blinken has visited countries including Turkey, Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. During the trip, he repeated multiple times the urgency of de-escalating the tension and discussed plans for the future governance of Gaza. 

On Monday, Blinken said Palestinians "must not be pressed to leave Gaza" and he criticized "irresponsible" comments by some Israel ministers calling for people's resettlement outside the enclave, media reported.

Yet US calls may only get symbolic resonation from Israel as the two close allies are diverging wider and wider on Gaza and Middle East issues, Zhu Yongbiao, executive director of the Research Center for the Belt and Road at Lanzhou University, told the Global Times on Tuesday. 

Israeli officials said the strikes in Gaza have entered a new phase of more targeted warfare, but there was no respite in the fighting on Monday, Reuters reported. "The fighting will continue through 2024," said Daniel Hagari, an Israeli military spokesperson, Reuters reported. 

Sun Degang, director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Fudan University, told the Global Times that Israel aims to use its recent victories as leverage to address security concerns in the north and potentially extend its military achievements. 

The US has to deal with the presidential election this year and does not want the Middle East to take up too much of its attention from its competition with China and Russia, Sun said. 

Zhu pointed out that under the US' guideline of withdrawing from the Middle East, Blinken's trip aims to display the US' diplomatic presence and fulfillment of responsibilities as Israel's ally rather than play a constructive role in mediation. 

Therefore the US and Israel could showcase they have reached some consensus on non-significant topics, but that consensus can hardly have meaningful impact on the overall conflicts raging in the region, Zhu said. 

In the latest sign that the war may be spreading, Israel killed a top commander of Hamas' ally Hezbollah in south Lebanon on Monday. It came after an attack in Beirut last week which killed Hamas leader Saleh al-Arouri, for which Israel did not claim responsibility, according to CNN. 

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant warned on Monday that if Hezbollah is not deterred, Israel can "copy-paste" the Gaza war to Beirut. Gallant told media that his country was determined to end Hamas' rule of Gaza and deter other Iran-backed adversaries, Reuters reported. 

Hezbollah has vowed revenge, and analysts believe there will be more rocket launches, but a "large-scale retaliatory assault" is unlikely as it is beyond regional forces' capacity and will.

However, the possibility cannot be ruled out that there might be actions internationalizing the consequences of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, such as Houthi attacks on vessels in the Red Sea, Zhu said. 

Caixin services PMI reaches 52.9 in December, demonstrating strong rebound across China's sevice sector

The Caixin services purchasing managers' index (PMI), a private gauge of the country's service sector, rose to 52.9 in December, increasing 1.4 percentage points over the previous month and hitting the highest level in the past five months, according to a private survey released on Thursday.

The index for service activity remains above the expansion-contraction line for consecutive 12 months in 2023, indicating the continuous rebound of the country's service sector, according to the Caixin report.

"It signaled the country's service sector has strong and improved growth momentum at the end of 2023, as the PMI readings have kept going up over time ," read the report, noting that both services supply and demand expanded, as the market continued to recover. The gauges for business activity and total new orders have seen a considerable growth in the past six months.

Meanwhile, companies and entrepreneurs expressed greater optimism over the year-ahead outlook. Employment has also ticked up, the first recorded improvement in past three months, though some firms have maintained cautious approach to hiring.

China’s top anti-graft body to intensify scrutiny in finance, SOEs, healthcare, and more fields

The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the National Commission of Supervision (NCS), the country’s top anti-graft body, has pledged to intensify scrutiny in areas including finance, state-owned enterprises (SOEs), healthcare, grain procurement and sale, rural revitalization, tobacco, sports, statistics and more.

Special efforts will be carried out to tackle industrial, systemic and regional corruption cases, and effectively prevent and defuse systemic risks, according to an article released on the CCDI and NCS’ website on Monday.

The article highlighted that in order to decisively win the protracted and tough battle against corruption, it is imperative to consistently maintain a “high-pressure stance” and never relent in the determination to punish wrongdoing.

According to a five-year work plan of the Central Anti-Corruption Coordination Group from 2023 to 2027, the anti-corruption work will be further expanded to the primary level, with harsh punishments for misconduct including embezzlement, illegal possession and misappropriation, as well as ways to solicit bribes.

A total of 405,000 officials at all levels were punished over the first nine months of 2023, of whom 34 of were senior officials at provincial or ministerial levels, per data from the CCDI and NCS.

In recent years, the financial sector has been a focal point for anti-corruption efforts. In 2023, at least 101 individuals in the financial field were put under investigation, according to media reports.

Notably, the list includes senior officials like Liu Liange, former Party chief and president of the Bank of China, Zhou Qingyu, a former vice president of China Development Bank, and Li Xiaopeng, former Party chief and chairman of China Everbright Group.

Out of the 101 individuals under investigation, 74 are from the banking sector, 12 from regulatory authorities, seven from insurance institutions, two from financial groups, one from a securities institution, and five from other financial organizations, domestic news site Thepaper.cn reported.

The high-intensity anti-corruption campaign continues into the beginning of 2024, with the latest busted case involving Wang Yongsheng, former deputy president of China Development Bank, who was expelled from the CPC for severe violations of Party discipline and the law, the country's top anti-graft body said on Friday.

JN.1 will bring more COVID-19 infections, but won't seriously worsen current situation: experts

The latest COVID-19 variant JN.1 is spreading around the world, leading to growing concerns in Chinese society, following a recent severe wave of respiratory infections. Chinese experts estimate that the variant will cause more infections in the near future, but it is not likely to seriously worsen the current situation.

Named JN.1, this variant was first identified in Luxembourg, before spreading to the UK, Iceland, France, and the US.

By the end of October, JN.1 made up less than 0.1 percent of SARS-CoV-2 viruses circulating in the US. But as of December 8, 2023, the ratio climbed to 15-29 percent, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The US estimated that COVID-19 infections are likely to increase in the next month.

Data in the UK also suggested that the variant is spreading more than every other known strain, making up one in 13 cases in England last month.

The JN.1 variant is part of the BA.2.86 variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, with an additional L455S mutation in the RBD region. Early studies have shown that BA.2.86 has similar immune escape capabilities as the XBB variants. However, recent research has found that the L455S mutation in the JN.1 variant further enhances its immune evasion ability, allowing it to partially escape the humoral immune response induced by XBB.1.5 breakthrough infections, Lu Hongzhou, head of the Third People's Hospital of Shenzhen, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

According to current research, BA.2.86, first identified in August 2023, carries more than 30 mutations in the spike (S) protein compared to the XBB and BA.2 variants, indicating high potential for immune evasion.

Another name of JN.1 is BA. and there is only a single change between JN.1 and BA.2.86 in the spike protein, according to current research.

A recent study by Japanese scientists published on bioRxiv on December 8 evaluated the virological characteristics of the omicron subvariant JN.1, which shows robust immune evasion ability compared to other variants. This could be due to the acquisition of the L455S mutation in the spike protein. The study noted that JN.1 has the ability to become a dominant variant worldwide in the future.

But so far, there is no evidence that JN.1 presents an increased risk to public health compared to other variants, according to the US CDC.

Currently, the XBB variant of COVID-19 is still the main strain of the local infections in China. Many clinical doctors told the media that they had witnessed an increase in COVID-19 infections recently and they predicted this wave of infections will last till late January 2024 with mortality and severe illness rates likely to increase.

"Since December last year, SARS-CoV-2 has been co-circulating with other respiratory pathogens in China, leading to many domestic residents in the country having experienced two or even three infections. Existing research data indicates that such infection experiences can generate strong and broad-spectrum neutralizing antibodies against different subvariants of Omicron. Furthermore, although JN.1 has increased immune escape ability, there is currently no evidence to suggest an increase in the pathogenicity of the JN.1 variant," Lu explained.

"Therefore, we speculate that the future prevalence of JN.1 in our country may temporarily increase the number of COVID-19 patients and burden hospitals, but it will not significantly worsen the ongoing respiratory disease outbreaks," he said.

Lu reiterated the necessity of vaccination as it is an effective method to improve the speed and intensity of antibody production, providing better protection for the body.

Authorities in multiple cities across China such as Shanghai and Tianjin have sent notices to advise local residents to take COVID-19 vaccines targeting the XBB variant, urging eligible individuals to get the vaccine in a timely manner to enhance their protection against the virus.