How the birth of a solid NPC motion reflects the progress and value of whole-process people’s democracy

Editor's Note:

China's widely watched annual "two sessions" kicked off on Monday this year. The "two sessions" refers to the annual sessions of National People's Congress (NPC) and the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), which are known as the country's top legislature and national political advisory body respectively.

The two sessions is a grand occasion that gathers ideas and wisdom of people of all walks of life across the country. It is an important opportunity for the world to better understand China's whole-process people's democracy, in which the people engage in democratic elections, consultations, decision-making, management, and oversight according to the law. Such democracy is not only shown in the votes taking place at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, but also embodied in a motion submitted by a NPC deputy coming from a remote area, or a consultative meeting held among some residents living in a city suburb. It can be felt in many details of Chinese people's daily life.

During this year's two sessions, the Global Times is launching a series of stories to illustrate the whole-process people's democracy from some of such details. The second story is about the birth of a well researched, high-demand NPC motion, which shows that China's NPC deputies exercise the right to respond to the real voices of the people and demonstrate the process and values of people's democracy.

As the high-speed train zoomed from Beidaihe in North China's Hebei Province to Beijing on Sunday, Li Dandan, residents' committee director of Dongjing Road Community in Beidaihe district of Qinhuangdao, was carefully reviewing the motions she was going to put forward at this year's two sessions.

She knew that she carried the hopes of the elderly residents in her community, the valuable input from nursing home staff, and the aspirations of other community workers like her across the nation.

As the train raced toward the capital, with a solid and practical motion, Li, a deputy to the NPC from Qinhuangdao, is determined to make a difference for those people she represents.

A motion of actual demand

"Work hard and present confidently when you get to Beijing!" On March 1, 86-year-old Sun Xiujuan, a resident of Li's precinct, shared her genuine concern for Li in a warm and casual manner at her home.

Watching the news about the upcoming NPC, Sun knew that Li, who she treats as a granddaughter, was about to set off on a new journey.

During their conversation, Li updated Sun on various community matters: "The elderly canteen was closed for the Spring Festival holidays, but will reopen soon. I have made sure that the menu plan will be shared in our WeChat group before reopening."

"On March 5 we will be hosting a free clinic event in our community offering services like massages, blood pressure checks for the elderly. If you're interested, just sign up through the 'Fuka (Card of good fortune in English) applet' on WeChat, our community workers will take you there," Li explained earnestly.

With a large number of elderly residents in the Dongjing Road community, where 36 percent of them are over the age of 60, Li has always prioritized providing services for them in her community work.

In 2023, Li was elected as a deputy to the 14th NPC. Throughout the year, she visited households, engaged in discussions, and had heart-to-heart talks with elderly residents to enhance community elderly care services.

This year, Li decided to bring two motions to Beijing, one of which is about the optimization of the construction of smart elderly care application platform. "The progress of the era and our country demands a shift toward intelligent elderly care services," Li told the Global Times.

According to the seventh national census released by the National Bureau of Statistics of China in May 2021, in 2020, the population aged 60 or above in China reached 260 million, accounting for 18.7 percent of the total population, of which 190 million were aged 65 or above, accounting for 13.5 percent of the total population.

In 2021, China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, the Ministry of Civil Affairs, and the National Health Commission jointly released a statement, which required that by 2025, the scientific and technological support capacity of the smart elderly care industry will be significantly enhanced, highlighted the importance of narrowing the "digital divide" for the elderly and improving their overall well-being through technological advancements.

In Beidaihe district, Li has been involved in the pilot work of smart elderly care applications, introducing innovative services through the "Beidaihe Fuka Smart Platform" mobile app. Serving over 40,000 people, the platform offers a wide range of intelligent services, making it easier for individuals to access essential services from the comfort of their homes.

Through these exploration, Li learned the importance and the prospect of using smart technology to analyze and monitor the body index of the elderly in real-time, providing more effective and precise home services, especially for those living alone.

"As an NPC deputy, based on the fruitful practice of our district, Hebei Province, and even the whole country, I want to further enhance the grass-roots smart elderly care application platform, addressing challenges faced by the elderly and ensuring that the technology serves its intended purpose effectively,"Li said.

An idea based on practice

On the eve of the two sessions, Li is still busy in her visits with community residents and representatives from elderly health institutions.

This is not just a last-minute effort for her.

"I hope to gain inspiration from the latest interactions and see how I can further enhance my motions," she expressed passionately.

For Li, being an NPC deputy is a continuous process of learning and growth. "Ideas don't just appear out of nowhere, they are shaped by what we observe, hear and contemplate in our daily work."

Reflecting on her journey, Li recalled that a year ago, she had never imagined that she would submit a motion on the development of a smart elderly care application platform.

A visit to a smart elderly care community in Chengdu, Southwest China's Sichuan Province last year planted a seed in her heart. "The modern facilities and innovative elderly care services left a deep impression on me. Subsequently, I participated in a training course, where I gained more insights on the elderly care services, particularly in the realm of smart elderly care platform development."

Li observed that in recent years, elderly care services have expanded to residential areas across China. Initiatives such as community canteens, improved rehabilitation equipment leasing, elderly-friendly home renovations, and volunteer's help like home bathing assistance, health check-ups, have been introduced.

However, through her interactions and research, Li found that there are some problems with using smart technology to care for elderly people. For example, the number of the elderly who uses the platform is relatively small; there is a shortage in the financial support for the development and maintenance of the mobile apps; and there is a lack of instructions to the group from professional personnel.

"This year, with this motion, I aim to address the obstacles faced by the elderly in utilizing smart applications, enabling the true potential of technology to benefit them," Li emphasized.

At the end of last year, Li participated in the sessions of Hebei Provincial People's Congress, focusing on elderly care issues. She engaged in fruitful discussions with provincial NPC deputies on smart elderly care, consolidating their ideas into a comprehensive reference for her motion.

Before leaving for Beijing, Li also visited the local commercial elderly nursing institutions in Beidaihe again, in order to collect more information to perfect her motion.

During this visit, Li met Shang Wenbin, deputy director of the Yanshanhui Health Care Center of China Health And Elderly Care Group, and had extensive discussions with Shang on how to establish a smart elderly care platform so that companies can contribute more to the government's efforts in promoting inclusive elderly care service.

In an interview with the Global Times, Shang shared that through interactions with NPC deputies at various levels, he recognized the significance of the smart elderly care service industry as not just a reform initiative, but a vital livelihood project linked to local economic and social progress.
A fare forth of confidence

A pen and a notebook are always by Li's side in her car, serving as her faithful companions for her duties as an NPC deputy.

This notebook has traveled with Li to countless places over the past year, witnessing her diligent note-taking during visits to residents' homes and attendance at various training and sharing sessions.

What truly inspires Li are the stories shared by experienced NPC deputies.

"One of the deputies who has been re-elected for decades is my role model," Li shared with enthusiasm. "She started as a rural woman with little political knowledge, but her honest and practical motions that truly reflected the voice from grass-roots farmers have made a significant impact on national policies in agricultural field. I aspire to follow in her footsteps."

This year, during her time in Beijing for the two sessions, Li plans to seek advice from veteran deputies, present her ideas and carefully study their feedback.

Her dedication paid off when her motion on improving the lease contract of rehabilitation aids for the disabled was well received at the two sessions 2023, earning praise from the China's Ministry of Finance.

"After sharing the good news with a disabled elderly couple in our community, seeing their tears of joy was truly heartwarming," Li recounted.

"As an NPC deputy, I have come to realize the power of advocating for the voices and needs of our residents," she noted.

"For me, putting forward a high-quality motion is to reflect the most authentic voice and needs of our residents to the central government. When the motion receives feedback from the central government and is put into practice, I felt it is a 'two-way efforts' between the government and the people," Li said.

According to official data, during the two sessions in 2023, deputies performed their duties in accordance with the law and put forward 8,314 motions. These motions have been fully processed and replied by 204 agents as of December 2023. Among them, the deputies adhered to the practice of whole-process people's democracy, maintained close ties with the people, and put forward an increasing motions on the basis of research, inspections, discussions, and visits.

As Li bid farewell to Sun, she left with a promise: "I will work tirelessly in Beijing and return to share my accomplishments with you."

Now in Beijing, with unwavering determination in her heart, Li is eagerly anticipating another wave of positive feedback that will truly impact the lives of those she tirelessly represents.

China's animal food scandal exposes industry malpractices, calling for stringent regulations

In China, an increasing number of people are enjoying the companionship of pets and treating them as part of the family.

Against the backdrop of rapid development in the pet economy, China's pet food market has experienced explosive growth. However, as the market expands, issues with product quality have emerged.

Recently, a series of news reports have uncovered that some pet food manufacturers, in pursuit of higher profits, resort to using low-quality ingredients for dog, and even falsely label nutritional content, misleading consumers.

In March, a scandal involving "toxic dog food" from Xingtai in North China's Hebei Province, the largest dog food production cluster in China, came to light, causing panic among pet owners across China.

This incident exposed the dark underbelly of the industry and the lack of effective regulation. Some unscrupulous companies have been found falsifying the nutritional content and ingredients of their products, such as overstating the chicken content while using cheaper chicken meal as a substitute.

Worse still, to mask the risks of inferior ingredients, some manufacturers excessively add montmorillonite to pet food, which could severely impact pet health over time.

Given the ineffective enforcement of industry standards, pet owners often find themselves in a battle of wits with unscrupulous manufacturers to ensure the dietary safety of their pets.

With the pet market continuing to grow, there is an urgent need to improve industry standards and strengthen regulation. The question of how to expose the chaos in the industry, attract attention from all sectors of society, and drive the pet food industry toward a healthier and more transparent direction is now a major concern, analysts pointed out.

'Toxic' pet food

In Xingtai's Nanhe district, recognized as the nation's largest pet food production base with an annual output of over 1.3 million tons, accounting for 60 percent of China's market share, the practice of "using the worst materials for the most expensive feed" was once an unwritten industry rule.

Investigations have revealed that some manufacturers produced pet food with inferior materials for higher profits, even mixing stone and feather meal into their products, as reported by the China National Radio (CNR).

Following the exposure, the Hebei Provincial Department of Agriculture and Rural Affairs responded by investigating the involved companies and taking samples for testing. An official from the Nanhe district agricultural department told the Global Times that the pet food industry is a key development focus for the region, and the scandal has had a significant impact.

A pet food manufacturer in Xingtai confirmed to the Global Times that recent inspections by relevant departments have been strict. He said that dog food purchases are now reliable.

On the sales page of a manufacturer selling pet food on 1688, Alibaba's B2B trading platform, the cheapest dog and cat food from Xingtai sells for less than 10 yuan ($1.43) per kilogram, with different products claiming to cater to puppies, small, medium, or large dogs, and containing various ingredients like beef, fruits and vegetables.

Despite many pet food companies claiming to offer high-quality customized dog and cat food, actual product quality remains poor, with nutritional values often misrepresented. An investigation published by the CNR into a company that outsources dog food production found significant discrepancies between claimed and actual protein content.

Additionally, the use of montmorillonite to absorb toxins has been excessive in "toxic" dog food, reaching about 5 percent when only 0.2 percent is necessary. Overuse of such substances and flavor enhancers to mask the taste of poor-quality feed can have detrimental effects on pet health, according to media reports.

Pet owners vs manufacturers
Xin Rui heard of "toxic dog food" for the first time when she adopted a dog from a stray dog shelter in Beijing.

She bought some dog food and dog snacks on the e-commerce platform Tmall the day the dog shelter owner sent the dog to her home.

"Toxic dog food," the stray dog shelter owner said disdainfully with a sideways glance at the bags of dog food casually lying in the living room.

"Honestly, I totally had no idea what she meant when she said the word 'toxic dog food.' I mean, I trust in Tmall supermarket and have bought many things, including food and snacks for myself on the platform. I carefully selected those products to welcome the dog. I did not understand why she said so. I felt so confused," Xin told the Global Times.

Xin bought another bag of dog food from the shelter owner as she recommended in consideration to help the dog get used to its new home sooner. It did not take a long time for Xin to tell the differences between these products. It took a few days for the dog to get used to the food recommended by the stray dog base owner. But the dog entirely refused to eat the food bought on Tmall, even when Xin mixed it with canned meat.

"Dogs are smart. They are helping owners to select safe food," Xin said.

She tried four brands of dog food in the nearly two years after adopting the dog. "I do not trust the base owner as she did not tell me where she got the food. Her price is much lower than that in official stores, making me suspicious about the quality and authenticity of the food," Xin said.

Now Xin buys food from a pet shop near her home. "The employees at the shop can provide official pet nutritionist certificates and they treat pets very nicely, so I choose to trust them. I hope they do not disappoint me," she said.

Actually, Xingtai's case is not unique, and Xin's worry is not unprovoked either.

Many pet owners have taken to social media platforms complaining that their dogs died or got seriously sick, for example by getting pancreatitis, after eating cheap food bought from online channels. Some of the cheap foods were revealed to have had dust and saw powder mixed in.

Even well-known pet food brands are not always trustworthy.

In April 2022, a pet owner in Hangzhou, East China's Zhejiang Province, reported that his cats were poisoned after consuming Singen cat food, with one of them dying. After seeking information online, he discovered that many other families had encountered similar issues. Statistics gathered from 90 individuals revealed similar issues happened with 239 cats, resulting death of 95 cats, reported the Jiemian News.

Singen, founded in the island of Taiwan, claims to have a 50-year history of production. The company's business scope includes the production of veterinary drugs, feed, and feed additives.

Besides the issue of manufacturers falsifying their own products, there have been instances of factories producing counterfeit pet food of major brands.

On March 21, Shanghai-based Observer News reported that the local police department, after thorough investigations, dismantled three dark factories in Central China's Hunan Province and South China's Guangdong Province involved in manufacturing and selling counterfeit cat food of a certain brand.

According to a report on pet market consumption released by e-commerce platform in late 2023, the number of pet-owning households in China exceeded 100 million in 2023, increasing from 98 million in 2022 to 105.65 million. Among them, the number of pet dogs in 2023 was 51.75 million, a 1.1 percent increase from 2022.

"For China, there is a great potential for the improvement and development of the pet industry. With the improvement of residents' income levels and quality of life, the concept of pet ownership is gradually shifting from guarding the home to emotional companionship. It is expected that in the next 10 years, China will become the world's largest pet market," said Qin Yuchang, president of the pet food branch of the China Feed Industry Association.

Regulating the industry

According to Qin, China's pet industry already reached over 490 billion yuan in 2020, becoming the third-largest service market after Europe and the US. The market size is estimated to reach 800 billion yuan by 2025.

In addition, there has been a significant increase in demand for imported pet feed, with over 600 pet feed import registration certificates issued by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs in 2021, a 7.3-fold increase from 2016.

However, compared with the rapidly growing industry, there is still a significant gap in the standards of pet feed in China, which seriously slows the industry's development needs, especially in the standards for pet food additives, with only over 100 of the more than 400 additives having been standardized.

"Some companies' pet food cannot meet the nutritional requirements for young animals, as reflected in the high failure rates of water-soluble chlorides, total calcium, and total phosphorus content. The quality control of animal-derived raw materials, such as meat meal, by companies is insufficient," said Fan Xia, executive deputy director of the National Feed Quality Inspection and Testing Center in Beijing.

In 2018, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs of China issued the "Regulations on the Management of Pet Feed," establishing a standardized management system and placing the pet feed industry onto a path of standardized development.

The vast majority of pet feed products have already achieved production certification, but from the market response, there are still some cases of substandard production and production without certification in the production process. It is necessary to increase the publicity and implementation of regulations, and companies must carry out production and operation in accordance with the law and regulations, experts said.

Moreover, many pet feed operators, especially e-commerce and cross-border e-commerce platforms on the internet, have not strictly controlled the quality and safety of their products, leading to the influx of products of varying quality into the market. This requires the strengthening of the supervision of the pet feed industry, continuously improving inspection and testing technology, optimizing the regulatory system. Companies must strictly adhere to the bottom line of quality and safety, experts pointed out.

At the same time, enterprises and operators who violate relevant laws and regulations must be resolutely ordered to rectify, and those who cause serious injury will be held accountable, in order to effectively create a healthy dog food market, Qin stressed.

The new government looks to enhance cooperation with China: Argentine FM

The new Argentine government is looking to cooperate with China, Argentine Foreign Minister Diana Mondino told the Global Times in an exclusive interview on Monday.

She also said that the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is very important for Argentina, and the Argentine government will continue to maintain an open attitude toward foreign investment, including from China.

From April 27 to May 1, Argentina's Minister of Foreign Affairs, International Trade and Worship of Argentina, Mondino, visited China. This visit marked the first visit to China by Mondino since the current government took office, and it coincided with the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the comprehensive strategic partnership between China and Argentina. 

China looks forward to further enhancing political mutual trust and opening up broader prospects for mutually beneficial cooperation through this visit, continuously enriching the content of the comprehensive strategic partnership between China and Argentina, and helping both countries achieve common prosperity and development, according to media reports.

Mondino told the Global Times that her visit to China is expected to enhance friendship with China and strengthen links in the economy, politics, diplomacy, and business.

Accompanying her on her visit to China were the President of the Central Bank of Argentina, the Vice Minister of Economy, and representatives from more than 20 Argentine companies, all of whom engaged in dialogues with Chinese partners. 

She said that a series of meetings and agendas in China have been very successful. "Everybody is trying to foster these very good relations," she said.

According to Mondino, during this visit, she and her colleagues explained to China the economic and social changes Argentina is undergoing, as well as some measures taken by the new government over the last four months. 

She stressed that Argentina is trying to further open up to foreign investment and the economy, while reducing inflation and the fiscal deficit. 

She said that China is very cautious in its monetary policy and has been very successful in its openness to the outside world. Argentina hopes to continue to be China's trading partner and an investment destination, and the new government will seek deeper cooperation with China.

"The cooperation between Argentina and China is very good, very fast, and very expeditious," she said.

She also noted to the Global Times that Argentina's participation in the BRI is "really very important" for the country.

Argentina has a huge demand for infrastructure construction. In addition, there is potential for both countries to further strengthen cooperation in agriculture, and in the  mining of minerals such as lithium, and in energy. She said that Chinese investments will receive fair and equal treatment in Argentina.

According to public information, China is currently Argentina's second-largest trading partner, accounting for 13.8 percent of Argentina's total foreign trade. China is also Argentina's third-largest export market and second-largest source of imports, accounting for 8 percent of Argentina's total exports and 19 percent of total imports. Chinese direct investment in Argentina is mainly concentrated in three major areas: infrastructure, energy, and the new energy industry.

During the interview, Mondino denied claims that "China-Argentina relations are at their worst historical time." 

"Maybe (those people) do not understand Spanish," she jokingly told the Global Times. She mentioned that the bilateral trade volume between China and Argentina may have temporarily declined, mainly due to Argentina experiencing a severe drought, which has led to crop yields reduction and, consequently, exports to China. 

However, overall, there are no issues in China-Argentina relations. "You should not believe everything you read."

The Argentine diplomat also stressed that Argentina has always firmly adhered to the one-China policy, and the new government will continue to uphold this policy.

China's largest offshore solar farm starts construction in Jiangsu Province

China's largest offshore solar farm officially commenced construction at Haibin harbor in Lianyungang city, East China's Jiangsu Province on Sunday, China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) said, setting another milestone in the country's intensifying green transformation in aligning with its carbon neutrality goal by 2060.

With a total investment of 9.88 billion yuan ($1.39 billion), the 2-million-kilowatt photovoltaic demonstration farm is expected to save around 680,000 tons of standard coal and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 1.77 million tons annually once completed, according to the CNNC.

Experts said that more offshore solar farms will be launched in bolstering clean and renewable ne- energy generation, which is needed by regional economic development in the country's major coastline provinces.

This project built by CNNC, one of the country's largest nuclear power operators, is so far the largest three-dimensional layered sea-based project in China, with an approved sea area of around 28,000 mu (1,868 hectares). 

The project is located in the warm water sea area already earmarked by the Tianwan Nuclear Power Plant in Lianyungang. While an area of the water is utilized for the nuclear power plant's warm water discharge, the sea area above it is designated for offshore photovoltaic construction. This design represents a cohesive and integrated use of marine resources.

The 2-million-kilowatt tidal flat photovoltaic project is divided into two parts, both offshore and onshore. The offshore section comprises the photovoltaic power generation, with the generated electricity transmitted to the onshore step-up substation via an overhead corridor bridge and integrated into the national grid after voltage adjustment. Simultaneously, onshore energy storage stations are being constructed as complementary facilities. 

Currently, the onshore energy storage project has entered its final construction phase and is expected to be completed and operational by the end of June.

The project serves as an important demonstration for offshore solar power generation, Lin Boqiang, director of the China Center for Energy Economics Research at Xiamen University, told the Global Times on Sunday.

The project's key advantage lies in its proximity to the market where electricity demand is significant, Lin said.

"Given that the southeastern coastal areas are among China's fastest-developing regions with high electricity demand, the potential for offshore solar farms remains substantial," Lin noted.

China has a high demand for solar power, but the persistent reliance on coal is primarily due to the insufficient contribution by new energy sources, including solar, the expert said, noting that solar and wind power combined now accounts for 15 percent of the entire power generation structure.

In 2023, China's newly installed photovoltaic capacity reached 216.88 gigawatts, a year-on-year increase of 148.1 percent, according to the China Photovoltaic Industry Association, indicating further growth in demand for clean and renewable new energy.

China implements visa-free entry for foreign tourist groups on cruise ships

China's National Immigration Administration announced on Wednesday the full implementation of a visa exemption policy for foreign tourist groups entering China on cruise ships from the country's coastal provinces and cities. The policy will take immediate effect.

This decision was made through consultation and coordination among the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the National Development and Reform Commission, the Ministry of Transport, the Ministry of Commerce, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, and the General Administration of Customs, and approved by the State Council, China's cabinet.

Starting from Wednesday, foreign tourist groups (consisting of two or more people) traveling by cruise ship and organized by domestic travel agencies can enter Chinese mainland without a visa as a whole group through the designated ports in 13 cities including Tianjin, Dalian in Northeast China's Liaoning Province, Shanghai, Lianyungang in East China's Jiangsu Province, Wenzhou and Zhoushan in East China's Zhejiang Province, Xiamen in East China's Fujian Province, Qingdao in East China's Shandong Province, Guangzhou and Shenzhen in South China's Guangdong Province, Beihai in South China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Haikou and Sanya in South China's Hainan Province, said the National Immigration Administration at a press conference on Wednesday.

Tourist groups ought to accompany the same cruise ship to the next port until the cruise ship leaves China, and their stay in China cannot exceed 15 days, with activities limited to the coastal provinces and Beijing, the administration said.

In order to support the development of cruise tourism, seven new cruise ports including Dalian, Lianyungang, Wenzhou, Zhoushan, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and Beihai were added to the list of ports eligible for China's transit visa exemption policy, facilitating transit for overseas passengers traveling by cruise.

China's steel sector embraces industrial upgrade for high-quality development amid challenges

China's steel sector, an important gauge of the national economy, is advancing toward high-quality development by optimizing its product structure, as reported by the China Iron and Steel Association (CISA) during a press conference addressing the first-quarter industry operation report.

Specifically, the proportion of high-end manufacturing steel, including automobiles, household appliances, and photovoltaics, increased from the 42 percent in 2020 to 48 percent in 2023, and has maintained a further upward trend since the beginning of 2024, according to the CISA.

The positive trend reflects a significant acceleration in the restructuring of the steel industry's operating structure, industry insiders noted.

Meanwhile, businesses are contending with multiple hurdles, including diminished market demand, declining steel prices, and escalating iron ore expenses. External factors, such as heightened scrutiny targeting the Chinese steel industry overseas, compound the profitability challenges faced by enterprises, the Global Times learned from the industry body.

Speaking at Tuesday's press conference, Jiang Wei, vice chairman and secretary general of the CISA, said that China's steel industry is embracing high-quality development which have borne positive results so far.

The optimization of steel-related product structures is accelerating in response to ever-growing demand from burgeoning industries such as car manufacturing, shipbuilding, home appliance production, as well as the wind and solar power sectors.

The production upgrade is reflected in the corresponding export volume. In the first quarter, China's high value-added product exports accounted for more than 35 percent, Jiang said.

Efforts are underway to enhance intelligence in steel production and management within the industry. According to a report by the CISA, surveyed companies have invested approximately 38.5 yuan per ton of steel in digital and intelligent transformation initiatives so far this year. This represents a notable year-on-year increase of 23.9 percent.

There were 40 percent of surveyed companies applying 3D visual simulation technology in their main production lines, another reflection of the industry digitalization and upgrade, according to the CISA.

In addition, domestic steel companies are actively pursuing green transformation,  another key element of high-quality development. As of April 23, 2024, a total of 136 companies had either completed or partially completed ultra-low emission transformations and undergone assessment monitoring.

Challenges persist in China's steel industry, primarily stemming from a significant structural imbalance between market supply and demand. Difficulties also include declining steel prices and high iron ore prices, according to the CISA.

In the first quarter, the national crude steel production came to 257 million tons, a year-on-year decrease of 1.9 percent. Meanwhile, nationwide consumption of crude steel was 232 million tons, a decrease of 4.7 percent year-on-year, indicating a surplus in steel supply over demand.

National steel exports reached 25.8 million tons in the first quarter, marking a year-on-year increase of 30.7 percent, while the average export price stood at $789 per ton, reflecting a decline of 33.4 percent year-on-year, suggesting thinner profit margins for companies despite strong demand overseas.

Meanwhile, the high price of iron ore, a key raw material for steelmaking, remained elevated, serving as another factor affecting company profits. The primary cause behind this is the lack of bargaining power in international pricing negotiations, Shi Hongwei, deputy secretary general of the CISA, said on Tuesday.

Inventories of domestic steel companies were also on the rise. As of mid-March, key steel enterprises reported steel inventory levels of 19.53 million tons, the highest level since the beginning of this year and the highest level in nearly four years, trailing only the 21.41 million tons during the 2020 pandemic period, according to the CISA.

The high inventory reflects the juxtaposition of weak market demand with strong market expectations for the economy, which have supported stockpiling.

Looking ahead, China's steel industry remains optimistic despite certain and temporary challenges.

Despite the challenges, the steel industry's structure is continually optimizing in pursuit of high-quality development, as industry insiders said, with manufacturing figures being a reflection.

In April, China's Manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index stood at 50.4 percent, down 0.4 percent from the previous month, remaining in the expansionary zone for two consecutive months. This indicates the continued recovery and development momentum of the manufacturing industry, according to data released by the National Bureau of Statistics Service Industry Survey Center on Tuesday.

As China further ramps up its investment in new energy and the development of infrastructure, which are major consumers of steel, and implements policies promoting the trade-in or the replacement of old equipment with new, there will be a boost in steel demand, industry insiders said.

French businesses upbeat on China market

French businesses have expressed growing confidence in investment in the China market, as a state visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to France is set to strengthen bilateral ties and economic and trade cooperation. 

French direct investment in China has been skyrocketing in recent months, highlighting the great attractiveness of the China market among French companies amid China's steady opening-up measures, experts said. 

The state visit will bolster the confidence of both Chinese and French businesses to pursue win-win cooperation, they noted. 

"President Xi's visit to France reinforces the potential for the two countries to open up a new future of collaboration on the 60th anniversary of bilateral diplomatic ties," Paul Hudson, CEO of Sanofi, a French multinational pharmaceutical and healthcare company, told the Global Times. "The two countries have opportunities to strengthen their bilateral relationship while also further collaborating to address global topics."

Hudson said that the company has seen a great expansion in the China market over the past several decades and will continue to expand in China, amid growing potential and the improving business environment. 

"As one of the first multinational companies to enter China since its reform and opening-up more than 40 years ago, our footprint has grown significantly over the years as a result of openness and collaboration between our two countries," Hudson said.

"China staying focused on high-level opening-up and actively improving the environment for foreign investment incentivizes pharmaceutical innovation for patients in China and beyond."

Sanofi is hardly alone in expanding in the China market. In 2023, France was one of the fastest-growing sources of direct investment in China, with direct investment surging 77 percent year-on-year to $1.34 billion, according to China's Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM). 

L'Oreal Chairman Jean-Paul Agon also said that the company remains committed to the China market.

"I can assure you that we are more determined than ever to contribute, together, to the mutual development of our two countries. To this end, I believe it is essential to reiterate the imperative need for an ongoing dialogue between us," Agon said.

That trend has only intensified this year, with French direct investment in China surging 585.8 percent year-on-year in the first two months of this year, data from the MOFCOM showed.

A survey of French companies in China conducted by the French Chamber of Commerce and Industry in China in 2023 showed that members' willingness to operate in China over the coming three years had increased, with 47 percent saying they planned to further invest in the Chinese market. 

French companies are interested in cooperation with Chinese companies in a wide range of areas including pharmaceuticals and clean energy. During the fifth meeting of the China-France Business Council in April 2023, 36 Chinese and French businesses signed 18 cooperation agreements in the areas of green energy, innovation, aerospace and new energy.

"In China specifically, we are bolstering local innovation and investment by prioritizing early-stage [research and development], involving China in 90 percent of our global simultaneous projects," Hudson said. 

The growing commitment of French companies to the China market is mainly due to China's continuous opening-up measures, efforts to improve the business environment for foreign companies, as well as China's steady economic recovery and its vast market potential, experts noted. 

Cui Hongjian, a professor at the Academy of Regional and Global Governance at Beijing Foreign Studies University, said that the state visit will send a clear signal to French and European businesses that China remains committed to continuous opening-up in an all-round way. 

"This will further strengthen the confidence of French businesses and investors in the China market," Cui told the Global Times on Monday, noting that remarkable growth in French direct investment in China in recent months has already showed growing confidence in China.  

Update: Baidu faces intense PR backlash following controversial comments by its PR chief on social media

Baidu's vice president and head of its public relations department Qu Jing, whose remarks on her personal social media account provoked an uproar from the public, has left the company, the Economic View reported on Thursday, citing an insider familiar with the incident from the company. Information from the company's email system also shows her departure from her position.

Chinese search engine giant Baidu has unexpectedly found itself in a public relations crisis stemming from recent comments made by its head of public relations.

Qu Jing, Baidu's vice president and head of the public relations department, created a personal account on Douyin, Chinese version of TikTok, during the May Day holidays and posted four videos. In the first video, she criticized employees who refused to go on long business trips, stating she had "no obligation to know if employees are crying," and no obligation to "consider employees' families, as I'm not your mother." "If you are not satisfied with your job, you can resign. I will approve it immediately," she said.

Qu later apologized for the controversy caused by her personal short video recently. "I have carefully read all the opinions and comments from various platforms, and many criticisms are very pertinent. I deeply reflect on and humbly accept them," Qu said in a WeChat post seen by the Global Times.

She said that the videos did not represent the company's stance and apologized for any misunderstandings they may have caused. Her original idea was to do her job well, but she admitted that she was too hasty and using inappropriate methods.

"Before posting the short videos, I didn't seek the company's opinion in advance, which doesn't comply with the relevant procedures and doesn't represent the company's position. I clarify and apologize. There were many inappropriate and unsuitable points in the videos, which led to misunderstandings about the company's values and corporate culture, causing serious harm," Qu said.

"If you work in public relations, don't expect weekends off," she said in another video posted previously."Keep your phone on 24 hours a day, always ready to respond."

In another video, Qu said she had received hundreds of reports from employees' families, describing it as "the lowest tactic." She also said, "I can make it impossible for you to find a job in this industry with just a short essay. [If you don't believe me,] try it."

Due to the extreme nature of Qu's comments in the videos and the unreasonable treatment of employees, she quickly sparked widespread controversy.

In the past few days, several related topics about her comments have trended on Weibo. Many people believe that her tough approach demonstrates the excessive exploitation and lack of empathy for employees that large tech companies are often criticized for. Some netizens have directly vented their anger at Baidu and posted screenshots uninstalling the Baidu app. At the same time, some netizens have created sarcastic parodic videos from the perspective of employees.

After sparking widespread anger, the four videos posted by Qu were deleted.

Subsequently, a video widely circulated on the Chinese internet showed Qu in the office using a data cable whipping a homemade doll with a media outlet's name written on it. The shooting time and the person who filmed the video are unknown.

At the same time, some netizens pointed out that Qu's account followers might not be real. According to Douyin account information, Qu's account had hundreds of thousands of followers before she started to post videos, and the name was that of a clothing store. Therefore, many netizens speculated she had purchased the account.

In recent months, many executives of Chinese tech companies have opened public accounts on short video platforms, including Xiaomi's Lei Jun, Nio's Li Bin, and Li Auto's Li Xiang. Some executives have won public favor for their companies by chatting humorously with netizens in the comments section.

However, Qu sparked a public relations crisis just days after opening her personal account. Observers pointed out that she provoked public anger by "describing exploitation as something worthy of praise from a condescending perspective." Some media reports also noted that her videos were intended to provoke confrontation, a common tactic for gaining attention on short video platforms.

"Companies cannot simply enjoy the utilitarian value provided by employees without shouldering the emotional burden they create. People are the purpose, not tools," Red Star News stated in a commentary.

The 21st Century Business Herald quoted a senior expert as saying that Qu's remarks cannot be simply viewed as personal opinions. "Creating a workplace internet celebrity IP itself is not right or wrong, but whether the remarks represent the individual or reflect the company culture, they absolutely cannot challenge mainstream values. Above company rules and economic rationality, there is also human care, warmth, and humanity."

Following the incident, Baidu's Hong Kong-listed stock price continued to decline, closing at HK$106.9 on Wednesday, down 1.29 percent. As of press time, Baidu's US-listed stock fell 0.92 percent to $109.51 on Wednesday.

China's CPI up 0.3% in April, signaling steady demand recovery: NBS

China's consumer price index (CPI), a main gauge of inflation, was up 0.3 percent year-on-year in April, the National Bureau of Statistics unveiled on Saturday, adding more positive signs to the country's upbeat economy performance since the first quarter of the year.

Data showed clear signs that the consumption-driven recovery is being maintained from demand to production, laying the foundation for a strong recovery, analysts noted.

Dong Lijuan, statistician from the NBS, pointed out that continuous consumption recovery reversed the 1-percent drop in CPI from March on a monthly basis, and further expanded growth on an annual basis.

General food prices were down by 1 percent, narrowing by 2.2 percentage points from the reading in March. Prices of vegetables, meats, fruits and eggs declined due to sufficient supply, according to the NBS.

Non-food prices recorded a 0.3 percent increase, bouncing back from a 0.5-percent fall in March on monthly basis. Benefiting from holidays, non-food consumer prices, including flight tickets, vehicle rental, hotel and tourism products, reported a clear increase in prices.

Core CPI, deducting for food and energy prices, was up 0.7 percent year-on-year last month, expanding 0.1 percentage point from March, according to the NBS.

Meanwhile, China's producer price index (PPI), which measures costs for goods at the factory gate, dipped 2.5 percent year on year in April, narrowing by 0.3 percentage point from the drop in March. Dong noted that the country's industrial operation is keeping recovering, while some industries saw a seasonal drop in demand.

Other economic indicators also showed that the world's second-largest economy remains on a steady recovery trend.

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 showed on Thursday.

Notably, in April alone, China's imports and exports reached 3.64 trillion yuan, rising 8 percent year-on-year. 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, thanks to improving overseas demand as well as strengthening domestic consumption demand.

Hu Qimu, a deputy secretary-general of the digital-real economies integration Forum 50, told the Global Times on Saturday that data for China's foreign trade and domestic economic indicators were correlated, which all pointed to an encouraging link between demand and production.

"The current 0.3 percent growth in CPI is positive, while relatively moderate. It has shown a strong momentum for a further improvement in production, which also needs supports from policy and market players," Hu noted.

Li Changan, a professor at the Academy of China Open Economy Studies of the University of International Business and Economics, pointed out that the nation's economy is still facing challenges, and needs more support to boost consumption and market investment.

Policymakers have vowed to further step up policy measures to further consolidate the recovery. A meeting of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee noted that the economy has secured a good start this year, and urged to front-load efforts to effectively put the established macro policies in place, and well implement a proactive fiscal policy and a prudent monetary policy, according to Xinhua.

Biden's remark on halting arms supply to Israel a show to alleviate domestic pressure: observers

For the first time, US President Joe Biden stated that he would stop certain deliveries of American weapons to Israel if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu orders a significant incursion into the Palestinian city of Rafah. Observers interpreted the move as a "show" staged together by the US and Israel to meet their own aims, and won't alter Netanyahu's determination to eradicate Hamas.

The US president had previously stopped the delivery of 3,500 bombs last week due to worries that American weapons could be used to cause further civilian casualties in Rafah. He announced on Wednesday that he would also prevent the transportation of artillery shells.

In an interview with CNN, Biden said he had conveyed to Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders that American support for operations in population centers was limited.

Liu Zhongmin, a professor at the Middle East Studies Institute of Shanghai International Studies University, told the Global Times that although the US is by far the biggest supplier of weapons to Israel, Biden specifically used the word "some" when talking about the halt in weapons shipments, which means the US still hasn't ultimately altered its position of being a supporter of Israel.

With anti-war protests continuing at American universities and the November election looming, Biden finds himself behind Donald Trump in the polls, and his administration must demonstrate a willingness to enact changes. Therefore, the decision to halt certain weapon shipments is seen as just a tactic to send a warning message to Israel, and serves as a temporary measure by the US to ease pressure for his own election interests, Liu noted.

Israel's Ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, reacted to Biden's decision, saying it was a "difficult and very disappointing remark."

Erdan was also quoted by the Times of Israel as saying, "Of course any pressure on Israel is interpreted by our enemies as something that gives them hope. There are many Jewish Americans who voted for the president and for the Democratic Party, and now they are hesitant."

While Jews make up only 3 percent of the entire electorate, the US president won't risk disappointing them, given the huge influence they have over the US presidency, Li Haidong, a professor at the China Foreign Affairs University, told the Global Times.

"We're not walking away from Israel's security," Biden told CNN, "we're walking away from Israel's ability to wage war in those areas," referring to densely populated areas of Rafah where more than one million Palestinians are taking shelter.

In addition to suspending the shipment of ammunition to Israel, in recent times, US politicians have repeatedly expressed so-called "criticism" toward the country. Some analysts believe that these statements are nothing but "smokescreens" aimed at diverting public attention from Israel's ground offensive in Gaza.

Not having support from US weapon supplies doesn't mean Israel is out of weapons to sustain its bombing and attacking. The channels for military supplies from other countries including from Europe as well as reserves will allow Israel to continue its operation. Most importantly, the operation in Rafah will not consume large amounts of ammunition, Liu noted. 

Liu stated that Netanyahu has been advancing his strategy through a combination of military actions and diplomatic overtures. By pushing forward on the battlefield to enhance its position during hostage negotiations with Hamas, Israel remains steadfast in its goal of eradicating it.

Israeli troops seized control of Gaza's vital Rafah border crossing on Tuesday. Netanyahu called it an "important step" toward dismantling Hamas' military and governing capabilities, and its defense minister threatened to "deepen" the Rafah operation if talks on the hostage deal failed, AP reported.