Hong Kong to hold more events to boost tourism, consumption: chief executive

Visitors enjoy the fireworks that lights up the night sky over Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong on May 1,2024. Photo: VCG

Visitors enjoy the fireworks that lights up the night sky over Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong on May 1,2024. Photo: VCG

 

The chief executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) announced on Tuesday that the city will hold 60 more major events in 2024, in a bid to attract more tourists, boost consumption and lift the regional economy. 

The announcement comes as the Chinese central government has also taken steps to boost visits to Hong Kong and Macao. The plan to hold more promotional events will help the HKSAR to improve the competitiveness of its tourism industry, and attract more visits from both the Chinese mainland and other areas, experts said.

The number of major events for the whole year will increase from 150 to over 210, with 1.7 million tourists expected, John Lee Ka-chiu, the HKSAR chief executive, told reporters in Hong Kong on Tuesday.

In the second half of the year, 100 events are planned, including entertainment expos and fashion weeks. These events are forecast to generate HK$7.2 billion ($923.58 million) in consumption and add HK$4.3 billion in economic value for the city, according to Lee. 

Hong Kong recorded 14.62 million visitors in the first four months of 2024, doubling the number from the same period last year, which will push HK’s GDP up 0.1 percent for every increase of 1.5 million visitors, Lee said on Tuesday. 

Lee highlighted the sharp rise in mainland tourists visiting Hong Kong, stressing its positive impact on the events economy. To capitalize on this, the SAR government will continue to request more favorable policies from the central government, such as increasing the tax-free quota for mainland visitors to boost retail, particularly luxury goods sales. 

The Chinese central government has also taken major steps to support visits to Hong Kong and Macao, including extending the duration of business visits from seven days per visit to 14 days.  

Furthermore, Lee emphasized Hong Kong’s increasing hospitality capacity. Also, its aviation sector is expected to fully recover by year-end, attracting a greater number of long-haul travelers. 

Lee stated that around 1,600 tour groups joined the local cultural tourism program organized by the government. Over 700 new itinerary routes were created through the tourism competition hosted by the Hong Kong Tourism Council. He highlighted ongoing innovation and adaptation in Hong Kong’s tourism and related sectors. 

The SAR government’s “First Quarter Economic Report for 2024” revealed modest growth in Hong Kong’s economy, with real GDP up 2.7 percent year-on-year. Service exports, especially in tourism and transportation, drove this growth, rising over 8 percent due to increased visitor arrivals. 

In the past two years, there has been a decline in cultural and tourism spending in Hong Kong. Even local residents are increasingly opting to travel to mainland destinations like Shenzhen due to lower prices and convenient transportation, market observers said.

“Increasing events to boost consumption may be a long-term method. The government aims to redirect local spending back to Hong Kong while boosting confidence among all tourists, refocusing attention on the city,” Song Ding, a research fellow from the China Development Institute, told the Global Times on Tuesday. 

“Due to the importance of tourists from the mainland, Hong Kong needs to optimize its tourism market structure and enhance its competitiveness to attract more visitors and boost spending,” said Adolph Leung Wing-sing, an official from HK’s Office of the Government Economist (OGE). 

“Hong Kong is a uniquely attractive tourist destination, combining Chinese tradition with Western charm as an international city. The added events amplify its distinctiveness and boost its competitiveness. I believe more tourists, both domestic and international, will visit in the future,” Jiang Yiyi, a vice president of the School of Leisure Sports and Tourism at Beijing Sport University, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

China-Russia coordination more valuable amid noise

Illustration: Liu Xidan/GT

Illustration: Liu Xidan/GT

Just before Russian President Vladimir Putin’s state visit to China in his new term, the Carnegie Center published an article interpreting China’s deepening cooperation with Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries as China “stealing” Russia’s influence. This kind of propaganda masks the reality that more and more countries, such as Serbia and Hungary, are unwilling to align with the West. This is just a new version of sowing discord between China and Russia, using the falsehood of “China snatching Russia’s partners” to provoke tensions between China and Russia.

First of all, this rhetoric diminishes the status of CEE countries. 

We definitely do not agree with the worldview of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken: “If you’re not at the table in the international system, you’re going to be on the menu.” CEE countries are not delicious dishes for great powers to enjoy. Countries, regardless of size, have the right to choose their own partners and their own paths. CEE countries have never been willing to be mere pawns in the game of great powers, at least not Serbia or Hungary. After the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine conflict in 2022, faced with pressure from the Western camp, they did not choose to side with Ukraine and the West, nor did they cut off cooperation with Russia. In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orban is seen as being against providing assistance to Ukraine and escalating the conflict within NATO and the EU. Despite the demonization of China in the US for the presidential election, Serbia, Hungary, and even France, still see that cooperation with China greatly serves their national interests and well-being. They are willing to receive China at a high level and open their markets to China’s industrial chain. 

Why don’t Serbia and Hungary align with Europe? Perhaps it is not just because Serbia and Hungary are unwilling to be manipulated by great powers. More importantly, Europe has not been able to provide them with what they expect. The murky political correctness atmosphere in Europe is not what they need. And the manufacturing industry supply chain they need is not something that Europe, which has long been immersed in the non-real economy, can offer. Serbia, Hungary and other countries are seeing the downward trend in Europe and choosing a distant partner over aligning with their neighbors. Isn’t this the tragedy of Europe?

Furthermore, no matter how the West tries to sow discord, it will not change the overall trend of a stable and healthy development of China-Russia relations. From the idea that China-Russia relations are a “marriage of convenience” to Tucker Carlson’s question of whether Russia is worried about China dominating the BRICS organization economically, these narratives are dismissed by President Putin as “bogeyman stories.” China and Russia are both well aware of the Western agenda to sow discord between them and are increasingly reluctant to respond.

The facts prove that China-Russia relations have not been affected by Western noise. During President Putin’s visit to China, the leaders of China and Russia jointly signed and issued a joint statement on deepening the China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for a new era on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between the two countries. By carrying out cooperation for the benefit of both countries and their peoples, this is the fundamental driving force of China-Russia relations. During President Putin’s visit to China, China and Russia signed multiple bilateral cooperation agreements, which will further promote the development of the bilateral relationship.

Isn’t it clear to Western elites that this kind of sowing discord is meaningless? They must know that they are powerless in the face of the stable relationship between China and Russia and can only resort to creating noise out of frustration. The more intense the Western attacks on China-Russia relations, the more they demonstrate the contemporary significance of this relationship. During the period of high-level cooperation between China and Russia, we witnessed that the Western forces led by NATO cannot replicate what they did in former Yugoslavia and Iraq, nor can they abuse mechanisms such as the UN Security Council to bully weaker countries. Therefore, calling China-Russia relations a key factor in maintaining the contemporary international order is reasonable, as the stability of this relationship ensures that the West adheres to the rules they themselves created.

We cannot stop the West from constantly creating new versions of provocative rhetoric, but the West’s provocations make us more aware of the value of maintaining China-Russia relations.

The author is a scholar from the Shanghai-based China National Institute for SCO International Exchange and Judicial Cooperation. [email protected]

Expanding population of wild Asian elephants in Yunnan are living symbols of China’s ecological commitment

Editor’s Note:

Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, Chinese president, and chairman of the Central Military Commission, stressed that the environment concerns the well-being of people in all countries. During his many inspections, Xi has always emphasized the importance of ecosystems, spanning from cities to rural areas and from enterprises to communities.

Over the past decade, under the guidance of President Xi Jinping’s Thought on Ecological Civilization, China has been advancing the green transition of its economy. Regions across the country are actively promoting the construction of an ecological civilization and advancing Chinese modernization featuring harmony between humanity and nature. These efforts go toward creating a “Beautiful China.”

The coming five years will be critical to the building of a “Beautiful China.” The Global Times is launching a series of stories to explore the progress of ecological civilization projects inspired by Xi’s words, delving into the positive environmental changes occurring now, and offering valuable insights and references for both national and global efforts. Through this prism, we can see how Xi’s thoughts on ecological civilization is being put into practice and further inspiring public action.

May 22 marks the International Day for Biological Diversity. In this installment, Global Times reporters visited the habitat of wild Asian elephants in Southwest China’s Yunnan Province. Accompanying elephant protectors, we delve into the natural habitat of Asian elephants, engaging in face-to-face exchanges with local villagers and rangers to gain a direct understanding of the profound significance of conserving biodiversity.

Elephants forage in the forest at the Asian Elephant Breeding and Rescue Center in Xishuangbanna, Southwest China's Yunnan Province, on July 20, 2021. Photos: VCG

Elephants forage in the forest at the Asian Elephant Breeding and Rescue Center in Xishuangbanna, Southwest China’s Yunnan Province, on July 20, 2021. Photos: VCG

Li Shengqian, an elephant ranger, walked through a large area of flattened cornfields. 

He occasionally squatted down and gazed into the distance, inspecting traces left by the wild Asian elephants.

The previous day, all the elephant rangers in Mengla county, Xishuangbanna Dai autonomous prefecture in Southwest China’s Yunnan Province, had gathered in the county town for a training exercise. As a result, over 40 elephants, seemingly aware of the humans’ absence, descended the mountain and enjoyed a grand feast. 

They slid down muddy slopes, marched through the cornfields, selected a patch of ripe crops, and promptly ate every sweet corn stalk, before rollicking in the salty nitrate pond at the foot of the mountain.

By the time Li and his colleagues received the villagers’ message and arrived, the elephants were already sound asleep deep in the forest. 

A local forestry official told the Global Times that a third-party insurance company would assess the crop damage caused by the elephants and compensate the villagers according to relevant regulations.

Such incidents have become commonplace in Xishuangbanna. Despite this, people do not complain; instead, the concept of protecting elephants has become deeply rooted in their hearts, and they actively engage in conservation efforts. 

An elephant ranger patrols a cornfield that was devoured by elephants the previous night in Mengla County, Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture, Southwest China's Yunnan Province, on May 11, 2024. Photo: Li Hao/GT

Li Shengqian, an elephant ranger patrols a cornfield that was devoured by elephants the previous night in Mengla County, Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture, Southwest China’s Yunnan Province, on May 11, 2024. Photo: Li Hao/GT

The scene in Mengla is a snapshot summing up China’s work to protect wild Asian elephants, reflecting the country’s biodiversity conservation efforts.

In a recent article on the People’s Daily, Huang Runqiu, Minister of Ecology and Environment, stated that in recent years, under the scientific guidance of Xi’s Thought on Ecological Civilization, China has elevated biodiversity conservation to a national priority, continuously strengthening biodiversity mainstreaming, improving the biodiversity governance system, and significantly increasing conservation efforts.

 “Biodiversity protection has achieved new results,” he said.

An unexpected journey

In March 2020, a group of Asian elephants left the Xishuangbanna Nature Reserve, migrating nearly 500 kilometers north. In April 2021, the elephant herd appeared in Yuanjiang county, drawing public attention.

Experts worried that the herd, already a long distance from suitable habitats, might face survival risks. To ensure the safety of both humans and elephants, Yunnan Province established a command center for real-time monitoring, early warning, and public support.

During this epic elephant expedition, hundreds of thousands of local residents were evacuated, but all displayed great patience and tolerance. Residents and businesses along the route showed remarkable restraint and understanding: when the elephants ate crops, villagers canceled festive celebrations to avoid disturbing the herd, while businesses turned off lights and suspended operations.

The elephants’ fascinating behavior during their northward journey attracted widespread attention. On one farm, the elephants demonstrated their intelligence by using their trunks to turn on a water tap and then queuing to drink. During the journey, when a baby elephant was tired, a drone captured the heartwarming moment of it nestling beside its mother to sleep.

 
The elephants’ journey captivated the entire country and even the world, turning them into social media stars. “The elephants seem very carefree: the sky is their roof, the earth their bed, and everywhere is home,” netizens commented.

A video on elephants is being played during the opening ceremony of the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, known as COP15, in Kunming, Yunnan province, on Oct 11, 2021. PHOTO: Xinhua

A video on elephants is being played during the opening ceremony of the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, known as COP15, in Kunming, Yunnan province, on Oct 11, 2021. PHOTO: Xinhua

After considerable efforts, the elephants began their southward return in June, successfully crossing the Yuanjiang River in August and returning to their native habitat.

To build public understanding and support, the Yunnan Forestry and Grassland Bureau actively promoted ecological concepts and wildlife protection knowledge, implemented comprehensive measures to prevent Asian elephant incidents, and ensured reasonable compensation. By August 8, 2021, the public liability insurance company had accepted 1,501 claims for losses caused by Asian elephants, with assessed damages totaling 5.125 million yuan ($740,000).

On October 12, 2021, the leaders’ summit of the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15) was held in Kunming, capital city of Yunnan Province. 

President Xi delivered a keynote speech via video link at the summit: “China has made remarkable progress in building an ecological civilization. The recent story of the northward travel and return of a group of elephants in Yunnan Province in southwestern China shows the vivid results of our endeavor to protect wild animals. China will continue to advance ecological progress, remain committed to implementing the new development philosophy emphasizing innovative, coordinated, green and open development for all, and build a beautiful China.”

According to following reports in May 2023, the star elephants in Yunnan have been in good health since returning south. 

The baby elephants gained weight, and the herd absorbed new members, splitting into two groups in different areas. 

Experts regarded this phenomenon as evidence of the herd’s healthy reproduction.

Walking with elephants


Due to extensive conservation efforts, China is one of the few places in the world where the number of elephants is increasing. 

The population of wild Asian elephants in China has grown from about 150 in the 1970s and 1980s to over 300 today. In the mid-1990s, Asian elephants were only found in two national nature reserves: Xishuangbanna and Nangunhe. By the end of 2020, their range had expanded to three prefectures, 11 counties, and 55 townships in Yunnan, according to the Xinhua News Agency.

Conservation efforts are comprehensive, with continuous upgrades in monitoring methods and publicity. 

In Dadugang township, Jinghong city, Xishuangbanna, Peng Jinfu, a dedicated Asian elephant ranger, explained to locals the importance of elephant protection, methods, and safety precautions to villagers in the local dialect.

Peng, formerly a forest ranger, became an Asian elephant ranger due to the increasing number of elephants living in Dadugang. He and other rangers received training and learned how to communicate conservation methods to the community.

In Peng’s jurisdiction, there are four to five herds with more than 50 active elephants. He and his partner are often busy. 

Villagers look at Asian elephants while having a meal in Jiangcheng Hani and Yi Autonomous County of Pu'er, southwest China's Yunnan Province, July 19, 2023. Photo:Xinhua

Villagers look at Asian elephants while having a meal in Jiangcheng Hani and Yi Autonomous County of Pu’er, southwest China’s Yunnan Province, July 19, 2023. Photo:Xinhua

Luckily, Peng noted that while they used to rely mainly on manpower and visual observation to monitor elephants, they now integrate technology such as drones and infrared cameras, updating and sharing elephant activity information through WeChat groups, intelligent loudspeakers with infrared cameras, and the online warning app, enhancing patrol and early warning capabilities.

He told the Global Times that he and his teammates would continue to guard their posts, ensuring that elephants and villagers harmoniously coexist.

For ordinary villagers, the government and volunteers promote more “elephant-friendly” production and lifestyle methods to mitigate human-elephant conflicts. 

For example, beekeeping, traditional handicrafts, and tea planting are being promoted to replace activities like rubber planting and mushroom picking, which harm the rainforest ecosystem and increase the likelihood of displacement of elephants.

“These communities not only are on the frontlines of conservation efforts, but also bear great pressure and sacrifices. We hope to help them achieve better development and harmonious coexistence with elephants through the project,” Ma Chenyue, Program Manager from the International Fund for Animal Welfare in China, told the Global Times. 

For the past two decades, Ma’s colleagues have been helping villagers adapt to living with elephants and better protect them through various means. In December 2016, China announced it would end the domestic ivory trade within a year. The nationwide ban on commercial ivory trade took effect on January 1, 2018.

The Kunming commitment

In 2022, as the chair of the COP15, China led the adoption of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework and a package of supporting policies, charting a new blueprint for global biodiversity governance for the next decade and beyond. The country announced an initial contribution of 1.5 billion yuan to establish the Kunming Biodiversity Fund, effectively boosting global biodiversity conservation confidence. 

Moreover, since 2019, China has become the largest contributor to the core budget of the Convention on Biological Diversity and its protocols and the largest developing country contributor to the Global Environment Facility.

China has also implemented major biodiversity conservation initiatives. The country was the first to propose and implement the ecological conservation redline system, with over 30 percent of its land territory designated as ecological conservation redlines, effectively protecting 90 percent of terrestrial ecosystem types and 74 percent of national key protected wild species.

Tibetan antelopes are seen at Sanjiangyuan in Yushu, Northwest China's Qinghai Province, on October 16, 2021.

Tibetan antelopes are seen at Sanjiangyuan in Yushu, Northwest China’s Qinghai Province, on October 16, 2021.

China also established the first group of five national parks, including Sanjiangyuan and the Giant Panda national parks, selected 49 national park candidates, and established the first national botanical garden.

Comprehensive land greening actions have been put in place, with 52 integrated protection and restoration projects for mountains, rivers, forests, farmlands, lakes, grasslands, and deserts, covering over 1 billion mu (66.67 million hectares). Forest coverage has increased to over 24 percent, making China the country with the largest and fastest-growing forest resources. Efforts to protect and restore typical marine ecosystems have also been advanced, with mangrove areas increasing to 438,000 mu, making China one of the few countries with a net increase in mangrove areas.

“It is difficult to achieve results alone, but easy to achieve with collective action. China will work hand in hand with the international community, advancing courageously to maintain a fair and reasonable global biodiversity conservation order, promote global biodiversity governance to a new level, and jointly build a beautiful Earth where humans and nature coexist harmoniously,” said Huang Runqiu, Minister of Ecology and Environment.

Tibetan antelopes are seen at Sanjiangyuan in Yushu, Northwest China's Qinghai Province, on October 16, 2021.

Provoke once, counter once; the greater the provocation, the stronger the countermeasure: Global Times editorial

DPP candidate Lai Ching-te. Photo: VCG

Lai Ching-te Photo: VCG

Taiwan’s regional leader Lai Ching-te bears two prominent “labels”: a complete “worker for Taiwan independence” and a thorough “peace disruptor.” These labels were once again reaffirmed in his so-called inaugural speech on May 20.

The speech was filled with hostility and provocation, lies and deception. In it, Lai took an even more radical and reckless stance on “Taiwan independence,” vigorously promoting separatist fallacies such as the so-called “sovereign independence,” “both sides of the Taiwan Straits are not subordinate to each other” and “the future of Taiwan will be decided by Taiwan residents.” He desperately sought the backing and support of external forces, attempting to internationalize the “Taiwan question,” and continued to “seek independence by relying on foreign support and by force.” This speech is a thorough confession of “Taiwan independence.” As the successor to Tsai Ing-wen and the new leading figure of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) authority, Lai’s actions once again revealed his “independence” nature, with an extremely arrogant attitude and more radical propositions.

Lai’s vile behavior is a blatant provocation and destruction of the one-China principle and the peace and stability of the Taiwan Straits. If his plans succeed, it would result in the most dangerous alteration of the status quo in the Taiwan Straits and the most severe damage to its peace, only exacerbating the tension and turmoil in the region and bringing immense suffering to the Taiwan residents.

The “Taiwan independence” separatist forces betray the national interest, go against the will of the people, and severely harm the sovereignty, security and developmental interests of the country. This will not be tolerated or condoned. The mainland will undoubtedly take strong countermeasures to punish Lai’s malicious provocations. Here, we need to clarify three points in advance.

First, the mainland’s countermeasures will be precisely targeted at “independence.” Both sides of the Straits are Chinese and belong to the Chinese nation. No one wishes more than we do to achieve national reunification through peaceful means. However, we must counter and punish the DPP authorities’ provocations of seeking “independence” and colluding with external forces. As the saying goes, pursuing “Taiwan independence” will ultimately result in reunification. The more radical Lai and the DPP authorities’ provocations become, the earlier they will bring about their demise. Provoke once, and the mainland will counter once; the greater the provocation, the stronger the countermeasure. If they continue to act recklessly, it will only accelerate their self-destruction.

Second, the mainland’s countermeasures will not remain just verbal. Our “toolbox” is increasingly well-equipped, our capability for substantial countermeasures is continuously strengthening, and our measures are becoming more precise and effective. Furthermore, these countermeasures will be implemented in the manner and pace that we decide, ensuring that the results of our counteractions will further consolidate and strengthen the mainland’s control and initiative over the Taiwan Straits situation.

Third, external forces should not fan the flames. According to the usual “script,” external forces and the DPP authorities are likely to bring up “peace and stability across the Taiwan Straits,” exaggerating the tension in the region and attempting to blame the mainland for the situation. They will deliberately ignore the fact that it is due to “Taiwan independence” provocations and external interference that the peaceful environment and conditions in the Taiwan Straits have been undermined.

The one-China principle is the anchor for maintaining peace in the Taiwan Straits. The Taiwan question concerns China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and is at the core of China’s core interests, leaving no room for compromise. External forces must understand that attempts to use Taiwan to contain China are doomed to fail. Today’s China is not the one of 100 years ago, and today’s world is not the one of 100 years ago. The determination of the Chinese government and the Chinese people to achieve national reunification is unwavering. For any act of infringement or provocation by anti-China forces, China will resolutely fight back each and every time. The Taiwan question will inevitably be resolved with the rejuvenation of the nation, and China will undoubtedly achieve complete reunification. The attempt to use Taiwan to contain China and to interfere with or delay the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation is nothing but delusion.

“Taiwan independence” means war; it is incompatible with peace in the Taiwan Straits and runs counter to the interests of the Taiwan compatriots. From 2008 to 2016, the two sides of the Taiwan Straits walked hand in hand on the path of peaceful development, creating a warm and flourishing atmosphere across the Straits. However, after the DPP came to power and refused to acknowledge the one-China principle, the situation took a sharp turn for the worse, and cross-Straits relations quickly froze. Over the subsequent eight years, the DPP authorities have engaged in countless provocations aimed at seeking “Taiwan independence.”

Regarding Lai Ching-te’s “confession” of “Taiwan independence,” some individuals on the island have harshly criticized it, stating strongly that Lai’s commitment to “independence” is unprecedented. This has made it clear to the world that for the sake of power and personal gain, Lai is willing to undermine peace and stability in the Taiwan Straits and push Taiwan into a more dangerous situation. Who is responsible for ruining cross-Straits relations, causing turmoil in the previously calm Taiwan Straits, leading Taiwan into a perilous situation, and bringing great disaster to the residents on the island? The answer is obvious.

No matter what Lai says or how he says it, he cannot change the fact that Taiwan is a part of China, nor can he change the fundamental pattern and development direction of cross-Straits relations. He cannot change the shared aspiration of people on both sides of the Straits to grow closer and more connected, nor can he block the historical trend of national reunification. Our determination to solve the Taiwan question and achieve national reunification is as firm as a rock, our ability to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity is unbreakable, and our actions against “Taiwan independence” and foreign interference are resolute and powerful. If Lai Ching-te and the DPP authorities persist in their doomed path of “Taiwan independence,” they will ultimately crash and burn.

Greek court drops charges against men blamed for shipwreck deaths

Survivors of the deadly migrant shipwreck, Zahid Akbar, 21, and Inzimam Maqbool, 22, from Pakistan, along with supporters participate in a protest calling for justice. /Louisa Gouliamaki/Reuters

Survivors of the deadly migrant shipwreck, Zahid Akbar, 21, and Inzimam Maqbool, 22, from Pakistan, along with supporters participate in a protest calling for justice. /Louisa Gouliamaki/Reuters

Charges were dropped on Tuesday against nine Egyptian men accused of causing one of the Mediterranean’s deadliest shipwrecks off Greece last year. Their acquittal came after a Greek court said it had no jurisdiction to hear the case because the disaster occurred in international waters.

Up to 700 migrants from Pakistan, Syria and Egypt boarded a fishing trawler in Libya that was bound for Italy before sinking off the coast of Pylos, in southwestern Greece, on June 14.

Some 104 survivors were rescued and only 82 bodies were recovered.

The men, aged between 21 and 41, were arrested hours after the boat sank and have remained in pre-trial detention since on charges of migrant smuggling, causing a shipwreck and participating in a criminal organization.

They have denied any wrongdoing.

“This is a great victory for human rights in Greece,” Spyros Pantazis, one of their lawyers, told Reuters. “Nine innocent men are walking free. Finally, after a huge struggle and pain, justice has been served.”

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International rights groups, defense lawyers and witnesses had disputed that the men were to blame. Many claimed that the coastguard was at fault, which it denies.

Before the announcement that charges had been dropped, supporters of the defendants had briefly scuffled with police outside the court. 

Survivors told reporters last year that a disastrous attempt by the coastguard to tow the boat caused it to capsize in some of the deepest waters in the Mediterranean.

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Source(s): Reuters

The reptilian professor helping to save her species

03:21

Professor Lew is not a scientific genius, despite the rather prestigious name. She’s never even studied science. And yet, she could make a crucial contribution to it. 

You see, Professor Lew is a Chinese giant salamander – one of the rarest reptile species on the planet. 

London Zoo adopted her after UK border officials intercepted smugglers in 2016. They were trying to hide her in a cereal box. 

Professor Lew is one of only two Chinese giant salamanders in the UK’s zoos. /Courtesy London Zoo

Professor Lew is one of only two Chinese giant salamanders in the UK’s zoos. /Courtesy London Zoo

Today, she is slowly adjusting to her brand new reptile house. The zoo is hoping she’ll help start a new breeding program that will boost salamander numbers. “This species is incredibly rare in the wild,” says Ben Tapley, one of the zoo’s curators. “We spent over seven years of survey effort with our partners in China and found just 24 individuals. So this species is in real trouble.” 

‌London Zoo has created a specially-designed reptile facility to house some of the rarest reptiles in the world. “We have about 33 different species,” says Tapley. “Over half of those are EDGE species, which stands for ‘evolutionary distinct and globally endangered’ species. We want to showcase the vast diversity of reptiles, but also illustrate how threatened they are.” 

Professor Lew and her male companion are now living in the new facility. Scientists have performed regular check-ups and even DNA analysis. Zoo staff are also keeping a close eye on the pair, hoping they’ll mate when they reach the right age. 

Chinese giant salamanders can reach lengths of 1.8 meters. /Kitty Logan/CGTN

Chinese giant salamanders can reach lengths of 1.8 meters. /Kitty Logan/CGTN

‘The salamander is our friend’

Most giant salamanders come from the rivers of central China. The fast-flowing water provides the perfect habitat for them. But that habitat is changing. The species faces a range of deadly threats, including water pollution, urban development and poaching.

The Zoological Society of London is hoping to solve that problem by teaming up with Chinese conservationists. Experts have explored rivers to assess numbers. They’ve also worked on special protection plans for the species. 

“Our common mission is to build a new image for the Chinese public, showing them that the salamander is our friend,” says Zhao Zhong, director of the Chinese environmental group, Green Camel Bell. “The survival rates can be very low, so I think the first step is to clean up the river, to make sure the habitat is suitable for salamanders.”

Back to the future…

Professor Lew and her male friend are the only Chinese giant salamanders in Britain’s zoos. They’re known as ‘living fossils’ because their ancestors date back millions of years, all the way to the Jurassic period. 

They can grow to 1.8 meters in length, and some weigh as much as 50 kilograms. It’s not always easy to look after them, but Tapley says it’s well worth the effort. “This species is really important because it’s evolutionary extinct and globally endangered. So, by protecting this ancient lineage of amphibian you’re not only protecting all that evolutionary history, but all that future evolutionary potential.”

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China’s first intelligent offshore drilling platform installed in South China Sea

A view of China’s first intelligent offshore drilling platform “Huizhou 26-6” in the South China Sea, south China’s Guangdong Province. /CNOOC

A view of China’s first intelligent offshore drilling platform “Huizhou 26-6” in the South China Sea, south China’s Guangdong Province. /CNOOC

China’s first intelligent offshore drilling platform, the “Huizhou 26-6,” was installed in the South China Sea on Friday, according to China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC).

The massive structure, located roughly 230 kilometers southeast of Shenzhen City in south China’s Guangdong Province, weighs over 30,000 tonnes and boasts a deck area as spacious as eight standard basketball courts. The platform sits atop oil and gas fields with an average water depth of 112 meters and holds proven geological reserves estimated at 50 million cubic meters of oil equivalent.

The intelligent drilling platform packs three times the equipment of a traditional one, yet occupies one-third less space. This translates to a suite of powerful functions like intelligent production, drilling, equipment health management and security. These advancements are estimated to improve production efficiency by 20 percent and reduce operation and maintenance costs by 10 percent annually, said the project team. 

A view of China’s first intelligent offshore drilling platform “Huizhou 26-6” in the South China Sea, south China’s Guangdong Province. /CNOOC

A view of China’s first intelligent offshore drilling platform “Huizhou 26-6” in the South China Sea, south China’s Guangdong Province. /CNOOC

Wei Weirong, vice general manager of the project team, recalled that installing the massive upper block of the “Huizhou 26-6” platform presented a unique challenge. Traditional cranes couldn’t handle its weight. To overcome this hurdle, the project team devised a unique solution. They harnessed the power of the tides, along with cutting-edge ship-load adjustment technologies, to meticulously position the block. 

This innovative approach ensured the block fit perfectly onto the jacket, achieving millimeter-level precision, as the docking accuracy of the block insertion tip and the jacket was at such millimeter level, said Li Tao, general manager of the oilfield development project.

Dragon boat parades create a buzz in Foshan ahead of Duanwu Festival

A dragon boat team is seen parading on the waters of Foshan, Guangdong Province on May 20, 2024. /CFP

A dragon boat team is seen parading on the waters of Foshan, Guangdong Province on May 20, 2024. /CFP

Participants showcase their dragon boats adorned with traditional ornaments on the waters of Foshan, Guangdong Province on May 20, 2024. /CFP

Participants showcase their dragon boats adorned with traditional ornaments on the waters of Foshan, Guangdong Province on May 20, 2024. /CFP

A dragon boat is seen during a parade on the waters of Foshan, Guangdong Province on May 20, 2024. /CFP

A dragon boat is seen during a parade on the waters of Foshan, Guangdong Province on May 20, 2024. /CFP

Dragon boat parades on water are pictured in Foshan, Guangdong Province on May 20, 2024. /CFP

Dragon boat parades on water are pictured in Foshan, Guangdong Province on May 20, 2024. /CFP

As the Dragon Boat Festival, also known as the Duanwu Festival, approaches, Foshan City in south China’s Guangdong Province comes alive with vibrant and thrilling dragon boat activities. In the days leading up to the competitive dragon boat races, the waters of Foshan have already witnessed the visually captivating dragon boat parades.

Unlike the races, which focus on speed and competition, the parades emphasize the beauty and artistry of the dragon boats themselves. Elaborately decorated with flags and traditional ornaments, the boats glide gracefully along the waterways. This mesmerizing display not only celebrates the rich Chinese cultural traditions but also creates a festive atmosphere that enchants both participants and spectators alike.

Preserving the legacy of tulou buildings

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A tulou, a type of communal earth-built dwelling, is constructed using stones as the foundation. With raw earth as the main material, supplemented by bamboo and wood as the framework, it is built through a process of intertwining and stacking, layer by layer. In the process of restoring a tulou, the craftsmen are considered not only architects but also sculptors. It is said that a tulou requires maintenance only once a century, and a single round of restoration is enough to keep it standing for another hundred years. However, nowadays young people are no longer interested in learning the necessary skills, casting a shadow over the future of the tulou.

Cuteness alert: Peak milu calving season is here!

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The Jiangsu Dafeng Elk National Nature Reserve has ushered in the peak period of milu calving, and newborn milu are bringing vitality to the wetland in Yancheng City, Jiangsu Province in east China. Watch the video to check it out!