Li Zhanshu, chairman of the National People’s Congress (NPC) Standing Committee, presides over the plenary meeting of the 11th session of the 13th NPC Standing Committee in Beijing, capital of China, June 29, 2019. The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s top legislature, closed its five-day bimonthly session Saturday. (Photo: Xinhua)

The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s top legislature, closed its five-day bimonthly session Saturday, adopting a law on vaccine administration and several decisions.

Li Zhanshu, chairman of the NPC Standing Committee, presided over the closing meeting attended by 171 committee members.

At the meeting, lawmakers adopted a decision to grant special pardons for some imprisoned criminals on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

In a speech at the meeting, Li underlined the political and legal significance of the decision on special pardons, calling for accurate grasp of the principles and coverage of the pardons, as well as fair and law-based handling.

He also spoke highly of the vaccine administration law, saying the law will provide powerful legal weapons for protecting people’s health.

Li called for efforts to solicit opinions to improve the two draft sections on marriage and family and inheritance of the civil code, which were reviewed by lawmakers during the session.

Lawmakers approved the central government’s final accounts for 2018 and passed a report on qualifications of certain NPC deputies. They also adopted resolutions on official appointments and dismissals.

Li called for better enforcement of the government’s budget and thorough corrections to the problems found by auditing, as well as more efforts to protect the legal rights and interests of small and medium-sized enterprises.

Before the closing meeting, Li presided over a chairpersons’ meeting to hear reports on the drafts to be submitted for voting.

Dana Allin

Editor’s Note:

At the 14th Shangri-La Dialogue (SLD), the China-US relations grabbed the most attention amid tensions in the South China Sea. What should the US do with the rising China? How can the US deal with its dilemma in the messy Middle East? Global Times (GT) reporter Sun Xiaobo talked to Dana Allin (Allin), a senior fellow for US foreign policy and transatlantic affairs with the International Institute for Strategic Studies about these issues on the sidelines of the SLD in Singapore. Dr Allin is also editor of the bi-monthly journal Survival.

GT: Some analysts say that the US policy on China has often swung between containment and strategic partnership and is not a consistent one. What’s your take?

Allin: I’m not sure I agree with that. I don’t think the US policy on China has swung that much.

The US is a politically divided country now and the partisan divide is very sharp and fierce. But on China, going back to the Nixon administration and the opening to China, the US policy has been pretty consistent.

In US election campaigns, you often have candidates, sometimes winning candidates who run against current administration, saying it’s too easy on China and should get tougher. But when they become president, they turn to look at the picture and say China is an important partner.

Having said that, we are now reaching a point where China is becoming more powerful in many ways. We’ve been talking about this for generations, but in military terms it’s still not very powerful. Now we are reaching the point that we really have to think about the future.

As (Singaporean) Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in his SLD opening remarks, can the US and China occupy the same ocean? There are some voices in the US that will say China actually has to be contained, but I don’t think the voices have been dominant in any US government and don’t expect them to be.

It depends on what you mean by containment. If it means preventing China from growing strong, I don’t know why the US would do that and don’t think any US government would try to keep China weak.

GT: You mentioned there is possibility for conflict. Do you think the US government has made miscalculations about China’s rise? Does the US have zero-sum mentality in its pivot to Asia, as some observers think?

Allin: I think the US government has accepted that China will rise.

There are two questions I suppose. First, what kind of global role will China have to play? Has China imagined itself to have a role in the world such as the US has right now? The answer right now is no, as competing with the US globally doesn’t seem likely.

As Admiral Sun Jianguo said (in his SLD remarks), China is still a poor country. There isn’t any example in history where a country has become so important and powerful – the second biggest economy in the world – and at the same time has many poor people.

It’s fair to say the US has a kind of leadership class that is used to running things. Sometimes it’s almost jealous about sharing power. There was a time that the US didn’t want the EU to form a military organization for fear of competing with American leadership. But I don’t think the US sees a zero-sum game generally.

Take the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Washington tried to convince Britain and other countries not to join it, but what may not be known in China is that the Obama administration tried very hard to convince Congress to adjust IMF voting shares because it recognized that China should have more, but Congress refused.

So the Obama administration was angry at the UK, but also at its own Congress because it thought it would be better not to have the new bank but a bigger Chinese role in the old one. But it didn’t work.

I can’t understand why in China that’s interpreted as the US refusing to give up any leadership.

GT: Is the US still confident in its global leadership?

Allin: The US has gone through a period of low confidence because it committed a major strategic blunder in Iraq and is still paying price for it. The IS grew out of that. It’s terrible and the US has a lot to answer for it. The Americans feel it and have lost a large amount of confidence. This led to the view that the US is weakening and not as powerful.

What’s interesting about Obama is that he’s publicly recognized the limits of US power. He’s tried to be careful saying “we have to set priorities.” Our relationship with China and the Asia-Pacific is among the most important strategic relations in the world. We should pay more attention to this. China has the potential economically to be a peer of the US, but the US right now has about 60 alliances and military strategic partnerships globally. Those are not forced but appreciated.

The US has grounds to be confident, but it has to be careful about its strategic investments and try not to be responsible for everything. General MacArthur said anyone who proposes a ground war on the Asia continent should have his head examined. But the US has had a number of ground wars on the Asia continent, like Iraq, Vietnam, Korea, and none of them turned out well for us. So we have to recognize our limits.

As the US has major military capabilities close to China, I can understand why China finds this threatening. But I don’t think in fact the US does pose a threat to China or encourage other countries to do it.

GT: What more do you think of the US can do to combat the IS and correct its mistake in the Middle East? What has been the biggest mistake in Obama’s foreign policy?

Allin: They are very hard to correct in the Middle East where the situation is very violent and instable. The best the US can do is to, first of all, not make things worse; second, try to support the Iraqi government and persuade it to be more inclusive and accommodating the Sunni minority.

I don’t know what to do with Syria, possibly building on some local cease-fires that can be created and transitioning to a regime that protects minorities against revenge and eventually having Assad transition. This is a hopeful way.

I’ve seen Obama expressed regret for it, but I’m not sure I understand the nature of the regret or that he said we shouldn’t have taken the military actions at all. But there was a cost to it.

We couldn’t allow Muammar Gaddafi to massacre his citizens in Benghazi, which I think he probably would have done.

At the same time, we were determined not to send troops there and get involved in another nation-building exercise, which led to chaos. The Obama administration certainly has recognized it didn’t turn out very well.

Photo: IC

Scott Morrison’s first overseas trip after being re-elected prime minister of Australia was to the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific in early July. This demonstrated that his style of foreign policy aims at spreading influence to neighboring island countries. His signature program, the Pacific step-up, and the A$3 billion Pacific Infrastructure Bank package are designed as a pushback against the development and aid projects under the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) framework in the region, regarded by Canberra as not only a rival, but also a threat.

Australia’s perception of China’s motive behind BRI projects in the Pacific region couldn’t be farther from truth. The nonsensical bogey of a menacing China as a threat to Australia’s security and sovereignty based upon ideological differences is so disconnected from reality that it could only be diagnosed as an obsessive paranoia.

While China advocates a shared future for mankind, some Western countries such as Australia are still fixated on the Cold War-style confrontational mind-set, resonating the Trumpian rhetoric of decoupling from China, which is absurd considering pervasive globalization.

Australia’s unease over the Chinese presence in the South Pacific stems from China’s success in Pacific island nations with constructive and concrete measures in strategic, economic and diplomatic cooperation as well as people-to-people communication. China’s new concept of the Blue Economy accords with the island nations’ ocean development strategy and long-term approaches. The bilateral and multilateral model that China has been upholding inspires better collaboration.

In a number of areas, cooperation between China and the island countries on the BRI has brought about desirable business, trade, investment and aid outcomes, helping bring about positive social and cultural changes to the local communities, including education and social well-being. It enhances multicultural diversity against the background of globalization and people-to-people relations, which is of vital importance to mutual progress and collective development.

The fear and smear campaign about the so-called debt trap and white elephant projects launched by some media outlets and politicians in the US, Australia and elsewhere has not been successful with the Pacific island countries, which have steadily pursued independent diplomatic and trade relations.

According to Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, the BRI is in sync with Fiji’s development target, enormously facilitating the archipelago nation’s economic, social and cultural growth and improvement in living standards. Pragmatic cooperation within the BRI framework has reaped benefits for not only Fiji but also the entire South Pacific region.

There are considerable differences between the Chinese and Australian areas of focus in this region. China’s aid and cooperation programs are mainly in the form of infrastructure projects such as bridges, airports, sea ports and hospitals, while Australia stresses more upon issues such as AIDS prevention, education, human rights, legal system and gender equality.

The Pacific countries have a huge demand for funds, advanced technology and professionals with technological expertise and competence, which China can provide. China does not regard Australia as its competitor, but a collaborator in the South Pacific. China’s aid and investment programs are not aimed at regional leadership or threatening the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other countries, but seek to bring about economic exchange and joint development with mutual benefits.

As the largest donor to the Pacific island countries, Australia believes that the security, stability and economic prosperity of the South Pacific region is of long-term importance to Australia. As the biggest player, Australia is committed to improving this region’s economic, diplomatic and security environment.

China does not oppose Australia’s leading role and believes an innovative equilibrium of regional and international relations can be of practical significance. The BRI can serve as a channel to strengthen this region’s connectivity and partnership, including that of Australia, with China’s growing economy.

What’s more, on broader issues such as anti-terrorism, peace-keeping and disaster relief, China could work with the island countries as well as Australia to contribute to the long-term stability and prosperity of the North and South Pacific.

The author is a professor and director of Australian Studies Center, East China Normal University. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

Newspaper headline: Why Oz is uneasy about China in Pacific

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) fired two short-range projectiles off its east coast on Friday, according to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).

The two projectiles were launched from the DPRK’s eastern coastal region into the eastern waters at about 2:59 a.m. and 3:23 a.m. local time each, traveling around 220 km at an altitude of some 25 km.

It came after the DPRK fired two short-range projectiles on Wednesday. The two projectiles were launched from the DPRK’s eastern city of Wonsan, flying about 250 km at an altitude of some 30 km.

On July 25, Pyongyang fired two short-range projectiles from the same Wonsan area.

Photo: IC

The US-launched trade war against China has moved to the realm of science, technology, finance, and many other industries. The Trump administration’s intention to decouple from China has been increasingly obvious.

As a rising industrial power, China has already occupied vital parts of the global industrial chain. The tendency of the US, the world’s largest consumer market, to decouple from China will certainly have a massive impact on China’s development.

Many Chinese scholars believe that the key to China’s resistance to the US decoupling lies in further reform and opening-up. Through reform and opening-up, China will be able to inject vitality in its market, innovate better, and develop closer relations with the rest of the world.

China is on the right path. But to move in this direction, it must focus on its social welfare system.

Japan’s economy was hurt by US crackdown in the mid-1980s. Whether or not the “lost decade” was caused by the Plaza Accord in 1985, the Japanese economy took a bad beating.

In this historical context, Japan’s economic development slowed down sharply. But no large-scale or continued social unrest was seen. Nevertheless, social instability caused by economic downturn is commonplace in many developing countries.

The social welfare system that Japan built since the 1960s helped keep social unrest at bay. The system not only stabilized Japanese society, but also helped companies prosper, enabling them to become world leaders in product development and innovation.

At the beginning of the “lost decade,” Japan adopted a new economic five-year plan from 1988 to 1992, and began to build an affluent living environment. The country also optimized its distribution system to make it fair, and completed the shift to a domestic demand-driven economy. In the 1980s, Japan’s social security investment doubled, reaching nearly 70 trillion yen from only 30 trillion.

The industrial giant’s competitiveness during this period stemmed not only from scaled-up investment in enterprises and training manpower, but also from the country’s stable business and social structure, all of which are inseparable from Japan’s social welfare system.

The current rivalry between China and the US is typical of intense competition among major powers. It is competition over silicon chips, talent and even different political and social systems. The spat between the economic giants shows how different their systems are.

In his article “Forget China – it’s America’s own economic system that’s broken,” published in The Guardian on June 23, former US secretary of labor Robert Reich noted that “The two systems are fundamentally different. At the core of the American system are 500 giant companies headquartered in the US but making, buying and selling things all over the world… At the core of China’s economy, by contrast, are state-owned companies that borrow from state banks at artificially low rates. These state firms balance the ups and downs of the economy, spending more when private companies are reluctant to do so.” He also said “The simple fact is Americans cannot thrive within a system run largely by big American corporations, organized to boost their share prices but not boost Americans.”

The piece articulated the key to China-US competition – which system can better promote the general well-being of its people.

In recent years, the Chinese government has been committed to improving the social security system, employment training system, and urban and rural living environment. The poverty alleviation program across the country has turned out to be fruitful, which demonstrates China’s institutional efficiency.

Lifting more people out of poverty and making sure they have at least minimum social security benefits, can afford to see a doctor, do not need to spend too much of their savings on their children’s education, and have an apartment to live… may seem not as important as developing high-tech products such as silicone chips. But these factors can precisely determine the longevity of a country’s economic and scientific strength as well as its resilience in the face of external shocks.

The author is a senior editor with People’s Daily, and currently a senior fellow with the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China. dinggang@globaltimes.com.cn. Follow him on Twitter @dinggangchina

South Korea warned Japan on Thursday that it would be forced to review security cooperation between the two key US allies if Tokyo pushes ahead with plans to remove Seoul from its “white list” of trusted trade partners.

The squabble between the East Asian neighbors follows a decades-long quarrel over Japanese forced labor during World War II.

Japan last month unveiled tough restrictions on exports of chemicals vital to Seoul’s world-leading chip and smartphone industry.

Tokyo has also said it will remove South Korea from its preferential trade status as early as Friday, a move that could affect hundreds of key items imported to the South and punch a hole in its economy.

Seoul’s Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha met her Japanese counterpart Taro Kono on Thursday on the sidelines of a regional foreign ministers’ meeting in Bangkok and urged Tokyo to walk back the move.

“I made clear the grave consequences it would have on our bilateral relations if the measure was imposed,” she told reporters.

Kang warned the renewal of a military intelligence-sharing agreement between the countries could be jeopardized by any “white list” removal.

“I said that the security cooperation framework between South Korea and Japan may be affected,” she added.

Japan’s chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga said on Wednesday that his side intended to press ahead with the move.

“This policy remains unchanged and we will calmly proceed with the formalities,” he told reporters.

Seoul and Tokyo are Washington’s key security allies in the region and critical in any future deal on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is also in Bangkok attending the summit of Southeast Asian foreign ministers, has pledged to mediate between the two countries when he meets their diplomats on Friday.

“We will encourage them to find a path forward,” he said ahead of his trip.

Pompeo is trailing his country’s rebooted Asia security strategy in Bangkok.

Gen Nakatani

Editor’s Note:

As tensions between China and Japan simmer, will there be possibilities of military clashes, or will the relationship get better in 2014? Global Times (GT) reporters Sun Xiaobo and Xie Wenting talked with Gen Nakatani (Nakatani), deputy secretary-general of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party and member of the House of Representatives, in Tokyo recently on these issues.
GT: As a politician who has served in the army, how do you think China and Japan can avert the possibilities of military clashes over the East China Sea?

Nakatani: It’s the primary duties of politicians to prevent their country from going to war. When it comes to territorial issues, each country has its own stance. The disputes should be subject to negotiations for solution and be put aside if talks fail. China and Japan have actually put aside territorial issues for about 50 years.

I visit China every year to discuss making rules in the disputed waters and improving contacts so as to avert any incident from turning into a military clash. Accidents have to be avoided, because once they take place, nationalist emotions in the two countries are triggered, and then both sides have no retreat.

China and Japan should carefully review the history and consider never going back to the wars and actions that inflict pains to both sides. On this basis, we need work out rules to avoid conflicts and precautions in case of any such conflict happening.

GT: How do you see China’s military development nowadays?

Nakatani: As China keeps robust economic growth and has become a top-class power, its people enjoy a rich life with an optimistic attitude and are actively integrating the Chinese culture with others.

As a world leader, China has to be caring and noble-spirited in dealing with other countries, particularly its neighboring ones. Meanwhile, Japan needs to reconsider its way of dealing with China.

China and Japan have once enjoyed very good economic exchanges and sound political trust. The soured relationship between the two neighbors nowadays may come from the mismatch in approaches that the two governments take in considering relevant issues.

GT: What’s your take on the prospects of Sino-Japanese relations in 2014?

Nakatani: The bilateral relationship has to turn better in 2014. As the host of the APEC meeting in Beijing in November, China has to coordinate its relations with other countries. I hope both China and Japan can work together to take the opportunity of this meeting and rid other countries of their worries.

Multiple topics will be discussed on this meeting. Although the territorial and historical issues are like a fish bone stuck in the throat, China and Japan cannot simply give up eating. We have a lot of exchanges to do, and the solution to the territorial and historical issues may come up during these discussions.

The Sino-Japanese relationship will not be severed and hence requires efforts from both sides. A mutually beneficial relationship of the two sides will lead to win-win results.

GT: What is the aim of Japan’s attempts to revise the constitution? What do you think of China’s concern that Japan may give up pacifism?

Nakatani: The concept of peace has been deeply rooted in the minds of Japanese people and is as unshakable as a huge rock. It’s neither necessary nor possible for Japan to consider occupying the territory of any other country.

What the Japanese government and people want to maintain is the current peace and prosperity and the sovereignty of the country, with no higher expectations. However, we have little consciousness of protecting our territory with our own forces. Since WWII Japan’s national security has relied on the rest of the world, especially the US, so the focus of the constitutional revision is to allow Japan to protect itself.

Japan and China need to make shared security rules within East Asia. I have taken this as my mission throughout my political life.

Ten years ago, my scheduled trip to China as defense minister to discuss security issues was aborted due to prime minister Junichiro Koizumi’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine. It’s reasonable to say that historical issues hinder the progress of security. I made it a target to construct a dialogue framework that goes above the territorial and historical issues.

GT: What’s your comment on Shinzo Abe’s visit to Yasukuni Shrine?

Nakatani: The two peoples are learning more about each other, but the words and actions of some politicians concerning specific issues can hinder the development to the relations between the two sides.

But the shrine visits by Abe and Junichiro do not mean that Japan wants to rebuild as a military power and pursues militarism. The Japanese public wouldn’t accept such a trend.

Concerning the pilgrimage, no one in Japan ever wants to commit acts of aggression of other Asian countries again, nor do they believe wars are good and meaningful. Those disasters Japan has brought to other countries should and will never be forgotten.

Wu Sike (吴思科) Photo: Zhang Yu/GT

Editor’s Note:

Last year saw dramatic shifts in the Middle East, a region where constant changes have become the new norm. How should the significance of these changes be understood? How can the turbulent region achieve peace? And what role should China play in the region? At a seminar held by the Center for Middle East Peace Studies, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Global Times (GT) reporter Zhang Yu talked to Wu Sike (Wu), China’s special envoy on the Middle East issue, over these issues.

GT: The Middle East is witnessing some fundamental changes. For example, Iran has agreed to curb its nuclear program, the UN voted to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons and Egypt is going to vote on a new constitution. Are these real breakthroughs?

Wu: Much has happened in the past three years. Regimes changed, and wars were fought.

Of course, toppling a regime through revolution and street politics infuses dynamism into a country.

But when the revolutionary young people went to the streets, yelling out their pent-up dissatisfaction, they weren’t really thinking about the future they wanted to build.

Now it’s time for people in these countries to reflect on their past and future, and for the political situation to cool down and transit, especially for countries like Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen which are in a relatively peaceful transition.

Libya and Syria, however, went in another direction, ravaged by incessant warfare. But one thing in common is that all countries are struggling to find a constructive solution where the traditional world view and the modern world view can find a common ground.

The biggest change last year occurred in Egypt. Mohamed Morsi, the first democratically elected head of state in Egyptian history, was only in office for over one year and was removed by the military after mass protests.

Syria was on the verge of war but agreed to tackle the chemical weapon issue in a peaceful way, which is more positive and rational than resorting to military action.

The Iranian nuclear issue, after 10 years of consultation, reached a preliminary deal which is likely to curb its nuclear activities. This is a very good beginning.

People are realizing the importance of finding political solutions rather than resorting to violence and military options which are against the interest of all countries.

GT: Some in the West have been criticizing China for not engaging enough in the Middle East. Is this fair?

Wu: This is an inveterate thinking of the Western world, a colonial stereotype that believes everything is in their command. People in the Middle East are strongly opposed to it.

China shares many similarities with countries in the Middle East in terms of culture and history. We understand that we can’t impose on others, especially on issues related to other countries’ sovereignty.

Also, legally speaking, all sovereign states are equal members of the international community. No country is better or higher in status.

China firmly clings to this belief, just as all our government papers stress.

And yet we are not onlookers. We participate actively in the regional hot issues, such as the ones faced by Israel and Palestine, Syria and Sudan, by giving advice and encouraging them to address problems through peaceful talks.

When a conflict occurs within a country and people protest against their government, it is not necessarily true that the people are always right and that other countries should stand on their side. This is sheer bias. We believe these countries have the ability to sort out matters themselves without relying on foreign help.

In the future, China’s position against violence and advocacy of solving problems via peaceful talks will remain unchanged, and we won’t impose on other countries.

When I talked to a rebel in Syria, he told me that they don’t welcome foreign military intervention. Whether it is by land or air, the result is both national and social instability.

Political solutions may take a longer time to solve problems, but countries suffer much fewer losses.

GT: What does China expect of the Middle East?

Wu: China now has a deepening relationship with the Middle East in terms of politics and economy.

A peaceful and stable Middle East is in line with China’s political and economic interests, and when the antagonism between these countries is pacified, it will also be easier for China to deal with multilateral relationships in the Arab world.

The Middle East is an important supplier of energy to China. Therefore, acting as a mediator in the region is not just following the UN’s guidelines, but is in China’s own interests.

Of course, mediation is a slow, accumulative progress. Our efforts today may not have instant effects, but they will pay off one day.

The Iranian nuclear issue is an example. The international community has been engaged in talks for 10 years before recent breakthroughs, those 10 years weren’t useless.

I think countries should have the faith that they can find a solution through peaceful talks.

It’s true that there are deep-rooted conflicts between Palestine and Israel, and between Iran and other Gulf countries. But they should also walk in each other’s shoes. For example, the Jews had historically been unfairly treated. So they should be able to feel what Palestinians are feeling through their own experience.

Today’s world is a small world, with countries sharing more common interests. As neighboring countries, they should be even more aware of that.

GT: What common interests do China and the US share in the Middle East? And what is the biggest disagreement?

Wu: There are more common interests between China and the US than differences, and both parties should avoid a zero-sum mentality.

China, with our rising international influence, has become more and more important to the Middle East, but it is not our intent to replace the role of others or take away their shares of the cake.

The Middle East needs a market it can sell its oil to, and China’s involvement is fair and mutually beneficial. We advocate political solutions and mutual benefits in the energy issue.

The US has a strong interest in the region, with many US oil companies having oil and gas operations there. Therefore, the US also expects the Middle East to develop in a stable way.

There has been a simple-minded view that with the US now less dependent on oil in the Middle East, it will retreat from the area. But actually, the US still has various interests in the region.

In October, I went to the US and talked to US specialists and envoys on the Middle East issue. We found many things in common. We should explore common interests in our thinking and action and should not consider each other enemies.

As the US is less dependent on the oil from the Middle East, other Asian countries and China are now increasingly important to the Middle East as oil buyers.

Politically, Asian countries are more equal and respectful when they deal with the Middle East, which is helpful to the development of the region. Japan, though, may have its hidden agenda in the Middle East.

She approached me when I was standing on the cross-street bridge out of the Mahalaxmi train station in Mumbai. She was a girl with big shining eyes. I was there gawking at the endless fields of clothes and bed sheets strung on ropes to dry out in the area below called Dhobi Ghat, wondering what life is like for the thousands of “dhobis” – washer folk who live in the slums down there and work every day from dawn to dusk to hand wash what seems to be the clothing of the entire city.

A must-see listed in any tour guide of Mumbai, the 130-year-old Dhobi Ghat is known as the world’s largest open air laundromat and has been crowned as such by the Guinness World Records. Workers wash hundreds of pieces of clothing each per day and make five rupees per item, compared to the 50-150 rupees or more per piece their clients in the upper levels of the business chain – hotels and laundry shops – charge their customer.

The little girl doesn’t live at Dhobi Ghat. And her parents are not “dhobis” but vendors. They work on the bridge because this is the spot where many tourists come to get a bird’s eye view of the area while keeping a safe distance from the appealing but intimidating unknown down there.

But the girl didn’t thrust the goods she was selling in my face. Instead, she started the conversation with small talk. “Where are you from?” she asked with a shy smile, then kept going – “I am from Rajasthan”, “Is your country cold?” “It feels cold here for me”… Then she flashed the necklaces hanging on her arm. “I am here selling these, you know. Would you buy one, please?”

I didn’t want the necklaces which looked cheap and ugly. But I liked the girl immediately because of her amiable way of talking and because she looked a bit like the “big eyes girl” on the popular poster of China’s “Project Hope,” a program that helps children from poor families go to school. As I pulled out my wallet, I asked her what she wanted to do when she grew up. “A doctor,” she said without hesitation.

Not long after I finished the purchase, another little girl selling magnets came over. “Where are you from?” she asked me. And the conversation went on in the same way until I asked her what dreams she had for the future. “I want to be a police,” she said.

By now, I realized that they were all trained by the same master, the conversations were merely a selling technique and the personal touch they offered was probably made up. Only their dreams were different from each other and seemed genuine.

But the girls, ten and eight as they said, were clearly not on the way to pursuing their dreams – they even couldn’t spell their names for me. It was mid-morning on a Thursday, and they were not at school.

In India, not only the dhobis pass their profession to their children, but also the vendors, panhandlers and all others struggling at the bottom of society tend to do so.

There are many beggars on the streets pushing their young children forward with their small hands stretched out – a tactic that often brings some immediate rewards from sympathetic tourists. But in the long run, it forms the toughest fortress of poverty in a country where, according to the World Poverty Clock, 70 million people still live on less than $1.90 a day, defined as “extremely poor” by the United Nations Sustainable Development Agenda.

Indeed, the vicious cycle is not only there in India. In the US, the “school to prison pipeline” that has been haunting the black community, and the violent crime that has been plaguing some Native Indian reservations are two examples. How to break the vicious cycle is a question that challenges the most capable social reformers. But directly giving people handouts hasn’t always worked either.

In his 2008 Man Booker Prize winning novel, The White Tiger, Indian writer Aravind Adiga looked through the eyes of a protagonist driver from near the bottom of society who was struggling to break out. “The moment you recognize what is beautiful in this world, you stop being a slave,” he wrote.

Now when I think about the “big eyes girl” on the bridge, I wish I didn’t buy the necklace and rather showed her a video clip of doctors in practice or jewelry designers crafting better looking necklaces. The money almost certainly went to whoever trained her as a salesperson, whereas such images might have stuck in her mind and made her strive harder for realizing her dreams. Trying to inspire children of the poor with the vastness and beauty of the world and to ignite their drive so they just might change their own fate, is probably the best an outsider can do.

The author is a New York-based journalist. rong_xiaoqing@hotmail.com

US National Security Advisor John Bolton warned China on Tuesday that Washington would “oppose any agreements between China and other claimants to the South China Sea that limit free passage to international shipping, and that American naval vessels would continue to sail through those waters,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

Bolton’s assertion came right after Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said that China hopes to finish negotiations over the South China Sea Code of Conduct (COC) within three years so as to keep enduring peace in the region. Both are attending the ASEAN Summit in Singapore right now.

With the joint efforts of China and relevant ASEAN countries, tensions in the South China Sea have cooled down. While Western analysts hold a skeptical view of the agreement between China and ASEAN nations to start negotiations on the COC, talks on the COC have indeed been pushed forward in a steadfast pace.

It is worth noting that, due to the US’ continuous utterance and meddling, the COC talks may be a twisted and complicated process. But it is also a process during which China and ASEAN can build up trust. The COC negotiations indicate that regional countries can solve their own problems, albeit in the face of external interferences. The upcoming three years are a time when China and ASEAN will sort out how to mitigate interference by external factors, especially the US.

For a long time, the US has been trying to woo Southeast Asian nations which have territorial disputes with China in South China Sea waters, including the Philippines and Vietnam. Washington’s approach is an attempt to balance China’s rise and counter the so-called regional hegemony of China. The often-touted Indo-Pacific strategy by the US is in essence a measure to contain China by building a network of allies and partners.

The US will continue to expand its presence in the Indo-Pacific region. It is budgeting to spend $717 billion on defense in 2019, its highest spending since 2011, which will increase the size and might of the US military partly in response to China’s activities in the South China Sea. China should keep alert of any troubles US interference in the area may bring to the COC talks.

To ensure the construct of a well-functioning security framework, China is keenly pushing forward economic and trade cooperation with ASEAN countries. China is working with ASEAN to upgrade the bilateral Free Trade Agreement signed in 2004, and such efforts will facilitate the COC talks in return. China and the Philippines are seeking joint oil and gas exploration in the South China Sea, which can create a positive foundation for the two to expand cooperation and solve territorial disputes.

Newspaper headline: Advance COC talks through building regional trust