Will Moon accept invitation to visit North Korea?

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has invited South Korean President Moon Jae-in to visit Pyongyang. The news created a stir in the global media and among analysts. Moon did not explicitly accept or decline the invitation, leaving a great mystery hanging over the Korean Peninsula situation.

Kim’s invitation provided a new clue on how the situation will evolve after the Winter Olympic Games. Previous analysis said that once the Games is over, joint military drills by the US and South Korea will soon resume under Washington’s insistence and it is highly likely that Pyongyang returns the favor with new missile tests. In that case, tensions on the peninsula may quickly return to pre-Olympic levels. The relaxation of tensions between the two Koreas brought on by the Games would be short-lived and each side would go back to the cruel reality.

Now the situation is offering more options. Moon has been treating the North Korea delegation to great hospitality in the past few days. Kim Yo-jong, sister of the North Korean leader and a special envoy for her brother, delivered Kim Jong-un’s letter. This is seen as a symbol of improving ties between the two Koreas and an achievement for Moon’s presidency if such an atmosphere continues.

Washington has a grudge over the improvement of inter-Korean ties at the Games. US Vice President Mike Pence arrived late to the reception that Moon hosted before the opening ceremony and stayed only five minutes, which was very impolite. This was interpreted by almost all media as a gesture by Pence. Although that gesture may contain various implications, showing dissatisfaction to the South Korean host was surely one of them.

If the rapprochement between Seoul and Pyongyang at the Games is temporary and fails to leave a positive legacy for future inter-Korean ties and instead becomes an obstacle in US-South Korea mutual trust, Moon would be throwing good money after bad. As Moon is a close ally of former South Korean president Roh Moo-hyun, who advocated the “sunshine policy,” and he himself called for better inter-Korean relations during the election, Moon may very much want to accept the invitation and visit Pyongyang. But whether he can make that trip depends on many factors.

If in the near future the situation on the peninsula returns to pre-Olympic levels, with joint US-South Korean military drills and continuous North Korean missile tests, especially nuclear tests, Moon’s plan to visit Pyongyang will surely be spoiled by the change in domestic public opinion.

Whether Moon is able to demonstrate an ability to shape the situation on the peninsula this year is most critical.

Sending a delegation to South Korea and inviting Moon for a visit indicates that Pyongyang intends to continue suspending its nuclear and missile programs after the Games. Quite a few US and South Korean media believe Pyongyang wants to buy some time for its weapons program. No matter what, continuously suspending its nuclear and missile programs is inseparable from resolving the nuclear crisis. It is better than frequent tests.

The US holds the opinion that Pyongyang’s suspension of its nuclear and missile program is unilateral and irrelevant to US-South Korean military drills. The US also demands Pyongyang’s behavior point to the ultimate goal of abandoning nuclear weapons and only by so doing will there be a foundation for US-North Korean dialogue. From this perspective, Moon’s next task would be to persuade Washington.

Moon has the cards in his hand to pressure Washington into making concessions or at least lowering the intensity of joint military drills. It’s certainly not easy and it could be politically risky, but only when he makes that move can there be true hope of peacefully resolving the North Korean nuclear crisis.

The situation on the peninsula is at a crossroads. Either Seoul shoulders its responsibility and pushes for the US and North Korea to meet each other halfway, forming the “double suspension” proposed by China and Russia and so creating positive conditions for a high-level visit to North Korea, or Seoul faces more intense confrontation with Pyongyang as both sides abandon a peaceful solution.

It is difficult to predict what will happen, but we intend to believe that it is more likely Moon will eventually visit Pyongyang. After weighing many factors, we value Moon’s wish to continue relaxing tensions between the two Koreas. We hope his wish can translate into momentum and in turn bring about change.

Source: Global Times

Young Chinese increasingly drawn to Thai pop culture and traditions

A Chinese fan of Thai actor Mike D’Angelo Photo: Li Hao/GT

Liu Mengting, 24, a white-collar worker at an international company in Beijing, loves to watch TV shows and movies. She used to watch US and South Korean TV shows most, but recently, she has fallen in love with Thai shows.

“One of my friends recommended the Thai movie Bad Genius (2017) to me, and I was amazed,” she said. “I never thought cheating on a test could be represented as a thrilling spy story.”

The movie opened in China on October 13, 2017 and made over 230 million yuan ($36.8 million) at the box office. Bad Genius also got a score of 8.2 out of 10 on China movie review website douban.com, triggering heated discussions on Thai movies and TV shows and the culture of the country.

Sa-ngopkarn Moungthong, the First Secretary at the Thai Embassy in Beijing, said Thailand is trending in China due to increased cultural and people-to-people exchanges. Nowadays, many Chinese TV stations and websites have Thai TV shows, and many Thai stars visit China to promote their new projects. Some have even acted in Chinese TV shows and movies.

“Now more and more Chinese are gaining a better understanding of Thailand, and they are more willing to know more about the culture and food. They also want to visit and witness Thailand for themselves,” Moungthong said.

Southeastern pop culture

Liu is currently watching Thai shows, Fake Love (2018) and What the Duck the Series (2018). Both are idol dramas, and the latter is a boys’ love show.

She loves Thai idol dramas and soap operas that have more “intense dramatic conflicts and beautiful actors and actresses than Chinese dramas.”

Liu’s favorite Thai TV show is Princess Hours (2017), which is a remake of the South Korean show of the same name. The show was simulcasted on Tencent’s video website v.qq.com when it aired in Thailand in April 2017. It amassed over 100 million views in 10 days and has since been played over 400 million times.

The Ruci Yinghua Film Company cooperated with Tencent to bring Princess Hours to China. According to an employee, the company chose the show following years of research on website video viewers in China to find out their tastes.

“Thai idol dramas have a similar style to those from South Korea and Taiwan, so we can estimate that Thai idol dramas will attract many fans in China,” she said, adding that Thai idol dramas are more popular among young Chinese aged 18 to 30 and are especially suitable for video websites.

“China and Thailand are both developing countries in Asia and have a similar cultural background and value system, so Thai shows can be accepted more by Chinese than other foreign countries,” she said.

Moungthong thinks Chinese and Thais have similar tastes in TV shows and movies and sees it as one of the reasons Thai culture is increasingly popular in China.

“Most Thai TV shows are comedies, and they are more based on life unlike many Japanese and South Korean shows,” he said.

“They are more in line with both Thai and Chinese young people’s lifestyles. Also, many Thai stars come to China to shoot TV shows and movies, including Mike D’Angelo and Mario Muarer.”

Liu agreed. “If the language in the movie did not remind me that it is a Thai movie, I would definitely think it is a Chinese story,” she said. “The similarity of both sides’ young people resonates with Chinese viewers.”

Easygoing stars

Thai actor Panuwat Kerdthongtavee is 19-year-old university student Elsa Li’s idol. She fell in love with the actor after watching the Thai TV show Two Moons (2017) and began to follow him online and attend his events in China. On August 16, 2017, she and 20 Chinese fans of the show went to Chengdu in Sichuan Province to participate in a fan meet and greet with the Two Moon’s crew.

“I think Thai stars are the most available and easygoing stars I have ever been a fan of,” Li said.

“The most expensive ticket for the activity was about 1,000 yuan, and if you bought the VIP ticket, you could go on stage at least twice to interact with your idols. You could give them presents, shake their hands and take selfies with them.”

Although Li only bought a regular ticket for about 300 yuan, she still got a chance to go on stage to shake hands with Kerdthongtavee, which was very exciting.

“They have been to Taipei, Chengdu, Hangzhou in Zhejiang Province, Shenzhen in Guangdong Province, and Nanjing in Jiangsu Province to meet fans and promote the TV show because China is their most important target market,” Li said. “Many Thai TV shows do it, not just Two Moons.”

Moungthong said due to the Belt and Road initiative, people-to-people contact and connectivity between Thailand and China is increasing, which has led the Thai cultural industry to pursue a broader market and more cooperation with China.

According to a report by Tencent’s entertainment news portal ent.qq.com, many TV shows have been jointly shot by Chinese and Thai companies, including Custom Love (2017), What the Duck the Series (2018) and the movie Fear Me Not (2016).

Moungthong said both the initiative and the Thai government’s special efforts to promote their culture in China are helpful in drawing Chinese attention to Thai culture and the country itself.

“I never hear about any other royal family in the world who can speak Chinese, but Thai Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn can,” he said proudly.

Tourism market trend

The influence of pop culture in China has also improved the people’s willingness to learn about Thailand. Chinese movies like Operation Meikong (2016) and Extraordinary Mission (2015) were filmed in Thailand, and the beautiful landscape stimulated people’s desire to visit the country.

According to data released by the Association of Thai Travel Agents recently, 9.8 million Chinese tourists visited Thailand in 2017, and more than 400,000 Chinese will go there during Spring Festival, which is a 10 percent increase compared with the same period in 2017.

Zhou Lei, 32, went to Thailand with her husband for Spring Festival in 2017. She had wanted to visit the country ever since she watched the Chinese movie Lost in Thailand (2013).

She said what impressed her most about Thailand was the cheap and delicious food.

“I think the Chinese and Thais are very similar. We are two countries who think food is very important in people’s lives,” she said.

“We enjoyed the seafood, and my favorite is tom kha kai (coconut juice boiled chicken). The sweet reminds me of the Southern-style food from my hometown in Fujian Province.”

Moungthong describes Thai food as a combination of all tastes. “[Thai food is] spicy, sweet, salty and sour, but neither of the tastes is too extreme. We keep the track in the middle,” said Moungthong.

“It is just like our culture, always in the middle and in moderation, which is similar to the traditional thought of Confucianism in China.”

Zhou was so taken with Thailand that she signed up her parents and in-laws for a senior citizens’ tourism trip to Thailand during the Spring Festival.

“It is a new way for them to spend the holidays and relax, and I heard that the celebration there will be rather great,” she said.

A grand Chinese New Year celebration is scheduled in the China Town in Bangkok, and according to Moungthong, it is “the largest Chinese New Year celebration outside of China.” Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn will also attend the celebration.

Li is busy learning Thai. She plans to go to Thailand for a large-scale fan event featuring her idol in two months.

“I think this Southeast Asian country has its unique charm with very beautiful actors, increasingly great movies and TV shows, and great food and landscape,” she said. “I think more and more young people will fall in love with the country, not just me.”

Source: Global Times


Nightmare comes true! Baidu to surpass Google in self-driving

Google’s nightmare that Chinese Internet giant Baidu may surpass it in self-driving has come true, China News reported on Feb. 8.

A self-driving car developed by Baidu

About three years ago, Google not only worried about Uber’s self-driving technology, it also worried about Chinese tech giant Baidu, according to Google’s internal e-mails exposed in the lawsuit filed by Waymo, the Google self-driving project, against Uber for patent infringement and stealing trade secrets.

Foreign media reported that in an email sent by Chris Urmson, former head of Google’s driverless car program, to Google’s founder, the head said that for the past six months they were no longer pursing victory, but trying to slow the rate of decline.

Moreover, Google’s top executive Dmitri Dolgov mentioned in an email that Google’s competitiveness was on the decline in the face of Chinese enterprises such as Baidu, reminding Google to take the challenge seriously.

However, it seems that Google did not pay much attention to challenges from Baidu or its other rivals judging from its performance in recent years.

By contrast, in 2017, Baidu launched its autonomous driving platform Apollo. Apollo is the first of its kind in the world and a great achievement in the self-driving industry.

The platform now has over 80 partners, including field leaders Bosch, Microsoft, and Blackberry, and the number still keeps rising.

Apparently, the remaining three years did not stop the rise of Baidu’s self-driving technology, and Apollo has now become “big trouble” for Google.

Baidu, as one of China’s first technology companies to explore artificial intelligence and self-driving, was recognized by Fortune magazine as one of the top four AI giants in the world. Its Apollo platform can provide developers with self-driving capabilities such as perception, route planning, and vehicle control via API or SDK.

In addition, Baidu’s self-driving technologies have the support of the Chinese government.

Forbes also pointed out in its article that Western self-driving companies are less likely to make a difference in China, but Baidu, with its unique algorithm, good business partners, and enormous support from the government, has a chance to overcome Google in self-driving.

China’s cultural exports hit $90 billion in 2017: Ministry of Commerce

China exported $88.19 billion worth of cultural products in 2017, up 12.4% year on year, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Commerce said at a news conference on Feb. 8.

The import of cultural products stood at $8.93 billion, down 7.6%. The surplus expanded by 15.2% compared with a year earlier, reaching $79.26 billion.

Over the last year, the country has seen the structure of its cultural exports optimize. The export of high value-added entertainment products, as well as radio, TV, and film equipment, all increased by 19.4% year on year, accounting for 34.5% of the total.

The US, Hong Kong SAR, Netherland, the UK, and Japan were the top five markets of China’s cultural imports and exports, accounting for 55.9% of the total value.

The exchange of cultural products between China and Belt and Road countries grew by 18.5% to $17.62 billion in 2017, accounting for 18.1% of the total export-import volume.

Daily bike-sharing users in China peaked at 70 million: report

China has 400 million registered bike-sharing users and the daily number of riders peaked at 70 million, according to Liu Xiaoming, vice minister of the Ministry of Transport, Beijing Morning Post reported.

The industry has generated revenue of 221.3 billion yuan ($35 billion), provided 390,000 jobs, and contributed 10.1 billion yuan of growth to information consumption last year, according to a report on the social and economic influence of shared-bicycles.

Seventy-seven shared-bicycle companies have emerged in China over the last two-plus years, with a combined total of 23 million bikes in Chinese cities, towns, and even villages, Liu said at a press meeting on Wednesday.

Shared-bikes have driven the growth of related businesses, the report showed. The industry has reduced the use of gas by 1.41 million tons, one percent of the national gas consumption in a year.

The industry has also helped to relieve 400 million hours of time spent in traffic, equal to the work hours of 240,000 people a year.

Though the government has been supporting the development of shared-bicycles, the sector also needs to be regulated, according to the Ministry of Transport.

According to information released by China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) last year, some bike-sharing startups have been kicked out of the market or integrated with other services after fierce competitions.

In the second half of 2017, some of the services made headlines for the difficulty that caused their customers in reclaiming deposits, such as Kuqi Bike, suggesting that the sector needs to be better regulated.

Pet care business sees a rise as Spring Festival approaches

Pet shops in Chinese cities are seeing more business as people go home for the Lunar New Year, or travel during the holiday. As a result, the price for pet care services is up 20 percent, Beijing Morning Post reported.

Many pet owners choose to have their animals stay in pet shops for the Spring Festival holiday, because the procedures to take pets home is quite complicated in China.

A pet owner surnamed Guo said she started to look for pet shops last month, because she will fly from Kunming in southwest China to Chongqing and stay there for about half a month for the holiday.

Guo said she will have to pay 1,500 yuan ($237) for half a month of pet care services, and she will have to provide her own dog food.

For pet shop owners, fostering pets during the holiday is a busy and lucrative business. An owner of a pet store said it is the third year that he chose not to go home but to stay in the city where he works to earn extra money.

Some pet owners choose to have their pets taken care of by another family member during the holiday, which is less expensive than having them kept at pet stores. Still, some pet owners like to take their companions home, despite the complicated procedures.

Sichuan Airlines reportedly will roll out pet air tickets in March. But according to its plans, pets are only allowed to stay in belly of a plane.

New system developed to boost China’s earthquake prediction ability

Chinese scientists have discovered an earthquake monitoring system called AETA, which will be able to forecast earthquakes at least one to 15 days ahead of time after fully deployed, according to its chief developer, Science and Technology Daily reported on Feb. 8.

AETA is able to capture earthquake precursors, record signs before and after a quake, and discover patterns to predict earthquakes, said Wang Xinan, director of an earthquake monitoring and prediction technology research center based in southern China’s Shenzhen.

The system is placed under the ground or in a cave to capture underground sounds and other signs before an earthquake happens.

Unlike traditional bulky monitoring instruments, AETA is made up of a small group of compact and lightweight, sophisticated semiconductor sensors.

AETA picked up signals when a 6.5-magnitude earthquake jolted waters near Taiwan’s Hualien County on Tuesday.

The system also proved useful in predicting earthquakes in southwest China’s Sichuan province in last September and October, respectively.

Currently, the country has nearly 200 sets of AETA, most of which are placed in the southwestern provinces of Sichuan and Yunnan, as well as in Beijing and surrounding areas. Taiwan is also covered by the monitoring system.

We feel so much safer in China: foreign friends

Foreigners who have been to China all give a thumbs-up to the sense of security China has given to them, saying that they feel much safer in China.

China is acknowledged as one of the safest countries in the world. It has precious experience in social governance, offering a good reference for other countries.

“Is China safe?”

A tourist from Finland said that he feels much safer in China than in Europe on the influential travel reviewer website TripAdvisor.

An internet user who has been living in China for 15 years noted on the American Q&A platform Quora that she was never mocked or discriminated on the streets in China. Sometimes she even takes her 11-year-old daughter on the subway back home at night, something she would not dare in other countries.

Ismail Hussein, the associate editor-in-chief of the magazine “China Today” in Arabic, also expressed his sense of safety in China, saying that he once took an underpass at night, but did not feel afraid because of the many surveillance cameras around.

He said that once when he left Nasr City, Cairo, he was informed of a large explosion just half an hour after he left the area.

Maria, a Brazilian who has lived in China for nearly 20 years, said that she hesitated about going back to Brazil, as she would not like to see the overwhelming news on murders and drug trafficking in Brazil.

Anil Sigdel, a political scientist and columnist from the US who has lived in India, Austria, Spain, and China for years, said that China is one of the safest countries in the world, adding that compared with the U.S., China exercises strict gun controls, which reduces the number of violent crimes.

Raphael, a Brazilian working in media for years in China, noted that it is understandable that China has become one of the safest countries in the world, as Chinese people are deeply rooted in Confucian culture, and China has strict laws and regulations and governing measures.

The results can be attributed to the Communist Party of China’s effective governance of the country, which is hard to be copied by other countries, he added.