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Smart restaurants give dining more fun

Smart restaurants, which offer a dining experience characterized by partly automated operations that eliminate the need for human waiters and waitresses, have continued to flourish across China as an up-and-coming business model.

Photo taken on Jan. 15, 2020 shows the dish delivery robot working at a smart restaurant in Guangzhou, capital of south China’s Guangdong Province. (Xinhua/Deng Hua)

Since it opened up a smart restaurant in Beijing’s Chaoyang district in 2018, the hotpot restaurant chain Haidilao has garnered even greater acclaim by offering a new unique experience to its patrons.

At the restaurant, processes such as ordering, preparing, cooking and serving food, as well as dining and checking out, are all facilitated through the use of robots and an artificial intelligence-enabled (AI) system.

The intelligent system is also able to identify food items approaching their expiry date and will properly dispose of these items before processing a new order, explained Hu Jie, an R&D manager with Haidilao.

Haidilao is one of the many restaurants in China that has undergone changes in their operations by embracing the latest information technologies and related equipment.

Starting last year, there has been a rising demand for automated systems to promote contactless dining at restaurants, a dining mode that was eagerly sought after to prevent the further spread of the novel coronavirus virus after the initial outbreak.

To seize upon this new business opportunity, various domestic robot manufacturers, including Siasun, Uditech and Keenon, have become increasingly more engaged in R&D in the area of robotics since last year.

The robots developed by Keenon can perform tasks such as food delivery and clearing empty plates away from the table. They can also avoid obstacles and return to their original position after completing a food delivery run. Moreover, the robotic droids are able to display a QR code to customers for scanning prior to making a payment. All these functions can help to significantly reduce instances of human-to-human contact.

Two Keenon robots are able to serve 20 to 30 tables, as statistics from Keenon showed, while indicating that such an operational arrangement can effectively save labor costs and improve efficiencies. The whole catering industry will become more and more dependent on robotic systems for fulfilling their food delivery needs in the future with an aim to raising efficiencies, lowering costs and guaranteeing food safety, said an executive with Keenon.

Industry insiders believe that compared with traditional dining scenarios, smart restaurants can better guarantee food safety, providing a means for monitoring food safety information and reducing the chance for food contamination from human handlers.

China’s catering industry is becoming more intelligent, with new business scenarios constantly emerging, while the relationship between online and offline channels is becoming even closer, as was pointed out in a report on China’s catering industry development in 2021. Meanwhile, the continued development of the catering industry has also promoted further growth among product manufacturers and service providers, the report added.

An official with the Ministry of Commerce mentioned recently that efforts should be made to accelerate digitalization, smart transformation, and cross-industry collaboration for brick-and-mortar businesses, promoting the development of smart restaurants and working towards deeper integration between online and offline business models.

Digital RMB coming soon to citizens

Photo taken on Feb. 14, 2021, shows an advertisement board for digital RMB at Wangfujing shopping street, Beijing. (People’s Daily Online/Chen Xiaogen)

A Chinese senior citizen surnamed Liu was recently surprised by the convenience of digital RMB, or e-CNY, during a visit to Bo’ao, south China’s Hainan province.

He told People’s Daily that he bumped into a digital RMB promotional activity in the city that was piloting e-currency, and finished payment by simply placing his smart watch on a POS machine.

“This ‘wallet’ came in very handy,” Liu said. He hoped that the new payment method could be applied in China as soon as possible.

A Shanghai resident surnamed Chen, who’s an owner of a vegetable stall at a farm produce market, holds similar points with Liu. “Thanks to digital currency, my daily turnover is automatically saved in my bank account. Besides, it also offers real-time and free transfer of money,” she said.

Digital RMB is essentially a legal currency issued by the People’s Bank of China (PBOC), the central bank of China, under national credit guarantee. It is digital cash, and completely equivalent to banknotes and coins in terms of value.

At the end of 2019, digital RMB was put in pilot tests in Chinese cities like Shenzhen, Suzhou and Chengdu, Xiong’an New area, a state-level new area in north China’s Hebei province, as well as future scenarios for the Beijing 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.

By October 2020, six more pilot areas were added, including Hainan province, Shanghai, Changsha, Xi’an, Qingdao, and Dalian.

Experts pointed out that digital RMB has attracted wide attention for its convenience and efficiency. It transfers money in real time as there’s no intermediary agency between the payers and payees. Besides, it also works like cash in offline scenarios.

More importantly, digital RMB can better protect the privacy of users as it promises controllable anonymity and denies merchants and third-party platforms the access to consumers’ ID information and payment data.

As a key feature of e-CNY, controllable anonymity not only helps guarantee individuals’ legitimate anonymous transactions and personal information security, but also contributes to preventing, controlling and cracking down on money laundering, terrorist financing, tax evasion and other illegal and criminal activities for higher level of financial safety, said Mu Changchun, head of the Institute of Digital Money under the PBOC.

With multiple banks in the pilot areas testing the innovative payment method, e-CNY has been applied in a variety of scenarios ranging from catering services and daily payment to shopping and transportation.

It is expected that digital RMB will extend to online businesses like e-commerce and short video platforms, and play a major role in real economy sectors such as corporate trade and supply chain finance.

In the era of digital economy, digital currency boasts huge potential for development, and can help improve the efficiency of economic operation and may even give birth to new business forms and economic models, said Mei Xinyu, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation under the Ministry of Commerce.

China enjoys many advantages in pushing forward with digital currency, Mei noted, explaining that the country has developed relatively complete infrastructure and payment systems, and electronic payment enjoys high acceptance among Chinese consumers and merchants.

Mei also believes that digital currency will make cross-border settlement more efficient as the COVID-19 epidemic prompts consumers across the world to develop a habit of online shopping and payment.

During the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference 2021, Li Bo, deputy governor of the PBOC, made it clear that the PBOC would focus on the following aspects in its work related to digital RMB, including advancing pilot projects and expanding their scope, further improving the infrastructure of digital RMB and enhancing the security and reliability of relevant systems, and formulating relevant legal and regulatory frameworks.

When asked whether digital currency would replace banknotes and general electronic payment as it gradually becomes mainstreamed, Mu stressed that the issuance of digital RMB is not based on administrative enforcement, but market-oriented, which signifies that paper money, electronic payment, and digital RMB will coexist in the foreseeable future.

Niche cultures see growing market

Nobody would have imagined that niche cultures, such as Han costumes, Lolita fashion and JK uniforms are in fact now favored by far more than a few minor groups on the sidelines, instead propping up a market of around 10 billion yuan ($1.55 billion) today.

In fact, online searches for Han costumes exceed those of T-shirts on e-commerce shopping platforms, and a single JK dress may garner a sales volume of 300,000 units within several days after its initial launch.

Photo shows Hanfu enthusiasts appreciating pear blossoms and sipping tea in Chengdu, southwest China’s Sichuan province. (Xinhua/Liu Mengqi)

“In the past, the number of fans for these cultures and fashions was very limited. However, about two years ago, I began to receive inquiries from a vast number of neophytes,” said Fu Linying, a fan of these types of distinctive clothes and also a vendor of JK uniforms on the online Chinese e-commerce marketplace Taobao.

That was why Fu, who had been studying and working overseas, decided to return to China and start a JK uniform business with her boyfriend in 2019. According to Fu, people aged 17 to 28 are the main target consumers for her online shop.

Last year, Fu rolled out a JK dress design whose color differed from that of ordinary ones. Within a couple of days, over 20,000 units of the dress were sold.

“Most of the girls in my time could only follow trends, but the young girls today have become trend settlers,” Fu said.

Last year, Fu’s store achieved a sales revenue of over 2 million yuan, with the number of followers linking to her store rising to nearly 200,000.

Consumers of these kinds of unique clothing items will usually select and shop for items at one or several stores, and then share their comments and personal feelings about the dresses they purchase from individual stores on the platforms.

“A Lolita outfit costs somewhere between 1,000 yuan to 2,500 yuan,” said Mu Mu, a college student who has a passionate interest in Lolita outfits, adding that she spends over 10,000 yuan on Lolita costumes every year.

She said that Lolita costume fans respect and prefer original designs and will shun any knockoffs, which is why they have become increasingly more loyal to specific brands.

Taobao now has over 1,000 stores like Fu’s. The constant expansion of China’s emerging consumer demand has provided merchants in the niche market with significant room for continued growth. Data from Taobao showed that the number of new active merchants on the platform hit its peak during the period from April 2020 to March 2021 over the past five fiscal years since 2017.

China continues to better Internet services

Photo taken on April 19, 2020, shows a 5G base station built on Mount Qomolangma at an altitude of 6,500 meters. (Photo/China Mobile)

Under a program launched in 2015 that aims to increase broadband speed and lower rates for Internet services, China has built the world’s largest broadband network infrastructure, and ensured the same broadband access and speed in rural areas as those in urban areas, said an official with the country’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT).

Meanwhile, China has reduced the average rates of fixed broadband per unit of bandwidth and mobile broadband per unit of traffic by over 95 percent, according to Liu Liehong, vice minister of the MIIT.

China has seen a significant rise in the network speed for users. The proportion of fiber optic Internet users in all users of fixed broadband in China has risen from 56 percent at the end of 2015 to 94 percent. More than 120 million households in China have been connected to 1,000M fiber optic network.

In terms of mobile network, China’s 4G base stations constitute over half of the world’s total. Besides, the country has built 792,000 5G base stations, with the number of mobile terminals connected to the 5G network reaching 260 million. In addition, China has managed to cover all prefecture-level cities with 5G standalone (SA) network and made initial achievements in building the world’s largest 5G mobile network.

Over the past five years, China’s various measures adopted to cut the rates of fixed broadband per unit of bandwidth and mobile broadband per unit of traffic have benefited more than one billion users annually, and saved users a total of over 700 billion yuan ($107.9 billion).

Such measures have made various Internet applications increasingly popular, and stimulated Chinese people’s potential for information consumption.

The average monthly Internet traffic of mobile Internet users has jumped more than 40 times to 10.85 GB from 205 MB in early 2015.

China has also evidently narrowed the digital gap between the rural and urban areas by quickening the pace to tackle the weak links in rural network infrastructure.

So far, more than 99 percent of the administrative villages in China have gained access to fiber optic and 4G networks.

China intends to lower the average rates of broadband and dedicated Internet access services for small and medium-sized enterprises by another 10 percent, and step up the development of the 5G network and 1,000M fiber optic network and extend their application to more settings, according to the country’s 2021 Report on the Work of the Government issued in March.

This year, China will shift its focus from broadening the coverage of networks to increasing the speed and improving the quality of broadband, and make the measures to lower rates for Internet services more targeted at certain groups of people, Liu noted.

The country will upgrade and renovate 1,000M fiber optic network in households on a larger scale, and advance the on-demand construction and further coverage of 5G network in an orderly manner.

It will also support the construction of 10,000 4G base stations in rural and remote areas, and ensure that all administrative villages in China will be granted access to broadband networks by the end of this year.

Meanwhile, China plans to roll out specific measures for lowering rates for Internet services directed at key groups, including small and medium-sized enterprises, once impoverished rural residents, as well as the elderly and disabled.

For example, it has reduced the charges for products that integrate cloud platform, network and applications for companies to lessen their costs of using Internet and cloud platforms, and offered a 50-percent discount on basic communication services for rural households that have just shaken off poverty.

‘Toy doctor’ strives to repair broken toys

“Owners have invested their toys with life and a deep affection,” said Liu Haimei, a “toy doctor” whose job is to give people’s beloved belongings a second life by restoring them to their original appearance to the greatest extent possible.

Liu, born after the 1980s, developed some basic handiwork skills during her childhood due to the influence of her mother, who had worked at a stuffed toy company in Yangzhou, east China’s Jiangsu province.

Liu had also worked at a toy import and export company between 2011 and 2020. She was forced to leave the company when it was hit hard by the COVID-19 epidemic.

“After I lost my job, I decided to try starting my own business repairing toys. As I enjoy making handicrafts and have been in the field for a long time, I believed it would suit me well,” Liu said, explaining her original intention in launching the toy restoration business online.

Liu usually starts repairing a toy by first washing it carefully, as many toys hadn’t been washed for many years. Then she replaces the stuffing inside the toy and patches up any holes it might have.

Among the hundreds of toys Liu has repaired, the oldest was more than 60 years old, but the one that left the deepest impression on her was a worn-out toy seal named Huihui. According to Huihui’s owner, a young woman, the toy seal had been with her and become her best friend for over a dozen years spanning her childhood and time studying overseas since 2006 when her father bought it for her as a gift.

As the toy had become old and worn, the owner asked Liu to help her restore her old companion to its original look. She even published a journal for Huihui every single day on the instant messaging application WeChat to document the restoration process.

“Thanks to your hard work, my toy seal can finally come to life,” the young woman said, expressing her gratitude to Liu after her toy had been given a second life by the craftswoman.

Liu takes her job very seriously, as she believes it is of great significance. She once repaired a broken toy 10 times so that it would be in the best possible shape when it arrived at its owner’s home.

“I was completely concentrated and devoted while repairing the toys, and I always gained a sense of fulfilment after I successfully fixed them,” said Liu.

Yunnan gears up to protect biodiversity

Photo shows protected wildlife in the Gaoligong Mountain National Nature Reserve, including crestless monal (upper left), black snub-nosed monkeys (lower left), and blood pheasant (right). (Photo provided by the Gaoligong Mountain National Nature Reserve)

Southwest China’s Yunnan Province is one of the biodiversity hotspots of the world. It has all types of ecosystems except for marine and desert ecosystems.

It is home to 2,242 vertebrates and 19,333 known land plant species, 51.4 percent and 50.1 percent of the country’s total, respectively.

In recent years, new species have been found in the province every one or two weeks. For instance, on Gaoligong Mountain of Yunnan’s Baoshan, over 100 new species were discovered in the recent 10 years.

Zhang Ting, a staff member with Kunming Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), told the People’s Daily that the discovery of new species in Yunnan Province was not a coincidence.

He attributed the rich biodiversity of the province to the local mountainous and fluvial landforms. Besides, the province’s low-latitude plateau has created both tropical rainforests and talus slopes, he said. Hornbills are gliding in monsoon forests, while black snub-nosed monkeys are swinging between firs.

Zhang and his team spend around four months each year in the fields, collecting seeds for a national germplasm bank of wild species. They have gathered 85,046 seeds of 10,601 species, which is a huge backup for Chinese plants.

“It’s like buying an insurance for wild plants and saving their seeds in the bank. Once needed, these seeds would go back to the fields, which is another way of protecting the species,” Zhang said.

Apart from the collection and preservation of germplasm resources, rare animal species are also well protected in Yunnan Province.

Green peafowl is a critically endangered species. There are only less than 600 of them in China, all of which are distributed in Yunnan Province. According to monitoring data from the Kunming Institute of Zoology, CAS, the number of green peafowl in the Konglonghe Nature Reserve in Shuangbai County, Chuxiong Yi Autonomous Prefecture of central Yunnan has risen from 52 in 2015 to nearly 100. In addition, an artificial breeding and reintroduction program was launched last year, which has created brighter prospects for the population restoration of the species.

There are also many other rescued species. For instance, the number of black snub-nosed monkeys has grown to over 3,000 from 1,400 some twenty years ago, and that of black-necked cranes which spend winter in the province has also exceeded 3,000, from around 1,600 in 1996.

Today, nearly 1/7 of Yunnan’s territory is protected as nature reserves. According to statistics, the province has approved and built 362 nature reserves, and 90 percent of important ecosystems and nature reserves for endangered and protected species of the country are effectively protected.

Besides, Yunnan Province has also been improving institutions and mechanisms related to biodiversity protection. In 2019, it launched a local regulation on protecting biodiversity, trying to maintain species variety in terms of legislation.

Technologies arm professional farmers

A teacher of agricultural techniques (third from left) from a vocational high school in Linquan Township, Qianxi County, southwest China’s Guizhou province teaches students how to prune orchards, March 31, 2021. (People’s Daily Online/Zhou Xunchao)

Human resources are of huge importance for China’s rural vitalization. At present, there are over 17 million high-caliber farmers working in the countryside to prosper the rural regions.

The improved scientific literacy of Chinese farmers has laid a solid foundation for their overall development, and is offering stronger support for the country’s rural economy.

Bao Yuan is a young man running an aquatic product company in Qujing, southwest China’s Yunnan province that he established in 2014 after graduating from Yunnan Normal University in 2014. “Artificial breeding not only diversifies people’s choices, but also helps protect endangered local fish species,” he said.

Song Xueqin is a Gen Y female who has made her name in the Lvliang Mountains, north China’s Shanxi province by flat peach grafting techniques.

After graduation from college, Song was successively engaged in catering business, gypsum processing and sheep husbandry, but didn’t succeed in any of those.

In 2009, she heard that Chinese wild peaches can be turned into flat peaches through grafting techniques, so she asked one of her friends to bring her scions of flat peaches from northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region and invited an expert to impart relevant skills to her.

A year later, Song and her husband grafted flat peach scions onto over 4,000 wild peaches on a hillside near Hetaozhang village, Fenxi County, Shanxi province, but the fruiting wasn’t good.

“After consulting relevant materials and experts, we finally realized what cross-pollination was. The yield goes high only when varieties grafted match,” she said.

Last year, the woman received her first certification of her life – a certificate for new professional farmers.

“The countryside is never short of resources. In recent years, as people’s living standards have been raised, they are developing a larger demand for green and high-quality agricultural products. This trend is mobilizing more and more well-educated entrepreneurs who are technically skilled and know how to operate and manage businesses to go back to the countryside,” said Zuo Chenming, a senior researcher with AliResearch, a research arm of Alibaba Group.

Early in the morning, Mi Xiaohong from Yuzhong County, Lanzhou, northwest China’s Gansu province started working in a cowshed, serving the cattle with new fodder and water and cleaning the cowshed.

“The making of cattle fodder is complicated, as we must calculate how much grass and other materials we add in it and fairly decide the ratios of bran, glacial flour and salt,” she told People’s Daily, adding that the ingredients have to be adjusted according to different growth periods of the cattle.

Mi, always attending training programs held by the county government, has become a specialist in cattle husbandry.

“I made many detours as a layman, but now I’m often consulted by fellow villagers,” she said, adding that only by continuous learning can she solve more problems.

Today, local authorities across China are issuing new policies and measures to encourage farmers to study technologies. Shandong province has launched a professional title evaluation system for professional farmers, and Jiangsu province’s Kunshan is offering free college education for professional farmers. In Gansu Province, training sessions are launched for heads of professional cooperatives and animal epidemic prevention coordinators, in an effort to bring technologies to the farmland and find solutions to agricultural problems.

Chinese economy sustains stable recovery

Students of a primary school in Qingdao, east China’s Shandong province interact with a brainwave-controlled robot, April 18, 2021. (People’s Daily Online/Wang Haibin)

China’s GDP grew 18.3 percent year on year in the first quarter, hitting 24.93 trillion yuan (about $3.82 trillion), according to statistics released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on April 16.

The figure registered an increase of 0.6 percent from that in Q4 of 2020, or 10.3 percent from that in the first three months of 2019. This puts average Q1 growth of 2020 and 2021 at 5 percent from the 2019 level.

The relatively small number base in the first three months of last year, as well as the increased number of workdays as a result of people skipping returning home for the Spring Festival, contributed to the 18.3 percent surge in Q1, said Liu Aihua, spokesperson of the NBS, adding that China’s economy was recovering steadily.

Facing COVID-19 in winter-spring period and uncertainties overseas, China consolidated and expanded its achievements in coordinating epidemic prevention and control and economic and social development, Liu noted. “In general, China secured sustained and stable recovery of its economy, achieving a good start of the year,” she said.

The country’s total retail sales of consumer goods grew 34.2 percent year on year last month, 0.4 percentage point higher than the January-February figure. In the first quarter, the investment in high-tech industries and social sectors registered average two-year growths of 9.9 percent and 9.6 percent, respectively. Besides, the total value of imports spiked 27.7 percent from a year ago in March, exceeding that of exports for the first time this year, which indicated a consolidated trend for the recovery of domestic demand.

In the first three months of this year, the value added of equipment manufacturing and high-tech manufacturing enterprises above designated size, or with revenue from principal activities of over 20 million yuan, increased by 39.9 percent and 31.2 percent respectively year on year, with an average two-year growth of 9.7 percent and 12.3 percent respectively. The growth was higher than the overall growth of industries above designated size.

During the same period, the investment in high-tech industries grew by 37.3 percent year on year, 7 percentage points higher than that of total investment, and an average two-year growth of 9.9 percent.

Besides, smart and low-carbon products experienced rapid growth in Q1. The production of new energy vehicles, industrial robots and micro computers surged 310 percent, 110 percent and 73.6 percent, respectively, with all achieving double-digit two-year growth. According to initial estimate, the energy consumption per unit of GDP decreased 3.1 percent in the first quarter of this year.

During the January-February period, the total profit of enterprises above designated size increased 1.79 times, with an average two-year growth standing at 31.2 percent. Service enterprises above designated size achieved turnaround, and their total profit hit 169 billion yuan.

In the first quarter, the nationwide per capita disposable income reported a nominal increase of 13.7 percent year on year, with an average two-year growth of 4.5 percent. The income growth of rural residents outpaced that of urban residents.

In March, the Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) stood at 51.9 percent, up 1.3 percentage points from a month ago and staying above the threshold for thirteen months in a row. The non-manufacturing PMI stood at 56.3 percent, up 4.9 percentage points, and composite output PMI was 55.3 percent, up 3.7 percentage points.

The International Monetary Fund recently revised its estimation on global growth in 2021, projecting that China’s growth will hit 8.4 percent.

“The adjustment indicated the world’s confidence in and expectation on China’s economic development of the year. The country’s economy is expected to achieve stable growth,” said Liu.

Liu noted that the economic recovery in the first quarter of this year continued, and positive factors are accumulating. The stable recovery, as well as the advantages that China has long enjoyed, including a strong material foundation, a complete industrial system and rich human resources, lay a solid foundation for the country to further consolidate the trend of sustaining economic recovery, Liu said.

China helps relocated poor live better life

Photo shows a resettlement site in Hemuling village, Jingning She autonomous county, east China’s Zhejiang province. Since 2015, 1,099 residents from 403 households who once lived in the mountainous villages with an altitude of over 600 meters have moved to the relocation site. (People’s Daily Online/Li Suren)

By rolling out various measures, including launching vocational training, developing featured industries, and providing financial support, China is working to consolidate the results of poverty alleviation relocation and ensure that the relocated residents can secure jobs and become better-off.

Relocation is essential for bringing leapfrog development to the Chinese people in inhospitable areas, and an important approach to the country’s victory in its fight against poverty.

From 2016 to 2020, China relocated more than 9.6 million registered impoverished residents, and built about 35,000 resettlement areas for them.

Luo Yoinghe used to live in Doudi village, Huishui county, southwest China’s Guizhou province. Five years ago, he and his fellow villagers were relocated to a community in the economic development zone of Huishui county.

After Luo was elected as the secretary of the Party branch of the community in December 2016, he made a decision to find jobs for all relocated residents.

He started a night school that provided 15-day vocational training programs. Based on an investigation into the literacy and educational background of the residents, the night school tailored different training plans to suit different groups and desired jobs. It is estimated that the night school’s training programs are joined around 1,200 times each year.

To provide better employment services, the community has also established a labor service company to match job seekers to enterprises.

Among all 5,935 residents at the community, 3,123 have secured jobs, or at least two in each family.

“We have more than 400 enterprises around us, as well as six poverty alleviation workshops in the community. The per capita monthly income stands at around 3,000 yuan ($459) to 4,000 yuan,” said Luo.

According to him, the average annual per capita income of the village was less than 3,000 yuan in 2016, and has hit 14,800 yuan today.

“We shall work harder on employment to better revitalize the countryside and improve the wellbeing of people,” he added.

In 2016, Jiangbei township of Ganzhou, east China’s Jiangxi province built a relocation site in its Jiangbei village, which is adjacent to a national highway. Near the relocation site, the township government established a three-storey poverty alleviation workshop with a total area of nearly 1,200 square meters which was later rented by an electronics manufacture producing earphone cables and data cables for smart phones.

It was in this workshop that 55-year-old Huang Liuzhao, who moved from the mountainous village of Laiyuan, Jiangbei township to the relocation site, secured a job that earns him over 3,000 yuan each month.

So far, Jiangbei township has established seven industrial bases for poverty alleviation. A total of 158 relocated residents from 28 households in the township have benefited from local industries, and 99 have secured jobs.

China fortifies its biosecurity network

China will officially enact its biosecurity law on April 15. As the country steps up efforts to enhance public education on biosecurity, Chinese citizens are gaining an increasing awareness of preventing the import of harmful organisms and advancing ecological progress.

A customs office of Changsha, central China’s Hunan Province stationed at a post bureau for the first time seizes 21 living fish from incoming parcels. The fish are preliminarily identified as small tetras and have been detained according to law. (Photo from the official website of the General Administration of Customs)

Animal and plant quarantine at the customs is the first line of defense that safeguards national biosecurity. Last year, China’s customs districts seized quarantine pests in 69,500 batches from 102 countries and regions.

In the first two months of this year, they seized 172 types of pests in 7,942 batches, a 40.41 percent year-on-year surge in the number of interceptions.

In early January this year, Suzhou customs’ transaction organization stationed in the post office captured massive tulip seedballs when inspecting incoming parcels.

Tulip seedballs are a commodity that customers always purchase from overseas around February every year. However, these propagating materials might carry massive pests, such as Ditylenchus dipsaci, Pratylenchus penetrans and Arabis mosaic virus (ArMV), which are all high-risk pests inspected by Chinese customs in imported tulip seedballs.

For instance, the ArMV is extremely contagious, which would damage multiple cash crops once imported, and seriously threaten China’s agricultural safety.

On an early morning, a mail van pulled into a depot under customs supervision of the Hefei International Mail Exchange Bureau, east China’s Anhui Province, where parcels shipped from across the world gathered. Customs official Zhang Chengzhi, upon X-ray examination and out of the box audit, discovered several living insects in glass bottles.

“There are more and more such cases in recent years,” Zhang said. “The living insects didn’t go through any quarantine or approval procedure, and might carry parasites, viruses and bacteria that threaten people’s health and ecological security,” he explained, adding that these insects might pose a risk for local species.

A customs office of Beijing stationed at a post bureau seizes 27 insect specimens in two boxes, including a Titan beetle, one of the largest known beetles in the world. (Photo by Zhang Min, from the official website of the General Administration of Customs)

Sophisticated technologies are constantly enriching examining methods, significantly improving the capability of quarantining animals and plants.

“We don’t have any examining methods or materials for most of the invasive species here in China, so we must consult massive foreign documents. Meanwhile, we are equipped with large numbers of sophisticated equipment to increase the speed and accuracy of quarantine,” said Chen Yunfang with the technology center of Suzhou customs.

“Microscopes are our weapons. For instance, the scanning electron microscope can magnify the lips of nematodes, which are normally as small as 1 millimeter, by 30,000 times. It enables us to see clearly the heads of the nematodes,” Chen said.

Focusing on the identification of plant parasitic nematodes for over 20 years, Gu Jianfeng and his team from the technology center of Ningbo customs have built a smart identification system. “In the future, the time for identification will be shortened from a couple of days to minutes,” Gu said.

Suzhou customs’ transaction organization stationed in the post office handles nearly one million international parcels each year. An official with the organization told People’s Daily that the customs have established a multi-dimensional prevention and control network to prevent the invasion of exotic species.

Experts noted that many invasive species entered China due to the public’s lack of biosecurity knowledge, adding that non-trade channels are mostly how these species invaded.