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China’s ties with Israel are tested by Gaza, but not sorely | Business and Economy News



In March 2017, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described his country’s bilateral relationship with a superpower as one of nuptial bliss.

At the time, former US President Donald Trump occupied the White House. The United States was months away from formally recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, criticism of illegal settlement building in the West Bank had all but vanished, and Washington was pursuing an aggressive policy against Israel’s archrival Iran.

“I believe this is a marriage made in heaven,” Netanyahu was quoted saying at the time.

But he wasn’t talking about Washington and arguably one of the most pro-Israeli US administrations in history. He was speaking about China.

Over the last two decades, China and Israel have built a close relationship based on investments and economic ties. In doing so, they have managed to look beyond serious regional differences and priorities.

The US is Israel’s most powerful and steadfast supporter, and China is Washington’s biggest rival. Beijing also has ties to Iran and styles itself as a staunch supporter of Palestine, with which Israel has been embroiled in a decades-long conflict.

But the rewards of turning a blind eye to geopolitical differences have proved handsome. The value of trade between the two countries grew from roughly $1bn at the turn of the century, to a little over $11.2bn in 2019. China currently stands as Israel’s second-largest trading partner behind the US.

Those mutual interests, say experts, help explain why Israel has looked past China’s vocal support for Palestine, and why leaders in Beijing are cautious to go beyond rhetoric when addressing Israel’s disproportionate use of force against Palestinians – including the recent 11-day bombardment of Gaza that killed at least 254 people including 66 children.

Experts say China is cautious to go beyond rhetoric when addressing Israel’s disproportionate use of force against Palestinians – including the recent 11-day bombardment of Gaza that killed at least 254 people including 66 children [File: John Minchillo/AP]

Closer ties, changing attitudes

Israel, like many countries, is eager for access to China’s massive market and to benefit from Beijing’s penchant for splashing around big money on infrastructure projects.

China, meanwhile, sees Israel as another lynchpin in its Belt and Road Initiative to project and deepen its economic and political power. Strategically located on the Mediterranean, Israel is a high-income country with innovation economy – an aspect prized by Beijing.

“China’s principal interest in Israel is advanced technology,” Chuchu Zhang, deputy director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Fudan University, told Al Jazeera.

A study by the RAND Corporation of 92 business deals in Israel by Chinese state-owned firms between 2011 and 2018 found that the lion’s share of investment – some $5.7bn – went to Israel’s technology sector.

Shira Efron, an Israel specialist with the RAND Corporation, told Al Jazeera that largesse has bolstered China’s image in Israel.

“In Israeli eyes, China is a country of new opportunity,” he said.

A 2019 poll conducted by the Pew Research Center found that the overwhelming majority of Israelis – some 66 percent – view China favourably. Positive sentiment was even higher among young people under 30, with more than three-quarters saying they held a favourable view of Beijing.

Symbolic stances

While it has invested large sums of money in Israel, China has sought to maintain its historic image as a strong supporter of Palestine by taking symbolic stances on certain issues.

In 2017, China banned its nationals from taking part in illegal settlement building in the occupied West Bank, even as Chinese contractors were busy working on infrastructure projects in Israel.

Last month saw more symbolic manoeuvering in response to the Gaza war.

In Israeli eyes, China is a country of new opportunity.

Shira Efron, Rand Corporation

China, which held the rotating presidency of the United Nations Security Council in May, worked to issue a resolution condemning the violence and demanding a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas – efforts that were blocked by the US.

And shortly before a ceasefire to the conflict was brokered by Egypt and Qatar, Beijing offered to host Israeli and Palestinian delegates for peace talks and floated a four-point peace plan calling for a two-state solution with East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state.

But some experts viewed China’s efforts as purely self-serving.

Lucille Greer, a scholar at the Wilson Center, described Beijing’s rhetoric as “boilerplate.”

“They didn’t even bother coming out with a new [peace plan] proposal,” she told Al Jazeera, noting that the blueprint was originally released in 2013 and matched the one put forward by Arab states.

“They get the benefits of proposing mediation, without the parties recognising it as serious,” she added.

Zhang said that in reality, China has little to gain from taking a harder stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict, preferring instead to leverage it to cast Washington in a poor light.

“The aim is to earn points in the global stage by revealing and criticising the US’s double standards in the Middle East,” Zhang said.

Chinese diplomats at the UN were eager to call out the US for blocking their ceasefire proposal, with one reportedly using it to portray US support for Muslims as hollow.

Washington has pushed back aggressively on China’s human rights record, and the administration of US President Joe Biden has labelled Beijing’s treatment of Uighur Muslims a “genocide”.

They get the benefits of proposing mediation, without the parties recognising it as serious.

Lucille Greer, the Wilson Center

Turning a blind eye

Israeli leaders have not paid much attention to China’s response to the Gaza war, which Efron said is viewed more as “lip service” in Tel Aviv than a true commitment.

But that doesn’t mean the relationship is not without risks. Efron says Israel could be sacrificing its own security as well as Washington’s unwavering support by pursuing closer relations with Beijing.

This year Chinese company Shanghai International Port Group will take over management of a portion of Haifa Port on Israel’s Mediterranean coast.

The decision to award the contract to a Chinese firm elicited howls of protests from the US, which raised concerns about espionage at a port where the US Sixth Fleet docks.

China’s other projects in Israel have also raised eyebrows for giving Beijing greater access to infrastructure and technology with the US’s closest Middle East ally.

The China Communications Construction Company, a state-owned firm that has been accused of building spy stations in South America and dredging islands in the South China Sea, is the company leading construction of Israel’s Ashdod Port.

Another China state-owned company, China Railway and Tunnel Group, won a concession for construction of segments of Tel Aviv’s light rail. The company also conducts business in Iran.

“Israel underestimates the risks to its own internal security,” Efron said. “It’s just not a priority,”

She believes the risks from cyber espionage, surveillance, and intellectual property theft are being overlooked by government officials who focus more on proximate threats to the country and the desire to attract foreign investment.

Israel underestimates the risks to its own internal security.

Shira Efron, RAND Corporation

Perhaps most surprisingly, China’s decision to sign a 25-year strategic agreement with Iran elicited little protest from Israel. And Chinese firms with business activities in Iran continue to operate in Israel.

One example of how China’s “zero enemies” policy in the Middle East complicates things for Israel and its tech sector is ZTE.

In 2015, the telecommunications company invested in an Israeli tech company, Rainbow Medical. The deal went through even though the US said in 2012 that ZTE was violating sanctions by selling surveillance equipment to Iran.

Al Jazeera asked Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs about concerns over ZTE’s business activities in Iran and those of other Chinese firms.

Spokesman Lior Haiat said that Israel examines the activities of foreign companies when it is needed, adding that “Israel is working to strengthen its economic and global ties and diversify its inward foreign investment.”

Greer said that Israel is unlikely to let China’s rhetoric on Palestine or its ties with Iran derail the economic relationship for now. But one day Beijing may have to scrap its “zero enemies” policy, and be forced to choose between Iran or Israel.

The same could go for Israel if circumstances force it to choose between Beijing and Washington.

“Short term it is sustainable. Gaza was a test for that,” Greer said, “but will it work in 10 to 15 years?”

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‘Suddenly, she’s gone’: Mud and death in COVID-hit Indonesia | Coronavirus pandemic News




Jakarta/Kudus, Indonesia – It should have been a time of celebration for Puji Apriani’s family – she was pregnant with her second child, and just weeks away from giving birth.

But instead of welcoming a new life, her family is now in mourning.

“I miss her. She was healthy, her pregnancy was normal. And suddenly, she’s gone,” her younger sister Ery Jurniastuti said.

The family lives in Kudus, Central Java – one of the worst affected areas by Indonesia’s recent surge in COVID-19 cases.

“She felt out of breath, and she was coughing. She felt contractions in her stomach, too,” Ery said.

Home to almost 900,000 people, Kudus has recorded a 7,594 percent increase in cases since the beginning of this year.

Following a steep rise in cases this month, overwhelmed hospitals have been forced to turn patients away.

After being rejected by two hospitals, Puji was finally admitted, and her oxygen levels increased slightly.

But it was too late. Her condition deteriorated and she died in hospital.

“She died first, then they checked the heart of the baby. The baby is still inside, they didn’t take it out. It died there.”


Puji Apriani was pregnant and only a few weeks away from giving birth when she caught COVID-19. Now, instead of celebrating a new arrival, her family are morning the death of both Puji and her baby [Jamaah/Al Jazeera]

Doctors vs Delta

At the Loekmono Hadi General Hospital in Kudus, Dr Abdul Aziz Achyar said he was “surprised” by the ferocity of the surge, which has pushed bed occupancy rates in hospitals to more than 90 percent.

“During Ramadan, it was so quiet. We only had 18 patients. But then, when it started … I myself was also hospitalised,” he told Al Jazeera.

One hundred fifty-three of his colleagues also contracted the virus, and two of them died.

Indonesia’s capacity to track variants is limited, but doctors believe the current outbreak in Kudus is driven in part by the spread of the Delta variant, which was first detected in India.

“We sent cases from health centre [for genome sequencing]… from 72 samples, 62 were the new variant,” Dr Abdul said.

At Aisyiyah Kudus Hospital, Dr Najib Budhiwardoyo said his hospital is completely at capacity.

“We are full of COVID patients. This second wave started after Eid,” he said.

“All hospitals in Kudus are experiencing this problem … oxygen scarcity. We have to be selective; we can only use oxygen for patients with very low saturation.”

Swamp turned cemetery

It is not just the hospitals in Java that are close to capacity, but cemeteries too.

In the Indonesian capital, the designated COVID-19 burial sites, such as Pondok Rangon Cemetery, that were opened in the early months of the pandemic are already full.

Cemetery workers told Al Jazeera they are struggling to keep up with their workload.

“Before COVID, I used to dig 10 graves each day. But yesterday, we dug 46 graves. The day before, it was 51,” Darsiman, a gravedigger of 20 years, said.

“We are very tired. We work from morning until night.”

Darsiman, a gravedigger of 20 years, waits for Wahyudin to finish writing on a wooden headstone [Jessica Washington/Al Jazeera]

In Rorotan, North Jakarta, a new burial site for those who have died from COVID-19 opened just weeks ago – and already, more than 800 people have been buried there.

As the death toll continues to rise, finding room for the dead in this densely packed city is becoming a challenge.

The land at Rorotan used to be an empty swamp – the families of the deceased have to trek through the mud, to pay respects to their loved ones.

“This is a new cemetery … the other locations are full. There are just so many COVID cases, so they have to bring them here,” Darsiman said.

“It’s been raining so it’s muddy. It’s very sad to see funerals here, even the ambulances get stuck trying to come in.”

Headstone writer Wahyudin said his workload has increased because of the pandemic – and working at the cemetery takes an emotional toll.

“I feel so sad seeing this many burials. Seeing those families cry, I think about my own family,” he said.

“Before COVID, I also made headstones but it’s busier now. So many people have died.”

Moments to rest are scarce – just as workers lower a plastic-wrapped coffin into the ground, more ambulances arrive, with more dead to bury.


‘India should be our lesson’

This week, Indonesia surpassed two million confirmed cases of coronavirus – and more than 55,000 confirmed deaths.

Dr Nadia Siti, the head of Infectious Diseases at the Ministry of Health, said the rise in cases is not surprising.

“We know that if there is a holiday or event, there is an increasing number of people moving and travelling from other cities,” she said.

The cemetery at Rorotan has been built on what was once a swamp in northern Jakarta [Fakhrur Roz/Al Jazeera]
The cemetery at Rorotan has only been open for a few weeks and more than 800 people have already been buried there [Jessica Washington/Al Jazeera]

“The government had restrictions on mudik, which is the tradition of Muslims to visit their hometown [during Eid Al Fitr]. Still, there are four to six million people who travelled.”

The situation in Kudus and capital are of particular concern to the Ministry of Health, where bed occupation rates are high and hospital workers are already overwhelmed by the crisis.

“In Jakarta, the bed occupation rate is almost 80 to 90 percent. We instruct hospitals to convert their beds into COVID-19 services, so they can be available for patients,” she said.

“The last strategy is to establish field hospitals with the coordination of the army or police.”

Long before the pandemic, Indonesia had a shortage of medical professionals – and there are concerns about how its stretched healthcare system will cope when infections are expected to peak in July.

“With the existing doctors, paramedics and nurses, it might not be enough. We might need an experienced doctor to supervise five or 10 new ones, who don’t have experience in taking care of patients,” Dr Nadia said.

“We do hope we won’t face the same situation like India. What happened in India should be our lesson.”

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Former Philippine president Benigno Aquino dies at age of 61 | Obituaries News




Aquino was the country’s 15th president from 2010 to 2016, and was succeeded by current president , Rodrigo Duterte.

Former Philippine President Benigno Aquino III died early on Thursday, after a prolonged illness, according to several news reports.

Aquino, 61, served as the country’s 15th president from 2010 to 2016, and was succeeded in office by the incumbent, Rodrigo Duterte.

According to ABS-CBN News, he was hospitalised last Thursday.

But he has been undergoing dialysis for at least five months and had recently undergone a heart operation.

It was during Aquino’s administration that Manila took on China and filed a case before the Court of Arbitration at The Hague over the South China Sea dispute.

The Philippines later won that landmark case a month after Aquino left office in 2016.

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The scrappy Hong Kong tabloid that refused to bow to Beijing | Freedom of the Press News




Hong Kong, China – The last edition of the Apple Daily, the small scrappy Hong Kong tabloid that emerged as a champion of democracy and outspoken critic of China, has rolled off the presses, four days after the newspaper celebrated its 26th anniversary.

The paper had been raided by police twice during the past 10 months on suspicion of violating the National Security Law that was imposed by Beijing almost a year ago. Since the first raid last August, founder Jimmy Lai, 73, has been in jail awaiting trial under the law.

Last week’s raid saw five top executives, including its chief editor, arrested for alleged security offences as 500 police officers swooped in on Apple’s headquarters, with another staffer – the head editorial writer – apprehended on Wednesday morning.

The final nail in the coffin, however, was Hong Kong authorities’ freeze on the bank accounts of the media group that owns the paper. The move made it impossible for the paper to pay its staff and vendors, even as readers snapped up copies to show their support.

The decision was based on “employee safety and manpower considerations”, Apple Daily said as it announced its closure on Wednesday.
“Here we say goodbye. Take care of yourselves.”

Staff members of Apple Daily and its publisher Next Digital clap out the final edition of a paper that began publishing in 1995 and became a thorn in Beijing’s side [Tyrone Siu/Reuters]

Hong Kong was returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under the “one country, two systems” framework meant to guarantee rights and liberties absent in the mainland. For most of the past 20 years, the territory has remained a bastion of press freedom in a country where media is muzzled.

“The demise of Apple Daily negates ‘one country, two systems’ and sets the stage for ‘one country, one system,’” said Willy Lam, a longtime commentator on Chinese politics and a veteran newspaper editor.

Bold, brash

Founded just two years before the handover, Apple Daily was at once a gamble and a leap of faith.

“The paper wanted to have some impact not just on Hong Kong but also to support the liberalisation of China,” Lam told Al Jazeera. “But as China has become less open to Western values, the paper has focused on defending Hong Kong values and holding Beijing to account.”

In its inaugural editorial, Apple Daily said it aimed to be a paper for the Hong Kong people.

Lai, its founder and funder, a devout Catholic who had made a fortune in the fashion business, named the paper after the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden in the Old Testament. Its rhyming couplet jingle – “An Apple a day, no liars can hold sway” – caught the attention of Hong Kong readers used to more staid offerings.

It was loud. It was bold, It was flashy.

The paper grabbed attention when it splashed a surreptitiously shot photo of Deng Xiaoping – China’s then-paramount leader died in February at the age of 92 – on his deathbed on the front page.

Brashness was its selling point.

Its reporters frequently skewered public officials and needled the comfortable.

“It speaks truth to power and finds a way to do profitably,” said Lokman Tsui, assistant professor of journalism at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Jimmy Lai, standing by one of the printing presses in 2009, created a hugely popular paper that supported democracy, was unafraid to speak truth to power and critical of the Communist Party in Beijing [File: Alex Hofford/EPA]
Apple Daily’s founder and funder, Jimmy Lai, was arrested in August under the national security law and the paper’s headquarters raided. He has now been jailed [File: Tyrone Siu/Reuters]

The paper catered to high brow and low. Colourful spreads of scantily-clad female models appeared in the same section of the paper as erudite columns featuring quotes in Latin and Classical Chinese. With a couple of exceptions, its ranks of columnists were the who’s who of the territory’s pro-democracy circle.

Giving people what they want

Launched at the dawn of the internet age, the daily was quick to adapt to the digital world. Its website pioneered animated news – a mix of stills, short clips and clever graphics with narration dripping with sour sarcasm. Its lifestyle channel on YouTube built a fervent following.

A decade in, the paper’s circulation peaked at 500,000 in a city of approximately six million people with a dozen dailies.

Apple Daily’s brand of advocacy journalism would soon make the paper a thorn in the side of the Chinese Communist Party. But to Lai, a rags-to-riches maverick millionaire now named Public Enemy No. 1 by Beijing, it was all about giving his customers what they would buy, even down to protest poster inserts.

In the summer of 2019, amid popular opposition to legislation that would send Hong Kong residents for trial in mainland China, the paper shorthanded “extradition to China” into the homophonic colloquial Cantonese expression of seeing someone to the grave. The expression immediately caught on and became a rallying cry in the protest movement.

“At times, we might have gone overboard but everything we did fell within the bounds of the law,” said Robert Chan, 45, who has covered mainland China for the paper for the past three years.

That is until the passage of the security law, which punishes what the authorities deem subversion, sedition, collusion with foreign forces and secession with possible life sentences.

Prosecutors have used Lai’s frequent meetings with US officials in recent years, from the then-vice president on down, as “evidence” of his alleged “collusion with foreign powers”.

Staff from Apple Daily and its publisher Next Digital work on the final edition of their newspaper on June 23. In its first-ever editorial, the paper said it wanted to be a publication of the Hong Kong people. It printed a million copies of its final edition [Tyrone Siu/Reuters]

Early last month, rumours started to circulate that Beijing wanted to see the paper be shuttered in time for the Communist Party’s centenary celebrations on July 1.

Technology reporter for a decade, Alex Tang, 37, said like most of his colleagues he had become conditioned to taking unsubstantiated gossip with a grain of salt – until the second raid and the company asset freeze.

During the past few days, some of the 800 reporters at the paper were frustrated by the lack of a definitive answer on the last publishing date and severance.

“Management said they’d hang on till the bitter end, and they’ve kept their word,” said Tang. “The company has done its best.”

Apple Daily will live on as a website on the self-governing island of Taiwan, where it ceased paper publication last month.

But in Hong Kong, China news reporter Chan said he will mourn the loss of far more than his livelihood.

“With the paper gone, so would the values it represents: pursuit of freedom and democracy,” he said.

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