Politicians, policymakers and members of the public have recently given much attention to the government’s Thailand 4.0 economic model which aims to make the country ready for a digital economy. However, there remains a range of challenges that will impede the realisation of this lofty goal. Among them are the overall quality of Thailand’s education, which is below the global average, as well as the growing inequality in the country’s education system.
These problems will remain roadblocks to the 4.0 agenda. Addressing education inequality is vital if Thailand aspires to achieve this goal.
How can our education system prepare our students to become skilled and competitive workers rather than focusing on promoting the “brightest students” from a few selected schools?
It is not that Thailand does not have the resources to do it. Thailand has spent massive financial amounts on education. The government, for example, spent 19.35% of its annual 2.58-trillion-baht budget in 2015 on education — the largest proportion of the budget portfolio.
Unfortunately, the huge spending has not translated into improved learning as our students still scored below global averages in key subjects as shown by various international tests.
Results of these tests demonstrate the fact that Thai students still fell behind their peers in neighbouring countries when it comes to their performance in maths, science and English. In the “Learning Curve, Lessons in Country, Performance in Education” report published by Pearson, it is illustrative that Thailand’s educational system is ranked 35th among 40 countries that participated in 2014.
In the latest Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) score results published by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development in 2016, Thailand is ranked 55th out of 72 countries in the overall result. In maths and science, Thailand is ranked 54th and 57th for reading.
What are the problems? Isn’t heavy spending sufficient to improve our education?
This is not about how much money is spent on education, but how it is used.
“It is not the amount of money that we are lacking, it is how the money is not efficiently and effectively spent — this is the problem,” Pumsaran Tongliamnark, a policy analyst from the Budget Bureau, Ministry of Education, said at a recent seminar.
While the test results reflect the shortcomings of Thailand’s education system, the most worrying aspect of this debacle is the grave inequality that persists at every level of the system.
Thailand is caught in an education paradox — should the country focus on pushing the best and brightest students to compete on the world stage or should we be concerned with those who are falling behind? Is it possible for Thailand to achieve both goals?
Before talking about the digital economy and the fourth industrial revolution, let’s get the foundations straight. The elephant in the room is the issue of inequality in our education system.
The problem of inequality is more pressing for small primary and secondary schools, each with less than 20 students in each grade, in rural areas. There are 15,224 schools that fit into this category. Although the number of small schools has declined by more than 20% since 1993, they continue to be the majority of schools.
Problems faced by small schools are a matter of grave concern. These schools lack both sufficient state funding and teachers affecting the quality of teaching and the performance of their students. Often, one teacher has to teach multiple subjects and multiple grades.
Kirida Bhaopichitr, research director for the International Economics and Advisory Service of Thailand Development Research Institute, pointed out that students from small schools achieved lower scores than their peers from larger schools.
The 2012 PISA scores revealed that there were greater improvement in scores among students from schools in big cities than those from small schools in small cities. While the former improved at the rate of 21.3% from the last test, the latter are falling behind with only a 16.1% improvement.
An observation by Stephen Holroyd, the principal of Shrewsbury International School in Bangkok, is more compelling. While the country laments the tragedy of Thai educational performance, the growing sector of international elite schools in Thailand is “isolated” and insulated from the problem, said Mr Holroyd. Year after year, these elite schools continued to send their best and brightest affluent students to Oxbridge and Ivy League universities.
The problem of education inequality goes beyond basic education. It transcends to the level of higher education as well. While the media has reported much on the low ranking of Thailand’s top universities compared to international counterparts, a more serious problem lies in the disparity between different educational institutions in the country.
With more than 173 higher education institutions, only a handful of institutions continue to capture the imagination and aspiration of Thailand’s top students.
This leaves a huge gap in student quality among different institutions.
Meanwhile, the state’s policy on higher education has mainly focused on making the top universities more competitive. While the competitiveness of higher education institutions is important, attention and resources should also be given to lower-ranked ones including Rajabhat universities.
As things stand, the state’s budget allocation for limited admission universities is 10 times higher than that given to Rajabhat universities. The different level of resources that go into different types of universities ultimately create inequality in students’ performance.
Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies, pointed out that education reform is a cliche, but this makes it also imperative. While education is a challenge in all countries, it has become critical in Thailand. If reform is not undertaken to better educate the Thai workforce from a young age, Thailand may well enter a period of long-term decline and economic stagnation, he said.
If Thailand is committed to achieving Thailand 4.0, it needs to get the basics right. It needs to give greater and more serious attention to the inequality spanning the education system.
First published in Bangkok Post
Return of the Marcos and Great-Power Competition
Ferdinand Marcos Jr., more commonly known as “Bongbong,” won an outright majority in the recent presidential election in the Philippines. Son and name-bearer of former Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos paved the way for the country’s most notorious political dynasty’s shocking return to power. In the words of Filipino columnist Benjamin Pimentel, “It’s as if Kylo Ren emerged and the Empire is back in power.”
In announcing his desire to work for all people, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said the world should judge him based on his presidency, not his family’s past.
“To those who voted for Bongbong, and those who did not, it is his promise to be a president for all Filipinos. To seek common ground across political divides, and to work together to unite the nation.” saidVictor Rodriguez, spokesperson for Marcos, in a statement.
However, the pragmatic words seem to have failed to sway the opposition as he faces countless accusations of election irregularities. Their opponents are horrified by Marcos’ brazen attempt to reinvent historical narratives from his family’s era in power. A protest against Marcos was staged by approximately 400 people outside the election commission on 10th May, primarily by students.
Human rights group Karapatan urged Filipinos to reject Marcos’ new presidency, which it sees as a product of lies and disinformation designed “to deodorise the Marcoses’ detestable image”.
HISTORY OF MARCOS: People Power” Uprising
Ferdinand Marcos Jr is not a new name in the Philippines’ political scenario. The “bloodless revolution” of 1986 in the Philippines that ousted the infamous dictator Ferdinand Marcos, was none other than Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s father.
The world leaders at the time praised the mass demonstration after hundreds of thousands marched along EDSA streets to protest a fraudulent election. Through the People Power” Uprising, Filipinos proved that a peaceful uprising can challenge a ruthless dictatorship and overthrow military rule.
Marcos Jr and his family escaped to Hawaii following the rebellion and after his return to the Philippines in 1991, Marcos Jr served in congress and the senate. With his return to the Malacañang Palace in 2022, the world anxiously watches whether history will repeat itself or democracy will prevail as Marcos Jr. relentlessly defends his father’s legacy, refusing to apologise or acknowledge the atrocities, plunder, cronyism, and extravagant living, which resulted in billions of dollars of state wealth disappearing during the dictatorship.
MARCOS JR’S FOREIGN POLICY: Continuity or Change?
Considering his political alignment with Rodrigo Duterte, the outgoing President, who has been exceedingly vocal about his anti-Washington, pro-China stance, it is no secret Marcos Jr. favours Beijing. According to Richard Heydarian, a South China Sea observer and professor of political science, “Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr. is the only candidate who has signalled almost perfect continuity with the incumbent populist pro-China president in Malacañang.”
However, Marcos Jr seems to be a President that might play the game more strategically compared to his successor. Among Marcos’s many accolades for his father, one was maintaining a strong security alliance with Washington. Even though, he is politically aligned with Duterte who sought to pivot away from the United States and towards China, Marcos will seek a balancing act. Philippines under Marcos will continue engaging with China, in-line with Duterte’s Pro-China Policy but at the same time will engage, and even bolster a closer tie with the USA, to safeguard Philippines’ sovereignty amidst an aggressively rising China.
When asked if he would ask the American’s help in dealing with China, Marcos Jr said, “No. The problem is between China and us. If the Americans come in, it’s bound to fail because you are putting the two protagonists together.” This statement shows a sense of maturity and solid understanding of the ground realties of the region. Marcos Jr. seems to be the President that keeps his country’s national interest at the very core of all his decisions. He understands how easy it is for a small country to be stuck in the middle of a great-power competition, and that more often and not, it harms the small country’s interests. He envisions Manila as neither heavily dependent on Washington for its security needs nor become a pawn in China’s greater geopolitical ambitions. He wants to have an independent foreign policy, regardless of deepening U.S.-Chinese competition. One that predominantly benefits his country, Philippines.
In contrast to Duterte, Marcos Jr has a very warm and embracing approach towards the USA. Being treaty allies, Marcos Jr refers to their alliance as “a very important one.” He maintained that the alliance “has stood us in good stead for over a hundred years and that will never disappear from the Philippine psyche, the idea and the memory of what the United States did for us and fought with us in the last war.”
Marcos Jr seems to be a realist who understands that in International Politics, states must “engage whenever possible, and contain wherever necessary.” On asked about Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea, he argued that “Philippines will not cede any one square inch to any country, particularly China, but will continue to engage and work on our national interest.”
To summarise, Marcos will, in all probability, modify Duterte’s foreign policy in a way that maximizes the strategic benefits for the Philippines and avoids confrontation with the USA and China.
President Ho Chi Minh’s reflections about international peace
President Ho Chi Minh had a dissimilar way of approaching international peace, and he held a view that the way western nations look into revolution and resurgence, particularly in colonial era, was different from what the people aspired. He took note of developments in colonial societies particularly when Turkish women were protesting against the invasion of Western nations and imperialism, and referred to Indian women protests against British domination way back in 1912. In fact, writing way back in 1918, he stated that the defence of India act was the suppression of genuine domestic grievances because it provided the right to arrest and detain suspected Indians. He was always very supportive of the workers and peasants’ movement across the world.
While congratulating the first Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru on organising the Asian relations conference, he stated that China and India were the big brothers of Vietnam and the most ancient civilizations. Writing way back in March 25th 1947, he opined that solidarity will make the three countries the mightiest defenders forwards peace and democracy. He argued that Vietnam was aspiring for unification and independence, and hoped that the Asian countries will come to their support. He stated that it is pertinent for the neighbours to have friendly relations, and alluding to the five principles (Panchsheela) of Nehru-Chau Enlai joint statement, he added that the five major principles which were enlisted in the joint statement between China and India, and Myanmar and China need to be replicated in the larger Asian context.
After the conclusion of the war with French in 1954, he clearly stated that the major challenges for Vietnam was proper implementation of the Geneva accords and sustaining the economy to upgrade the living standards of the people of Vietnam. Responding to a question asked by a journalist related to Geneva accords implementation in Vietnam, he stated that France being a major country and a colonial power, it is pertinent that the ceasefire agreement is implemented fully and this will ensure trust between the signatories. It is also important that scrupulousness in such kind of agreement so as to bring about peace and tranquillity.
He had time and again alluded to the five Panchsheela principles whenever he was giving any interview to the journalists and scholars. He clearly stated that there is need to respect sovereignty and territorial integrity, refrain from violation of each other’s territorial borders, non-interference in internal affairs, equal treatment for mutual benefits and peaceful coexistence. He opined that taking inspiration from India-China agreement, Vietnam would be willing to implement a similar kind of five principles with other countries, primarily Cambodia and Laos. Related to the illegal occupation of Goa by Portugal, he criticized the illegal occupation of Goa by Portuguese and the support that the US has provided to Portugal for continuing illegal occupation.
He talked about solidarity among Asian and African people and stated that for peace to exist the Geneva agreement should be implemented in full. After the first Indochina war, he stated that it is important that the peace as per the provisions of Panchsheela should be implemented at all levels. He has always alluded to Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi while talking about peace, clearly demarcating the role of culture and religion in maintaining peace. He was clearly against western imperialism and occupation of territories by force by any major power. He was also very clear and in one of the letters written on the eve of an interview given to New Delhi people in India, he clearly specified that the situation of world development particularly after the independence of many developing countries was beneficial for the peace movement. He stated that more than 1200 million Asian African people were in the line of peaceful forces and these people were liberated including those in erstwhile Soviet Union and other socialist countries. He lauded the role played by Asian African countries in peace protection and always supported fight against colonialism and Asian people’s solidarity. He was completely against military race, prohibition against nuclear weapons and hydrogen bomb, dismissing aggressive military forces and demolishment of military bases in foreign countries.
His views with regard to arms reduction and working together to reduce the scourge of nuclear bomb were very specific. While responding to the welcome address during the banquet dinner hosted by president of India Rajendra Prasad in 1958, he stated that “the pugnacious forces has been conspiring to push the mankind to the destruction of war. They are ceaselessly fighting to keep and consoled at peace, India made a big contribution. Peaceful forces are more powerful able to prevent the war but the pugnacious forces do not give up their conspiracy to wage their war.” He was really appreciative of any of the peace initiatives undertaken by any country and he has repeatedly thanked international committee which was chaired by India for supervising and controlling Geneva accord implementation in Vietnam.
President Ho Chi Minh was appreciative of the fact that the essence of Buddhism and culture would strengthen the spirit of love towards the country, national solidarity, and bring about cultural essence which will bring closer the eastern and western cultures. He stated that in terms of Buddhism the core philosophy is peace and the construction of the country.
President Ho Chi Minh was specifically influenced by Buddhism and he had stated that the people should practice the life of holy learning and Buddhist simplicity. Even though president Ho Chi Minh did not write and reflected about Buddhism but his life and career were intertwined with the core philosophy of Buddhism. He was very much interested in implementing the idea of peaceful humanity under Buddhism and ushering in Buddhist consciousness in every society. Ho Chi Minh had an idea that the human affection would help in self-improving human ethics and closer bonding with a larger population. Ho Chi Minh’s ideology included mercy, non-egoism, altruism, self-improvement, exercise of moral ethics, and solidarity spirit among masses. The acknowledgement of Buddhism as the core fundamental of life was slowly acknowledged by the Vietnamese people too and as per Ho Chi Minh, he had acquired the Buddhist ideas from family, national tradition, and the Buddhist way for liberating the country.
Taken into cognizance President Ho Chi Minh objective of peace, he was very much concerned with regard to ethics, solidarity, guaranteeing supreme benefits of the nation, bestowing rights and benefits to the people and ingrained self-consciousness which would bring about sincere affectionate, straightforward introspection. This will help in self-criticizing and unifying characters for the larger benefit of the society. He stated that the national solidarity should be in Sync with the international solidarity. In this context it is important to reflect on the Russia Ukraine crisis and he has been very instrumental in referring to Mahatma Gandhi for his approach towards peace and self-suffering. However, Ho Chi Minh was very attached to this concept of abhorrence of repression of the people and was very critical of any kind of imperialism which would subdue people from realising their ambitions and goals. Ukraine crisis also shows a new kind of geopolitics which will define the world order but he was also critical of the fact that international solidarity should be progressive and aspire for a long-lasting peace.
Vietnam-US relations and the US-ASEAN Summit
Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh visit to US should be seen from the point of view of the engagement between Vietnam and US. At the same time US has been making extra efforts to engage the ASEAN countries in the larger geopolitical dynamics. During the visit of prime minister Chinh discussions were on security issues and the scourge of COVID-19 pandemic. Vietnamese PM Chinh met President Joe Biden and informed that Vietnam is on its way to recovery and the unemployment rate within Vietnam has dropped to nearly 3.6 per cent. US has been involved in Vietnam in a number of initiatives which includes infrastructure projects, providing medical aid to the victims of Agent Orange, trade and investment in Vietnam and also working towards developing Vietnam as the Centre for a medicine research and diagnostics.
In the past six years the last two presidents of US visited Vietnam including President Barack Obama and President Donald Trump. President Biden has stated that he has a special place for Vietnam and Vietnam has all the potential to emerge as an important country in areas such as digital economy, resilient supply chains, research in energy efficiency, climate change mitigation, and vocational training. In the last two years Vietnam economy has gained a number of foreign direct investors primarily of its latent economic potential and also the anti-corruption measures which have been undertaken by the Vietnamese Communist party general secretary Nguyễn Phú Trọng.
During his interaction with Prime Minister Chinh, President Biden stated that under the democrats the US politicians have tried to promote cordial relationship with Vietnam. He also stated that Vietnam as a middle power country has a lot of potential in areas such as investment, trade, development, disease prevention and control, and working on developing health infrastructure. During the ASEAN summit meeting in the year 2021 President Biden has stated that U.S. Congress would allocate USD $ 21 billion so as to support infrastructure development and institutional networks to counter pandemic and develop COVID-19 vaccines and drugs. US has also provided diagnostics and medical equipment so that the developing countries should respond to future pandemics and protect their citizens in Southeast Asia because the epicentre of economic growth is likely to shift to the Indo-Pacific region.
During the discussions, the Vietnamese Prime Minister Chinh stated that US would be very helpful in developing Vietnam’s green circular economy and also help in sustainable energy transition while looking for alternate sources of energy. Vietnamese Prime Minister also made a strong pitch for US to actively intervene to protect territorial integrity and maintain peace in the contested regions. Few countries should refrain from the use of force, and peaceful settlement of disputes through dialogue and discussion should be adopted. This would ensure freedom of navigation and overflight as per the charter of the United Nations Convention on The Law of The Seas 1982(UNCLOS).
Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh attended a reception hosted by US National Security adviser Jake Sullivan on May 13. Vietnamese Prime Minister made a strong pitch for the efforts of the US National Security Council and stated that the US administration has a strong commitment for regional peace and security. He added that in recent years the normalised trade relations between Vietnam and US have opened new avenues for growth, exchange of ideas, and regular dialogues at the highest level. He stated that the visit of the party general secretary to US in 2015 was a milestone and offered new avenues for interaction between the two sides. The Vietnamese Prime Minister also confirmed that US is seen as one of the important partners and offered to work jointly on areas which promote peace, stability, corporation and development in the region.
One of the interesting aspects related to the interaction between the two leaders was US offer to help Vietnam in alleviating the consequences of the second Indochina war and supporting Vietnam’s efforts to emerge as a self-reliant economy. The two sides acknowledged that there is a need for technological and digital transformation across the world and also supporting the diversification of supply chains and commitment towards climate change responsibilities. The US President Biden also stated that US acknowledges the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Vietnam. He stated that there are different political systems. Vietnam has been very successful in overcoming challenges related to COVID-19 pandemic and depleting exports which has happened during the pandemic.
In his interaction with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Prime Minister Chinh acknowledged that 40 million vaccine doses which were supplied by the US government were very handy in containing the pandemic and laid the groundwork for protecting the citizens of Vietnam. He acknowledged that Vietnam and US comprehensive partnership is the foundation stone for political interactions, cooperation and development in the region. Antony Blinken openly stated that US supports a strong, independent and prosperous Vietnam. Acknowledging the role that Vietnam has played under the COP 26 climate change initiative, the US side stated that it will be providing technical expertise in implementing the obligations under the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP 26). Anthony Blinken also buttressed the importance of peace, freedom and security for navigation and aviation in the East Sea, and instead of using South China Sea; the use of the term is itself was a big support to Vietnam.
Under the US-ASEAN summit which outlines the four and a half decades of interactions between the two sides where there is an equal respect for ASEAN centrality and US has clearly stated that ASEAN remains a basis for trust, inclusive regional security architecture, respect for international law and is one of the forums for building an open and inclusive regional multilateral dialogue. US has clearly stated that the Vietnamese Prime Minister has taken strongly buttressed resolution of differences and disputes by peaceful measures as per the provisions of the international law, UN charter, and the signatories of the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) in South East Asia should acknowledge the role that this treaty has played.
The US ASEAN relationship also needs to work on trade and investment flows in the aftermath of the pandemic. Vietnamese Prime Minister Chinh stated that US should support ASEAN in sustainable development, restructuring of economic architecture technological support and building renewable energy as well as sustainable recovery for these nations. On the issue of non-traditional challenges, there is a need for consensus and acknowledging the statement which was given Vietnamese PM Chinh during the maritime security summit undertaken by India during its chairmanship in UN Security Council. The Vietnamese side has stated that UN should take a leadership role in resolving the regional security issues. Few of the other areas which US and Vietnam has explored is related to regular interactions between the business communities of the two sides and explore opportunities in areas such as education, infrastructure, and administrative reforms. The Prime Minister also stated that Vietnam acknowledges that economic, trade, financial, and investment relationships with US would boost its standing at international level and bring about better avenues for growth and developing Vietnam economy.
During his speech which he made at the Centre for strategic and International Studies Prime Minister Chinh stated that in the last 27 years of the normalization of relations between the two sides four consecutive US presidents have visited Hanoi and showcased that the two countries can work together. He also stated that Vietnam is aspiring to be a middle income industrialised developing country in next five years, and fulfil the aspirations of the people by becoming a modern industrial country with the upper middle income by the year 2030. He also proclaimed that Vietnam consistently adopts an independent and self-reliant foreign policy, and is responsible stakeholder in the international community.
The Prime Minister also stated that on the Ukraine issue Vietnam is willing to join hands with international community to find long term and sustainable solution to resolve the crisis. Vietnam has also provided humanitarian aid of 500,000 U.S. dollars for Ukraine. Vietnam is also one of the financial contributors to the COVAX programme and has supplied mask and medical supplies to more than 50 countries across the world.
US has always supported ASEAN for improving its production and manufacturing capacity, healthcare institution and sharing of best expertise in vaccine production. The issues related to environmental degradation and climate change along with support for blue economy were points of discussion between US and ASEAN nations.
More importantly President Biden has stated that US will be donating US $150 million to the organization so as to promote private sector investment, healthcare, maritime cooperation and infrastructure development along with other sectors of importance. The two sides also discussed synergies which can be explored between Asian centrality and the ASEAN outlook on the Indo Pacific. The relationship between the two sides have opened up in the last 45 years and it is expected that on issues such as maritime security, and developing coordinated response mechanism to non-traditional security challenges the two sides can work more often.
Despite the summit meeting between ASEAN and the US being postponed earlier, the final summit meeting provided good outcomes particularly in relations to US acknowledged ASEAN position on Ukraine and also accepted that the political institutions within ASEAN have worked wonders in terms of providing support to their citizens during the pandemic. Vietnam has been actively promoting the role of ASEAN in the regional setup and Prime Minister Chinh also outlined that Vietnam’s foreign policy is independent and sincere.
Vietnam and India relations are also going to grow given the fact that Vietnam and US are working on the comprehensive partnership and also might be seen the strategic partnership agreement between the two in future. However, in terms of peace and stability in East Sea as well as adjoining areas Vietnam has made a strong pitch with regard to getting the international community on board and abhorring any kind of threats or use of threat in the contested waters.
The visit of Vietnam’s Prime Minister Chinh to the US has been very successful after the visit of party general secretary in 2015, and it clearly shows that the Vietnamese Prime Minister has been making extra efforts to help Vietnam recover from pandemic after effects and build a middle-sized income country with a higher income by the year 2030. The aspirations of Vietnam to become an industrial economy by 2045 would require support from the European nations and the US so that better avenues for exports technology upgradation investment and development of entrepreneurial capacity would help the country to reach its goal.
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