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Xi Jinping’s visit to Italy and the relationship between China and the Catholic Church

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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No official meetings between President Xi Jinping and Pope Francis are officially scheduled on the agenda for the Chinese President’s next visit to Italy.

 Neither party wants to jeopardize the agreement reached last September on the appointment of bishops and, however, as is well-known, both diplomacies like silence, long processes and long time schedules.

 Whoever remembers the old diplomatic precedents, also remembers that, just ten years ago, there was the possibility of another meeting between Benedict XVI and Hu Jintao in Italy for the G8 in L’Aquila. The Chinese leader, however, had to return quickly to Beijing, for a revolt in Xinjiang which was – as usual – more dangerous than we could believe.

 From the outset, however, Cardinal Zen opposed the “parallel” appointment of bishops by China and Italy, as  envisaged by the agreement currently in force between China and the Vatican.

  It should be recalled that, from the beginning, Cardinal Zen who was Archbishop of Hong Kong until 2009, dismissed the agreement between the Secretary of State, Cardinal Parolin, and the Chinese regime as an “incredible betrayal of Faith”.

 The old prelate was born in Shanghai in 1932, just a year after Mao Zedong founded a sort of Soviet republic in Jiangxi.

 Nevertheless, the new strategies and opportunities or new contrasts are beginning to take shape.

 Since January 30 last, for example, Peter Jin Lugang has no longer been a clandestine bishop from Nanyang, while Cardinal Filoni has recently gone to Macao to inaugurate some new facilities of the Saint Joseph University.

 In 2018, as many as 48,365 people were baptized in the churches and parishes of the People’s Republic of China.

 Currently there are almost ten million Chinese Catholics.

  There are also 104 dioceses recognized by the government of the People’s Republic of China, with 30 national provinces.

 Currently the largest number of newly baptized people in China is found in the Hebei province, with 13,000 new people baptized in 2018, followed by Shanxi, with 4,124 new Catholics, as well as Sichuan with 3,707 new people baptized, and finally Shandong with 2,914 new Christians.

 Even in Tibet as many as 8 baptisms were celebrated. In Hainan there were 35 baptisms and in Qinghai 43. This applies even to the Islamic Xinjiang, with as many as 57 new Catholics.

 On point of law – and not only canon law – Cardinal Filoni requires that the members of the unofficial Chinese Catholic communities should not be forced to join the specific “Patriotic Association” – as is instead subtly envisaged by the Chinese government.

 Nevertheless, for the Chinese government, this Patriotic Association is still a “people’s association” and hence has no ecclesial relevance. Moreover, participation in it is always “voluntary and never imposed”.

 This is what China, not the Vatican, maintains.

 Nevertheless, the Vatican precisely knows that in the areas in which – as we have seen above – there is a greater presence of new Catholic vocations, the People’s Association puts strong pressure to make priests and bishops be nationally independent “from the Vatican and from any foreign interference”.

 Without very strong nationalism, however, there is never any Chinese ideology – and certainly not the Communist one born from the Party founded in Shanghai in 1921.

 Hence currently a political and cultural policy – and even a religious, cult and sapiential one, if I may say so – would be needed to make the Chinese regime understand that a Chinese Catholic is all the more Chinese precisely because he is truly Catholic.

  Being Catholic is precisely the moment in which, as Saint Josemaria Escrivà de Balaguer used to say, we understand that “conversion is the matter of a moment, sanctification is the work of a lifetime”.

 And the sanctification of work and daily life applies to everybody, both believers and non-believers.

 This means that the universality of Catholicism includes everything, namely being Chinese, Italian, Indian from America or anybody else.

  For a Chinese, there is not being a Catholic outside being fully and absolutely Chinese.

 Moreover, the current Chinese law does not oblige priests and bishops to join the Patriotic Association, while in all the areas in which the Catholic faith is more widespread, the Chinese government tries to push clerics to join the aforementioned Association, which not too implicitly proposes “independence” from the Holy See.

 In Chinese politics, this is the heritage of a weak and divided Catholic Church, as experienced at the time of the “Chinese Rites Controversy”, which started in the early seventeenth century under the pontificate of Gregory XV and lasted almost three centuries until 1939.

 As you may recall, on the one side there were the Jesuits, who accepted and condoned the pagan practices and beliefs relating to the traditional cult of the dead according to the ancestral Chinese local traditions, but on the other there were the Franciscans and Dominicans, who thought that those practices – essential in the Chinese symbolism and tradition (even at political level) – should be radically changed in relation to the new, but perfect and unique, Catholic faith.

 Hence currently – and here the problem of its Communism is even marginal – China still fears to lose its “soul” and its profound identity, while the Catholic Church cannot certainly afford to be turned into a sort of Protestant Church, also subjected to the political power even in its Rites.

 Obviously the penetration of the Protestant-style sects – often of American tradition – could become dangerous both for the Catholic Church and, all the more so, for the Chinese government.

 There is also the issue of the four priests of the unofficial community of Zhangjiakou, Hebei, who are still detained in a secret place by the People’s Police.

  According to Chinese Catholic sources, the issue began in late 2018.

 Local governments’ factionalism and different CPC configurations in the various regions, as well as a proxy struggle between the Centre and the Periphery, are all factors which could explain the different approach of the various regional governments to the issue of Chinese Catholicism and its official presence in present-day Chinese society (and also in its the power system).

 There is fear for a dangerous competitor in the power game, but it should be clarified – especially at political level – that the Catholic person has not his/her own State, but is defined by the side of the currency in which Caesar is engraved.

There is nothing else – and a true Catholic is not allowed to worship anything else.

 According to some Vatican sources, however, while Pope Francis did not mention the issue of the priests detained in Hebei, the Vatican’s “policy line” could currently be to consider the Patriotic Association an organization to which the adhesion of bishops and clerics is fully optional.

 Again in Hebei, a priest accused his Bishop, Monsignor Agostino Cui Tai, of wanting to “oppose” the Sino-Vatican agreement and even asked the police to arrest him.

 Once again petty internal settling of scores, old tensions, as well as the usual problematic personal relations fit into the grand design of regularization of the Catholic Church in China, as certainly happens also on the government side.

 However, all the Chinese bishops to whom Pope Francis removed excommunication are in favour of abolishing the “Church of Silence” and massively adhering, instead, to the Patriotic Association.

 While recognizing the Chinese government’s full right to control the political activity of the Chinese Church, what about thinking about a very different instrument from the Patriotic Association, which is the obvious heir to an archaic Third International logic, together with the “United Front” and the other organizations that control political, religious and cultural heterodoxy in China?

 This is a topic about which Pope Francis and President Xi Jinping could talk if they met in Italy.

 Nevertheless, also for this negotiation by which China sets great store, there is the key issue of relations with Italy.

 The Chinese media notes that currently Italy has substantially adhered to the One Belt One Road project (OBOR), but that hopefully the agreement should be officially signed during Xi Jinping’s State visit to the country.

 Should this not happen, it would be an irreparable offense for China.

 It should also be noted that the Chinese media’s attention is very much focused on the “Special Working Group on China”, a structure recently organized by the Italian Government. In particular, China underlines the fact that both Greece and Portugal have already agreed to be part of the OBOR project, without the United States having had much to say about that.

Certainly the strategic relevance of Italy in the Mediterranean is very different from Greece’s and Portugal’s geopolitical function for China only regards its Atlantic projection and its traditional ties with Western Africa.

 For the Chinese media, however, Prime Minister Conte’s position is extremely important and, in all likelihood, China will enhance on the media the success it is already expecting to have in Italy.

 According to Chinese analysts, the US nervous reaction to Italy joining the OBOR project stems from the fact that is a crucial and decisive country for the European Union, from both an economic and geopolitical viewpoint.

 China is subtly trying to make us understand that while the United States finally wants to thwart the single currency and weaken the great network of duties and protections that the EU is essentially for it, China has no interest in undermining the EU nor certainly in plunging the Euro area into a further crisis.

 Surely, according to Chinese analysts’ economic projections, the flow of goods and services going from Italy to the United States would decrease – albeit to the benefit of  China – while it is likely that, in the near future, the 5G issue will emerge again, and hence China could have some more chances.

 Hence a clear loss of US relevance in Italy, which would give rise to a long series of very harsh countermoves by the United States.

 Over 60 countries, including 12 European ones, have so far signed a Memorandum of Access to the OBOR network, in whatever manner.

 We enter here directly into the project that Xi Jinping has recently outlined in the “Two Sessions” of the National People’s Congress, which are always held in the first two weeks of March.

  In this year’s two sessions, President Xi Jinping has underlined that the limit whereby the President of the Republic and CPC Secretary, as well as the President of the Central Military Commission, shall serve no more than two consecutive terms has been removed.

 The meaning is clear: my power lasts and is stable, possibly until 2027 – hence the many factional areas of the Party and the State would do well to conform again with the Party’s policy line and not to cause too much trouble.

 President Xi Jinping emphasized once again the importance of the anti-corruption campaign, with 621 civilian officials and military officers punished in 2018 alone.

 He also highlighted the new widespread presence of the Party’s committees in Chinese private companies – a presence that has now reached 70% of companies – as well as the huge reduction of NGOs operating in China from 7000 to just 400. Finally, there was the reaffirmation of the “mistakes” made by the Western propaganda, as well as the reaffirmation of the pillars of the CPC doctrine and practice.

 Certainly this has much to do with the relationship between the Chinese government and the Catholic Church.

 With specific reference to foreign policy, after the “two sessions”, Xi Jinping currently tends to finalize as soon as possible the negotiation for a “Shared Code of Conduct” between China and the ten ASEAN countries, while the Chinese control over the Taiwan and Hong Kong seas is expanding.

 It should be made clear that China will never conquer the Kuomintang island militarily, but it will wait for its internal political transformations to lead to a de facto reunification.

 China also knows that an attack on Taiwan would enable the United States, in particular, to massively and harshly return to the Asian continental region.

 As we will also see in Italy, for President Xi Jinping, China must define – as soon as possible – a “Chinese” model to resolve all current international tensions, so as to ensure that China can become a “contributor and promoter” of both global free trade – in contrast with Trump’s US trade policy – and of multilateralism.

 In the “Two Sessions”, President Xi Jinping also proposed “Xi’s five Study Points”.

 They concern above all peaceful unity, also referring to the fact that Xi in Chinese also means “to learn, to study, to put into practice”.

 As can be easily imagined, peaceful unity is directly related to the Taiwan issue – to which the rule of “one country, two systems” will soon be applied.

  In Xinjiang, the Chinese government will soon accept a UN mission, provided it “does not interfere in domestic matters”.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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Washington- Pyongyang: A third attempt?

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During a recent meeting with his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in at the White House, US President Donald Trump said that while a step-by-step agreement with North Korea concerning that country’s nuclear program remained on the table, his administration was still focused on “the big deal.” Trump announced plans for his third meeting with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, but added that this would require “lengthy preparation.” The South Korean president likewise spoke about the need for the US and North Korean leaders meeting again shortly and underscored the need to maintain the current pace of negotiations.

The response from Pyongyang did not take too long in coming. In a keynote address on April 12 to the Supreme People’s Assembly in Pyongyang, which had earlier officially named him “the supreme representative of all Koreans,” Kim Jong-un said: “If the United States finds a solution acceptable to us, and proposes a meeting between the DPRK and US leaders, we are ready to agree to this once again. I won’t hesitate to sign an agreement, but only if it is written in a way that meets the interests of the DPRK and the United States, is fair and mutually acceptable.”

The April 12 session of the North Korean parliament was attended by a large delegation of the Russian State Duma deputies. Immediately after that, it became known that President Vladimir Putin would meet Kim later this month during a stopover in Vladivostok on his way to Beijing. The North Korean leader’s increasingly frequent political contacts with his Russian and Chinese counterparts reflect a desire to coordinate positions ahead of the next round of the US-North Korean talks.

Well, is there any reason for optimism about the outcome of the forthcoming parley? If so, then it must be extremely cautious. Indeed, in the span of  just a few months, Washington and Pyongyang have gone from general promises of denuclearization in exchange for security guarantees made during the June 2018 summit in Singapore, to a failed attempt to agree a roadmap for this process at the Hanoi summit in late February 2019.

Past experience shows that Washington’s attempts to make Pyongyang agree on everything at once were in principle doomed to failure for obvious political and technical reasons.

First off, it has been the factor of time. While Donald Trump hurried to clinch a “big deal” before his first term in office runs out (and not being sure about a second one), his North Korean counterpart was not interested in making this happen for exactly the same reason: as the most recent history shows, a new occupant of the White House often finds it easy to undo what his predecessor has achieved.

Equally obvious are technical reasons why there is no way to fast-track denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The deal on the Iranian nuclear program took years of negotiations and was the result of a mutual compromise (meaning that it is highly unlikely that a deal like this can be achieved in full, much less at once).

Under the present circumstances, any further US-North Korean negotiations would look like a walk across a minefield. If it were up to me, I would suggest the following way to go.

During the third Trump-Kim summit (which, if unsuccessful, will most likely be the last), to adopt a mutually accepted denuclearization roadmap that would say exactly which nuclear weapons and their delivery vehicles are to be eliminated, above all, those capable (albeit hypothetically) of reaching US territory.

The sides should also draw up an exhaustive list of facilities of North Korea’s nuclear (and, possibly, missile) programs that would be stopped or eliminated based on the principle of “proving the existence” there of nuclear  elements, rather than “proving their absence.” The latter verification path will take us nowhere because, to meet this requirement, Pyongyang would be forced to eliminate all of its engineering and other modern industries. In other words, to return to the pre-industrial era – something it will hardly ever agree to.

And, most importantly, there should be a compulsory and phased implementation of the stated goals. Pyongyang’s next move towards abandoning its nuclear technology should be accompanied by a partial and phased lifting of sanctions imposed on it by the UN Security Council, primarily those, which are damaging the peaceful sectors of the North Korean economy and are hampering the inter-Korean dialogue.

Each of these UN sanctions contains a concrete procedure for their suspension of lifting. At this stage the Security Council is already entering the game as all further negotiations on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula will depend on the agreed position of its permanent members (including the five officially recognized nuclear states).

Here it would be highly advisable to consider the proposal made by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev at a special session of the UN Security Council on the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in January 2018, whereby the official five nuclear states could offer North Korea security guarantees within the framework of the UN Security Council as an important condition for creating an atmosphere of trust and ensuring successful progress towards denuclearization.

By the way, the third US-North Korean summit (if it happens at all) could be held in a trilateral format, as President Moon Jae-in has previously suggested. This would reduce the likelihood of yet another failure and would help ensure speedy security assurances for North Korea in exchange for the country’s nuclear disarmament.

First published in our partner International Affairs

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BRI: Shared Future for Humanity

Sabah Aslam

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The terrestrial and maritime connectivity proposed by the Chinese government back in 2013 with six connectivity corridors reflects the vision of shared future for humanity. Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is an omen of modern transformation of the globe. The journey of transition from geo-politics to geo-economics is itself a huge achievement. As geo-economics brought in the partnership and collaboration for mutual gains whereas geo-politics reflects competition, for instance, arm race.

BRI a network of terrestrial and maritime passages encompassing (1) the New Eurasian Land Bridge connects Western China to Western Russia; (2) the China-Mongolia-Russia Corridor, from Northern China to Eastern Russia; (3)the China-Central Asia-Western Asia Corridor, links China to Turkey; (4) the Corridor from Southern China to the Indochinese peninsula up to Singapore; (5) the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor; and (6) the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Corridor. In other words BRI is one of the longest connectivity route from the Chinese coast to Singapore to Gwadar up to the Mediterranean. Among all the above mentioned projects, CPEC is a model project with so much in its credit.

CPEC is the flagship project of the Belt & Road Initiative. CPEC is a mutually agreed initiative including 4 key areas of cooperation i.e. energy projects, infrastructure development, Gwadar Port, and industrial cooperation. This cooperation has further strengthened the time tested friendship. China – Pakistan strategic cooperation is an essential ingredient for the South Asian peace recipe. CPEC, not merely focus on commerce and trade but also include social development projects as well. Pak-China Friendship Hospital, Pak-China School, Gwadar Airport, and many more are prominent examples of this initiative. The first phase of CPEC is almost complete and is all ready to enter into the second phase. The first phase was comprised of energy and road projects whereas the second phase might also entails agriculture, education, health, water and much more. Here in our case, when there is an atmosphere of non-kinetic threats, development is the only option. Internal harmony and peace can only be achieved when there is no sense of deprivation. In addition, inclusion of third party in CPEC project, and also connecting it with the Central Asian Republics and Russia is also a progressive move. Opening it for the private business sector and creating 80,000 jobs, all are signs of social uplifting and gradual development. CPEC is an inclusive project for Pakistan and for the region.

China is focusing on and playing a key role in connecting the continents. Being an emerging power, China, considers the role of regional connections vital for the global peace and prosperity. Hence, BRI is a positive-sum cooperation. It’s a platform for dialogue, and developing new paths of cooperation encompassing government to government, people to people, business to business and media to media relations. BRI is the, opening up and connectivity, with an aim on promoting global peace and cooperation, and building a global community with a bright future for mankind. Moreover, it promotes connectivity through passages of commerce and trade. There is also a shift in the international balance, leaning towards east from west, considering it a breath of fresh air. Belt and Road Initiative is turning the myth “21st Century is the Asian Century” into reality.

BRI is a network of exchange, exchange of happiness and prosperity, exchange of knowledge and technology, exchange of expertise to perform well for mutual interests. It is the beginning of the inclusive global future. Hence, it is the time for profound change and reforms. For growth, for being dynamic, change is normal. So, reforms, propel states to accomplish goals not only at national level but international level too. The way BRI brought countries and regions together, enhancing trade, developing state of the art infrastructure, boosting investment, strengthening cultural ties, and people to people exchanges, all making BRI, the Central Nervous System of the world.

The true essence of BRI is regional integration, a horizontal, non-vertical integration with no hegemonic designs with an aim to limit the world recession damage. Furthermore, as the second BRI forum is scheduled in late April this year, there is much more to come. As mentioned, BRI is a pie, having share for all; it’s not a debt trap. In order to win the confidence of all the partnering states, and to lessen the suspicion, China is trying to avoid the ‘debt traps’. Though, there is no such state in unsustainable Chinese government debt pressure. It basically provides equality based cooperation, and a green & sustainable development. Second BRI forum is the right time to kickstart the “Second Phase” of Belt & Road. Many foreign heads of state and government, and thousands of delegates will be attending the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, or BRF.  As mentioned by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, “it will include a series of events, such as leaders’ round table, high-level meeting, and thematic forum, CEO conference, under the theme of Belt and Road cooperation shaping a brighter shared future. There will also be more side events, including 12 thematic forums focusing on practical cooperation, and for the first time a conference organized specifically for the business community”.

The globe has already been struck by two major economic depressions. Asian continent also faced one in 1997 when East and Southeast Asia was crippled economically. The world direly needs a remedy in order to sustain the global economy which can only be done through economic and cultural interconnectivity.BRI aims to be a torch bearer in order to bring the financial benefits to the globe. The global prosperity is need of an hour in modern world order but this can be achieved through collective efforts.

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China: Via Portugal into Africa and Latin America

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Portugal is a major geographical link in the European leg of China’s New Silk Road project (NSR). A visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Lisbon on December 4-5, 2018 produced seventeen cooperation agreements thereby reaffirming the two parties’ readiness to expand economic partnership.

China is Portugal’s top trading partner in Asia, with bilateral trade steadily on the rise amounting to $5.6 billion in 2017. The volume of Chinese investment in the Portuguese economy has reached $ 10.2 billion. Simultaneously, the influx of tourists from China to Portugal has gone up by 40% and from Portugal to China by 16%. The Chinese Embassy in Lisbon has described the current state of Sino-Portuguese relations as the best since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1979.

The livening up of Sino-Portuguese relations is key to Beijing’s comprehensive strategy of boosting cooperation with Portuguese-speaking countries. Adopted fifteen years ago, this strategy has brought about an increase in the volume of trade between the PRC and the Portuguese-speaking nations by more than 19 times – from $ 6 billion in 2002 to $ 117.6 billion in 2017.

In this context, an economic union with Lisbon is designed to geographically complete the European sector of the New Silk Road project (NSR) given the location of Portugal as the western tip of the European continent. Also, such an alliance is set to project Chinese economic influence through Portugal to countries of Africa and Latin America.

China is number one trading partner of three Portuguese-speaking countries: Brazil (trade turnover in 2018 at $ 29.5 billion), Angola ($ 26 billion) and Mozambique ($ 168 million).

The port of Sines – Portugal’s sea gate to the Atlantic and Africa – carries a particular importance with its well-developed infrastructure and all the facilities to be used as a transit point for Chinese products bound for America and Africa. Another important point is the Azores, a part of Portuguese territory stretching deep into the Atlantic. Lisbon has consented to Beijing’s participation in the construction of scientific and logistics infrastructure in the archipelago, which is tantamount to a stronger Chinese economic presence in the region.

Lisbon favors joint participation with Beijing in investment projects in Portuguese-speaking Africa. African countries have expressed a similar intention. In January 2019, the Angolan Parliament ruled to abolish double taxation with Portugal, China and the United Arab Emirates.

Lisbon-mediated cooperation with Portuguese-speaking countries will enable Beijing to guarantee food security. According to UN reports, Angola is among the top five countries with the greatest agricultural potential (58 million hectares of arable land), Mozambique has 36 million hectares, of which less than six are cultivated, while Brazil is the main supplier of soybean, a popular food product for China (14 million tons in 2018).

In relation to China and within the NSR project, Portugal plays the role of an infrastructure and logistics counterweight to France, which is trying to shift the focus of French-Chinese cooperation in the direction of the Mediterranean and North Africa – to fight against terrorism in the Sahel region and provide investment support of the French-speaking Sahel “Five” (Chad, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali).

Beijing is interested in moving via the Atlantic westward. From the geographical point of view, Portugal is a good partner here – cooperation with it takes China beyond the Mediterranean. According to the Chinese leader, for Beijing, Lisbon is a point of linking the land and sea segments of the NSR and a promising partner in the development of the “sea wave economy”.

The position of Paris regarding the NSR project is characterized as cautiously positive, envisaged by the Franco-German Aachen agreement of January 22, 2019 and affected by competition with Italy (Italian Trieste and French Marseille compete for the main port of the NSR in the Mediterranean).

The Aachen agreement diplomatically outlines the geopolitical axis Paris-Berlin, endowing the French-German relations with a special status. Against export-oriented German economy (in 2018, exports went up 3% against 2017, reaching $ 1.318 billion), Beijing’s economic activity in Europe is seen as a challenge.

Negotiations between French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission Chairman Jean-Claude Juncker and China’s Xi Jinping on March 25-26 demonstrated the EU’s consolidated position and marked a successful attempt to secure common gains from building up cooperation between the EU (without Italy) and the PRC.

While France readily signed multibillion-dollar contracts with China and agreed to the opening of the Chinese market for French goods, it refrained from actively assisting the Chinese in pursuing transcontinental infrastructure projects as unwelcome for the economic health of the Franco-German duumvirate.

 First published in our partner International Affairs

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