Why Pentagon has trouble taming its wild V-22 Osprey

The US military has grounded its entire fleet of Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft after a deadly crash off Japan last week. Sputnik spoke to veteran Russian combat aircraft pilot Vladimir Popov to get a better sense of the problems associated with the fledgling technology, and why the US refuses to just close the Osprey program down.

A US Air Force Special Operations CV-22B Osprey flying from Yokota Air Base in Tokyo to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni on Okinawa went down over the East China Sea on November 29, killing all eight airmen onboard.

The crash was at least the 40th accident involving an Osprey since the aircraft's introduction into service with the US military in 2007, with crashes killing at least 53 US service members to date.

The Osprey program is the realization of an idea going back over a century ago of a tiltrotor, also known as a convertiplane - an aircraft with the ability to take off and land vertically using helicopter-style rotors attached to its wings, and which can adjust them during flight to a something closer to an airplane turboprop engine-style configuration. This dramatically increases the convertiplane's speed characteristics relative to those of an ordinary helicopter (up to doubling them).

The United States, the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany and Britain were the first countries to begin experimenting with tiltrotor designs, with each country building prototypes from the 1930s into the early post-war period before concluding the technology was too revolutionary to be implemented effectively using equipment and materials that existed at the time.

The USSR began work on a modern-day iteration of the convertiplane in the 1970s with the Mil Mi-30 Vintoplan (lit. 'Rotorplane') project, which featured an airplane-style fuselage design and characteristics allowing it to carry up to 32 people or up to five tons of cargo. The project, envisioned as a prospective replacement for the Soviet and Russian rugged Mi-8 workhorse series fleet of helicopters, was abandoned in the mid-1990s due to lack of funding after the USSR's collapse.
The Osprey project, designed by Bell and Boeing in the 1980s and first flown in March 1989, entered mass production in 2007, and has since been introduced into service with the US Marines Corps, Air Force, Navy, and Japan's Ground Self-Defense Force. The aircraft can carry up to 24 combat troops or nine tons of cargo. The V-22 is the only convertiplane to be mass produced by any nation, with over 400 built to date.

But as often happens with complex, innovative engineering designs, the glory of having the first fully operational, mass-produced convertiplane is also a heavy burden to bear, with the United States military not only reveling in the Osprey's advantages, but suffering from its flaws, with the V-22 suffering dozens of crashes and at least 16 hull losses to date.

Last week's crash in the East China Sea was the fourth fatal incident involving a V-22 in less than two years, and follows the August 2023 Marine MV-22B crash on Melville Island, Australia during an exercise, killing three service members, the June 2022 crash of a Marine MV-22B in California, killing five troops, and an MV-22B crash in Beiarn, Norway in March 2022, which killed another four Marines.

Investigations into the latest incidents have pointed to technical problems (including a drive system failure caused by a malfunctioning gearbox in the case of the June 2022 incident in California), and pilot error in the case of the March 2022 crash in Norway.

Investigators are yet to offer details on what may have caused the November 29 CV-22B crash off Japan, although eyewitnesses have reported fire coming from one of the aircraft's engines and the Osprey reportedly flying upside down before an explosion spewed wreckage into the surrounding water.

Sunk Costs

Speaking to Sputnik about last week's Osprey crash, and asked why the US military continues to use the convertiplanes despite their crash-prone nature, Honored Military Pilot of Russia Vladimir Popov explained that it likely has to do with the resources the Pentagon has expended on the project.

"The fact is that financial resources have already been invested into the aircraft's creation and implementation," the retired Air Force Major-General with decades of service under his belt told Sputnik.

"Most likely, the engineers, designers, technologists and everyone who took part in the Osprey's development decided that its reliability can be assured, and that it can be improved in the course of operations," Popov said.

"They are likely hoping to get an effective machine, but everything remains in the stages of development and refinement. For now, of course, such an aircraft cannot really be used anywhere, since doing so means losses of personnel and money down the drain. The idea is good, but the implementation, not so much," the veteran pilot explained.

The problem with convertiplane technology at its current stage lies with the components allowing the aircraft to switch from vertical to horizontal flight mode, Popov said. "This node is 'charged' with a great deal of energy, because large loads hang on it. It may not be able to process the transition quite correctly" at times, resulting in accidents.

"Tiltrotors have been flying for a very long time, and they have a short service life. Thus, it's too early to say that it has already reached the peak of its operational maturity. What needs to be done is to clarify what went wrong in each specific case, and to approach the issue carefully and get to the bottom of it. What's also needed is to improve working with personnel, to conduct additional tests, and change the training of the pilot and crew members. The US may continue to operate Ospreys, but they need to think long and hard about how to do so without making sacrifices. Sometimes it's enough to replace only one bolt and everything will work as it should," Popov stressed.

Last week's accident may have been the result of any number of factors, from pilot error and equipment failure to errors in the mathematical calculations by the Osprey's onboard computer, Popov believes.

That said, the veteran pilot is convinced that tiltrotor technology has good prospects for the future, given its status as what is effectively a hybrid airplane/helicopter design that can accelerate to speeds of up over 550 km per hour, far above the roughly 300 km per hour achieved by modern helicopters, which have now maxed out as far as further improvements in speed characteristics go.

COVID-19 infections in China at low epidemic level, no unknown viruses have been found: China CDC

COVID-19 infections in China are at a low epidemic level and no unknown viruses or bacteria have been found during the monitoring of respiratory pathogens in China, according to Chinese health authorities on Sunday.

BA.2.86 and its subvariants, including JN.1 variant, have become the dominant variants in some countries, yet, their public health risk in China is low given their low proportion, Chang Zhaorui, a research fellow from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (China CDC) told a press briefing on Sunday.

The proportion of BA.2.86 variant strains in the reported sequences in China is very low, but the proportion among imported cases has increased rapidly since November, and the growth trend has gradually converged with that of the world, Chang noted, 

Since the first imported case of BA.2.86 variant strain was reported on August 31, a total of 160 sequences of BA.2.86 and its subbranches have been reported in China, including 148 imported case sequences and 12 local case sequences, but no severe or critical cases have been found, the research fellow from the China CDC noted.

According to a statement published by National Disease Control and Prevention Administration on Friday, the possibility of the JN.1 variant, a branch variant of BA.2.86, becoming a dominant strain in the country cannot be ruled out due to the subsequent impact of international strains and imported cases.

On November 21, the World Health Organization (WHO) adjusted BA.2.86 from a variant requiring global surveillance to a variant requiring attention, evaluating the risk of clinical severe infection as low and the overall assessment of public health risk as low.

Experts reached by the Global Times said infectious diseases are common throughout the world. New variants of the novel coronavirus can appear in the future at any time and people should get used to their existence. More attention should be paid to overlapping infections of influenza and other respiratory diseases. 

In the past months, China has been experiencing a spike in respiratory disease. 

Mi Feng, a spokesperson from National Health Commission, said on Sunday's press briefing that hospital visits for respiratory diseases across China have shown a downward trend. 

Mi said that local medical institutes have been doing their part to ease pressure on major hospitals, accounting for 44 percent of total fever and outpatient visits.

The spokesperson called for the continued strengthening of surveillance and overall situation analysis for respiratory diseases and the allocation of medical resources to cope with the spike.

According to latest weekly report by the China CDC, the positive rate of influenza virus in the southern and northern provinces of China slowed down between December 4 and 10, and some provinces showed a downward trend. 

Rescue work concludes as earthquake kills 131 and injures 1,000 in NW China; Resettlement and treatment underway amid secondary disasters

The devastating Jishishan earthquake that rattled Northwest China overnight has led to a total of 131 fatalities, including 113 in Gansu Province and 18 in Qinghai Province. Nearly 1,000 people are reported injured, while 16 remain missing. Rescue work is drawing to an end, and the focus next will be the treatment of the injured and the resettlement of affected populations, authorities said at a press conference on Wednesday.

At present, more than 87,000 people have been temporarily evacuated and resettled in safe places, Gansu officials said at the press conference, revealing that nearly 15,000 houses collapsed and 207,000 more were damaged after the quake, affecting 145,736 people. 

According to the latest data, a total of 78 trapped individuals have been rescued, with 6,653 people evacuated as of 6:00 am on Wednesday. Additionally, 360 tents have been set up, 683 hazardous areas have been cleared, and 47 tons of relief supplies have arrived at the disaster-stricken sites. 

After 10 hours of nonstop efforts, all damaged roads and highways leading to the disaster area, especially toward the epicenter, have been cleared and reopened, including all 24 severely damaged rural roads, so that relief and supply vehicles were able to access impacted communities, the Gansu transport bureau said at the press conference. 

All routes within the Lanzhou Railway Bureau, which had been delayed significantly due to impacts of the earthquake, have also resumed normal operations on Wednesday morning.

The damaged main power grid circuits in the earthquake-stricken area of Gansu and Qinghai have also been fully restored as of Tuesday evening, according to the State Grid Gansu Electric Power Company.

A total of 423 aftershocks have been recorded over the one and a half days since the initial impact, including 10 aftershocks measuring 3.0 magnitude or higher. 

The strong earthquake triggered various secondary disasters. In Minhe county, Qinghai, which borders the epicenter Jishishan county, two villages experienced moving sand shortly after the earthquake. A significant number of houses were buried and washed away by mudslides, resulting in 20 individuals going missing. Following the incident, the Qinghai Provincial Fire Rescue Team swiftly organized overnight rescue operations.

The houses of 36 families, totaling 177 villagers, were destroyed by rushing sand in Jintian village, and 13 individuals are still missing. A firefighter on-site told the Global Times that after overnight search and rescue efforts, as of Wednesday morning, the bodies of four deceased have been discovered.

“The entire area is now covered with a thick layer of wet, thick and adhesive sludge. Rescue personnel told us that it’s so heavy and dense that it cannot be dug manually and requires heavy machinery for removal,” reporters from China Central Television said in a video shot from an impacted village.

Three excavators, brought in urgently, have been operating continuously, the CCTV report showed. “Shortly after the earthquake, waves of thick slurry, rising up to three meters high, surged and inundated the villages,” the reporter said in the video.

China’s Asian Games champions underline friendship, solidarity amid international competitions

China's Olympic champions believe the universal language of sport is a key to bridge communications for athletes as well as people of different countries and regions, as they continue their preparations for the Paris Olympic Games in 2024.

"Winning or losing is indeed the essence of competitive sports, but now I no longer think it's everything because we have something more valuable than victory," swimming queen Zhang Yufei told reporters at a forum held by the China Public Diplomacy Association in Beijing on November 22.

The essence of competitive sports goes beyond winning and losing, believed Zhang, who won six gold medals at the Hangzhou Asian Games. 

Zhang's touching moment with Japanese swimmer Rikako Ikee at the Hangzhou Asian Games, where they embraced despite being rivals, became a memorable scene. 

"We participated in the same discipline but it was until the final day of 50 meters butterfly final that she made onto the podium," Zhang said. 

"Her ability to return to the competition is a miracle. It is her perseverance that inspired me to continue when facing a bad situation."

Zhang was referring a fever she caught on day four of her competitions at the Asian Games, when she had to continue to achieve her personal goal of becoming the MVP of the event, which required more gold medals at the time. 

"It is her perseverance she demonstrated after wading through leukemia which sidelined her from competing after achieving six gold and two silver medals at 2018 Asian Games," Zhang noted. 

Zhang's teammate Qin Haiyang, a breaststroke specialist who set a new 200 meters world record this year, noted that he hopes to inspire more people to participate in sports activities, expressing his desire to showcase not only athletic achievements but also the confidence, unity and friendship of Chinese athletes on the international stage.

The power of role models is limitless as gymnasts Zou Jingyuan and Zhang Boheng mentioned the influential figures in their sport, such as Li Ning, Li Xiaoshuang and Japan's Kohei Uchimura.

"Although we are competitors on the field, off the field, we are friends. Athletes worldwide share a common philosophy of developing modern gymnastics, innovating movements, and spreading the love for sports globally," Zou said.

All-rounder Zhang is often linked to Japanese gymnast Hashimoto Daiki, as the duo  are being considered the top athletes in the sport. This year they have competed head-to-head in China at the Chengdu Universiade and the Hangzhou Asian Games.

"Although this year I won, but I don't think he is at top form. I expect to compete with him when both of us are in-form. Maybe the stage will be the Olympics next year," Zhang said. 

"All the gymnasts in the world share a common philosophy, that is, to develop modern competitive gymnastics, constantly innovate movements, share our understanding of gymnastics, and our love for sports with the world," Zou added.

Off the field, interactions and friendships among athletes from different countries and regions highlight the Olympic spirit that unites the world, as two-time Olympic taekwondo champion Wu Jingyu, now chair of World Taekwondo Athletes Committee, underlines the communication among the athletes facilitate the Olympic spirit. 

"In addition to athletic achievements, athletes' perseverance and pursuit of dreams are also part of the Olympic spirit. This Olympic family allows athletes to freely show and express the spirit of sports, inspire more people with spiritual strength," Wu said. 

Young dominators: ‘Chinese table tennis being shared with the world’ has become a reality

Editor's Note: 

Young Chinese people in the new era are confident, aspirational and responsible. With a global vision, they stand at the forefront of the times, ready to fully commit to a more global outlook. Chinese people accept and quickly respond to the world's trending schools of thought. Some members of China's Generation Z have started to practice the tenets of their "global citizen" identity and use their thought processes and actions to influence the society. The Global Times has therefore launched a series of introductory stories to China's Gen Zers who are interested in different global topics such as environmental protection, equality, and employment issues, and invites them to share their stories, sentiments, and ideas on social media platforms.

As the match point arrived, the stadium with nearly 6000 seats sat in silence. When the last ball landed, accompanied by a tsunami of cheers from the crowd,  celebrating with fist pumps, shouts, and embraces, raising the Five-Star Red Flags to show their sincere gratitude to the audience and the country they beloved. 

Similar scenes unfolded six times during the table tennis competition at the 19th Asian Games held in Hangzhou, East China's Zhejiang Province. Generation Zers Sun Yingsha, Fan Zhendong and Wang Chuqin, the absolute mainstays of the Chinese table tennis team, presented a lot of world-class pinnacle competitions with players from different countries and regions in a firm and confident manner. 

Compared with the older generation, this group of world champions, who are blowing up a storm of youth, are more confident in expressing their love for table tennis, their desire to enjoy the game regardless of winners and losers, as well as their courage in communicating with the outside world to build up a more positive and united force, adding a more contemporary and vibrant expression to this sport, which is considered the national game by the Chinese people.

Enjoy the game

"When the last ball landed, the first thing I recognized about my performance was that it was very good," Sun, who was born in 2000, the current world No. 1 in women's singles, said while answering a question from the Global Times during a post-match interview on October 1, 2023.

And in a subsequent interview with the Global Times, Sun said she has gained a lot from the Hangzhou Asian Games. "Compared with the Asian Games in Jakarta five years ago, I have taken on more responsibility, but compared with the pressure, I am also more motivated, and am satisfied with my play."

In Jakarta in 2018, the enduring impression left by Sun to the public was a cute little girl with a round face and eyes. There is no Tokyo Olympic gold medal, Houston and Durban mixed doubles champions. At that time, Sun represented the national table tennis team in the women's team and mixed doubles events.

Five years later, Sun took the oath as a representative of the participating athletes at the opening ceremony of the Hangzhou Games, and competed in women's singles, doubles, team and mixed doubles, winning gold medals in three of them.

"I feel very proud to be sworn in as an athlete representative at a major international competition hosted by my country. To be able to fight on home soil, there were also many fans who came to cheer me on, I told myself to focus on every game on the field, and I hope I can really enjoy the feeling that the game brings to me. I didn't think too much about the result," Sun said.

But for Sun, the Asian Games in Hangzhou is not without regrets. Earlier, in a shock result, women's doubles world No. 1s Sun and Wang Manyu lost 1-3 to Japanese duo Miwa Harimoto and Miu Hirano.

Sun admitted that after the defeat, both her coach and her partner gave her a lot of encouragement so that she could adjust quickly be ready to face the next match. But she also told the Global Times that such a defeat is precious and needs to be fully faced, and that she will take stock of the loss after the game.

Fan, the world's number one men's singles table tennis player, also tasted defeat at the Asian Games. In the table tennis men's singles final on October 2nd, Fan lost 3-4 to his teammate Wang and won the silver medal. After the match, Fan told the Global Times that he was still very happy with his performance in his third Asian Games he attended. 

"Being able to participate in the Asian Games in China and be a torchbearer is a great honor for me. It is a recognition of my past achievements. I also really wanted to win the final singles match and defend my title, but both of us played very well in the final. I feel a little regret for my lost, but not enough to be disappointed," he said.

Fan, who is 26 years old this year, made his debut in the Asian Games in 2014 in Incheon, South Korea. Starting his career at a young age and gaining fame early, Fan admitted that he felt "not very young" anymore. However, he still hopes to focus on the competition and give his all in every match, using his superb skills and competitive state to bring more positive energy to his teammates and fans who love him.

Valuing heritage

23-year-old Wang, who took home four championships in the table tennis men's team, singles, doubles, and mixed doubles, becoming the first person in the history of table tennis at the Asian Games, first to expressed his gratitude to the country for its cultivation in an interview with the Global Times. 

Wang noted that China's nationwide system allows athletes to train in a world-class environment. "At the same time, the Chinese table tennis team is a strong team, with a lot of world champions, allowing us - the younger generation - to constantly progress and improve in a fine tradition."

"When you wear the national flag on your uniform, you represent Team China. The honor of this collective is passed down through generations through unremitting efforts, and we will do our best to defend it," Wang said.

However, Wang also noted that in competitive sports, no one can maintain their peak state forever and there can never be eternal victory. "This is also the charm of competitive sports."

In the men's and women's team finals of the Hangzhou Asian Games, the Chinese team defeated their opponents 3-0. The coaches of the Chinese table tennis team told media that although they ultimately won the matches, the process was not easy and the women's doubles event failing to reach the top four made the whole team realize that the competition in the world of table tennis is becoming increasingly fierce.

"Winning championships in table tennis may seem easy for the Chinese team, but in fact, every member of our team has put in unimaginable efforts in various aspects throughout this process. For us, it has always been about striving for first place, not just maintaining it," Fan said.

In the current world of table tennis, the level of athletes from various countries and regions is getting closer, Fan pointed out. "Every competition and major event requires us to give our all to achieve good results." 

But for Fan and Wang, this kind of competition is positive and necessary. "We are also looking forward to these challenges, which are in fact mutual promotion that can further improve and develop the Chinese table tennis team," Fan said.

More open and international

"Play the fiercest ball on the court, and be the most sincere and lovely teenager in life." This is a popular comment of this group of all-powerful table tennis made by their young Chinese fans. 

And it's not just the fans who are attracted to them. 

On the first match day for the table tennis at the Hangzhou Asian Games on September 22, when Fan was warming up on the sidelines, a foreign coach took the initiative to shake hands with him. The handshake between them conveyed the friendship and respect built on this sport. 

After the women's team first round match, Team Macao player Seak Hui-li specifically took a photo with Sun with her racket, which also received a friendly response from her idol. 

After the women's team semi-finals, Korean athlete Jeon Jihee happily revealed in an interview that she exchanged pins with Sun. 

Despite the tight schedule of the competition, Sun still lived up to her title as the "pin exchange master" with her actions. 

"If I meet someone have pins I like or find cute, I will think about exchanging with them. We are all friends," Sun told the Global Times. 

With the promotion of this more open and international Gen Zers, the slogan of the Chinese Table Tennis Association, "Chinese table tennis is shared with the world," has become a reality. 

Sun, Fan and Wang told the Global Times that they love table tennis and hope to connect with more like-minded people through the sport. As idol for many despite their young age, they hope that more young people, like them, focus on what they love, can always go forward, ultimately realize the dreams.

Protection efforts to restore stone tablets at 2,000-year-old Baidicheng site

A total of 56 stone tablets are set to undergo restoration at the 2,000-year-old Baidicheng site in Fengjie county, Southwest China's Chongqing Municipality.

There are over 70 stone tablets at Baidicheng, all carved from high-quality Three Gorges stone. Among them, the oldest is a 1,400-year-old Sui Dynasty (581-618) stone tablet.    

The inscriptions on the tablets have deteriorated due to human and environmental factors. To deal with this problem, restorers are looking to use desalination methods to remove harmful ions from the artifacts and effectively protect them, according to a report of China's state TV station CCTV. 

Lei Tingjun, curator of the Fengjie County Baidicheng Museum, said, "Desalinating and repairing some of the heavily weathered areas is sure to reveal some missing content on the tablets."

It is expected that the restoration will take six months, ending around May 2024.

In July, to better ensure the protection of ancient stone tablets, the National Cultural Heritage Administration released the first list of ancient famous stone tablets and carvings, which included a total of 1,658 prominent artifacts. Dating from the Warring States period (475BC-221BC) to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the tablets were inscribed with 20 different types of scripts.

Baidicheng, which literally means White Emperor City, is known as the City of Poems due to the large number of poets. Tang Dynasty (618-907) poet Li Bai also wrote about it in the poem Departing from Baidi in the Morning.

Another famous and talented poet, Du Fu, resided in Baidicheng for two or three years. Liu Bei, the first emperor of the Shu Han Kingdom (221-263) during the Three Kingdoms period (220-280), is said to have died in Baidicheng.  However, according to Records of the Three Kingdoms, Liu died at the Yong An Gong palace. Yong An Gong was located in what is now the Normal School of Fengjie County, a few miles away from the current Baidicheng. 

In 2006, the Chinese government listed Baidicheng as a national heritage site.

Indonesia: Cultural exchange activity in Beijing cements friendship between two countries

The highly anticipated Indonesian cultural festival kicked off in the opera hall of Beijing's Central Conservatory of Music recently to promote cultural exchanges between China and Indonesia and encourage people to learn more about the traditional Indonesian instrument the Kolintang.

Indonesian Ambassador to China Djauhari Oratmangun, delivered a speech saying that the Indonesian cultural performance held in Beijing is particularly important for the promotion of Indonesia's rich and colorful culture and enhancement of civil relations between Indonesia and China. 

Oratmangun also stated that through this event, he hopes that the Kolintang instrument will be recognized by UNESCO in 2024.

Accompanied by the Kolintang, Oratmangun and his wife sang the Chinese song The Moon Represents My Heart, which resonated with the audiences and received thunderous applause.

This event serves as a bridge for cultural exchange between the two countries, enhancing cultural exchange and mutual learning, and strengthening the friendship between the two peoples, while promoting the healthy development of bilateral relations.

ASEAN-China ties grow in open, inclusive and transparent way: Secretary-General of ASEAN

ASEAN-China relations are built on trust and confidence, and are developing in a "very open, inclusive, and transparent way," Secretary-General of ASEAN Kao Kim Hourn, told the Global Times in an exclusive interview on the eve of the 56th ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting (AMM) in Jakarta. 

He emphasized an increased trust in all dimensions of ASEAN-China ties, namely political, economic, social and cultural trusts which are the pillars of such relations.

China's top diplomat Wang Yi will attend a series of ASEAN meetings in Jakarta on Thursday and Friday, as China reiterates its support for ASEAN unity and emphasizes its commitment to the properly handling of sensitive issues among regional countries. 

Wang, who is the director of the Office of the Communist Party of China Central Commission for Foreign Affairs, will attend the ASEAN-China Foreign Ministers' Meeting, the ASEAN Plus Three Foreign Ministers' Meeting, the East Asia Summit Foreign Ministers' Meeting and the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) Foreign Ministers' Meeting. 

Kao told the Global Times that the partnership between China and ASEAN has been elevated consistently over the last three decades, "certainly because ASEAN and China are very close in terms of geography, proximity, culturally, and historically." 

Kao described the ties as being "at the highest level now" that is also reflected in the "extensive mechanisms between the two parties at all levels, which is quite important for ASEAN."

"China was the first country to join the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC), so it shows that China was working with us very closely early on," said Kao.

He highlighted the long-term economic and trade exchange exhibitions such as the China-ASEAN Expo. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the China-ASEAN Expo, and the 20th China-ASEAN Expo will be held in Nanning, Southwest China's Guangxi in September. 

This year, the Indonesian chairmanship is set to adopt the theme "ASEAN Matters: Epicentrum of Growth," and how to play a more central role has also become one of the focuses of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting and other related meetings.

Kao told the Global Times that the AMM and relevant meetings will review ASEAN's community building efforts and reaffirm ASEAN Centrality and unity amid the evolving regional architecture. Foreign ministers will discuss ASEAN's post-pandemic recovery and economic integration, and how to support Timor-Leste's full membership in ASEAN as early as possible, and to discuss what more can be done to assist Myanmar. 

Kao said it is also an important opportunity for ARF ministers to review the last three decades' achievements and challenges, and consider how they would agree to work together in the future.

The ARF has 27 members and has become one of the main official multilateral security dialogue and cooperation platforms in the Asia-Pacific region.

"The ASEAN-plus foreign ministers' meetings have provided a platform to enhance mutual trust and cooperation. China hopes to see more common understanding resulting from such meetings, which will prepare the ground for fruitful leadership meetings this September and contribute to regional peace, stability, and prosperity," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said on July 11. 

China will work with regional countries to firmly support ASEAN's unity and community-building, advance the purposes and principles of the TAC, and uphold the rules and order of the region, said the spokesperson. 

Beijing's preparedness, response to record-breaking downpour highlights lessons learned from past tragedies

The extreme rainstorm witnessed in Beijing on July 21, 2012, the heaviest rainfall in six decades that left 79 people dead and caused widespread havoc in the capital city over a weekend, left deep scars in many people's hearts. Fortunately, when Beijing broke a 140-year-old rainfall record in the days between July 29 and August 2, the nightmare witnessed by Beijing residents over a decade ago were not replayed.

Based on flood prevention experience and lessons learned from previous rainfall disasters, including the catastrophic Henan floods in July 2021, Beijing appears to have made quantifiable to the city's disaster forecasting, relief, and response programs. There have been no major recorded roof collapses, backlash on the internet, damage of power lines, or flooded highway underpasses, scenes that were widely seen in the tragedy 11 years ago.

New technology and digital networks have become an important force in averting tragedy. The Beijing Haidian District Water Affairs Bureau utilized a cutting-edge smart system to direct emergency rescue operations throughout the district, as the system can map out the most optimal rescue route in record time.

The system utilizes visualization, integrated analysis of big data, and other technologies to understand the distribution and anomalies of approximately 3,000 water facilities and sensors across the entire Haidian area, and can provide real-time monitoring of the status of water channels, gates, and dams, and respond to warnings and forecasts speedily, the Beijing News reported.

Moreover, technologies such as the "Sky Eye" telescope, radar maps, and satellite cloud images have also played a significant role in this round of rainstorm warning. Since the start of the current round of rainfall on July 29, the "Sky Eye" smart system installed in some streets has remained vigilant. High-definition cameras installed on flood prevention emergency vehicles and rescue team helmets can monitor precipitation in real time, greatly improving the efficiency of flood responses.

"Early assessment, early warning, and early deployment" are the most significant forms of progress that the Global Times witnessed amid the slate of heavy rain that hit Beijing.

While visiting and reporting in waterlogged Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan Province, in July 2021, Global Times reporters found that the consensus among the public was they received warning notifications "too late." While other areas in Henan Province had already been hit by heavy downpours, Zhengzhou city government did not decisively put measures in place to stop gatherings, suspend classes, and require the closure of businesses, wasting critical time in flood prevention and missing a key rescue window.

The official investigation report on the severe rainstorm disaster in Zhengzhou which caused at least 398 deaths and missing, exposed serious misconducts in the city's response deployment, including inadequate warning, significant delays in emergency responses, and a lack of unified command at critical moments. These issues led to the highest disaster-related casualties seen in recent years, particularly with regard to the subway system and tunnel, which should not have occurred.

This time in Beijing, Global Times reporters found residents in the capital city received multiple flood prevention reminders via text from relevant departments before the heavy rain actually fell down. Beijing successively issued red rainstorm warnings, yellow lightning warnings, and blue wind warnings, reminding citizens to refrain from outdoor activities. Many organizations immediately issued directives for their employees to work from home.

News sources reported that in preparation, the Beijing Drainage Group initiated a top-level flood early-warning protocol, requiring all pump station personnel to be on duty. At the same time, a re-inspection and re-treatment of drainage facilities in key areas such as 155 depressed bridges and 249 subway stations, as well as a re-inspection of water pumps, backup power sources, flood control emergency equipment, and various monitoring systems in 87 rainwater pump stations across the city were conducted.

Power system companies also deployed emergency teams in advance. The State Grid Corporation of China (Beijing), for example, had 22 rescue teams with 510 personnel on standby, ready to transport power generation vehicles, small generators, lighting vehicles, and other flood control emergency supplies and equipment to be stationed in areas with strong rainfall forecasted by meteorological bodies.

Beijing's main cultural and tourism venues issued temporary closure notices soon after the Beijing city government temporarily asked to shut down access to all scenic spots on July 30.

All mountainous and water-related scenic spots and rural homestays in the heavily affected area of Fangshan district were temporarily closed and have stopped receiving visitors since then. All 17 tourist attractions in Huairou district were closed, and all homestays and folk accommodations were temporarily suspended to minimize risk.

Amid the heavy downpour sweeping through many parts of China, local authorities have stepped up efforts to counter flooding and power cuts. After days of search and evacuation efforts, disinfection work has begun in residential and commercial areas in the city over this weekend.

Throughout three major rainstorms, nonstop rescue missions have been executed with countless heartwarming stories. In the last decade, what has changed is our continuously honed ability to respond to floods, while what remains unchanged is the resilience exemplified by every individual, an essence of the Chinese civilization.

We believe that in the future, we will face floods and other natural disasters with even greater composure and unite together to withstand the tests they bring.

Deep-sea mining, an uncharted strategic competition that requires global collaboration

Editor's Note:

"Surging demand for metals used in electric vehicle batteries has kicked off an international race to mine the deep seas. And there are no rules," read a recent New York Times article. Nauru Ocean Resources Inc (NORI), a subsidiary of The Metals Company (TMC), a Canadian firm, applied for a mining permit through Nauru, prompting the International Seabed Authority (ISA) to initiate the development of rules and regulations within a two-year timeframe as per the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

While countries discuss the rules, opposition to deep-sea mining is growing. However, the ISA Council meeting in July 2023 did not approve deep-sea mining, and the agenda for the establishment of deep-sea mining regulations has been tabled until 2024. In this unknown realm of the seabed, how should the benefits and risks of deep-sea mining be balanced? How can the conflicting interests of a demand for energy transition and environmental protection be resolved? Experts told the Global Times that discussing deep-sea mining requires the balancing of various interests such as resource development, environmental protection, and sustainable development. In this process, global collaboration is crucial to ensure the best practices in environmental protection, sustainability, and social responsibility in mining activities.

A new option

With the increasing development of global technology, the demand for metals such as copper, nickel, aluminum, manganese, zinc, lithium, and cobalt is skyrocketing due to technologies like wind turbines, solar panels, electric vehicle batteries, and smartphones. According to the World Bank, the production of minerals, such as graphite, lithium, and cobalt, could increase fivefold by 2050 to meet a growing demand for clean energy technologies.

While some reports suggest that there are currently sufficient metal deposits on land from a technical standpoint, mining companies believe that these resources may not be economically viable to extract without causing environmental damage.

Moreover, some key minerals are highly dependent on a single country. Taking nickel as an example, almost half of the total global nickel production is from Indonesia, and this proportion is continuously increasing. Following this trend, nickel may replace palm oil as the main cause of deforestation in the country. Similarly, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) produces 60 percent of the world's cobalt. A report released in 2022 by Fitch Solutions, a subsidiary of Fitch Ratings, stated that the increasing political instability risk in the DRC could add pressure to the global battery supply chain.

In the above situation, analysis suggests that deep-sea mineral resources provide a new option to meet human mineral demands, and many countries have started to pay attention to deep-sea mining.

Deep-sea mining typically refers to the extraction of three types of mineral resources in the deep sea: Polymetallic (manganese) nodules, cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts, and massive sulphides.

"Deep-sea mining would extract cobalt, copper, nickel, and manganese - key battery materials - from potato-sized rocks called "polymetallic nodules" on the ocean's floor at depths of 4 to 6 km (2.5 to 4 miles). They are abundant in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ) in the North Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and Mexico," read a Reuters report.

Analysts said that unlike land mining, which usually causes severe damage and widespread pollution locally, deep-sea mining only involves extracting polymetallic nodules that are not connected to the seabed. Some mining companies also claim that deep-sea mining projects cause less damage to nature compared to land mining in areas such as rainforests, and it is also more cost-effective.

Waiting for approval

However, due to deep-sea mining being a nascent industry for countries around the world, and with only a small portion of the deep-sea floor having been explored so far, people have limited understanding of it.

Therefore, while deep-sea mining brings possibilities, it is also a source of concern in terms of commercialization, marine ecology protection, and legal regulation. Some analysts believe that deep-sea mining technology is still in its relatively early stages, and there is uncertainty in commercializing new technologies. Until deep-sea mining technology is confirmed as being effective, newly discovered mineral deposits cannot be listed as "reserves" in the valuation of company assets. Without a clear value, it is difficult to raise the substantial funds needed to build mining infrastructure.

Moreover, just like the unexplored mineral resources under the sea, there are also many undiscovered marine organisms there, and the impact of deep-sea mining on these organisms is unknown. Therefore, now more and more people are starting to pay attention to the impact of deep-sea mining on the deep-sea ecological environment.

Reuters reported that a new study found that the cost of repairing the damage caused by deep-sea mining would be twice the cost of extraction.

Zhu Jianzhen, director of the School of Management of Guangdong Ocean University, told the Global Times that the formulation of deep-sea mining rules involves multiple international institutions and legal frameworks, with the key ones being the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the International Seabed Authority (ISA).

UNCLOS is the main legal framework for international maritime law, which sets out the basic principles and rules for ocean activities. The ISA is a subsidiary body of the United Nations responsible for the management of international seabed areas and their resources. The ISA consists of 168 member states and the European Union, and these members elect 36 members of the Council, which has the authority to formulate specific policies within its jurisdiction based on the general policies of the Authority, Zhu said.

In 2021, the government of Nauru wrote a letter to the ISA stating its plans to fund Canada's TMC company's deep-sea mining activities and hoped that the ISA would finalize regulations on deep-sea mining within two years. However, in July this year more than 20 countries had reportedly called for a suspension or ban on deep-sea mining during the ISA meeting, and as a result, the conference did not give the green light to deep-sea mining.

However, the member states reached an agreement at the last moment of the meeting to continue discussing regulations on deep-sea mineral exploitation and to advance this agenda by July 2024.

Zhu explained that the rules of the ISA only apply in the international seabed and contract areas (the international seabed area is defined by UNCLOS as an area that does not belong to any country's territory or exclusive economic zone; contract areas are designated areas within the international seabed area in which the ISA has signed contracts with developing countries or organizations to authorize activities in those areas). These rules do not apply to deep-sea mineral resource exploitation in national territorial waters, exclusive economic zones, and continental shelves, which are subject to the sovereignty jurisdiction of individual countries and their domestic laws. At the international level, rules for deep-sea mining must be established through international cooperation and negotiations to ensure widespread recognition and compliance on a global scale, Zhu noted.

Open playing field

Currently, countries such as France, New Zealand, Germany, Chile, Vanuatu, and Palau are skeptical about deep-sea mining and advocate for precautionary suspension measures until a set of environmental protection rules and compliant inspection systems is agreed upon. Additionally, some well-known multinational companies have joined the debate. Google, BMW, Volvo, and Samsung have pledged not to use metals from polymetallic nodules until further understanding of the impact of mining on the deep sea is obtained.

While on the other side, countries such as Nauru, Norway, Russia, Mexico, and the UK support the advancement of this industry. Norway, in particular, announced plans in June of this year to approve companies for mining in its own waters.

Zhu told the Global Times that that deep-sea mining has garnered attention and investment from multiple countries. Among them, China, the US, Russia, Canada, and Japan possess comparative advantages in terms of resources. China boasts abundant deep-sea mineral resources and has already conducted mineral exploration in the international waters of the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean. The US, with its extensive coastline, including areas like Hawaii and Guam, is believed to possess a substantial amount of deep-sea mineral resources. Canada and Russia primarily possess deep-sea mineral resources located in the Arctic seabed. Japan, situated near the Pacific Ring of Fire, possesses abundant deep-sea mineral resources. Its deep-sea areas, particularly the Western Pacific, are considered one of the world's richest locations for polymetallic nodules.

Currently, countries such as China, the US, and Canada have implemented relevant strategies at the national level, with the management of deep-sea mining or deep-sea areas being an important component. These countries have also enacted laws and regulations on marine resources to regulate activities related to the development of deep-sea bed resources.

Lin Boqiang, director of the China Center for Energy Economics Research at Xiamen University, told the Global Times that China's seabed exploration and mining technology has reached a world-class level. By implementing deep sea technology innovation plans and promoting the involvement of state-owned enterprises, China has successfully achieved significant technological advancements and independent innovation in various areas, including full-ocean-depth manned submersibles, full-ocean-depth unmanned submersibles, and high-power artificial source electromagnetic detection technology.

Analysts pointed out that the current exploration and excavation of seabed minerals on a global scale is in an open playing field.

Lin believes that disputes over mining in these countries' own territorial waters are relatively small among countries, but deep-sea mining in international waters will inevitably involve geopolitical issues, in which the ISA does not have strong binding power. For example, although the ISA has not yet issued any deep-sea mining licenses, it has signed over 30 deep-sea resource exploration contracts with more than 10 countries.

Zhu noted that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is a crucial agency of the US government. According to its official website, the agency has been conducting ocean exploration activities for over 20 years and has mastered several "game-changing technologies" such as underwater mapping, underwater robotics, and remote sensing.

Despite the ongoing disputes, it does not mean that deep-sea mining cannot proceed. When the prices of onshore minerals reach a certain level, countries will engage in large-scale development, and relevant environmental protection measures will gradually become clearer, experts noted.

In light of the numerous controversies and challenges surrounding deep-sea mining, Zhu believed that a balanced approach is necessary to address the diverse interests of resource development, environmental protection, and sustainable development. By fostering global collaboration, mining activities can be guaranteed to adhere to the best practices in environmental protection, sustainability, and social responsibility. Only by striking a balance between resource demands and ecological conservation can we achieve long-term and sustainable development of underwater resources.