First flights leave Chinese city Xi’an as travel curbs ease


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A worker wearing a protective suit swabs for a COVID-19 test in northern China’s Tianjin municipality, Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022. Officials are still working to eliminate a coronavirus outbreak in the nearby city of Tianjin as the 2022 Winter Olympics are set to begin in Beijing on Feb. 4. (Chinatopix via AP)

BEIJING (AP) — The first commercial airline flights in one month took off Saturday from Xi’an in western China as the government eased travel curbs imposed after a coronavirus outbreak ahead of next month’s Winter Olympics in Beijing.

Seven planes took off, according to the website of Xi’an Xianyang International Airport. It said four were due to arrive Sunday.

Access to Xi’an, a city of 13 million people about 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) southwest of Beijing, was suspended Dec. 22 following an outbreak attributed to the coronavirus’s delta variant.

The ruling Communist Party has stepped up enforcement of its “zero tolerance” strategy that aims to keep the virus out of China by finding and isolating every infected person. It suspended access to Xi’an and other cities after outbreaks were found.

Nationwide, China reported 63 new confirmed infections in the 24 hours through midnight Friday. That included 10 in Beijing and six in the neighboring port city of Tianjin.

China’s official death toll stands at 4,636 out of 105,547 confirmed cases.

Xi’an has reported 2,053 cases since Dec. 9. None were reported Friday.

Airline passengers who want to leave Xi’an are required to show a negative test within the past 48 hours, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. It said people from areas deemed at high risk for infection were barred from the airport.

Authorities said Jan. 16 restrictions on low-risk areas of Xi’an had been lifted at least in part. People who had been confined to their homes in other areas were allowed out to buy daily necessities.

The severity of the lockdown on Xi’an prompted complaints about food shortages. A pregnant woman suffered a miscarriage outside a hospital after being refused admission, reportedly because she lacked a valid virus test.

Authorities have called on the public to stay where they are during the Lunar New Year instead of traveling to their hometowns for the year’s most important family holiday.



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Chinese cities on high COVID-19 alert as Lunar New Year travel season starts; Omicron spreads | U.S. & World


BEIJING (Reuters) -Several Chinese cities went on high COVID-19 alert as the Lunar New Year holiday travel season started on Monday, requiring travellers to report their trips days before their arrival, as the Omicron variant reached more areas including Beijing.

Authorities have warned the highly contagious Omicron adds to the increased risk of COVID-19 transmission as hundreds of millions of people travel around China for the Lunar New Year on Feb. 1.

Cities such as Luoyang in central China and Jieyang in the south said on Sunday travellers need to report to communities, employers or hotels their trips three days ahead of arrival.

The southwestern city of Yulin said on Saturday those who want to enter should fill in an online form, including their health credentials and trip details, one day in advance.

Over the weekend, the capital Beijing and the southern technology hub Shenzhen each detected one domestically transmitted Omicron case.

The possibility that the Omicron case in Beijing was infected through imported goods can’t be ruled out, Pang Xinghuo, an official at the city’s disease control authority, said on Monday.

Li Ang, vice director at the Beijing Municipal Health Commission, said a local hospital had admitted nine Omicron infections, with six still being treated. He did not say when the infections arrived or why they hadn’t been disclosed earlier.

The city of Meizhou in Guangdong province found one Omicron infection linked to an outbreak in Zhuhai, state television said on Monday.

So far, at least five provinces and municipalities reported local Omicron infections, while 14 provincial areas found the variant among travellers arriving from overseas.

China is yet to show any solid sign of shifting its guideline of quickly containing any local infections, despite a high vaccination rate of 86.6%. The strategy has taken on extra urgency in the run-up to the Winter Olympics, to be staged in Beijing and neighbouring Hebei province starting Feb. 4.

Many local governments have already advised residents not to leave town unnecessarily trips during the holiday, while dozens of international and domestic flights have been suspended.

China’s aviation regulator said on Monday it would suspend two flights from the United States over COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of cancelled flights this year from the country, where Omicron is spreading, to 76.

China reported 163 locally transmitted infections with confirmed symptom for Sunday, official data showed on Monday, up from 65 a day earlier.

Sunday’s increase in infections was mainly driven by more cases in the cities of Tianjin and Anyang, where Omicron has been found in local clusters.

Tianjin and Anyang reported slightly more than 600 local symptomatic infections from the current outbreaks, smaller than many clusters overseas, but authorities there still have limited movement within the cities and trips to outside.

(Reporting by Roxanne Liu, Stella Qiu, Albee Zhang and Ryan Woo; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Michael Perry)



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Lockdown, Travel Curbs In Chinese Cities On Covid Alert As New Year Looms


Lockdown, Travel Curbs In Chinese Cities On Covid Alert As New Year Looms

Covid In China: As of December 30, China had 102,083 confirmed symptomatic cases.

Beijing:

China is on high alert against COVID-19 as the New Year holiday looms, with the city of Xian under lockdown while several New Year’s Eve events in other cities have been cancelled and some provinces urged restraint in travel during the festive season.

China reported 166 locally transmitted infections with confirmed symptoms for Thursday, according to the National Health Commission, with 161 from Xian, which is fighting the worst outbreak for a Chinese city this year.

The number of domestically transmitted infections in Xian have exceeded 1,200 during the Dec. 9-30 period. While the case load pales in comparison with many outbreaks overseas, China has insisted on stamping out infections quickly, especially ahead of the Beijing Winter Olympics in February.

“With the arrival of the New Year and the Lunar New Year, the number of people returning home from abroad will increase and the movement of people within China will rise,” He Qinghua, an official at the National Health Commission, said on Wednesday.

“Coupled with the emergence of new variants such as Omicron, these scenarios will increase the risk of the epidemic spreading,” He said.

The popular Happy Valley amusement park in Beijing has cancelled an event to ring in the new year, while the Happy Valley park in the eastern city of Nanjing has dropped a drone show and fireworks from its line-up of celebrations for New Year’s Eve.

In the financial hub Shanghai, the Great World amusement park said it will not organise special events such as stage performances, while no count-down will take place in core districts along Huangpu river.

The central city of Wuhan, where COVID-19 first emerged in late 2019, will not hold any large-scale gatherings during New Year’s Eve at certain public venues, including at Guanggu, one of the world’s longest pedestrian shopping streets.

Several Buddhist bell-ringing ceremonies in the eastern cities of Nanjing, Yangzhou and Zhenjiang to celebrate the new year have also been scrapped.

The northern province of Hebei, which will host some events for the Winter Olympics, said it urges residents not to travel unnecessarily during the New Year and Lunar New Year period.

Shanxi province, also in the north, advised residents not to head to other provinces for tourism, while the northwestern region of Ningxia said people have been encouraged not to leave the region unnecessarily.

As of Dec. 30, mainland China had 102,083 confirmed symptomatic cases, including both local and imported ones, with the death count at 4,636.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)



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Chinese Tourists Aren’t Coming Back Any Time Soon


On Jeju Island in South Korea, the markets have gone dark. In Bangkok, bored hawkers wait around for customers who never come. In Bali, tour guides have been laid off. In Paris and Rome, the long lines of people with selfie sticks and sun hats are a distant memory.

This was supposed to be the year travel came back. In Europe and Asia, many countries reopened their airports and welcomed tourists. But they are confronting a new reality: Variants such as Omicron are causing global panic, leading governments to shut borders again, and their biggest spenders — Chinese tourists — aren’t returning any time soon.

As part of its effort to maintain a zero-Covid approach, China has announced that international flights would be kept at 2.2 percent of pre-Covid levels during the winter. Since August, it has almost entirely stopped issuing new passports, and it has imposed a 14-day quarantine for all arrivals. Returning to China also requires mountains of paperwork and multiple Covid-19 tests.

Many people there have decided to just stay put.

No country has been more crucial to global travel in the past decade than China. Chinese tourists spent roughly $260 billion in 2019, exceeding all other nationalities. Their prolonged absence would mean travel revenues are unlikely to return to prepandemic levels soon. Analysts say it could take up to two years before China fully reopens.

Shopping malls have emptied out. Restaurants have shut down. Hotels are deserted.

The downturn is particularly affecting North and Southeast Asia. China is the No. 1 source of tourism in Asia for several large cities, according to Nihat Ercan, the head of investment sales for the Asia Pacific at JLL Hotels & Hospitality, an adviser to the hospitality industry.

The recent discovery of Omicron has prompted countries to reimpose travel restrictions or bar travelers altogether. It’s another blow to an industry that, though still reeling from the lack of Chinese tourists, was just starting to recover.

In Bangkok’s Or Tor Kor fruit market, where masses of Chinese tourists would once gather around tables eating durian, business has ground to a halt. Phakamon Thadawatthanachok, a durian seller, said she used to keep 300 to 400 kilograms of the spiky fruit in stock and had to resupply them three to four times a week to keep up with the demand. Now, she had to take a loan just to make ends meet.

“The loss of income is immeasurable,” she said. “At the moment, we are only holding onto the hope that it will get better someday.”

In Vietnam, the pandemic has caused over 95 percent of tourism businesses to close or suspend operations, according to the government.

Before the pandemic, Chinese visitors flocked to the beach towns of Da Nang and Nha Trang, accounting for around 32 percent of the total number of foreign tourists into the country.

“The service industry in this city has died,” said Truong Thiet Vu, director of a travel company in Nha Trang that is now shut down.

On the Indonesian island of Bali, many tourist agencies have either sold their vehicles or have had them confiscated by their leasing companies, according to Franky Budidarman, the owner of one of two major travel agencies on the island that caters to Chinese tourists.

Mr. Budidarman said he had to cut the salaries of his office workers by half and pivoted to running a food delivery service and a cafe. “I’m grateful that I have survived for two years now,” he said. “I sometimes wonder how I could have done this.”

For the places that catered to Chinese tourists who traveled in group packages, the loss has been especially stark. On Jeju Island, popular among Chinese visitors because they could enter without visas, the number of tourists arriving from China dropped more than 90 percent to 103,000 in 2020 from more than 1 million in 2019. From January to September of this year, that number was only about 5,000.

As many as half of the duty-free shops catering to Chinese tourists in Jeju have closed, according to Hong Sukkyoun, a spokesman for the Jeju Tourism Association. At the Big Market Shopping Center, which used to sell island specialties like chocolate and crafts, all but three of 12 employees have been laid off, said An Younghoon, 33, who was among those who became jobless in July.

“When the virus began spreading, we all started counting our days down,” he said. “We knew there wasn’t going to be any business soon.”

Chinese visitors are less common in Europe, but they had emerged as an increasingly important market in recent years. At the Sherlock Holmes Museum in London, for example, about 1,000 people visited per day in its peak, and at least half of them were from China, said Paul Leharne, the museum’s supervisor.

Since its reopening on May 17, the museum has attracted only 10 percent of its usual numbers. This year, it opened an online store to sell merchandise and souvenirs, about a third of which is being shipped to China, he said.

“We really feel their absence,” said Alfonsina Russo, the director of the Colosseum in Rome, referring to Chinese tourists.

Asian tourists, “especially from China,” made up around 40 percent of international visitors to the Colosseum in 2019, according to Ms. Russo. That year, the site had adjusted its panels and guides to include the Chinese language, along with English and Italian.

The number of international tourists arriving in Italy remains down 55 percent, compared with a Europe-wide drop of 48 percent, according to statistics issued in June by ENIT, the national tourism agency. In 2019, two million Chinese tourists visited Italy.

Their disappearance has dealt “a devastating blow” to some businesses that had invested in this particular group, said Fausto Palombelli, head of the tourism section of Unindustria, a business association in the Lazio region, which includes Rome.

Like so many other places, Rome had taken steps to cater to visitors from China. It taught its taxi drivers to thank its Chinese customers with a “xie xie,” or thank you in Mandarin. Its main airport, Fiumicino, offered a personal shopping service with no value-added tax to attract Chinese travelers, according to Raffaele Pasquini, head of marketing and business development at Aeroporti di Roma, the company that manages Fiumicino.

In France, knowing that it may be months — possibly years — before Chinese tourists return, some are trying to keep a connection with potential customers.

Catherine Oden, who works for Atout France, the national institute in charge of promoting France as a tourist destination, said she had to familiarize herself with Chinese social media platforms such as Weibo and Douyin to live-stream virtual activities like French cooking lessons and tours of the Château de Chantilly.

“We want to be present in their minds,” she said. “So that once everything gets back to normal, they choose France as their first destination.”

In Paris, long lines of Chinese tourists snaking around the boutiques of the Champs-Élysées used to be a common sight. “Before the pandemic, we had four Chinese-speaking salespeople,” said Khaled Yesli, 28, the retail manager of a luxury boutique on the Champs-Élysées. “We only have one left, and no intention to recruit any more.”

Mr. Yesli said the store’s best-selling product was once a red and gold metal box containing macarons and hand creams that was designed purposely for Chinese tourists. But with sales lackluster in the pandemic, those boxes are now on the bottom shelf.

John Yoon, Dera Menra Sijabat, Vo Kieu Bao Uyen, Isabella Kwai and Amy Chang Chien contributed reporting.



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Why Chinese influencers are flocking to a Costco in Shanghai (and no, it’s not for the discounts)


These photos, which are trending on Chinese social media, all have one thing in common — a big “Costco wholesale” logo featured prominently in the background, often against a deep blue sky.

For nearly two years, most people in China have been unable to travel abroad, due to the country’s stringent and unrelenting Covid-19 border restrictions: outbound flights are limited, quarantine upon reentry is harsh and lengthy, and Chinese authorities have ceased issuing or renewing passports for all but essential travel.

Nevertheless, some Chinese influencers have come up with creative ways to bring seemingly exotic scenes to their social media feeds — by taking pictures at places like the Costco Shanghai store.

On Xiaohongshu, a fashion and lifestyle app often referred to as China’s Instagram, users share tips on how to pose for photos in front of the big box store so it looks as if they are in Los Angeles.

The pointers include wearing bright, casual clothes, carrying pizza and cola as props if you don’t have Costco membership, and taking photos in the late afternoon, when the colors appear warmer and more saturated.

Most users are upfront about the fact they’re not actually in LA and are merely posing for fun — with phrases like “Pretending to be in LA” cited frequently in captions.

Other popular pandemic-era hashtags include “Pretending to be in Paris” and “Pretending to be in Tokyo,” with users posing in foreign-styled shopping streets, cafes or tea gardens.

For many influencers, this is just another fun way to liven-up their feeds. But the posts are also a painful and vivid reminder of how long China has been shut off from the world.

Before the pandemic hit, overseas travel had become a common part of life for China’s growing middle class.

In 2019, mainland Chinese tourists made 155 million trips, with Macau, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Myanmar and the United States being the top destinations.
China was also the world’s single biggest spender on outbound tourism. According to the United Nations’ World Tourism Organization, Chinese tourists spent more than $254 billion overseas in 2019 — nearly one-fifth of global tourism spending.

At the height of the pandemic, global travel was brought to a halt, with nations rushing to close borders and cancel international flights.

Now, a growing number of countries are opening up and learning to live with the virus after rolling out mass vaccinations. But China is still keeping its borders tightly sealed and doubling down on its zero-Covid policy — with an aim to completely eradicate the virus from inside the country.

Fresh lockdowns in China as local Covid-19 infections spread to 11 provinces

With overseas travel no longer viable, Chinese authorities have promoted domestic tourism as an alternative. China’s vast size and rich diversity have played to its advantage, but it remains to be seen how much longer Chinese citizens will be content with being shut off from the real LA, Paris or Tokyo.

And with the highly infectious Delta variant, even domestic travel can be risky.

China’s latest outbreak, which has infected more than 300 people across 12 provinces, is linked to a dozen tour groups, according to health authorities. Travel agencies have also been banned from organizing cross-provincial tours in regions with high case numbers.

In the country’s northwest, hundreds of domestic tourists were trapped in Inner Mongolia and Gansu for days when authorities imposed stringent lockdowns to curb the spread of the virus.

In Ejin Banner, a region of Inner Mongolia, the local tourism board apologized by offering trapped tourists free entry to three popular attractions, redeemable within three years. But whether they will be willing to return is another story.





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Chinese conglomerate HNA says chief executive and chair arrested by police


HNA Group Co Ltd updates

Chinese police have detained the two remaining co-founders of HNA in the latest twist in the collapse of China’s hitherto most acquisitive group.

The bankrupt Chinese conglomerate, which is under state control, said chair Chen Feng and chief executive Adam Tan were taken into custody on Friday over suspected crimes, without providing details of the alleged offences.

The arrests return to the spotlight one of China’s most tumultuous corporate sagas. The move by Chinese officials comes three years after co-founder Wang Jian fell to his death in Bonnieux, southern France, in what French police said was an accident.

The enigmatic trio amassed a debt pile of nearly $90bn in an acquisition spree that expanded the group’s assets by about $40bn in just two years in the mid-2010s.

What started as an airline became a travel industry-focused conglomerate that owned stakes in the Hilton hotel chain, Dutch transport group TIP Trailer Services and Irish aircraft leaser Avolon. It boasted the biggest single stake in Deutsche Bank, marquee properties such as New York’s 245 Park Avenue and US computer chip manufacturer Ingram Micro.

But the acquisitions were highly leveraged — borrowing against its base of Chinese assets — raising concerns about a domino effect back home, if the group suddenly could not repay, or refinance, its debts.

Chinese creditors in late January launched bankruptcy proceedings and days later, HNA subsidiaries said billions of dollars in funds had been misused.

Before their arrests on Friday, the formerly high-flying executives had mostly vanished from public view over the past few years. Chen was barred from taking flights and high-speed rail. Tan’s name last appeared on a company statement in September 2018.

State bankers and regulators have set up camp at the company’s offices in Hainan, an island off China’s south-east coastline for several years, trying to clean up the mess.

The executive chair of the group, Gu Gang, said on September 18 that debt restructuring talks had “entered the decisive last stage”. The proposed restructuring plan would break up the sprawling conglomerate into four entities, with new shareholders taking control of the aviation, airport, financial and commercial sectors.

“Experience tells us blind diversification rarely goes well,” said Gu, who is also leading the working committee responsible for unwinding HNA’s estimated $77bn of debts.

Even before Wang’s mysterious death, the group was facing immense pressure from regulators in China, and abroad, over the company’s opaque governance and ultimate ownership and its debts.

The group is one of China’s “grey rhinos” — so-called because they are threats seen but not acted upon. They have been likened to Evergrande, China’s embattled property developer whose debt problems have shaken global markets over recent weeks.

Experts say the experiences of HNA might have served as a clear warning over the future direction of the relationship between the authoritarian Chinese Communist party leadership and the entrepreneurs and business leaders on whom the country relies for economic growth.

Gu said on September 18 that the restructured group should “carry forward HNA’s excellent culture and abandon bad culture”.

Additional reporting by Sherry Fei Ju in Beijing



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Low-Tech ‘Targeting Mesh’ Drones Could Tip The Odds Against A Chinese Fleet Invading Taiwan


The threat of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan remains one of the most pressing issues for U.S. foreign policy. Permanently deploying forces to deter or counter such an invasion would be an expensive proposition tying up a large proportion of the Pentagon’s assets. Researchers from thinktank RAND Corporation believe a new approach based on low-cost drones could do the job simply, easily and without any new technology.

The idea comes from Dr. Thomas Hamilton a Senior Physical Scientist at RAND, and David Ochmanek, a Senior International/Defense Researcher. Their paper, commissioned by the U.S.A.F.’s Warfighting Integration Capability team, is unassumingly titled Operating Low-Cost, Reusable Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in Contested Environments. Look closer and you find a blueprint for a new type of warfare.

The starting point is the need for targeting. An invasion fleet can be spotted easily enough from space, but getting precise enough information to guide missiles is another matter.

“We’ve been working on the Taiwan problem for almost twenty years with insufficient appreciation for targeting,” Ochmanek told Forbes. “There are several hundred ships you care about, but there are many hundreds of other vessels in the area – escorts, decoys, fishing boats and other confusers.”

Hamilton and Ochmanek believe that close-in reconnaissance to distinguish and pinpoint the valuable targets could best be carried out by a large number of drones, whose overlapping fields of view would cover the entire area of operations. About 500 would be enough for a ‘mesh’ able to see and precisely locate every ship from multiple angles.

“The object of a targeting mesh it to be able guide a missile on to a specific ship – and if it’s a big ship, guide it to hit the engine room.” Says Hamilton.

The researchers looked at the current low-cost attritable aircraft technology (L-CAAT), typified by the XQ-58 Valkyrie developed for the U.S. Air Force. This 6,000-pound drone is bigger than needed to carry the necessary sensors, so they looked at a scaled-down 600-pound version they dubbed the Kitten.

“We buy aircraft by the pound, and a 600-pound aircraft costs about a tenth as much as a 6,000-pound one,” says Ochmanek. “And for this mission you want it to be inexpensive.”

The Kitten will have a small jet engine, a wingspan of about eighteen feet, and will cruise at around 560 mph for six hours. The researchers estimate, based on discussion with suppliers, that each Kitten will cost around $300,000.

The Kittens will have comparatively simple sensors based on commercial technology. Rather than trying to observe from long range, they would get as close as they need to.

“The concept is that when you see something and you’re not sure of what it is, you mass and send several Kittens in for a closer look,” says Ochmanek.

Communication within the mesh, and with remote human operators using several hops, is provided by millimeter-wave (MMW) radio, a technology already widely used for 5G communications.

“We noticed the cellphone industry had developed the technology,” says Ochmanek. “They have already invested billions of dollars, and we leverage off this.”

MMW radio gives high bandwidth but short range. It allows adjacent drones to communicate with each other, relaying signals to and from the human operators. The short range is not an issue because members of the mesh are packed close together. And because MMW signals do not travel far, it makes long-range jamming impossible, as the jamming signal is blocked by a few miles of air.

“For us, the short range is not a bug but a feature,” says Ochmanek.

The real threat to the mesh will not be jamming but Chinese surface-to-air missiles. The invasion fleet will unleash a massive barrage of guided missiles at anything which looks like an enemy aircraft. For example, each Type 055 destroyer has 128 launch tubes, many of which will be loaded with surface-to-air weapons, and there will be many such escorts.

Rather than protecting the drones with jammers, stealth or other defensive aids, the plan is simply to saturate the defenses with drones, eventually exhausting the enemy’s supply of missiles. Like the supposedly unkillable Immortals of ancient Persia, the targeting mesh maintains its strength by continual replenishment, with each casualty being immediately replaced with a fresh drone.

“We made some conservative assumptions, and, giving the enemy credit for a frictionless air defense, we believe they may be able to fire on the order of several thousand missiles,” says Hamilton. “So we might have to put up several thousand Kittens in a short space of time to maintain the targeting mesh.”

So instead of five hundred drones, the scheme actually requires thousands — but affordable drone design makes the scheme feasible. At $300k a time, the drones will be cheaper than the missiles fired at them; the U.S. Navy’s own Standard-6 anti-aircraft missiles cost over $4m a shot.

Faced with an enemy which simply absorbs all its missiles, the Chinese may prefer to conserve their ammunition for more important targets like manned aircraft and incoming cruise missiles. Whether they would have the nerves to simply ignore multiple drones closing with their vessels at over 500 mph is another matter. In any case the mesh is an effective missile sponge, diverting anti-aircraft fire away from piloted aircraft.

As the mesh is so difficult to kill in the air, the Chinese might want to take out the drone launch sites. But, based on experience from previous exercises, the researchers have taken an approach which avoids using conventional airfields.

“In all of our wargaming, the allied team confronts problems sustaining sortie rates from fixed airbases,” says Hamilton.

Mobile units, each of which consists of little more than trucks and trailers, would launch the drones. Similar mobile launchers have been used for unmanned aircraft operations since the 1960s, and have proven practical and rugged. Such units are hard to find and identify from the air, and the dispersed approach poses the Chinese the same challenge that proved so difficult for Scud-hunters in the 1991 Iraq war.

Even if the launchers could be found, they would be unlikely to attract the same sort of counter-force strikes as airfields.

“There just a few people and trucks there, nothing worth the cost of a TBM [Tactical Ballistic Missile],” says Ochmanek.

The RAND team calculate that one squadron of 500 personnel could launch 1,200 Kittens in a 24-hour period. Five such squadrons would be enough to cover the entire Taiwan invasion area with a dense targeting mesh.

So how much difference could the mesh of unarmed drones make to an invasion?

An astonishing difference, thanks to the under-appreciated benefits of precise targeting data.

The researchers estimate that there will be around 1,550 ships in an invasion force in the Taiwan Strait: 50 high-value ships, amphibious vessels carrying at least 50 tanks or equivalent each, 250 repurposed commercial vessels carrying ten tanks each, 250 more commercial vessels with 4 tanks, and 1,000 other ships that play no direct role in the invasion and which are considered decoys. The exact numbers are not as important as the ratio of valuable targets to low-value and decoys targets which would waste allied missiles.

Without effective targeting, the study shows it would take some 10,000 AGM-84 Harpoon missiles to knock out 72% of such a fleet’s tank-carrying capacity. With the targeting mesh though, just 1,000 weapons can destroy ‘upwards of 80%’ of the invading tanks before they can land and bring the invasion to a grinding halt.

These numbers are highly significant. Massing 10,000 Harpoons would be virtually impossible, but 1,000 is more than feasible. The most effective delivery platform would be Virginia-class nuclear attack submarines: the latest extended version can carry 65 missiles each. The Navy plans to have 31 Virginia Class subs with the extended missile fit. In other words, in principle the Navy could do the job with a fraction of its submarine fleet. (Targeting data might also be passed to allied submarines such as those being acquired by Australia or operated the UK also in the new AUKUS alliance).

Finding a ship target at long range can be a challenge for a submarine, especially if it is sailing with a mass of other vessels. This is exactly the problem that the targeting mesh solves so neatly, ensuring that every shot counts while the submarines remain a same distance from ant-submarine forces.

Submarines could be supplemented with other launch platforms such as ships or even long-range aircraft. A B-52 bomber can carry 8 to 12 Harpoons. In principle a hundred B-52 sorties could deliver all the firepower necessary to take out the invasion force, again while staying back from defenses – with a little help from the targeting mesh.

Hamilton and Ochmanek’s paper was well-received, and was followed by another, more detailed study which has not been made public.

“We’ve taken technical analysis on paper as far as we can,” says Ochmanek. “It looks feasible but until you use it in air vehicles, it’s a bit hypothetical.”

The next stage would be experimentation and demonstrations with air vehicles, testing out whether the sensors, communications and launch proposals would work out as planned. The researchers were not able to discuss planned funding or development of such work.

For some, the ever-replenished drone targeting mesh will looks like a crazy idea. But others will find it appealing on many levels. For one thing, it is a true force multiplier, magnifying the power of existing assets rather than replacing them. It is a low-risk option, as it does not rely on new technology. The researchers note that emerging capabilities like drone-based AI would benefit the mesh, but are a bonus rather than a requirement.

Mainly though, the targeting mesh comes with a strikingly low cost: the complete supply of drones, launchers and the personnel to handle them would be could be put in place for a fraction of the multibillion dollar price tag for a single new destroyer or submarine.

The targeting mesh is not quite a drone swarm, as the drones are not autonomously co—operating as a group. But it gives an idea of just how powerful large numbers of inexpensive drones can be when used with some imagination. And the very existence of a targeting mesh might be enough to persuade Chinese planners that an invasion of Taiwan is impossible, making it an effective and affordable non-nuclear deterrent.



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High Winds Break Glass Panels Of Chinese Bridge, Stranding Visitor


If you enjoy walking across glass-bottomed pedestrian bridges stretching high above rocky canyons, you may want to stop reading here.

Last week, a man was stranded on a glass-bottomed pedestrian bridge 330 feet above a canyon in the Piyan Mountain Cultural Tourism Scenic Area outside the city of Longjing, China, after sudden gale-force winds damaged the bridge. Fortunately, the man was rescued and taken to a hospital, China’s state-controlled news outlet Xinhua reports.

A Harrowing Experience

The incident began at 12:45 p.m. last Friday, when record-making high winds of up to 93 miles per hour blew out several glass panels, trapping the tourist high above the ravine, according to a statement posted on the Weibo account of local authorities.

Although it took more than 30 minutes, the man was eventually rescued by firefighters, police, and forestry and tourism personnel, Xinhua reports.

“The staff of the scenic area rushed to the scene as soon as possible, brought emergency equipment, and successfully transferred the trapped person to a safe area,” said the statement on Weibo. “There were no casualties. After being kept in the hospital for observation, the trapped person was in stable emotional and physical condition and has been discharged from the hospital.”

Not surprisingly, considering what happened, the man did receive mental health counseling, the Xinhua statement notes.

You can watch one tourist’s experience of walking across the bridge on a less windy day below.

Glass-bottom bridges are a popular attraction in China — with local areas competing heavily for tourists’ attention. For example, the most famous bridge may be in Zhangjiajie National Park, in Hunan Province. That bridge is suspended 984 feet above — and 1,410 feet across — the Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon. 

That’s not the longest glass-bottomed bridge in China, however. That title belongs to a bridge built in Lianzhou, Guangdong Province’s Huangchuan Three Gorges Scenic Area last year. Indeed, the 1,726-foot structure holds the Guinness World Record for longest glass-bottom bridge.

The safety of some of these bridges has been questioned before, and since the incident, many Chinese have expressed growing alarm about the safety of the bridges. 

State media posts in which you can see the man clinging to the side of the bridge, surrounded by holes where glass panels had been destroyed, have been seen more than 5.8 million times on Weibo. In the comments section, people are voicing their concerns.

“This is exactly why I dare not step on a bridge like that,” a commenter named Wadetian wrote on Weibo.

“So many glass deck bridges have been built in recent years and are very popular with tourists,” Li, a doctor in China’s Sichuan Province, wrote on Weibo. “But how can we ensure their safety?”

Know Before You Go

The Piyan Mountain resort has now been closed, according to Xinhua. Additionally, the Longjing city government will “carry out a comprehensive safety inspection of all tourist attractions, and an investigation into the case is underway.”

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Record number of Chinese to travel over Labour Day break, but stick close to home


People wearing masks are seen arriving at Shanghai railway station in Shanghai, ahead of the 5-day Labor Day holidays, in China April 30, 2021. REUTERS/Aly Song

A record-breaking wave of Chinese tourists will hit the road for the Labour Day break, and with borders still shut many will be travelling domestically, to more remote locations and for longer, giving China’s economy a powerful short-term boost.

The holiday will be China’s first long break in largely COVID-free conditions, and will unleash months of pent-up yearning for travel. Millions had missed the chance to go out earlier this year during the long Lunar New Year break due to a domestic coronavirus outbreak.

Up to 200 million trips will be made by tourists domestically, exceeding the 195 million in 2019 before COVID-19, according to data from online travel giant Trip.com Group (9961.HK), setting a new all-time high for the holiday.

That’s in stark contrast to the rest of the world where many countries are still struggling to bring the virus under control, let alone open up domestic or even international travel.

“This May Day holiday will see greater enthusiasm for long-distance travel across provinces in mainland China,” Trip.com told Reuters.

Mass vaccination in China’s biggest cities has also boosted confidence to travel. Nie Wen, an economist at Hwabao Trust, told Reuters 300 million travellers can be expected, including tourists and people who had been unable to visit family before, equal to the population of the United States.

Some tourists are even taking extra days off from work to turn the May 1-5 holiday into a nine-day break, with the aim of visiting far-flung domestic locations as substitutes for COVID-hit destinations abroad, according to tour agents.

Before the pandemic, the Labour Day holiday was a peak period for international trips, with Thailand, Japan and Singapore the hottest destinations. But strict quarantine measures and reduced flights have roadblocked Chinese travellers for over a year.

James Liang, co-founder and executive chairman of Trip.com Group, told Reuters that domestic destinations that can replace overseas resorts are all popular.

“For example, Sanya is a substitute to Thailand, and Xinjiang and Tibet are substitutes to cross-border long-distance trips,” he said.

Hotel room rates have jumped and air fares have soared, even as more flights are being added.

Flights to and from the southern resort island of Hainan will be 22% higher than the 2019 holiday, according to Hainan Airlines (600221.SS).

Li Hua, operator of a boutique guesthouse in Dali, known for its laid-back atmosphere and gorgeous Yunnan landscape, said all his 16 rooms had been booked.

“We increased room rates by 50%,” Li said. “Half of the total profit we made during the week will be spent on staff as their bonus.”

According to Li, local luxury guesthouses have all raised prices due to strong demand.

“Hotels that charge more than 3,000 yuan ($464 per night) are the most popular,” he said.

The situation is similar in Tibet.

“Every one of our hotels is fully booked for the holiday,” said Cai Jinghui, chief strategy officer of Songtsam Group, a luxury boutique chain with 11 properties.

Car rental companies are doing a roaring business, with bookings up by 126% as of April 16, compared with the 2019 holiday, according to Trip.com.

Bookings for cars in Kashgar and Urumqi, two cities in the far-western Chinese region of Xinjiang, surged 500% and 367%, respectively, compared with the same period of 2019.

People are increasingly renting cars or driving their own vehicles with family or friends, instead of joining big tour groups where they would be with strangers, said Su Shu, founder of Chengdu-based agency Moment Travel.

Lin Meng, who works for an internet firm in Shanghai, said she will brave the long winding roads in Guizhou, a mountainous region in southwest China known for its beautiful, but hard-to-get-to, karst scenery and ethnic minority villages.

“I just hope I won’t be caught up in big crowds there,” she said.

($1 = 6.4710 Chinese yuan renminbi)

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.



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