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    Buyers check tobacco in Harare, Zimbabwe, where the sales season began on Feb 19. The country exports semi-processed tobacco to 50 countries and China was the major buyer last year. Xinhua

    Neighbors keen to open trade corridor

    China and Pakistan signed agreements for energy and infrastructure projects on Feb 19 as they vowed to soon give "practical shape" to a trade and transport corridor linking the neighbors.

    The documents were signed after a meeting between President Xi Jinping and visiting Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain, who is on his first official overseas visit since assuming office in September.

    Among the papers signed are memorandums of understanding on construction on the new Gwadar international airport, upgrading part of the Karakorum highway linking the nations and establishing a joint research center for hydropower technology.

    The Wall Street Journal assessed the value of the agreements at $20 billion. Without confirming the figure, Luo Zhaohui, director of the Department of Asian Affairs at the Foreign Ministry, said the final amount depends on the implementation.

    "The leaders of China and Pakistan urged relevant offices on both sides to speed up work on the economic corridor," said a joint statement issued after the presidents met.

    Beijing open to dialogue with Taipei

    Beijing respects the social system adopted by Taiwan and is ready to have "equal" talks, Party chief Xi Jinping said as he mapped out his detailed cross-Straits policies for the first time.

    Nothing can cut the bond between the mainland and Taiwan, and "we have patience and also confidence" to resolve problems with cross-Straits ties, Xi, general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, told Kuomintang Honorary Chairman Lien Chan in Beijing.

    Xi also said Beijing welcomed people making efforts to boost the peaceful development of cross-Straits relations, regardless of earlier stances, in a gesture analysts said conveys his message to Taiwan's opposition Democratic Progressive Party.

    Experts said the mainland's top leader sent a clear signal to Taiwan that Beijing would like to provide enough room for peaceful consultations and development across the Straits by facing up to reality and being open.

    Prostitution crackdown widens

    The Ministry of Public Security has urged police nationwide to crack down on prostitution, gambling and drug crimes after the recent exposure of widespread prostitution in Dongguan, Guangdong province.

    The ministry urged police to use Dongguan as a lesson and intensify their campaigns against prostitution, gambling and drugs to improve people's sense of security and satisfaction.

    "The ministry attaches great importance to the issue and will resolutely investigate, severely punish and firmly attack the organizers, operators and 'protective umbrellas' behind prostitution crimes," Wen Guohui, a ministry press officer, said on Feb 16.

    The ministry's statement followed a report by China Central Television on Feb 9 about prostitution in Dongguan. The report said local police turned a blind eye to the widespread prostitution.

    The report triggered a massive crackdown in the city. More than 6,000 police officers swept through hundreds of hotels, saunas and karaoke bars in Dongguan on Feb 9, arresting at least 67 people, shuttering 12 venues and suspending two police chiefs.

    Immigration changes called unfair

    Canada said its termination of two investor immigrant programs does not target China, but Chinese agencies said the policy change is unfair.

    Analysts said the Canadian policy may herald a new era in which wealthy applicants must improve their social integration in and increase financial contributions to destination countries.

    "All of Canada's immigration programs are open to anyone who meets the criteria and do not target specific countries," the Canadian embassy said.

    Citizenship and Immigration Canada said that China "has been among the top sources for more than a decade", and immigration is a key part of Canada's plan to "grow our economy, spur job creation, and ensure long-term prosperity for all Canadians".

    Controversy arose after the Canadian government announced plans recently to terminate the federal Immigrant Investor Program and Federal Entrepreneur Program.

    The IIP requires investors to have a minimum net worth of 1.6 million Canadian dollars ($1.5 million) and to invest 800,000 Canadian dollars in the form of a multi-year, interest-free loan to the government.

    Li urges officials to move ahead

    Premier Li Keqiang urged government officials to deepen economic reforms steadily and move ahead to create a fair and prosperous market.

    Economic reforms have stepped into "deep water", with many interests at stake, Li told leading provincial and ministerial officials at a key workshop. Reforms face unprecedented difficulties that will require both good strategy and determination to overcome, he said.

    Officials should stick to the principle that the public should benefit from reforms, Li said.

    "Reform is the most powerful motivation, as well as the biggest bonus," Li told the officials at the workshop.

    The premier stressed that the relationship between the government and the market should be dealt with properly, and that the market should play a decisive role in resource allocation.

    Li directed the officials to continue to streamline administrative approvals or delegate them to lower levels, to deepen financial and taxation reform, to improve financial markets, to establish an open economic structure and to balance the development of urban and rural areas.

    Bigger Chinese role sought in the Arctic

    Denmark welcomes China being more involved in the Arctic, particularly in sectors such as mining, fishing and sea route development.

    Danish Arctic Ambassador Erik Vilstrup Lorenzen and Greenlandic Deputy Foreign Minister Kai Holst Andersen made the remarks in an interview with China Daily in Beijing on Feb 17.

    They were in China seeking more opportunities for cooperation, focusing on fishing products, mining and scientific research.

    Andersen said they are communicating with two Chinese companies, including a copper company in Jiangxi province, about mining cooperation in Greenland.

    "If this cooperation can succeed, it could be an example for other Chinese companies that want to cooperate with Greenland," Andersen said.

    Live poultry trading halted as cases rise

    Chinese cities have stepped up control of the live poultry trade as the number of human H7N9 bird flu infections continues to rise.

    Health authorities in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, reported on Feb 16 a new human H7N9 infection. A 44-year-old man was still in a critical condition at a hospital.

    Guangdong province also reported two new H7N9 infections on Feb 15. A 4-year-old girl from Guangzhou is in a stable condition. The other patient, a 79-year-old man, also of Guangzhou, is said to be critically ill.

    There have been more than 120 human H7N9 cases reported in China this year, and at least 32 deaths, according to the health ministry's official tally last week.

    The poultry trade has been identified as a primary source of human infection for the virus, as most of the patients had close contact with poultry.

    Hainan faces battle for foreign visitors

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