By Alfred Sasako.
IF you were wondering why I was absent from the pages of Island Sun last week, here is why.
I was away in China where I had accompanied the President of the Pacific –China Friendship Association (PCFA), Dr Hiria Ottino, who was on his first official visit since his election in 2016.
PCFA represents all Pacific Friendship Associations that have individually established friendship associations with China.
Solomon Islands also established one with China despite the obvious. We succeeded in doing so in 2016 because of the support by the Tonga-China Friendship Association (TCFA) as well as the backing by the then newly-established Pacific-China Friendship Association (PCFA) whose Patron is the Princess of the Kingdom of Tonga.
Despite making huge strides in every facet of development over the last 40 years of massive reforms, there are things that China refuses to let go. One of these is the various aspects of the internet family. Gmail, for example remains blocked in China.
Hong Kong is the only place that one can easily access the internet even with a Gmail account.
Being a Gmail Account holder, it was impossible to transmit stories via the internet, despite providing a list of yarns (stories) provided to the Island Sun editorial prior to my departure on Monday 25 June. My luggage which had decided to go walkabout for the entire week, thanks to Air Niugini, just added salt to the injury.
It arrived in Beijing the day before I was due to leave on my way home.
Back to the topic – if you are traveling to China anytime soon, make sure you have an account with other carriers other than Gmail.
In Beijing, Dr Ottino and I met with the Vice President of the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (CPAFFC), Xie Yuan. Central in our discussion was the way forward and the need to work together with the CPAFFC.
CPAFFC is a national people’s organisation engaged in people-to-people diplomacy of the People’s Republic of China. Among other things, its aims are to enhance people’s friendship, further international cooperation, safeguard world peace and promote development.
Today, it has set up 46 friendship associations within China alone. Internationally, it has established “relationship of friendly cooperation with nearly 500 non-government organisations and institutions in 157 countries.
The two-week visit to Beijing by President Ottino was his first since he was elected President of the Pacific-China Friendship Association (PCFA) in Tonga in 2016. Solomon Islands-China Friendship Association (SICFA) too was born at the time.
Apart from being the Vice President of SICFA, I was also appointed a PCFA Councillor, hence the necessity to be in Beijing as well as a visit to Shanghai, where Dr Ottino and I were guests of the Shanghai Branch of the CPAFFC for two days.
These are non-paying positions. For the visit to China, Dr Ottino and I met our travel costs to and from Beijing. As well, no allowances were given. Our hosts met all the internal costs such as accommodation, food and transport.
Unlike past visits, this time the travel to Shanghai was by train from Beijing. It was a six-hour ride including stops on a modern train traveling at speeds of up to 350km an hour. High speed trains now use this 1, 500km track, cutting travel time to just four hours.
It takes two hours by air from Beijing.
A metropolis of some 22 million people, Beijing seems to be running out of space. Each time one gets to Beijing, the city which never sleeps, just keep changing. I was last in Beijing last September.
Today, China is building a new international airport 30km south of Beijing to handle the number of people traveling through Beijing. The new airport, which costs billions of dollars, is due to open next year. A new high speed train tracks is also being built to move people to and from the new airport.
The new airport is will be the biggest in the world and will handle 100 million travelers annually. That is certain to make Beijing’s airspace a lot more crowded than what it is today, when delays of up to an hour or more are very common at the existing international airport situated on the city’s north east.
It pays to go and see the place.