Exclusive: Armenian president hails ‘new page’ in ties with Saudi Arabia, thanks Arab world for providing refuge after genocide

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Updated 28 December 2021

Exclusive: Armenian president hails ‘new page’ in ties with Saudi Arabia, thanks Arab world for providing refuge after genocide

Exclusive: Armenian president hails ‘new page’ in ties with Saudi Arabia, thanks Arab world for providing refuge after genocide
  • Embassies, ambassadors, only a matter of time, says President Sarkissian
  • Saudi crown prince “taking Saudi Arabia in right direction”
  • Iran has no security or military role in Armenia
  • Conflict with Azerbaijan was “never a religious war”

YEREVAN: A phrase Armen Sarkissian likes to repeat when describing his vision for Armenia is “small nation, global state.” As president of the republic, he doesn’t mince his words when it comes to his country’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. 
Occupying only 29,743 square kilometers of territory, Armenia is comparable in size to Belgium or the US state of Maryland. However, while there are fewer than three million Armenians citizens living in his country, the Armenian diaspora worldwide is estimated to be between five and seven million — with the US alone accounting for up to 1.5 million.
Renowned for their contributions globally, including in the Arab world, Armenians have left their mark in science, politics, sports, culture and entertainment. This is probably why Sarkissian not only considers his country’s diaspora a major point of strength, but goes as far as to say that Armenians abroad are as important a national resource as oil is to Gulf countries. In fact, he believes in this idea so much that he wants his country’s constitution to change, to enable more Armenians living abroad to participate in government.

“By constitution, an Armenian from abroad cannot become a minister unless he lives four years, the last four years, in Armenia, and carries only an Armenian passport, which I consider complete nonsense in this new world,” he tells Arab News in his first interview with a Saudi media outlet. “It should be the other way around. You have to bring people that are so successful worldwide. There are hundreds of thousands of experienced people and we’re not using them. I mean, imagine a Gulf state that decided not to use oil.”




Sarkissian (right) sat next to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (left) at the Future Investment Initiative conference. (SPA)

To complement this, Sarkissian also believes in investing heavily in human capital at home and is proud of what Armenia has achieved in the fields of technology and science, something he says all smart nations — such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE — are already doing. 
But despite this promising vision, the vibe is not all that positive in Yerevan, as people are acutely aware of their nation’s weaknesses and the threats it faces. The geopolitical shadows of the past seem to haunt the present — much like the eternal flame at the heart of Tsitsernakaberd, the genocide memorial dedicated to the lives of the 1.5 million Armenians who perished at the hands of the Ottoman Empire in 1915-1916. 
Modern day Turkey — one of Armenia’s four neighbors, along with Iran, Georgia and Azerbaijan — still does not recognize the genocide and remains at odds with Yerevan. Last year, a second war erupted between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Yet again, the conflict was over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, internationally recognized as Azeri. Turkey publicly supported Baku, while Iran is said to have silently supported Armenia — though this is disputed by some academics and analysts in Yerevan. 
The war ended with an Azeri victory and a cease-fire brokered by Russia, leaving Armenia in a struggle to prevent the harsh geopolitical realities of the present from interfering with its ambitious vision of the future. 
This was a challenge for Sarkissian, but also meant discovering new — and much needed — horizons and opportunities for Armenia. One obvious opportunity was Saudi Arabia, which since last year has been advocating for a peaceful solution between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

A historic visit

Sarkissian made history in October when he became the first Armenian president to visit Saudi Arabia since the independence of his country in 1991. Although the two countries have never been mutually hostile, neither have they had diplomatic relations since Riyadh supported Azerbaijan’s position in the first Karabakh war in 1988-1994.
Sarkissian says that is “unfortunate,” and that one of his “first goals” upon becoming president in 2018 was to establish diplomatic ties with the Kingdom, which he describes as a “very important, very influential and very prominent state, the guardian of the faith of Islam.”
During his visit, Sarkissian sat next to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the Future Investment Initiative conference, often referred to as “Davos in the Desert.” He revealed to Arab News the substance of his discussions with the crown prince, which he says were not lengthy but “very specific.”

“First of all, it was a discussion about the respect of the two sides for each other as a nation, as a state, and as individuals. The second thing was that we spoke about our diplomatic relations, and we agreed that in reality our diplomatic relations started with that visit, and I’ve made invitations for the minister of state and foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, and of course His Royal Highness, to visit Armenia.




Sarkissian (left) told Abbas (right) that a timeline for exchanging ambassadors and opening embassies is a matter for the relevant departments in his government and the Saudi Foreign Ministry. (Ziyad AlArfaj)

“The third most important part of our discussion was focused on the future, and I was very happy to find in my discussions with His Royal Highness that he is very focused on the future of his country, on the future of the region, on the future of the Gulf and the future of the world.”

Sarkissian says a timeline for exchanging ambassadors and opening embassies is a matter for the relevant departments in his government and the Saudi Foreign Ministry. “To be honest, for me this is secondary, because what we agreed to is to consider that we have opened a new page in our relations,” he says. 
Sarkissian regrets that his visit was limited to one day, but he met many people — and the major influencing factor for him was his conversation with the crown prince. “I do believe in his honesty as a leader and where he is leading his nation, and that’s very much in the right direction,” he says.
However, Armenia also enjoys friendly relations with Iran, a regime infamous for interfering in the affairs of its neighbors and influencing decisions to serve its interests. Would this deter any prospect of normalization of ties with Saudi Arabia and moderate Arab states? “No, not at all,” says Sarkissian. Armenia is not a religious state and already enjoys “excellent relations” with Arab countries as well as Iran, which “didn’t take the path of destroying Armenian heritage or churches —in fact the government financed the restoration of Armenian churches in Iran.”
He explains that it is in his country’s interest to maintain good relations with Tehran. “We are a landlocked state,” and Yerevan already has troubled relations with two neighbors (Turkey and Azerbaijan), so it cannot afford to upset the relationship it enjoys with the remaining two, Iran and Georgia, which he describes as his country’s gateway to Russia and the Black Sea.

Nevertheless, Sarkissian does understand what he describes as the “concerns” of Saudi Arabia. “I do understand and I see the tensions, I do understand and see Iran and the Gulf, Iran and Lebanon, OK, and I see what Saudi Arabia is doing in the region and the Gulf.” 
But what exactly are the depths of the Armenian-Iranian relationship? Does Tehran play any role militarily, or interfere in security or policy affairs, as it does with almost all its neighbors?

I do understand the concerns of Saudi Arabia. I do understand and I see the tensions, I do understand and see Iran and the Gulf, Iran and Lebanon


“They don’t interfere in military or security,” Sarkissian insists. “They have their interests in what is happening now in the south of Armenia, which of course concerns Iran.” Yerevan and Tehran enjoy a relationship that is historic and cultural, and have mutual interests such as energy and trade, he says. 
But what about perceptions of Tehran’s secret support for Armenia during the recent Karabakh war? And how does President Sarkissian interpret Iranian military drills near the Azeri border? 
“That’s their own policy, they don’t interfere in Armenia,” he replies. “I think … if they feel a danger happening on their borders it is their internal issue.”
Sarkissian also strongly rejects suggestions that the Karabakh conflict was not just a land dispute, but also a religious war between Christian-majority Armenia and Muslim-majority Azerbaijan. “It was never a religious war,” he says. “Armenia has wonderful relations with a lot of states where Islam is a major religion, states where Islam is the only religion, or states that have Islam as their state religion”. 

“The other side (referring to Azerbaijan and Turkey) sometimes like to use that (the “religious war” description) in order in order to accumulate support from Islamic world, but Armenia never tried to get support from Christian states.”

Meanwhile, several Armenian analysts have criticized what they describe as Pakistan’s open and ideological support for the Azerbaijani-Turkish axis, and say that joint military drills with the Azeri side further complicate the situation. Sarkissian says Yerevan has no diplomatic relations with Pakistan — “I’m trying to build them, because I don’t come from the concept that if somebody supports my competitor or the enemy I shouldn’t talk to him.”
“Pakistan is not a country we can ignore. We are not in a position of going to war with Pakistan, that’s complete nonsense. We should try to have a dialogue and see where it takes us, and again I don’t see any again contradiction between having a dialogue with Pakistan and our deep and good relations with India.”

Peace in the South Caucasus? 

Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay said last week that Ankara was working on advancing the dialogue with Armenia, in coordination with Azerbaijan. “Turkey stands not only for the normalization of relations with Armenia, but also for peace and stability in the entire Caucasus,” he said. Turkey has engaged in an array of regional conflicts in recent years, and its economy has now deteriorated to unprecedented levels. Although this is not the first attempt to bridge the rift between the two neighbors, many observers believe Ankara’s political and economic difficulties present a genuine opportunity for Armenia. 
So, does Yerevan welcome these developments? Does this Armenian goodwill expressed by its president extend to arch-rival Turkey? 
“Armenia is politically divided, especially after the war, as you can imagine,” Sarkissian says. “Every state, when you have a war and you lose the war and there are so many tensions, then it’s not homogeneous in its behavior. I would never say that I speak on behalf of all Armenians.
“I’m the president of a parliamentary republic, I’m the head of state, but I’m not the executive who runs current affairs in the government. It’s the government that has to answer to the Turkish side, and the offer.” It would be wrong for him to comment or judge at this stage, he says. 
“Any agreement … should go through a formal process of being brought to the parliament,” he explains. “The moment it reaches my table you will hear my voice, and as the president of the republic I can either sign whatever is agreed — if I consider that it is in harmony with the national interest of the state and the people of Armenia — or I have a chance not sign it, and then send it, for example, to the constitutional court so the top lawyers can discuss this issue and give me advice.”
As for Azerbaijan, since the international community has recognized Karabakh as Azeri and attempts to resolve the issue continue, does Sarkissian see any role for influential regional or religious bodies such as the Gulf Cooperation Council or the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in supporting peace efforts in the Caucasus? 
“My advice would be, let's try to find a logical solution that will be acceptable on both sides. Any solution that is forced will not last,” he says.
Sarkissian argues that it is the Azeris who should be offering compromises to ensure a lasting peace. “There is not much the Armenian side can compromise on today,” he says. “We could have compromised starting from 1994, when we were victorious … that was the time for compromise and to come to a diplomatic solution rather than a war solution that’s a big regret, because thousands of young lives were lost for something that could have been achieved through diplomatic channels.” 

Let’s try to find a logical solution that will be acceptable on both sides. Any solution that is forced will not last


Nevertheless, the war was not a complete loss for Armenia. Sarkissian draws an interesting analogy with Turkey, and explains why there are still plenty of opportunities for his country.  
“During the war, we lost. But the Armenian monetary unit — the dram — was stable. It lost a little bit, but after the war it became stronger than before. Against the US dollar, the Turkish lira went down dramatically.”
The key difference, Sarkissian says, is that Armenia has safeguarded the independence of its central bank, while Turkey has not. “There’s something we did right around the early 1990s, we rebuilt our banking sector. We had more than 150 banks, and as in every Soviet republic most of them were pyramid schemes, but we managed to bring in international banks.
“The first was HSBC, I’m proud to say I brought them here, and they helped us to build our laws into the banking sector. And in Armenia we have a central bank that is really independent from the government.”
Banking is not the only sector Sarkissian is proud of. He speaks highly of Armenia’s technology and agricultural sectors, and even his country’s natural water. Sipping from a bottle of locally sourced still water, he elaborates on how rich his country is in natural water, and insists he can distinguish between the different tastes —like a wine connoisseur. 
Armenia joined the Eurasian Economic Union in 2015, but also has strong economic relations with the EU. Sarkissian says the consequent tax and customs alignments present an opportunity for Gulf companies and others to register in Armenia and run businesses from there. “Several countries, including Singapore, want to have deeper relations with the Eurasian Economic Union, and Armenia can be a gateway,” he says.

A message to the Arab world

Sarkissian recalls the key role played by the Gulf states and the Arab world in providing refuge for Armenians who escaped the 1915-1916 genocide.
“They found homes in Syria, in Lebanon, in Egypt, in the Gulf states including Saudi Arabia,” he says. “I take this opportunity to thank those nations, and the heads of state of all these Middle Eastern states, especially Arab states, that were so brotherly to us.
“These are states where the main religion is Islam, or the only religion is Islam, and they took in homeless Armenians who were Christians as their brothers and sisters. So this is an opportunity to thank them.”
Significantly, more than 100 years later, that migration is happening in reverse as Armenians flee their desperate plight in countries such as Syria and Lebanon. Sarkissian believes that, certainly in the case of Lebanon, it would be preferable to support the Armenian community in remaining in their adopted country.
“Five or ten years ago that was a country that was living in harmony,” he says. “Of course there was interference there, but what they got wrong was on the financial side, because of the structure of the constitution and the way they were running their affairs.
“But I would love to help our Armenian community there so they will stay, because there is too much culture, too much presence, and they are important — as are our Armenian communities in many other places.”


China foreign minister seeks ‘new golden era’ of ties with Philippines

China foreign minister seeks ‘new golden era’ of ties with Philippines
Updated 59 min 11 sec ago

China foreign minister seeks ‘new golden era’ of ties with Philippines

China foreign minister seeks ‘new golden era’ of ties with Philippines
  • Many analysts saw the election of Ferdinand Marcos Jr as more favorable to China than the US

MANILA: China’s foreign minister said on Wednesday Beijing was ready to work with new Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr to help usher in what he called a “new golden era” in the countries’ relationship.
That relationship “turned a new page” with the election of Marcos, said Wang Yi, who is visiting Southeast Asia at a time when Philippines ally the United States is seeking to boost its influence in the region.
“We highly appreciate President Marcos’ recent commitment to pursuing friendly policy toward China and we speak highly of these recent statements that have sent out a very positive signal to the outside world,” Wang said in a meeting with his Philippines counterpart, Enrique Manalo. Many analysts saw the election of Marcos, the son of the late strongman ousted in a 1986 uprising, as more favorable to China than the United States, but the new president has been clear in public statements that close ties with Beijing will not be at the expense of sovereignty.
China’s assertiveness and conduct in waters off the Philippines has long been a source of diplomatic tension, but Marcos on Tuesday said he wanted their relationship to be about more than a maritime dispute.
Wang said China was one with Marcos in his desire to deepen and strengthen ties.
“We are ready to work toward that same direction with the Philippines and to plan for our cooperation going forward in all areas,” Wang said.
“I’m confident that with the two sides working together, we can surely open a new golden era for the bilateral relationship.”
Marcos has a tricky balancing act in boosting business ties with China while maintaining a close relationship with defense ally the United States, a former colonial power that still holds considerable sway among the military and the public.


July 4 gunman charged with seven counts of murder

July 4 gunman charged with seven counts of murder
Updated 06 July 2022

July 4 gunman charged with seven counts of murder

July 4 gunman charged with seven counts of murder
  • Robert Crimo, 21, was arrested on Monday, several hours after the attack on a festive Independence Day crowd

HIGHLAND PARK, United States: A 21-year-old man who allegedly opened fire on a July 4 parade in a wealthy Chicago suburb while disguised in women’s clothing was charged with seven counts of first-degree murder on Tuesday, prosecutors said.
Robert Crimo, 21, was arrested on Monday, several hours after the attack on a festive Independence Day crowd.
“There will be more charges,” Lake County State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart told reporters. “We anticipate dozens of more charges centered around each of the victims.”
Police spokesman Christopher Covelli said the death toll rose to seven on Tuesday after one of the wounded victims died in hospital. More than 35 people were injured.
Among the dead were Kevin McCarthy, 37, and his wife, Irina, 35 — the parents of a two-year-old boy who was found wandering alone after the shooting, according to CBS News.
Covelli said no motive had been established for the attack, which sent panicked parade-goers fleeing for their lives.
“We do believe Crimo pre-planned this attack for several weeks,” and that he acted alone, he said.
“We have no information to suggest at this point it was racially motivated, motivated by religion or any other protected status,” he added.
He said Crimo has a history of mental health issues and threatening behavior.
Police had been called twice to Crimo’s home in 2019, once to investigate a suicide attempt and the second time because a relative said he had threatened to “kill everyone” in the family, he said.
Police removed 16 knives, a dagger and a sword from the home but did not make any arrests, he said.
Covelli said Crimo used a fire escape to access the roof of a building overlooking the parade route and fired more than 70 rounds from a rifle “similar to an AR-15,” one of several guns he had purchased legally.
“Crimo was dressed in women’s clothing and investigators believe he did this to conceal his facial tattoos and his identity and help him during the escape with the other people who were fleeing the chaos,” he said.
Covelli said Crimo went to his mother’s nearby home after the shooting and borrowed her car. He was captured about eight hours later after a brief chase.
He also said the authorities were investigating disturbing online posts and videos made by Crimo.
The shooting has left the upscale suburb in shock.
“We’re all still reeling,” Mayor Nancy Rotering told NBC’s Today show. “Everybody knows somebody who was affected by this directly.”
The mayor said she personally knew the suspected gunman when he was a young boy in the Cub Scouts.
“How did somebody become this angry, this hateful to then take it out on innocent people who literally were just having a family day out?” Rotering asked.
Crimo, whose father unsuccessfully ran for mayor and owns a store in Highland Park called Bob’s Pantry and Deli, was an amateur musician billing himself as “Awake the Rapper.”
The younger Crimo’s online postings include violent content that alluded to guns and shootings.
One YouTube video posted eight months ago featured cartoons of a gunman and people being shot.
“I need to just do it,” a voice-over says.
It adds: “It is my destiny. Everything has led up to this. Nothing can stop me, not even myself.”
Crimo, who has the word “Awake” tattooed over an eyebrow, is seen sporting an “FBI” hat in numerous photos and a Trump flag as a cape in one picture.
The shooting is the latest in a wave of gun violence plaguing the United States, where approximately 40,000 deaths a year are caused by firearms, according to the Gun Violence Archive.


Russian foreign minister Lavrov says Putin-Macron call leak breached ‘diplomatic etiquette’

Russian foreign minister Lavrov says Putin-Macron call leak breached ‘diplomatic etiquette’
Updated 06 July 2022

Russian foreign minister Lavrov says Putin-Macron call leak breached ‘diplomatic etiquette’

Russian foreign minister Lavrov says Putin-Macron call leak breached ‘diplomatic etiquette’
  • ‘Diplomatic etiquette does not provide for unilateral leaks of (such) recordings’
  • Sergei Lavrov: Moscow had nothing to be ashamed of from the content of the conversation between the two leaders

HANOI: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday that the publication of a call between President Emmanuel Macron and Russian leader Vladimir Putin was a breach of “diplomatic etiquette.”
“Diplomatic etiquette does not provide for unilateral leaks of (such) recordings,” Lavrov said on a trip to Vietnam.
The details of the confidential call days before Moscow’s military operation in Ukraine were revealed by the broadcaster France 2 in a documentary on the French president’s handling of the conflict.
Lavrov said Russia had nothing to be ashamed of from the content of the conversation between the two leaders.
“We in principle lead negotiations in such a way that we never have anything to be ashamed of. We always say what we think and are ready to answer for these words and explain our position,” he said.
Lavrov is on a two-day visit to Vietnam, on the tenth anniversary of the two nations’ “comprehensive strategic partnership.”
Vietnam, historically close to Moscow, has so far declined to outright condemn Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine.


Taiwan touts new air force advanced training jet’s abilities

Taiwan touts new air force advanced training jet’s abilities
Updated 06 July 2022

Taiwan touts new air force advanced training jet’s abilities

Taiwan touts new air force advanced training jet’s abilities
  • Taiwan’s armed forces are mostly equipped by the United States
  • The Brave Eagle trainer can be equipped with weapons, though that remains in the testing phase

TAITUNG, Taiwan: Taiwan’s air force showed off its new locally designed and made jet trainer on Wednesday, touting the more advanced, combat-capable abilities of the aircraft that will replace aging and accident-prone existing equipment.
Taiwan’s armed forces are mostly equipped by the United States, but President Tsai Ing-wen has made development of an advanced home-grown defense industry a priority, especially as China, which claims the island as its own, steps up military modernization efforts and drills near Taiwan.
The new AT-5 Brave Eagle, made by state-owned Aerospace Industrial Development Corp. with a budget of T$68.6 billion ($2.3 billion), had its first test flight in 2020.
It is Taiwan’s first jet made domestically since the F-CK-1 Ching-kuo Indigenous Defense Fighter, or IDF, rolled out more than three decades ago, and the two jets look similar and have similar capabilities.
Three Brave Eagle’s roared into the air at the Chihhang air base in Taitung on Taiwan’s east coast, in a show of its prowess in front of reporters.
Flight training officer Chang Chong-hao said the Brave Eagle was suitable for both air-to-air and air-to-ground combat training purposes, and can land and take off using a shorter amount of runway.
“So it helps give the students more space to deal with some unforeseen situations.”
The Brave Eagle trainer can be equipped with weapons, though that remains in the testing phase, and the plane is designed to have a support function in time of war.
“We’re not involved in the armaments part, those tests are up to the manufacturer ADIC,” said air force officer Huang Chun-yuan. “Our main mission at the moment is general conversion training and tandem flying.”
Taiwan’s air force plans on taking 66 units by 2026 to replace aging AT-3 and F-5 training aircraft, which have suffered a series of crashes in recent years. An AT-3, a model that first flew in 1980, crashed in May, while three F-5s have crashed in the past year or so.
The F-5s first entered service in Taiwan in the 1970s, though are no longer front line combat aircraft.


Shanghai, Beijing order new round of mass COVID-19 testing

Shanghai, Beijing order new round of mass COVID-19 testing
Updated 06 July 2022

Shanghai, Beijing order new round of mass COVID-19 testing

Shanghai, Beijing order new round of mass COVID-19 testing
  • Shanghai has only just emerged from a strict lockdown that confined most of its 24 million residents to their homes for weeks

BEIJING: Residents of parts of Shanghai and Beijing have been ordered to undergo further rounds of COVID-19 testing following the discovery of new cases in the two cities, while tight restrictions remain in place in Hong Kong, Macao and other Chinese cities.
Shanghai has only just emerged from a strict lockdown that confined most of its 24 million residents to their homes for weeks and the new requirements have stirred concerns of a return of such harsh measures.
The latest outbreak in China’s largest city, a key international business center, has been linked to a karaoke parlor that failed to enforce prevention measures among employees and customers, including the tracing of others they came into contact with, according to the city health commission. All such outlets have been ordered to temporarily suspend business, the city’s department of culture and tourism said.
Shanghai’s lockdown prompted unusual protests both in person and online against the government’s harsh enforcement, which left many residents struggling to access food and medical services and sent thousands to quarantine centers.
Beijing has also seen a recent outbreak linked to a nightlife spot. It has been conducting regular testing for weeks and at least one residential compound in the suburb of Shunyi, which is home to many foreign residents, has been locked down with a steel fence installed over its entrance to prevent residents from leaving.
Enforcement in China’s capital has been far milder than in Shanghai, although officials continue to require regular testing and prevention measures.
In the northern city of Xi’an, whose 13 million residents endured one of China’s strictest lockdowns over the winter, restaurants have been restricted to takeout only and public entertainment spots closed for a week starting Wednesday.
A notice on the city government’s website said the measures were only temporary and intended to prevent the chance of a renewed outbreak. It said supermarkets, offices, public transport and other facilities are continuing to operate as normal, with routine screening including temperature checks and people being required to show an app proving they are free of infection.
Neighboring Hong Kong has also seen a rising trend of coronavirus infections since mid-June. In the past seven days, daily infections reported averaged about 2,000 a day.
The city’s new leader, John Lee, said Wednesday that Hong Kong must not “lie flat” when it comes to COVID-19, rejecting the “living with the coronavirus” mentality that most of the world has adopted.
His comments echo the sentiments of Chinese authorities, who have stuck with their “zero-COVID” policy that has become closely identified with President and head of the ruling Communist Party Xi Jinping.
However, Lee has said that Hong Kong authorities are exploring options, including shortening the duration of mandatory quarantine for incoming travelers. Currently, travelers must test negative for COVID-19 before flying and quarantine for seven days in designated hotels upon arrival.
The city, once known as a bustling business hub and international financial center, has seen tourism and business travel crippled by its tough entry restrictions.
The strict measures have remained in place despite relatively low numbers of cases and the serious negative effects on China’s economy and global supply chains.
The World Health Organization recently called the policy unsustainable, a view Chinese officials rejected outright even while they say they hope to minimize the impact.
While China’s borders remain largely closed, cutting off both visitors from abroad and outbound tourism, officials have cautiously increased flights from some foreign countries, most recently Russia.
Mainland China reported 353 cases of domestic transmission on Wednesday, 241 of them asymptomatic.
Shanghai announced just 24 cases over the past 24 hours, and Beijing five. Anhui announced 222 cases in what appears to be the latest cluster, prompting the inland province to order mass testing and travel restrictions in Si county, where the bulk of cases have been reported.