Domestic tourism soars in China but foreigners stay away

BBC/KATHERINA TSE A popular thing to do in Wuzhen is to pose for photos dressed in traditional hanfu clothing
A popular thing to do in Wuzhen is pose for photos dressed in traditional hanfu clothing

With the Chinese economy facing massive challenges, there have been concerns over its growth potential, at least in the immediate future.

Yet a key exception is emerging in the form of domestic tourism.

Last week’s five-day public holiday to mark labour day saw 295 million trips made within China, according to figures from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. This was 28% higher than pre-pandemic figures recorded in 2019.

The Transport Ministry’s figures are also staggering: 92 million rail trips; almost 10 million air trips and 1.25 billion highway journeys.

However, this comes as international arrivals continue to lag, with foreigners currently entering China at barely 30% of 2019 levels. Why the disparity?

The beautiful historical river town of Wuzhen, a short drive from Shanghai, is considered one of China’s top visitor sites for travellers of all types. When we arrive the little pathways and old bridges which cross narrow waterways are filled with visitors.

A popular thing to do in Wuzhen is to pose for photos dressed in traditional hanfu clothing – as if you have really been transported back hundreds of years.

Two women in their 20s, friends since high school, are visiting from Jilin Province in the north east. After arriving, they spend an hour getting their hair done in an elaborate imperial-era style – and they are full of praise for Wuzhen’s classical beauty.

We ask if, following the post-Covid opening up, many of their family and other friends have been travelling much? “Of course, after the pandemic, we’re all visiting other places.”

Nearby a local man who is selling ice-creams also says tourist numbers are “not that bad lately”.

As good as before Covid? “Almost the same,” he replies.

Shopkeeper Wang Ying, who sells traditional snacks, echoes this sentiment with a big smile on her face. “Business is going well, and it’ll only get better.”

BBC/KATHERINA TSE Wuzhen is considered one of China's top visitor sites
Wuzhen is considered one of China’s top visitor sites

All this will be seen as good news for the Chinese government. It’s been saying that a push on domestic consumption can counter the significant faltering portions of the economy.

Major players in the once-mighty property sector are struggling to stay afloat, local government debt continues to rise, and persistent youth unemployment has left highly qualified university graduates uncertain of their future.

Amid all these challenges, the Communist Party has set a target of “around 5%” GDP growth for this year. Apart from the fact that analysts have long questioned the veracity of the country’s official growth figures, economists are also asking how such a target can be reached, in any genuine sense, in 2024 without significant extra stimulus.

One lifeline could be a more buoyant travel scene which could bring broader business opportunities and greater service industry employment.

Schubert Lou, chief operating officer at travel agency, told the BBC: “We’ve seen very strong domestic travel demand with search volumes in hotels up 67% compared to last year, and flight volumes up 80%.”

Tourism industry consultant Peng Han from Travel Daily is following the investment trail to see how the business community really views the possibilities in the sector.

“With famous international hotel brands – like Intercontinental, Marriott and Hilton – you just have to look at their growth in China in 2023,” he says. “Then check the performance goals for these large hotel groups in 2024 which have also been set relatively high. This shows that they are very optimistic about the growth potential of the Chinese market.”

But, while the volume of local travellers might be up, Mr Peng does point to the problem of per capita consumption which remains persistently low.

He says general uncertainty about the Chinese economy is putting more emphasis on saving, so people are looking for good value options. They are going on holidays and paying for things but doing so much more frugally.

This is where an increase in big-spending foreigners could help. But they are simply not travelling to China in the numbers they used to.

In 2019, nearly 98 million international visitors came to the country. Last year it was only 35 million – including business trips, students and the like. Mr Lou describes the domestic versus international market as “uneven”.

For many in the tourism industry here specialising in services for foreign travellers, “uneven” would be an understatement. Three years of harsh Covid prevention measures drove down arrivals from other countries, but that alone can’t account for the current situation.

Huang Songshan, the head of the Centre for Tourism Research in the School of Business and Law at Australia’s Edith Cowan University, blames this weakness in part to “the shifting geopolitical landscape globally”.

Getty Images Chinese performer
China’s culture and heritage has traditionally been a big draw for tourists

In the peer-reviewed East Asia Forum, he pointed to a 2023 survey carried out by the Pew Research Centre, writing that, “Most individuals in Western nations hold unfavourable views towards China. The Chinese government’s tightening grip on societal regulations could potentially cause discomfort for foreign travellers in China.”

Official travel advice from some governments echo this sentiment, at times quite harshly.

Washington warns potential travellers to “reconsider travel to Mainland China due to the arbitrary enforcement of local laws, including in relation to exit bans, and the risk of wrongful detentions”.

Australia advises “a high degree of caution” warning that “Australians may be at risk of arbitrary detention or harsh enforcement of local laws, including broadly defined National Security Laws”.

The political environment has also taken a toll on flight availability and price. This is especially the case with connections to and from North America. Last month’s 332 scheduled round trips between China and the US contrasts with 1,506 in April 2019.

As a result, finding a seat on a direct flight can be extremely difficult and those that are available are very expensive.

President Xi Jinping made a speech at a dinner on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference in San Francisco last November addressing this point. “Today, President Biden and I reached important consensus,” he told the crowd.

“Our two countries will roll out more measures to facilitate travels and promote people-to-people exchanges, including increasing direct passenger flights, holding a high-level dialogue on tourism, and streamlining visa application procedures. We hope that our two peoples will make more visits, contacts and exchanges and write new stories of friendship in the new era.”

Washington has since increased the number of Chinese airline flights permitted to land – but only from 35 per week to 50. It is still well short of the 150 weekly trips pre-Covid.

The Biden administration is coming under pressure from unions and US airlines to not increase this any further because, they argue, Chinese airlines have an unfair advantage over them as they have state support; don’t face the same onerous Chinese regulations; and, crucially, can fly over Russian airspace, making trips shorter and cheaper.

A letter to the US government from the Chair of the House Committee on China, Mike Gallagher, and the committee’s top Democrat representative, Raja Krishnamoorthi, reads: “Should the US-China passenger carrier market expand without the US government addressing these significant issues, US aviation workers, travellers and airlines will pay a hefty price tag.”

Mr Lou says the frequency of international flight connections is definitely having an impact.

“What we are seeing right now, based on civil aviation data, is that inbound flight capacity won’t get back to even 80% of 2019 [levels] by the end of 2024.”

Then there are other potential turnoffs for those considering travelling in China, like the country’s state-of-the-art phone app payment and booking systems which work very smoothly for Chinese citizens and residents, but which can be an enormous headache if you have just arrived.

There are certain sites, transport options, and purchases which can only be accessed via Chinese electronic apps which are, at times, only available in Chinese.

Professor Chen Yong at Switzerland’s EHL Hospitality Business School is an authority on the economics of tourism in China. He thinks that hurdles relating to payment and booking apps can pose a real problem.

“Technologies such as social network websites, online maps, payment apps, among others, which foreigners have long been accustomed to using, are either unavailable or inaccessible when they travel to China,” he says.

“On the other hand, there are Chinese alternatives to these technologies that remain inaccessible to foreigners due to language barriers and differences in user habits. We need to bridge this divide because it affects the tourist industry badly.”

Back in Wuzhen, the presence of international travellers is much smaller than in years gone by, but there are still a few foreign faces in the crowd.

An Italian couple says the process of linking up to and using China’s payment apps was a challenge but that it was not insurmountable, though they add, with a laugh, that it is “much, much, much easier” if you have a Chinese friend to help you.

BBC/KATHERINA TSE Woman and child pose for selfies
Chinese officials have acknowledged that the foreign traveller numbers have been low but they are trying to turn this around

Eliseo, from California, says he has had problems making payments to small vendors who don’t accept credit cards and really no longer deal with cash. Another hurdle for him has been his bank at home which has blocked some payments, flagging them as potentially fraudulent coming from China.

Chinese officials have acknowledged that the foreign traveller numbers have been low but they are now trying to turn this around.

One way they’re attempting to attract more foreign visitors is by increasing the number of countries whose citizens don’t need a visa to enter. says this resulted in an almost immediate increase in passenger arrivals from Southeast Asia.

In 23 Chinese cities, transit passengers from more than 50 countries are also able to stay for a few days visa free if they have an onward ticket. In Shanghai, hotels above a three-star level have been told that they should prepare to deal with international credit cards and an initial batch of 50 taxis have also started accepting them.

However, Professor Chen says “it would be too optimistic to envision a long-term growth in China’s inbound tourism”.

“The key is to establish a culture that puts service providers in the shoes of foreign tourists. They should imagine themselves being a foreigner who can’t speak or read Chinese and who doesn’t have a Chinese mobile number, payments apps and so on.”

He says that the culture around this can’t be changed overnight.

Yet, in places like Wuzhen – where the local travellers have already returned – the tourism companies are hoping that incredible sites like theirs will eventually be too much for foreigners to resist as well.

UN rights chief ‘horrified’ by mass grave reports at Gaza hospitals

Reuters Palestinian civil defence workers dig mounds of earth in the grounds of Nasser hospital in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip (21 April 2024)ReutersPalestinian workers are exhuming bodies at Nasser hospital with shovels because they have no heavy machinery

The UN’s human rights chief has said he is “horrified” by the destruction of Gaza’s Nasser and al-Shifa hospitals and the reports of “mass graves” being found at the sites after Israeli raids.

Volker Türk called for independent investigations into the deaths.

Palestinian officials said they had exhumed the bodies of almost 300 people at Nasser. It is not clear how they died or when they were buried.

Israel’s military said claims that it buried bodies there were “baseless”.

But it did say that during a two-week operation at the hospital in the city of Khan Younis in February, troops “examined” bodies buried by Palestinians “in places where intelligence indicated the possible presence of hostages”.

Ten hostages who have now been released have said that they were held at Nasser hospital for long periods during their captivity.

Prior to the Israeli operation at Nasser, staff there had said they were being forced to bury bodies in the hospital’s courtyard because nearby fighting prevented access to cemeteries. There were similar reports from al-Shifa before the first Israeli raid on the hospital took place in November.

The Israeli military has said it has raided a number of hospitals in Gaza during the war because Hamas fighters have been operating inside them – a claim Hamas and medical officials have denied.

The war began when Hamas gunmen carried out an unprecedented cross-border attack on southern Israel on 7 October, killing about 1,200 people – mostly civilians – and taking 253 others back to Gaza as hostages.

More than 34,180 people – most of them children and women – have been killed in Gaza since then, the territory’s Hamas-run health ministry says.

A spokeswoman for the UN Human Rights Office said it was currently working on corroborating reports from Palestinian officials that 283 bodies had been found in Nasser hospital’s grounds, including 42 which had been identified.

“Victims had reportedly been buried deep in the ground and covered with waste,” Ravina Shamdasani told reporters in Geneva.

“Among the deceased were allegedly older people, women and wounded, while others… were found with their hands tied and stripped of their clothes.”

Mr Türk called for independent, effective and transparent investigations into the deaths, adding: “Given the prevailing climate of impunity, this should include international investigators.”

“Hospitals are entitled to very special protection under international humanitarian law. And the intentional killing of civilians, detainees, and others who are hors de combat [not participating in hostilities] is a war crime.”

On Monday, a spokesman for the Hamas-run Civil Defense force told BBC Arabic’s Gaza Today programme that it had received reports from local Palestinians that the bodies of a “large number” of people who had been killed during the war and buried in a makeshift cemetery in the hospital’s courtyard were moved to another location during the Israeli raid.

“After research and investigation, we learned that the occupation [Israeli] army had established a mass grave, pulled out the bodies that were in Nasser hospital, and buried them in this mass grave,” Mahmoud Basal said.

Gaza Today also spoke to a man who said he was searching there for the bodies of two male relatives which he alleged had been taken by Israeli troops during Israel’s recently concluded offensive in Khan Younis.

“After I had buried them in an apartment, the [Israelis] came and moved their bodies,” he said. “Every day we search for their bodies, but we fail to find them.”

Hamas has alleged that the bodies include people “executed in cold blood” by Israeli forces, without providing evidence.

Contains some violence and disturbing scenes.BBC Verify authenticates video from key moments in the story of Nasser Medical Complex in Gaza

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said in a statement on Tuesday: “The claim that the IDF buried Palestinian bodies is baseless and unfounded.”

“During the IDF’s operation in the area of Nasser Hospital, in accordance to the effort to locate hostages and missing persons, corpses buried by Palestinians in the area of Nasser hospital were examined.

“The examination was conducted in a careful manner and exclusively in places where intelligence indicated the possible presence of hostages. The examination was carried out respectfully while maintaining the dignity of the deceased. Bodies examined, which did not belong to Israeli hostages, were returned to their place.”

The IDF said that its forces had detained “about 200 terrorists who were in the hospital” during the raid, and that they found ammunition as well as unused medicines intended for Israeli hostages.

It also insisted that the raid was carried out “in a targeted manner and without harming the hospital, the patients and the medical staff”.

However, three medical staff told the BBC last month that they were humiliated, beaten, doused with cold water, and forced to kneel for hours after being detained during the raid.

Medics who remained at Nasser after the Israeli takeover said they were unable to care for patients and that 13 died because of conditions there, including a lack of water, electricity and other supplies.

Reuters Palestinian officials tape off the courtyard of al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City as workers search for human remains (8 April 2024)ReutersThe UN Human Rights Office said it had received reports that 30 bodies were buried in the courtyard of al-Shifa hospital

On 1 April, Israeli troops withdrew from al-Shifa hospital, which is in Gaza City, following what the IDF said was another “precise” operation carried out in response to intelligence that Hamas had regrouped there.

The IDF said at the time that 200 “terrorists” were killed in and around the hospital during the two-week raid. More than 500 others were detained, and weapons and intelligence were found “throughout the hospital”, it added.

After a mission gained access to the facility five days later, the World Health Organization (WHO) said al-Shifa was “now an empty shell”, with most of the buildings extensively damaged or destroyed, and the majority of equipment unusable or reduced to ashes.

It also said that “numerous shallow graves” had been dug just outside the emergency department, and the administrative and surgical buildings, and that “many dead bodies were partially buried with their limbs visible”.

The IDF also said it had avoided harm to patients at al-Shifa. But the WHO cited the acting hospital director as saying patients were held in abysmal conditions during the siege, and that at least 20 patients reportedly died due to a lack of access to care and limited movement authorised for medics.

Spokeswoman Ms Shamdasani said reports seen by the UN human rights office suggested that a total of 30 bodies were buried in the two graves and that 12 of them had been identified so far.

Gaza’s civil defence spokesman told CNN on 9 April that 381 bodies had been recovered from the vicinity of al-Shifa, but that the figure did not include people buried in the hospital’s grounds.

The UN human rights chief also deplored as “beyond warfare” a series of Israeli strikes on the southern city of Rafah in the past few days, which he said had killed mostly women and children.

The strikes included one on Saturday night, after which a premature baby was delivered from the womb of her pregnant mother, who was killed along with her husband and other daughter.

Mr Türk also again warned against a full-scale Israeli ground assault on Rafah, where 1.5 million displaced civilians are sheltering, saying it would lead to further breaches of international humanitarian law and human rights law.

Iceland violent volcanic flare-up triggers state of emergency

A state of emergency has been declared in southern Iceland after another volcanic eruption on the Reykjanes Peninsula – the fourth since December.

Lava has reached the eastern defences around the small, evacuated town of Grindavik, local media said.

The powerful and fast lava flows began late on Saturday – but the authorities say they have since diminished significantly.

Activity around the fissure – initially 3km long (1.9 miles) – has dissipated.

Iceland’s Meteorological Office said the streams of lava were still flowing on Sunday, but the rate at which they were moving had begun to slow down.

The director of Iceland’s civil defence, Vídir Reynisson, said all that could be done to prepare for the flow of lava had been done, and the biggest concern was the impact on infrastructure.

Pools of lava gathering near defences were also of concern, he added.

The eruption began after 20:00 local time (20:00 GMT) on Saturday, north of Grindavik, according to the country’s civil defence service,

This is a similar location to the eruption that began on 8 December.

Footage of the explosion showed clouds of smoke and glowing magma oozing and bubbling from vents in the earth.

The explosion has not affected the main international airport, which lies to the north-west of Grindavik.

Getty Images Emergency vehicles are seen as molten lava flows out from a fissure on the Reykjanes peninsulaGetty ImagesEmergency vehicles are pictured as molten lava flows out from a fissure on the Reykjanes peninsula

Geophysicist Magnus Tumi Gudmundsson, who was among those to fly over the affected areas in a helicopter, told local media that Saturday’s eruption was the most powerful so far.

Two lava streams have been moving west and south. Local media reported that lava from the latter had reached Grindavik’s eastern defence walls.

Mr Gudmundsson said it was also possible lava could flow into the sea, but that this may not happen if the volcanic activity eases.

Einar Bessi Gestsson, a natural disaster expert at the Norwegian Meteorological Agency, has told Iceland’s public broadcaster RUV that dangerous gases and small explosions could occur if lava makes contact with sea water.

Meanwhile, the lava moving west is heading in the direction of the Blue Lagoon and a geothermal power plant, which provides hot water for most of the Reykjanes Peninsula.

The Icelandic Met Office said this lava bed was “significantly wider” than in February, when an earlier eruption caused lava to flow in a similar direction.

Many protective embankments have been built around both, the head of the Reykjavik-based Nordic Volcanological Centre, Rikke Pedersen, told Reuters.

There are concerns that fibre optic cables on the road could be damaged – causing disruption to phone and internet services.

Getty Images People gather to watch as molten lava flows out from a fissure on the Reykjanes peninsula, 16 MarchGetty ImagesPeople seen gathering on Saturday to watch the lava flow from a fissure caused by a volcanic eruption

Getty Images The skyline of Reykjavik turns orange from the lava flowing from a fissure caused by a volcanic eruptionGetty ImagesThe skyline of Reykjavik turns orange following the eruption

The Blue Lagoon is closed until further notice as a precaution. There were between 500-600 people in the area when Saturday’s eruption happened, Ms Pedersen said.

Between five and 10 homes in Grindavik were also cleared.

The town’s roughly 4,000 residents were only allowed to return to their homes about a month ago after an eruption in January saw magma spread into the town, destroying three homes.

Most of them have chosen not to return.

Iceland has 33 active volcano systems and sits over what is known as the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the boundary between two of the largest tectonic plates on the planet.

The last time the Reykjanes Peninsula had a period of volcanic activity was 800 years ago – and the eruptions went on for decades.

This is now the seventh eruption since 2021, and scientists believe the area is entering a new volcanic era that could last for decades or even centuries.

Senegal election: What next after block on President Macky Sall’s bid to delay poll?

Protestors run from teargas during clashes with police in Dakar on February 9, 2024.
Image caption,The president’s plans to delay the election have sparked widespread protests

After more than two weeks of uncertainty, it seems Senegal’s checks and balances have kicked in.

President Macky Sall has pledged to organise presidential elections “as soon as possible” after the country’s top court, the Constitutional Council, blocked his plans to postpone this month’s polls until mid-December.

When Mr Sall initially announced the delay of the election on 3 February – just a few hours before campaigning was due to start – he cited alleged corruption within the Constitutional Council as one of the reasons elections couldn’t be held on 25 February, as scheduled.

Mr Sall’s party – along with that of one his main opponents, Karim Wade – had levelled accusations of corruption against the Constitutional Court a few days before. They were responding to the exclusion of Mr Wade from the electoral list on the basis that he had dual French and Senegalese nationality when he announced his candidacy, something Mr Wade denies.

Some have argued that the current political uncertainty in Senegal started with the Constitutional Council’s decision to exclude Mr Wade, and other opposition candidates, from the ballot.

But the fact that the court has ruled against the president suggests that, despite fears that Senegal might be sliding towards authoritarianism, the rule of law still works.

Mr Sall had been under huge pressure – both at home and abroad – to reverse his decision to delay the polls. Violent, widespread protests have gripped the country. Opposition figures condemned the move, along with influential Muslim leaders.

Senegalese people are proud of their country’s reputation as a stable democracy and many felt betrayed by his decision.

In a West African region where four countries are currently under military rule, Senegal is seen by the international community as one of the few examples of a functioning democracy.

Senegalese President Macky Sall. Photo: June 2023
Image caption,President Macky Sall has been accused of rowing back on basic rights, including freedom of expression and assembly

With a growing population, increased threats from terror groups and widespread economic hardship, analysts believe strong institutions are needed in West Africa for its citizens to prosper.

As such, many international governments and organisations have a vested interest in promoting good governance and stability in the region.

If Senegal were to become another authoritarian state, many fear the instability that would ensue would threaten regional security at a time when Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali, all run by military juntas, are pulling away from their neighbours and wanting to form their own federation.

Although this latest decision by the Constitutional Council has been welcomed by the opposition and activists alike, the court itself has not always been so popular. In January 2012 it ruled that then-president Abdoulaye Wade (father of Karim Wade) could run for a third term, despite the country’s two-term limit.

At the time it argued that Mr Wade’s first term in office fell under a previous version of the constitution, which didn’t have presidential term limits.

The decision led to weeks of protests, which only ended when President Sall was elected the following month. Ironically, at the time Mr Sall argued that it was impossible for Mr Wade to run for a third term.

“A president cannot extend his term of office, it’s not possible,” he said during his campaign.

“He can’t extend his term even by one day, otherwise the country will be plunged into chaos, because then people would not recognise his legitimacy and there would be no longer any authority in the country.”

Mr Sall’s critics reminded him of those words in the past two weeks, saying that by delaying elections until the end of the year he had basically given himself a third term.

He strongly denied these charges, saying the delay was intended to calm tensions caused by the exclusion of the opposition candidates.

But there has been suspicion about his intentions for some time, with widespread speculation that he would try and seek a third term in office.

He only confirmed that he wouldn’t stand in July last year.

Despite the Constitutional Court’s ruling, many Senegalese voters will still be frustrated by the fact that another of Mr Sall’s main opponents, Ousmane Sonko, will not be on the ballot.

Mr Sonko was convicted of libel in December, a ruling that disqualified him from running in this year’s election. In January the Supreme Court rejected Mr Sonko’s appeal against the conviction, making him ineligible to contest the upcoming elections.

A demonstrator holds a placard reading "Macky dictator" during a rally to demand the release of detained Senegalese opposition leader Ousmane Sonko.
Image caption,Supporters of detained opposition leader Ousmane Sonko will not be satisfied by this ruling

A separate, earlier conviction against Mr Sonko led to widespread protests last summer in Senegal, where he is popular with young people who see him as an anti-establishment candidate.

Mr Sonko remains in jail and so does his second-in-command, Bassirou Diomaye Faye, who is nevertheless on the ballot in his stead. Their party, Pastef, has been banned.

Mr Sonko’s supporters are unlikely to be satisfied with the Constitutional Council’s latest ruling because it makes no provision for the politician to be put back onto the ballot.

Despite Senegal’s reputation as a relatively stable democracy, Mr Sall’s tenure has been marred with accusations he has rowed back on basic rights, including freedom of expression and assembly.

But with this latest court ruling, Senegal has showed that it can still serve as an example to other West African countries of how to hold their leaders to account.

Relawan Praka minta semua pihak tunggu hasil hitung suara KPU

Relawan Praka minta semua pihak tunggu hasil hitung suara KPU
Ketua Umum Praka Osco Olfriady Letunggamu dan Prabowo Subianto. (ANTARA/HO-Dokumentasi Pribadi)

Jakarta (ANTARA) – Ketua Umum Pro Rakabuming Raka (Praka) Osco Olfriady Letunggamu meminta semua pihak menunggu hasil hitung suara yang sedang dilaksanakan Komisi Pemilihan Umum (KPU), untuk menentukan pemenang kontestasi Pemilu Presiden (Pilpres) 2024.

“Hasil quick count (lembaga survei menunjukkan) pasangan calon nomor urut 2 unggul, dan harus kita terima. Tapi mari kita tetap bersama menunggu hasil resmi KPU,” kata Osco dalam keterangan tertulis di Jakarta, Jumat.

Menurut dia, hitung cepat atau quick count hasil Pilpres 2024 sejumlah lembaga survei, mengunggulkan pasangan Prabowo Subianto-Gibran Rakabuming Raka dengan angka yang cukup jauh dibandingkan capres-cawapres lain.

“Kalau melihat hasil hitung cepat, saya 100 persen yakin sudah memenangi kompetisi, ini adalah kemenangan rakyat Indonesia,” ujarnya.

Namun Wakil Ketua TKN Fanta Prabowo-Gibran itu meminta masyarakat tetap bersabar menunggu hasil resmi dari KPU. Karena menurut dia, hasil hitung cepat Pemilu 2024 bukan menjadi penentu pemenang pemilu secara resmi.

Osco meyakini bahwa hitung cepat lembaga survei dan hasil hitung suara KPU RI tidak akan jauh beda. Karena itu dia meminta masyarakat agar segera fokus pada upaya rekonsiliasi dan bersatu serta melupakan perbedaan pilihan.

“Kembali lagi sebagai bangsa, bersatu, ” ujarnya.

Dia berpendapat, Pilpres satu putaran akan memberikan angin segar iklim investasi di Indonesia. Kepercayaan Investor akan naik karena kepastian stabilitas pemerintahan.

“Kami yakin Pak Prabowo dan Mas Gibran akan merangkul seluruh pihak dari pasangan calon nomor urut 1 dan 3 untuk bersama membangun menuju Indonesia Maju,” katanya.

Dia mengingatkan semua elit politik dan tokoh-tokoh di pusat maupun daerah harus mengembalikan suasana di tengah masyarakat kembali harmonis. Menurut dia, kalau ada yang dinilai kurang tepat dalam penyelenggaraan pilpres, dapat disampaikan kepada lembaga berwenang yaitu Badan Pengawas Pemilu (Bawaslu).

Pemilu 2024 meliputi pemilihan presiden dan wakil presiden, anggota DPR RI, anggota DPD RI, anggota DPRD provinsi, serta anggota DPRD kabupaten/kota dengan daftar pemilih tetap (DPT) tingkat nasional sebanyak 204.807.222 pemilih.

Sedangkan untuk pemilihan presiden dan wakil presiden diikuti tiga pasangan yakni Anies Baswedan-Muhaimin Iskandar selaku nomor urut 1, Prabowo Subianto-Gibran Rakabuming Raka nomor urut 2, dan Ganjar Pranowo-Mahfud Md. nomor urut 3.

Seturut Peraturan KPU Nomor 3 Tahun 2022, rekapitulasi suara nasional Pemilu 2024 dijadwalkan berlangsung mulai 15 Februari s.d. 20 Maret 2024.

Gus Miftah ungkap pesan Gus Dur tentang Prabowo

Gus Miftah ungkap pesan Gus Dur tentang Prabowo
Pendakwah kondang sekaligus Pimpinan Pondok Pesantren Ora Aji Gus Miftah bersama pasangan calon presiden dan wakil presiden nomor urut 2, Prabowo Subianto-Gibran Rakabuming Raka. (ANTARA/HO-Dokumentasi Pribadi)

Jakarta (ANTARA) – Pendakwah kondang sekaligus Pimpinan Pondok Pesantren Ora Aji Sleman Miftah Maulana Habiburrahman alias Gus Miftah, mengungkapkan pesan Gus Dur tentang sosok Prabowo Subianto.

“Saya cuma ingat, dulu Gus Dur bilang manusia paling ikhlas di Indonesia itu adalah Pak Prabowo,” katanya dalam keterangan tertulis di Jakarta, Jumat.

Hal itu menanggapi pernyataan Sekretaris Tim Kampanye Nasional (TKN) Prabowo-Gibran, Nusron Wahid, yang menyebut Gus Miftah memiliki peran penting, dalam meraup suara untuk pemenangan Prabowo-Gibran di Jawa Timur dan Jawa Tengah.

Terlebih lagi, Nusron menegaskan Gus Miftah bersama Khofifah Indar Parawansa turut serta memberikan suara dari basis massa Nahdlatul Ulama (NU).

“Saya pikir hampir semua santri dibawah komando Gus Miftah, mayoritas mendukung Prabowo-Gibran,” kata Nusron beberapa waktu lalu.

Sebelumnya, dalam unggahan videonya Gus Miftah melakukan kampanye dengan mengadakan Pengajian serta konser musik yang dihadiri oleh puluhan ribu massa di 25 kota dan kabupaten Se-Jawa untuk memenangkan Prabowo-Gibran.

“Saya berharap acara seperti ini bisa kita pertahankan, Tapi dengan Tagline Gerakan Moderasi Bareng Gus Miftah, nanti kedepan sepanjang tahun setiap bulan mengadakan acara minimal lima kali, mudah-mudah bisa bermanfaat dan bisa menghibur masyarakat
Indonesia,” tutur Gus Miftah.

Tak hanya itu, Gus Miftah juga menggalang dukungan dari kyai kampung se-Jawa, yakni 25 zona, dimana satu zona 1.000 ribu kyai, sehingga Gus Miftah mendapat julukan presiden kyai kampung dalam gerakan yang dinamai GM-08.

“Pengajian-pengajian saya gelar sampai pelosok, saya juga sowan-sowan kyai sepuh dan pesantren yang memiliki pengaruh,” katanya.

Pemilu 2024 meliputi pemilihan presiden dan wakil presiden, anggota DPR RI, anggota DPD RI, anggota DPRD provinsi, serta anggota DPRD kabupaten/kota dengan daftar pemilih tetap (DPT) tingkat nasional sebanyak 204.807.222 pemilih.

Sedangkan untuk pemilihan presiden dan wakil presiden diikuti tiga pasangan yakni Anies Baswedan-Muhaimin Iskandar selaku nomor urut 1, Prabowo Subianto-Gibran Rakabuming Raka nomor urut 2, dan Ganjar Pranowo-Mahfud Md. nomor urut 3.

Seturut Peraturan KPU Nomor 3 Tahun 2022, rekapitulasi suara nasional Pemilu 2024 dijadwalkan berlangsung mulai 15 Februari s.d. 20 Maret 2024.

Millions of donkeys killed each year to make medicine

A man with his working donkeys in Lamu, Kenya
Image caption,A donkey can mean the difference between a modest livelihood and destitution for many people in poor, rural communities

To sell water and make his living, Steve relied completely on his donkeys. They pulled him in his cart loaded with its 20 jerry cans to all his customers. When Steve’s donkeys were stolen for their skins, he could no longer work.

That day started like most others. In the morning, he left his home in the outskirts of Nairobi and went to the field to get his animals.

“I couldn’t see them,” he recalls. “I searched all day, all night and the following day.” It was three days later that he got a call from a friend telling him he had found the animals’ skeletons. “They’d been killed, slaughtered, their skin was not there.”

Donkey thefts like this have become increasingly common across many parts of Africa – and in other parts of the world that have large populations of these working animals. Steve – and his donkeys – are collateral damage in a controversial global trade in donkey skin.

A worker carries a donkey skin at a slaughterhouse in Kenya
Image caption,The slaughter and export of donkey skins could be banned across Africa

Its origins are thousands of miles from that field in Kenya. In China, a traditional medicinal remedy that is made with the gelatin in donkey skin is in high demand. It is called Ejiao.

It is believed to have health-enhancing and youth-preserving properties. Donkey skins are boiled down to extract the gelatin, which is made into powder, pills or liquid, or is added to food.

Campaigners against the trade say that people like Steve – and the donkeys they depend on – are victims of an unsustainable demand for Ejiao’s traditional ingredient.

In a new report, the Donkey Sanctuary, which has campaigned against the trade since 2017, estimates that globally at least 5.9 million donkeys are slaughtered every year to supply it. And the charity says that demand is growing, although the BBC was unable to independently verify those figures.

It is very difficult to get an accurate picture of exactly how many donkeys are killed to supply the Ejiao industry.

Ejiao, the traditional Chinese medicine made using donkey skin, in its various forms
Image caption,Ejiao is an ancient remedy that comes in the form of food, liquid or pills

In Africa, where about two-thirds of the world’s 53 million donkeys live, there is a patchwork of regulations. Export of donkey skins is legal in some countries and illegal in others. But high demand and high prices for skins fuel the theft of donkeys, and the Donkey Sanctuary says it has discovered animals being moved across international borders to reach locations where the trade is legal.

However, there could soon be a turning point as every African state’s government, and the government of Brazil, are poised to ban the slaughter and export of donkeys in response to their shrinking donkey populations.

Solomon Onyango, who works for the Donkey Sanctuary and is based in Nairobi, says: “Between 2016 and 2019, we estimate that about half of Kenya’s donkeys were slaughtered [to supply the skin trade].”

These are the same animals that carry people, goods, water and food – the backbone of poor, rural communities. So the scale and rapid growth of the skin trade has alarmed campaigners and experts, and has moved many people in Kenya to take part in anti-skin trade demonstrations.

The proposal for an Africa-wide, indefinite ban is on the agenda at the African Union Summit , where all state leaders meet, on 17 and 18 February.

A family with their donkey in Manda village in Kenya
Image caption,Women and girls bear the burden when an animal is taken.

Reflecting on a possible Africa-wide ban, Steve says he hopes it will help protect the animals, “or the next generation will have no donkeys”.

But could bans across Africa and in Brazil simply shift the trade elsewhere?

Ejiao producers used to use skins from donkeys sourced in China. But, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs there, donkey numbers in the country plummeted from 11 million in 1990 to just under two million in 2021. At the same time, Ejiao went from being a niche luxury to become a popular, widely available product.

Chinese companies sought their skin supplies overseas. Donkey slaughterhouses were established in parts of Africa, South America and Asia.

In Africa, this led to a grim tug of war over the trade.

Working donkeys at a quarry in Kenya
Image caption,Working donkeys pull a cart at a quarry

In Ethiopia, where the consumption of donkey meat is taboo, one of the country’s two donkey slaughterhouses was closed down in 2017 in response to public protests and social media outcry.

Countries including Tanzania and Ivory Coast banned the slaughter and export of donkey skins in 2022, but China’s neighbour Pakistan embraces the trade. Late last year, media reports there trumpeted the country’s first “official donkey breeding farm” to raise “some of the best breeds”.

And it is big business. According to China-Africa relations scholar Prof Lauren Johnston, from the University of Sydney, the Ejiao market in China increased in value from about $3.2bn (£2.5bn) in 2013 to about $7.8bn in 2020.

It has become a concern for public health officials, animal welfare campaigners and even international crime investigators. Research has revealed that shipments of donkey skins are used to traffic other illegal wildlife products. Many are worried that national bans on the trade will push it further underground.

For state leaders, there is the fundamental question: Are donkeys worth more to a developing economy dead or alive?

Donkeys in a pen at a slaughterhouse in Kenya
Image caption,Campaigners against the skin trade say it is inhumane and unsustainable

“Most of the people in my community are small-scale farmers and they use the donkeys to sell their goods,” says Steve. He was saving money from selling water to pay for school fees to study medicine.

Faith Burden, who is head vet at the Donkey Sanctuary, says that the animals are “absolutely intrinsic” to rural life in many parts of the world. These are strong, adaptable animals. “A donkey will be able to go for perhaps 24 hours without drinking and can rehydrate very quickly without any problems.”

But for all their qualities, donkeys do not breed easily or quickly. So campaigners fear that if the trade is not curtailed, donkey populations will continue to shrink, depriving more of the poorest people of a lifeline and a companion.

Mr Onyango explains: “We never bred our donkeys for mass slaughter.”

Prof Johnston says that donkeys have “carried the poor” for millennia. “They carry children, women. They carried Mary when she was pregnant with Jesus,” she says.

A child with a donkey
Image caption,Some worry that, if the trade is not curbed, the next generation will not have access to a donkey

Women and girls, she adds, bear the brunt of the loss when an animal is taken. “Once the donkey is gone, then the women basically become the donkey again,” she explains. And there is a bitter irony in that, because Ejiao is marketed primarily to wealthier Chinese women.

It is a remedy that is thousands of years old, believed to have numerous benefits from strengthening the blood to aiding sleep and boosting fertility. But it was a 2011 Chinese TV show called Empresses in the Palace – a fictional tale of an imperial court – that raised the remedy’s profile.

“It was clever product placement,” explains Prof Johnston. “The women in the show consumed Ejiao every day to stay beautiful and healthy – for their skin and their fertility. It became this product of elite femininity. Ironically, that’s now destroying many African women’s lives.”

A still of the TV drama "Empresses in the Palace", also known as "The Legend of Zhen Huan"
Image caption,A Chinese TV drama ‘Empresses in the Palace’ featured the donkey hide remedy Ejiao

Steve, who is 24, is worried that, when he lost his donkeys, he lost control over his life and livelihood. “I’m just stranded now,” he says.

Working with a local animal welfare charity in Nairobi, the charity Brooke is working to find donkeys for young people – like Steve – who need them to access work and education.

Janneke Merkx, from the Donkey Sanctuary, says the more countries that put legislation in place to protect their donkeys, “the more difficult it will get”.

Janneke Merkx with one of the donkeys at the Donkey Sanctuary
Image caption,Janneke Merkx with one of the donkeys at the sanctuary in Devon

“What we’d like to see is for Ejiao companies to stop importing donkey skins all together and invest in sustainable alternatives – like cellular agriculture (producing collagen in labs). There are already safe and effective ways to do that.”

Faith Burden, the Donkey Sanctuary’s deputy chief executive, calls the donkey skin trade “unsustainable and inhumane”.

“They’re being stolen, potentially walked hundreds of miles, held in a crowded pen and then slaughtered in full view of other donkeys,” she says. “They need us to speak up against this.”

Steve with his new donkey, Joy Lucky
Image caption,Steve now has a new donkey that he says will help him achieve his dreams

Brooke has now given Steve a new donkey, a female that he has named Joy Lucky, because he feels lucky and joyful to have her.

“I know that she will help me achieve my dreams,” he says. “And I’ll make sure that she is protected.”

Julian Assange: Australian politicians call for release of WikiLeaks founder

Julian Assange
Image caption,Julian Assange has been held in London’s high-security Belmarsh Prison since 2019

Australia’s parliament has passed a motion calling on the US and UK to release Julian Assange, ahead of a crucial legal hearing.

Mr Assange will appear in front of the UK’s High Court next week for his final appeal against US extradition.

The Australian citizen, currently in London’s Belmarsh Prison, is wanted in the US on espionage charges and faces up to 175 years in prison.

Australian MPs voted 86-42 that Mr Assange should be allowed to come home.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who supported the motion, has called for the Assange case to come to a “conclusion” since taking office in 2022.

He raised the matter directly with US President Joe Biden during a state visit in October.

It followed a cross-party delegation of Australian MPs travelling to Washington to lobby US lawmakers for Mr Assange’s freedom.

The WikiLeaks founder is wanted for publishing thousands of classified documents in 2010 and 2011, which American authorities say broke the law and endangered lives.

He has long argued that the case against him is politically motivated. His legal team say he is at risk of taking his own life if he is sent to the US.

In 2021, a UK judge blocked Mr Assange’s extradition, citing concerns for his mental health.

The High Court subsequently reversed that decision on the basis that the US had proven that Mr Assange would be safely cared for. In 2022, then Home Secretary Priti Patel approved the US extradition request – triggering his renewed legal appeal.

Mr Assange’s family have continued to call on the Australian government to do more to secure his release, warning that the 52-year-old could “disappear” into the US justice system for decades if handed over.

Australia’s Attorney General Mark Dreyfus said he had raised the matter with his US counterpart Merrick Garland at a meeting in Washington last month.

“This was a private discussion, however this government’s position on Mr Assange is very clear, and has not changed. It is time this matter is brought to an end,” Mr Dreyfus said in a statement.

Mr Assange has been in the high-security Belmarsh Prison since 2019. He had previously spent seven years in the Ecuadorian embassy in London while trying to seek asylum in the South American country.

Indonesia election: Who are the presidential candidates?

Ganjar Pranowo, Prabowo Subianto, Anies Baswedan hold hands as they attend a televised debate at the election commission headquarters in Jakarta, Indonesia, December 12, 2023.
Image caption,The candidates at a TV debate last year: (L-R) Ganjar Pranowo, Prabowo Subianto and Anies Baswedan

Indonesia, the third-largest democracy in the world, is voting on 14 February in just its sixth election since it emerged from a military dictatorship in the 1990s.

It’s a three-way race for the top job, between current Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto and two former governors, Anies Baswedan and Ganjar Pranowo.

One of them will succeed President Joko Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, who has served two full terms.

Mr Widodo remains hugely popular but his legacy has been tainted by accusations that he’s sought to retain political influence through his eldest son, who is running alongside Mr Prabowo, a military commander under the Suharto regime.

It has prompted fears that Indonesia is in danger of sliding back towards its authoritarian past.

The outcome of the election will also have an effect far beyond Indonesia, with the winner having to contend with the growing US-China rivalry in the Indo-Pacific region.

Prabowo Subianto, Advanced Indonesia Coalition

Prabowo Subianto (left) and Gibran Raka
Image caption,Prabowo Subianto has the outgoing president’s eldest son Gibran Raka (right) as his running mate

The frontrunner to be Indonesia’s next president has tried desperately to soften his strongman image but to some voters he is still associated with abuses committed during General Suharto’s dictatorship.

The 72-year-old Mr Prabowo was a military general who married one of General Suharto’s daughters. He came from a wealthy political family but the first half of his career was dedicated to the army.

During his time as a leading officer in Suharto’s regime, he’s accused of ordering his unit to abduct and torture dozens of democracy activists.

He was discharged following this scandal and went into self-imposed exile in Jordan in the 2000s.

But he returned to Indonesia a few years later, building up his wealth in various businesses before making the jump to politics.

He’s had the money and connections to run for president two times before – losing both times to Mr Widodo.

But in the last term, Mr Widodo brought him into his cabinet as defence minister – and this is now the closest Mr Prabowo has ever been to the top job. His running mate is Mr Widodo’s eldest son Gibran Rakabuming Raka.

Though Mr Widodo has not appeared at Mr Prabowo’s campaign events, he is seen as having tacitly endorsed the Prabowo-Gibran ticket.

A possible victory for Mr Prabowo is a frightening concept for freedom fighters. They fear a Suharto-era general back at the helm of Indonesian government will drag the country back into a dark period.

Anies Baswedan, Coalition of Change for Unity (KPP)

Anies Baswedan
Image caption,Anies Baswedan has portrayed himself as an alternative to the two other candidates

From languishing at the bottom of opinion surveys, Anies Baswedan is now polling second after he criticised Jokowi’s plan to move the capital from Jakarta to a new city that is being built on Borneo island.

The former Jakarta governor instead favours the development of existing cities to boost equitable growth instead of developing a new capital from scratch.

Mr Anies, 54, has portrayed himself as the alternative to the two other candidates who are expected to continue most of Mr Widodo’s policies if elected.

He has repeatedly claimed democracy has declined under Mr Widodo and pledged to be “consistent in keeping the country away from the practices of feudalism and nepotism”.

Mr Anies and his running mate Muhaimin Iskandar will be contesting this year’s elections under the banner of the Islamic-leaning Coalition of Change for Unity. Their narrative for change has received support from conservative Islamic groups in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country.

The pair has pledged to create 15 million jobs, offer easier access to credit for prospective home buyers and to upgrade infrastructure in Indonesia’s second-tier cities, if elected.

Born into a family of academics, Mr Anies spent the earlier years of his career lecturing economics at Paramadina University, before entering politics in 2013, He was appointed education and culture minister after Mr Widodo’s first victory but he has been more vocal in criticising the president after being removed in a cabinet reshuffle.

In 2017, he won the election to become Jakarta’s governor in a divisive vote that exposed religious and ethnic tensions in the Indonesian capital. His tenure saw a push for urban infrastructure in the city, but some feel he has not done enough to address perennial issues like air pollution and traffic congestion.

Ganjar Pranowo, Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P)

Ganjar Pranowo
Image caption,Ganjar Pranowo was seen as Mr Widodo’s shoo-in successor

The governor of one of Indonesia’s largest provinces presents himself as a humble man of the people.

There’s no political dynasty or family wealth behind his rise – only a skill to connect with people on a populist agenda: it’s won him two terms in Central Java.

But he’s facing long odds in the national election without the backing of the enormously popular Mr Widodo – who was himself backed by the PDI-P for the last two elections.

In the early days of the campaign, he was seen as Mr Widodo’s shoo-in successor and analysts had him pegged as the frontrunner. But Mr Widodo has since distanced himself from his party’s campaign.

Mr Ganjar has been left to rely on his populist appeal and grassroots campaign- selling policies such as millions of jobs, social welfare expansion and making university more accessible.

His campaign trail has focused on poorer areas across Indonesia’s islands – starting in Papua in the far east and moving across the archipelago, staying in humble villagers’ homes.

The silver-haired politician had been riding high as governor until he expressed opposition to Israel’s participation in the Under-20 Fifa World Cup which was to be held in his province. Fifa then announced it was pulling the tournament from the country – prompting a backlash from football fans against Mr Ganjar.

His running mate is Mohammad Mahfud, Indonesia’s former security minister, who was also a former chief justice of the Constitutional Court.

James Marape: PNG leader makes historic speech in Australia amid China tensions

Papua New Guinea’s prime minister has hailed ties with “big brother” Australia in a historic and closely watched speech in Canberra.

James Marape’s address to Australia’s parliament – the first by a Pacific Island leader – comes as Australia and China race for influence in the region.

It is also nearly the 50th anniversary of PNG’s independence from Australia.

“Nothing will come in between our two countries because we are family,” Mr Marape told Australian MPs.

In jest, he added that “one can choose friends, but one is stuck with family forever” and “we have no choice but to get along”.

Mr Marape joins an elite list of overseas leaders who’ve addressed lawmakers in Canberra, including the Chinese President Xi Jinping, former US President Barack Obama, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

PNG is Australia’s nearest neighbour. The two nations are separated by just a few kilometres of sea in the Torres Strait where the Pacific and Indian Oceans meet. It is the only country that can be seen from Australia’s shoreline

There are two main undercurrents to Mr Marape’s visit. Firstly, there’s unrest at home sparked by a strike by police officers, which has destabilised his government and could potentially lead to a motion of no confidence in his leadership within days.

Then there’s China, and its growing ambitions in the Pacific, which have reignited a diplomatic race with Australia.

In 2021, Beijing signed a security pact with Solomon Islands, a strategically located archipelago north-east of Australia. Canberra has responded, striking accords with neighbours big and small, including PNG, the largest Pacific Island nation.

Mr Marape did not make reference to China in his speech.

He twice emphasised that “a strong economically empowered Papua New Guinea means a stronger and more secure Australia in the Pacific”, and concluded by urging Australia to “contribute where you can and leave the rest to us”.

James Marape and Anthony Albanese
Image caption,Mr Marape with Australian counterpart Anthony Albanese

It’s clear the regional dynamics are changing, said Dirk van der Kley, a senior research fellow at the Australian National University’s (ANU) National Security College.

“We [Australia] are used to being the leading economic and security power within the Pacific region and that is probably still true,” he told the BBC.

“[But] there is concern in the government and more broadly in Australian society that our ability to shape events in our region may be less than it was previously.”

“Australia has been trying hard – prompted by China’s rise in the region – to change its behaviour. In many cases Australia is out in front of China.”

Last November, Canberra announced a security and climate change accord with Tuvalu, a grouping of several low-lying coral atolls in the South Pacific. A month later, Australia reached its security agreement with PNG. But within weeks, PNG’s foreign Minister Justin Tkachenko had dropped an apparent diplomatic bombshell when it was reported that his government was talking to Beijing about forging a similar type of deal.

This week, Mr Tkachenko has backtracked, blaming “misinformation” for suggesting a security pact with China was being negotiated. Australia, he insisted, was PNG’s partner of choice.

Canberra regards the Pacific as its traditional sphere of influence. China is, geographically speaking, a distant power. So, why is Beijing investing so much time and money in a remote and sparsely populated part of the world?

Kiribati, for instance, is made up of 33 coral atolls spread over 3.5 million sq km of ocean – an area larger than India. It’s home to about 130,000 people.

“You are talking about a handful of countries that are spread a long way out from each other with relatively small populations that are relatively poor,” said Mr van der Kley. “China is trying to increase its influence in the region so that it can shape the global order.”

It’s part of a strategy to undermine Taiwan, experts say.

“The diplomatic dividend of having strong relations with PNG and other Pacific countries is very important for China partly as it seeks to erode international diplomatic support for Taiwan,” said Mihai Sora, a research fellow at the Lowy Institute, a research organisation based in Sydney.

Flames from unrest in Papua New Guinea earlier this year
Image caption,Papua New Guinea has seen bouts of unrest – including last month

In January, Nauru, a small Pacific republic, re-established formal diplomatic relations with China after severing ties with Taipei, boosting support for Beijing in international forums. At the UN, a vote cast by Nauru (population 13,000) is equal to that of the US (population 333 million).

China also sees opportunity in Papua New Guinea’s rich reserves of natural resources, including gas, minerals, fisheries and forestry.

But perhaps the unbreakable relations between Indigenous Torres Strait Islanders who live on the tip of Queensland and their cousins to the north will give Australia an advantage in the race for influence and alliance.

“Culturally and socially they are completely intertwined. It would be impossible to delineate where one kinship network begins and ends,” Lowy Institute Pacific Islands project director Mihai Sora told the BBC.

“The communities in the far north of Australia with their counterparts across the sea in Papua New Guinea have a unique governance framework that manages the travel between the two halves of the same cultural group.”

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the two countries could not be closer.

“Neighbours and mates, partners and equals,” he told parliament. “Today, our government is partnering with yours to build the architecture of peace and opportunity. We embrace each other as equals.”