2024 ZGC Forum opens in Beijing

Guests exchange views before the opening ceremony of the Zhongguancun Forum, in Beijing, on April 25, 2024. [Photo by Wang Zhuangfei/]

The opening ceremony of the 2024 Zhongguancun Forum Annual Conference was held in Beijing on Thursday.

Under the theme “Innovation: Building a Better World,” the forum is attended by more than 150 foreign government departments and international organizations from over 100 countries and regions.

Commercial competition to be regulated in athletics races

He Jie crosses the finish line of Beijing Half Marathon on April 14, 2024. Photo: VCG

He Jie crosses the finish line of Beijing Half Marathon on April 14, 2024. Photo: VCG

Following recent controversies of race rigging surrounding the 2024 Beijing Half Marathon, the Chinese Athletics Association (CAA) announced plans to introduce guidelines aimed at standardizing commercial competition in races.

The decision was made during a meeting on Tuesday, according to a post by the official WeChat account of CAA. 

“Since the spring of 2024, road running events have been held across the country, sparking a surge in participation among the masses. Overall, the road running events that have taken place have operated smoothly, but they have also exposed issues in event organization and management, attracting widespread attention from society,” said the post.

At the Beijing Half Marathon held on Sunday, the champion was accused of benefiting from staged competition involving African runners. Viral footage online shows that He Jie was behind the three African runners down the final stretch. Instead of sprinting to the finish line, the three African contenders were seen to look back and wave He out in front while appearing to slow down. He, the national marathon record holder, eventually overtook them and won the race by one second.

The CAA will roll out guidelines as soon as possible to regulate commercial competition in road races and enhance market standardization.

Additionally, other measures will be taken, including stricter vetting of race proposals, enhanced on-site inspections, and improved regulatory mechanisms. The association will also increase risk assessment for races and develop targeted contingency plans accordingly, it said.

The association also designated 2024, 2025 and 2026 as years focused on enhancing the quality of races, with initiatives on institutional improvements, competition organization standards, enhanced supervision, intensified training, medical security and educational outreach. 

Local authorities are urged to ensure the safety and integrity of races, with a commitment to anti-doping measures and upholding fair play, said the post.

“National fitness has become a national strategy in China, within the strategic context of building a strong sports nation. Running, unlike other sports requiring specialized skills, has a low entry barrier. This accessibility has propelled running to become one of the most widely participated in sports, with countless competitions held across the country every weekend,” said Luo Le, a sports teacher from the Beijing University of Chemical Technology.

Yet, the popularity of marathon also brings forth certain challenges, some of which could be preventable with proper management. To address these problems, it’s crucial for organizers to refine regulations and ensure comprehensive oversight, Luo added. 

In Luo’s view, the guidelines aim to underscore the importance of maintaining standards while promoting inclusivity. 

China’s distance runner He Jie wins Beijing half marathon

Photo: Courtesy of organizers

Photo: Courtesy of organizers

China’s marathon runner He Jie won the 2024 Beijing Half Marathon on Sunday with a time of 1:03:44. He was just one second ahead of Ethiopian Dejene Hailu Bikila, and Kenyans Robert Keter and Willy Mnangat, who tied for the second place. 

He revealed after the race that he was satisfied with his smooth completion and considered the event a high-quality training session in preparation for the upcoming Paris 2024 Summer Olympics.

“I have never participated in a half marathon before, so this time I wanted to set a personal best [performance],” He told reporters after the race. 

“I just finished the Wuxi Marathon not long ago, so I was not in my best competitive state. If I had been in the same condition as during the Wuxi race, I believe my performance would have been better,” He said, referring to his achievement of setting a national record at a 42.195-kilometer marathon with a time of 2:06:57 in March in Wuxi, East China’s Jiangsu Province.

The current Chinese men’s half marathon record stands at 1:01:58, set by Zhaxi Ciren in February this year. 

Photo: Courtesy of organizers

Photo: Courtesy of organizers

But He’s performance in the final stage drew skeptism as the three African runners seemed deliberately slowed down for He to catch up. As of press time, the organizers haven’t addressed the issue.

Though He’s result in Beijing is still far from a national record, the result was enough to make him the best domestic runner at the Beijing Half Marathon, as he was among the leading group with the African trio throughout the half marathon race.

Regarded as one of China’s finest male marathon runners, He has shattered the national marathon record twice in the last two years. 

Although He contemplated breaking the national half marathon record before the Beijing race on Sunday, he revealed that he battled illness following the Wuxi race that hampered his efforts. 

He revealed that after completing the first five kilometers during Sunday’s race, he realized that maintaining the record-breaking pace was unrealistic given his condition, thus he opted to prioritize finishing the race smoothly.

His previous appearance in Beijing was at the 2022 Beijing Marathon, where he secured third place in the men’s race with a time of 2:21:26.

He has set his sights on the Paris Olympics, which will be held from July 26 to August 11.

“Now I am fully preparing for the Paris Olympics; please believe in Chinese athletes. I hope to showcase Chinese speed in Paris and let the world see the Chinese speed,” He said.

Chinese runner Li Chunhui was the fifth man to cross the finish line but was awarded a bronze medal. Female runner Liu Min defended her title with a time of 1:11:12.

The half marathon, the history of which can be traced back to 1956, received nearly 98,000 applications for the 20,000-berth race this year. 

Beijing Guoan honor deceased fan with permanent stadium seat tribute

The seat reserved for Yang Xue Photo: Courtesy of Sinobo Workers' Stadium business management company

The seat reserved for Yang Xue Photo: Courtesy of Sinobo Workers’ Stadium business management company

Chinese Super League giants Beijing Guoan have made a touching gesture by permanently reserving a seat for Yang Xue, a devoted fan who passed away earlier this week.

Zhou Jinhui, the president of Beijing Guoan, announced that the seat Yang used to occupy will now be permanently held in her honor. 

“From now on, this seat will no longer be available for sale to the public during matches, concerts, or other events held at the Workers’ Stadium,” Zhou stated.

The seat, located at seat 6 in row 7 of section 109 in the Workers’ Stadium, has been adorned with a snowflake motif, symbolizing Yang’s given name, “Xue,” which means “snow”  in Chinese.

Yang, 39, who passed away on Tuesday afternoon for a cell carcinoma, was also remembered fondly by her husband Zhang Yaxun. A farewell ceremony was held at the Babaoshan funeral home in Beijing on Saturday morning, where hundreds of Guoan fans paid their respects.

A founding member of the fan group Yulinjun, or Royal Army, Yang was one of Guoan’s most dedicated supporters since its inception in 2005. She was honored by the club as the “Best No.12” for attending all home and away games in the previous season.

Prior to Friday’s match between Beijing Guoan and Shanghai Port, football fans inside the Workers’ Stadium, including supporters of the visiting team, came together to sing the song “Brightest Star in the Night Sky,” illuminating the stadium with their smartphone flashlights throughout the tribute.

In a poignant moment during the match, Guoan players pointed to the sky after scoring their first goal, an equalizer that leveled the score against defending champions Port at 1-1 in the first half. The game ended in a 2-2 draw.

The match saw a record attendance of 53,898 fans, marking the highest turnout at the Workers’ Stadium since its major renovation in 2022. It also marked Guoan’s first home game of the 2024 season.

He Wei, a prominent soccer commentator, also paid tribute to Yang on social media.

“Death is not the end of life; forgetting is. We choose to never forget,” he said. “Thank you for being part of Chinese soccer’s journey.”

Chinese airlines planning increasing number of cross-border flights, as hot tourism season kicks off

Passengers line up to board the plane to Macao at Beijing Daxing International Airport on April 1, 2024. Photo: Courtesy of China Southern Airlines

Passengers line up to board the plane to Macao at Beijing Daxing International Airport on April 1, 2024. Photo: Courtesy of China Southern Airlines

Driven by improved travel policies, Chinese airlines are planning more flights to draw travelers as the summer-autumn flight season began on Sunday, as aviation data showed that inbound and outbound travel has now recovered to hitting 80 percent of 2019 levels.

China Southern Airlines launches a direct route flying from Beijing Daxing International Airport to Macao on Monday, a move to further ramp up overseas flights driven by the rising demand. 

China Southern said the route will operate three times per week between April 1 to 24, with the frequency to increase to daily flights from April 25. The airline said it will boost the capacity input for more overseas routes.  

China Southern currently has launched 13 direct overseas routes from Beijing Daxing to cities such as London and Amsterdam and is considering routes from Beijing Daxing to Tehran and Riyadh.

As the summer and autumn season started on Sunday, Chinese airlines are improving their international route networks and increasing the number of international flights.

Air China said it will fly 448 routes during the new season, including 108 overseas routes, of which flights input to the Europe will be higher than that of in 2019.

Also, the carrier will increase the frequencies from Beijing to cities such as Los Angeles, New York, and Frankfurt.

China Eastern Airlines, along with its subsidiaries Shanghai Airlines, China United Airlines and OTT Airlines, will operate more than 1,240 overseas flights per week on average, recovering to 90.8 percent of the same period in 2019. New routes, such as Shanghai-Riyadh and to Vienna have also been newly launched.

Currently, the overseas flights operated by China Southern have returned to more than 900 flights per week, representing a recovery to more than 80 percent of pre-epidemic levels. In addition to the two international routes that will soon be launched at Beijing Daxing airport, China Southern said it will also launch routes from Guangzhou to Doha, Shenzhen to Mexico City, and Shenzhen to Riyad, aiming to return to 85 percent of pre-epidemic levels by the end of the year.

The accelerated resumption of international routes has driven the growth of inbound and outbound passenger traffic. 

According to the information provider VariFlight, from March 1-March 24, the actual number of inbound and outbound flights has exceeded 42,000, of which domestic airlines have transported more than 3.8 million inbound and outbound passengers, recovering to about 80 percent in the same period in 2019. 

Observers stated that coming holidays such as the Qingming Festival and May Day holidays will further boost the travel market. 

Also, the improvement in visa policy facilitation has also led to a rebound in inbound and outbound tourism.

To date, China has inked mutual visa exemption agreements covering different types of passports with 157 countries, reached agreements or arrangements on simplified visa procedures with 44 countries and enjoyed comprehensive mutual visa exemptions with 23 countries, including Thailand, Singapore, the Maldives and UAE, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in January. 

Global Times