Chinese fighters Zhang Weili, Yan Xiaonan to compete for UFC title

Photo: Courtesy of the UFC

Photo: Courtesy of the UFC

Reigning UFC women’s strawweight champion Zhang Weili will try to defend her title against fellow Chinese contender Yan Xiaonan in what promises to be an electrifying clash of talent as the duo meets in a UFC 300 bout on Sunday.

This marks the first time in UFC history that a championship bout for the coveted gold belt will take place between two Chinese athletes, adding an extra layer of significance to the event. 

“This marks a new stage for Chinese MMA. It’s the first time two Chinese female athletes will stand in the international octagon to compete at the highest level (a championship bout) and showcase their skills,” Zhang said. 

“This is definitely progress for Chinese MMA and will attract more attention to the UFC.”

After the fight was announced, there was much discussion online, with some netizens saying they felt uneasy about Chinese athletes facing each other. Some even expressed concern about whether there would be mercy between the compatriots. 

“I think this match is not much different from any other match. I have fought so many fights, and I approach each one with the same seriousness, striving to give my best performance in the ring,” Zhang told reporters. 

“We are all professional athletes, and there are no mental barriers just because we are compatriots.”

Zhang remains the more favored fighter in the polls before the fight. A poll on a domestic combat sports website showed a staggering 96 percent support rate for Zhang.

Both Zhang and Yan, who are 34, have been preparing diligently for this moment, each aiming to showcase not only their individual skills but also their resilience on the global stage.

The two fighters have a history that dates back a decade, having crossed paths in the MMA scene and even sharing a training coach in the past. 

Despite their familiarity with each other’s styles, Zhang remains undaunted, emphasizing that both fighters have evolved over time, making predictions difficult.

Zhang expressed her excitement about facing Yan, whom she describes as a dedicated and formidable opponent. 

“Many people may think that Xiaonan lacks ground techniques, but I believe her defense and resilience are excellent,” Zhang told reporters. 

“Whether it’s on the ground or in defense against takedowns, she does very well. This time I saw her practicing wrestling before the fight, and I believe she will improve.”

In Zhang’s eyes, every opponent is her teacher.

“Xiaonan is my teacher. I can learn a lot from her… Continuous improvement through opponents is a good thing,” Zhang said. 

“I think I have only scratched the surface and there is still a lot of potential to explore. Many things are not understood thoroughly yet, and they require continuous pursuit and effort.”

Zhang said she is confident in her own abilities and believes that their bout will not only be a display of technical prowess but also a testament to the resilience and fortitude of Chinese female athletes.

“I hope I can play a positive role in the development of Chinese MMA, encouraging more people to join in. I am very happy and honored to be part of this,” Zhang said.

Forward-thinking strategies proposed at two sessions as China-proposed BRI embarks on high-quality development for next decade

Cargo ships dock at and leave the Taicang Port in East China's Jiangsu Province on January 24, 2024. Photo: VCG

Cargo ships dock at and leave the Taicang Port in East China’s Jiangsu Province on January 24, 2024. Photo: VCG

At the ongoing two sessions, the annual meetings of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) National Committee, hot topics that relate to both China and the world have been proposed and discussed. One particular highlight is the discussions over the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which has just marked its decade of anniversary last year and is now embarking on the next decade of a new journey for high-quality development.

Over the past decade, the joint construction of the BRI has delivered prosperous results for participating countries. Thanks to the joint initiative, many developing countries have gained increasing access to global markets, eased their financing problems for much-needed infrastructure projects, filled an “infrastructure deficit,” strengthened their comparative advantages, and boosted their capacity for independent economic development, according to a report by the Xinhua News Agency.

Members and deputies of the two sessions, many of whom have direct experience and participation in BRI projects have noted how the initiative has brought about changes to participating countries over the past decade.

On this special occasion, they have also proposed strategies across various sectors, spanning from personnel training to connectivity and green development, while vowing to embrace high-quality development, which aligns with the future trajectory of the initiative.

Talent matters

In addition to daily lectures, one of the most important works for Zhang Shuibo, a professor of the College of Management and Economics of Tianjin University, was to lead his team to carry out major research projects to serve domestic enterprises engaged in the BRI, covering investment and financing, operations, logistics, international engineering contracting among other aspects, based on cultivating high-end talent ahead of “going global.”

Over the past two years, Zhang has held training courses for dozens of enterprises and trained thousands of international engineering management talents.

As a deputy to the 14th NPC, one very important subject for Zhang this year relates to the joint construction of the BRI, he told the Global Times during the two sessions.

As the initiative pursues high-quality development in the next decade, one key aspect needs to be strengthened is the personnel training, with Luban Workshop program being a core.

The workshop, named after Lu Ban, an ancient Chinese woodcraft master, is a Chinese vocational workshop program aims to promote vocational education exchanges and cooperation between China and the rest of the world committed to developing urgently needed technical talents.

The joint construction of the BRI is shifting from scale-oriented development to high-quality development, which poses higher demands on talent, Zhang said.

“To address this, we have introduced a series of policies to promote the cultivation of local talent, aiming to better benefit local development and ensure the efficient operation of projects,” Zhang said.

Luban Workshop Research and Promotion Centers are established in local technical colleges or other educational institutions, and local enterprises are also involved and receive certain subsidies from the government for the training. Currently, there are approximately 200 Luban Workshops worldwide, according to Zhang.

“The standardization and high quality of the curriculum is needed for the next stage of development,” Zhang said.

Specifically, when collaborating with schools in various countries, our curriculum design should be adjusted and optimized according to the industrial development of each country and the needs of Chinese enterprises in countries of the joint construction of the BRI, Zhang said.

However, other challenges persist against the backdrop of the growing complexity of the international situation, with rising geopolitical tensions and a slow economic recovery worldwide.

To address these difficulties, Zhang proposed to ramp up support the BRI by increasing the loans of Chinese yuan in better response to the fiscal difficulties faced by many countries and their insufficient foreign exchange reserves.

“By doing so, it will not only help the countries’ development but also promoting the internationalization of the yuan,” the NPC deputy said.

Stronger connectivity

In jointly building the BRI, connectivity is crucial. Among key projects, railways, as the backbone of integrated transportation systems, are an important component of infrastructure connectivity, as the initiative is deepening its high-quality development, said Liu Zhenfang, chairman of the board of the China State Railway Group Co, who is also a deputy to the 14th NPC, in its proposal read by the Global Times.

The 142.3-kilometer-long high-speed line, connecting Indonesia’s capital city Jakarta and the fourth largest city Bandung, serves as a flagship project and successful example of developing countries in the region working together toward modernization.

Meanwhile, the China-Laos Railway, another iconic project, has become a game changer for the Southeast Asian country, opening it up to greater economic opportunities.

Few transportation networks rival the cross-continental China-Europe freight train in terms of its significant transportation capacity and its contribution to economic and trade growth, bridging the East and the West.

As of the end of January, the China-Europe freight train had operated over 84,000 trips cumulatively, reaching 219 cities in 25 countries across Europe, according to media reports, highlighting its role as a stabilizer of the global supply chain, particularly amid the Red Sea crisis.

Liu said in his proposal that in 2024 that China Railway will fully leverage a coordination mechanism linked to the China-Europe freight train, continuously enhance the transportation capacity of key ports and corridors, expand the operation of scheduled freight trains along the entire route, and promote the cross-continental cargo train to develop toward higher quality, better efficiency, and increased safety.

Moreover, Liu pledged to intensify exchanges this year with international cooperation organizations and foreign railway institutions to promote the internationalization of Chinese railway standards.

In addition to connectivity, green is also an important part of the high-quality development for the BRI. Wang Tongzhou, a member of the CPPCC National Committee and chairman of China Communications Construction Co, proposed to further support and encourage research and development and the widespread application of green technologies in order to reduce carbon emissions and energy consumption across the entire industry chain under the BRI. “That includes creating a number of exemplary green projects in promoting green development in the joint construction of the BRI,” Wang said.

The achievements under the BRI have provided clear evidence, paving an auspicious path toward the high-quality development of the initiative.

Over the past decade, the Chinese government has signed over 240 cooperation agreements promoting the joint construction of the BRI with more than 150 countries and over 30 international organizations. This has resulted in a multitude of cooperative projects, establishing the broadest and largest international cooperation platform in the world, said Liu Jieyi, spokesperson for the second session of the 14th CPPCC National Committee, said at a press conference on March 3.

Looking ahead, the prospects for the high-quality construction of the BRI are promising, said Liu.