China on Biosecurity: 'The World Should Demand Answers'
From the US in particular, but probably also from every other country that's not China.
How to brew up a brand new pandemic virus (be sure to wear a mask). Photo by Pavel Danilyuk from Pexels.
Global Times is weighing in on the bio-labs in Ukraine issue (background: the Kremlin alleges that the US and Ukraine are conducting chemical and biological weapons experiments in Ukraine), acknowledging that the US refutes the claims but asking us, Can we believe them?
But before we get into that weighty subject, respect has to be given where it’s due, and the Global Times’ opening leap into the foliage of this story is about as gripping as journalism gets:
Many topics on the Russia-Ukraine conflict have popped up since it began on February 24. One of them refers to US-controlled bio-labs in Ukraine, which have attracted the attention of netizens in Russia, the US and China.
Thomas Friedman couldn’t have done it better.
But this is a serious issue and China—not just the Kremlin—is making a very serious allegation—one that some have suggested could even lead to the use of chemical and biological weapons, as the Wall Street Journal has reported.
A senior North Atlantic Treaty Organization official said Wednesday there are serious concerns that Russia—which has struggled to make headway in its assault on Ukraine—is setting the stage to use chemical weapons in the country.
On Thursday, the Russian Defense Ministry said Washington has been supporting research that could allow the spread of diseases through wild birds migrating between Russia and Ukraine, adding that “bio-laboratories set up and funded in Ukraine have been experimenting with bat coronavirus samples.”
Back to the Global Times:
During a routine press conference on Tuesday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson mentioned the 26 bio-labs and other related facilities in Ukraine, under the absolute control of the US Department of Defense, as well as the US' 336 biological labs in 30 countries, asking, ‘What is the true intention of the US?’
Obviously, China’s comments have to be viewed in light of the accusations it has been fighting for more than two years that SARS-CoV-2, or Covid-19, could plausibly have walked out of the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) with an accidentally infected lab worker. After all, the WIV was China’s leading research lab into coronaviruses, it’s in Wuhan, where the global pandemic started, and it’s just down the road from Huanan Seafood Market, which was originally presumed to be the scene of a zoonotic spillover event, a thesis that still remains unproven. No intermediate host species has been found, no bat reservoir for the virus has been found, or publicized by China, which most of us presume knows a lot more than it is telling.
In meantime, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise if there are bio-labs in Ukraine and perhaps some receive US funding. There are bio-labs all over the place—even Taiwan admits it has them, so China can discover those too when it invades.
The China Daily also cites the 336 US-supported labs around the world mentioned by China’s Foreign Ministry:
The ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict has led to some unexpected discoveries. Russian media outlets recently reported that the Pentagon had commissioned more than 30 biological laboratories in Ukraine, where large quantities of dangerous viruses were stored.
The United States supposedly depends on these laboratories to implement its biological warfare research. And these are only a handful, or less than 10 percent of the 336 biological laboratories the US reportedly controls in 30 countries around the world.
In other words, yes, this pandemic started in China, but there’s a bio-lab on nearly every street corner and they’re all financed by the US and we should all be demanding answers:
Latest reports say that the US embassy in Ukraine hurriedly deleted information related to the biological labs there. But they cannot wash away the fact about the existence of such laboratories around the world. It is time the US published information about these biological laboratories, including what kind of viruses are stored there, what "research" is going on and what harm they pose to people in these countries and around the world. The world should demand answers.
We’ve been demanding answers for more than two years, and what China has revealed to us is that you don’t get them. Moreover, the terrible truth is also that probably vast masses of humanity would still cleave to batshit crazy ideas like the tweet below even if we did get answers every time we asked for them.
‘Most Important Strategic Partners’
Photo by Matti from Pexels
The Economist has a good think piece on just how far China is likely to be ready to go in propping up Russia in the dark days ahead. Says the subhead:
A bit. But it will mostly seek to learn from Russia’s mistakes.
China’s rhetorical support for Russia has been fulsome—Foreign Minister Wang Yi called Russia China’s “most important strategic partner” on March 7—and it’s abstaining from votes of condemnation against Russia, but it’s more likely that China wants to use Russia to, as The Economist puts it:
Undermine the legitimacy of sanctions as a tool of Western policy, given they have been used against it [China] over Hong Kong and Xinjiang. Chinese firms may spot an opening in Russia as Western ones, such as McDonald’s and Shell, close their doors.
This embargo-busting brotherhood faces several problems. China’s technical abilities are no substitute for the West’s. cips, its payments network, has a small global footprint and low volumes and relies on sending messages through swift, a European body from which some Russian banks are now barred
The real issue here is all in The Economist kicker, which points out that China and Russia may to a certain extent be strategic partners, but it’s a relationship of convenience and their expectations are worlds apart:
China wants to see Russia survive these sanctions, to teach America and allies that they are not a magic weapon, but is anxious to limit collateral damage to Chinese interests. In the process, it plans to learn from Russia’s mistakes. If it comes to blows with America, China wants its financial system to be shielded. Its aims will include improving its payments system and diversifying its $3.2trn of reserve holdings out of Western currencies and accounts by, for example, investing in commodities. It could get foreign firms and governments to issue more securities in China’s own capital markets, creating a new pool of assets for China to buy. Russia may hope for a Chinese bail-out; China’s priority will be to learn from a case study of failure.
Can you trust surveys on trust?
That’s beyond the scope of this newsletter, but those China numbers do seem soaringly buoyant—91% trust in the government? ChinaDiction is going to suggest that surveys like this in China yield fickle results, and our suspicion is that a nationwide outbreak of Covid-19 like the one currently underway in Hong Kong would send a considerable chunk of that China trust plummeting.
The US numbers of course are just sad.
South Korea has a new president-elect, Yoon Suk-yeol.
If some of the Twitter commentary is to be believed, he sounds like a horrifying patched together amalgam of Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump, but nothing could be that awful, right?
Btw, if you’re at all interested in the minutiae of how Yoon pulled off his election victory, take a look at The Blue Roof, which I recommend for all things Korean. Today’s “Presidential Election Reax: How Yoon Seok-yeol Won” is fascinating.
Yoon, a conservative former top prosecutor, defeated his liberal rival Lee Jae-myung by less than one percentage point, a record narrow margin. The South China Morning Post reports that Xi Jinping has duly congratulated the new South Korean president, pledging …
… to further elevate bilateral ties between the two nations, after concerns that their diplomatic relationship may be tested over Yoon’s pro-Washington stance.
Xi said China and South Korea were close neighbors and important cooperative partners.
Congratulations aside, Yoon’s election–which has reportedly riled South Korean women, labor activists and minorities due to his hardline “macho” views–is certainly not the kind of news that Xi wants right now.
Yoon spoke to US President Joe Biden over the phone hours after his election victory, during which Biden emphasized US commitment to South Korea’s defense.
‘Together, they affirmed the strength of the US-ROK alliance, which is the linchpin for peace, security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific,’ the White House said, referring to the Republic of Korea, South Korea’s official name.
‘The two also committed to maintain close coordination on addressing the threats posed by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s [North Korea’s] nuclear and missile programs.’
It’s bad all around for China. Yoon indicated ahead of his victory he was committed to closer alignment with Washington and planned to buy another Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system to protect itself against North Korea. Beijing is not convinced the missile system is about North Korea alone and retaliated with economic measures against Seoul when it deployed the first THAAD missile defense system in 2017.
In related news, just three hours after winning the presidential election, “North Korea offered the latest hint that it will soon launch a military spy satellite, a move that risks significantly raising tensions on the Korean Peninsula,” reported VOANews.
What’s going on with nickel?
It rarely comes up in the news (or in conversation), and there might be cobalt in the mix too, which raises the possible gibberish factor of the following paragraphs by several notches.
OK, we have Xiang Guangda—a Chinese tycoon known as ”Big Shot”—who has a company called Tsingshan Holding Group, the world’s largest nickel producer. Big Shot made a bad bet on nickel–he took a short position on the metal and then a war broke out involving Russia, the world’s biggest exporter of refined nickel. Over to Bloomberg, who are good at this kind of stuff:
As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine pushed up prices, short-position holders — including Tsingshan—scrambled to trim their bets. Those moves sent nickel to a record high of more than $100,000 a ton on Tuesday before trading was suspended.
Or, as Caixin puts it:
The price of nickel, used in stainless steel and electric-vehicle batteries, surged as much as 250% in two days to trade briefly above $100,000 a ton early Tuesday, prompting the London Metal Exchange to halt trading.
Big Shot is not backing down—basically, he’s not admitting he made a bad bet— that’s the interesting point, and perhaps the origin of his nickname. Back to Bloomberg (separate story):
In recent conversations, Xiang [Big Shot] has told the roughly 10 banks and brokers through which Tsingshan holds its nickel position that he still believes prices will fall and that he would like to keep his short position, according to three people with knowledge of the conversations, who asked not to be identified discussing private information.
In the meantime, the London Metal Exchange has been shuttered since Tuesday and bankers are involved in serious discussions with Tsingshan—and Caixin reports that Huayou Cobalt got “hammered” by the nickel debacle. Readers will be relieved to hear that the nickel story is not a nickel and cobalt story. Huayou just made the same bet as Tsingshan.
Huayou Cobalt runs a nickel project in Indonesia in partnership with Tsingshan, a leading nickel and stainless steel producer that lost heavily on short positions in nickel.
In other words, it’s a financial story, and I feel somewhat bad about putting you through it all if you didn’t just click to another tab as you deleted your subscription. But, quickly back to the finance, As MiningDotCom puts it:
It was the squeeze on Tsingshan’s massive short position which ballooned to $8 billion on paper that lit the nickel price on fire this week and while the world’s top stainless steel producer appears to have made sufficient arrangement with its banks to cover margin calls, there may be linger effects, BMO notes:
‘We would expect the company’s ability to invest in growth may be limited in the near term, potentially hitting supply forecasts.’
However you view this, it’s a terrible look: shutting down the LME to protect dodgy PRC financial plays backed by dodgy banks that are probably up to their necks in bad debt. And Xi Jinping wants to tells us about governance?
All’s not right for Didi’s Hong Kong listing
Bloomberg reports as ChinaDiction went to press:
Didi Global Inc has suspended preparations for its planned Hong Kong listing after failing to appease Chinese regulators’ demands that it overhaul its systems for handling sensitive user data, according to people familiar with the matter.
The Cyberspace Administration of China informed Didi executives their proposals to prevent security and data leaks had fallen short, the people said. Its main apps, removed from local app stores last year, will remain suspended for the time being, said one of the people, who asked not to be identified as the information is private.
China’s rapidly declining birth rates are alarming government officials—and the government proposed solutions are alarming Chinese women
More babies please. Photo by RODNAE Productions from Pexels.
According to the South China Morning Post. “Are women just machines?” ask Chinese web users.
Proposals for matchmaking committees within local trade unions and a drive to encourage more graduate students to have children triggered a frosty reception on social media in China, as officials brainstormed ways to raise the country’s plunging birth rate.
In all, delegates to China’s annual meeting of parliament (those Two Sessions) submitted more than 20 suggestions for boosting population growth in a country that did not scrap a decades-long policy restricting couples to a single child until 2016.
Interestingly, China’s one-child policy was lauded by many China-adorers for decades, with barely anyone giving a thought to what would happen when most of China’s population became too old to work. That issue is now looming and so far the government has not managed to come up with a solution that has been greeted by its citizens with joy.
Panned was a suggestion that master’s and doctoral students be encouraged to marry and have children.
‘So I’m studying for a master’s to birth a baby for you? Why not establish a school [for this], where people can graduate once they have given birth to enough,’ wrote one user in a post that got about 5,000 likes.
Russian cat ban stirs wrath of Chinese internet
In a move that has no doubt taken Putin by surprise, Russian cats have been banned and the move has riled Chinese “netizens.”
According to reports like this one from Insider, an online magazine.
As the world bears witness to Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, social media users in China have been fixated on an unlikely topic — Russian cats.
The search term "Russian cats are banned" went viral on China's Twitter-like Weibo on Wednesday, receiving more than 118 million views in 24 hours. The trending topic also spawned close to 170,000 topic threads overnight.
FiFe—a federation of cat fancier organizations and member of the World Cat Congress—also banned any cat bred in Russia from being registered in any FiFe pedigree book outside of the country. The group also banned all cats belonging to Russian exhibitors from being entered in any cat fancier competitions.
'The Board of FIFe feels it cannot just witness these atrocities and do nothing,’ wrote the organization in its statement.
A lot of Chinese internet users are not in agreement …
Hong Kong is a tragedy. Beijing seriously can’t imagine–no matter how medieval it gets on Covid-19’s ass–that its “Wuhan mystery virus” of late 2019 will decline an opportunity to return for a home exhibition match after its jaw-dropping world tour.
All the same, we hope that Hong Kong can get back on its feet and that this stops at the borders.