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The markets have surged on rumors that Xi's right-hand intellect has convened a group to steer China's coronavirus policy
Image: John Hild; Pexels.
The markets may well be surging, but cases are mounting again in China – even Shanghai Disneyland has been forced to close, while authorities in the southern metropolis of Guangzhou describe their current Covid situation as “dire and complicated,” reports the South China Morning Post.
Bloomberg points out that while many Chinese cities may not be in mandated lockdowns like that of Shanghai earlier this year, when millions spent up to two months indoors and delivery motorcycle riders slept in tents on the streets, cities the length and breadth of China are shutting down as if on command.
It’s nearly impossible to eat in a restaurant in Wuhan, the central Chinese city where Covid-19 was first detected nearly three years ago. There are few flights out of Zhengzhou, home to the country’s largest iPhone factory. And many children in the tech hub of Shenzhen haven’t been inside a classroom in weeks.
Local officials, under pressure to implement President Xi Jinping’s strict Covid Zero policy with less impact on society and the economy, are instead trying to stay under the radar, communicating restrictions with businesses directly, or shutting small sections of a city incrementally to avoid the panic of a blanket order. In some cases, residents aren’t even being told, coming home to find they’re locked down.
Back to the South China Morning Post:
In order to curb the virus transmission, Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport canceled 984 flights on Tuesday, accounting for 76 percent of the total, according to flight information provider Flight Master.
Amid all this, the markets are reportedly jollying up – a skip in their step – because of a rumor that Wang Huning, China’s most famous “public intellectual” and now a standing committee member, is convening a special committee to take a look at the zero covid policy.
It’s an unconfirmed rumor.
And, as I write this, there’s nothing to suggest that China is going to budge on its position that allowing endemicity of Covid-19 is a really bad idea.
The Chinese position on SARS-CoV-2 was out there as early as February 2020, weeks after it publicly announced the existence of the virus:
In other words, as some virologists and immunologists in the West are fretting, it’s possible that repeat infections – even mild infections – represent a long-term grind on the immune system, along with neurological and cardiac consequences.
We don’t yet know with great certainty – and long covid, possibly a mass disabling event needs to be brought into the mix – that endemicity is bad, but here – almost at random – is a preprint from MedRxiv, “Endemicity is not a victory: the unmitigated downside risks of widespread SARS-CoV-2 transmission.”
It provides evidence that the Western scientific community is at least considering the possibility that Covid-19 is one of those lurking viruses that make their impact really known years after contracting them.
So, what to think about the online rumors claiming that the central authorities are setting up “an expert review team to revise current COVID-19 guidelines for a conditional reopening next March,” as Trivium (paywalled newsletter) puts it:
Local governments are left to improvise on local COVID containment measures.
The result: It’s getting harder to know where lockdowns are occurring across China, and for how long.
For the record, ChinaDiction has never heard a rumor out of China that we would put money on, and we’re not shifting gears on this one concerning possible systemic changes to the country’s zero-covid policy.
The Chinese authorities consider Covid-19 too dangerous to play endemicity with.
Let’s hope they’re wrong. We might also hope the markets are right, but that’s almost certainly not the case.
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Troubles with neican …
Drake Kang over at The Associated Press has a fascinating report on the increasing fallibility of neican, or “internal reference materials” – the real news reserved for the very upper echelons of the Communist Party of China.
Pronounced nay-tsan, 内参 is an abbreviation of nèibù cānkǎo zīliào, 内部参考资料.
Kang’s report, launches with a focus on Covid-19, during which a Chinese reporter is telling two “conflicting stories to two very different audiences.”
Liao’s news dispatches assured readers the disease didn’t spread from person to person. But in a separate confidential report to senior officials, Liao struck a different tone, alerting Beijing that a mysterious, dangerous disease had surfaced.
This long-established tradition, which dates back to the early Mao era, ensured that the general population were assured of the infallibility of the all powerful Party, while the Party had an inside scoop on what was going wrong – sometimes horribly so – under their rule.
Unfortunately, reports the AP, it’s a system that’s starting to get ragged at the edges, which could result in badly informed policy decisions at the very top.
The internal system is struggling to give frank assessments as Chinese leader Xi Jinping consolidates his power, making it risky for anyone to question the party line even in confidential reports, a dozen Chinese academics, businesspeople and state journalists said in interviews with The Associated Press.
It’s unclear what the impact has been, given the secretive nature of high-level Chinese politics. But the risk is ill-informed decision-making with less feedback from below, on everything from China’s stance on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to its approach to the coronavirus.
The story is actually far more complex than the paragraphs above suggest. Xi has not only taken over the media itself – it used to report to the No 2, or the premier – but with the explosion of voices on the internet, neican missives to the top began to increasingly quote them as the view of the masses.
The result: Xi went on the warpath against “online rumors,” putting “millions of censors to work.
So while internal reports now draw heavily on online information, the internet itself has become strictly censored, which can distort the message sent to the top.
Perhaps it is in the nature of autocracies to be blind to the experience and voices of the ruled, but at the end of the day it makes for bad management, and bad management inevitably leads to bad results.
Now, about those Germans …
Hamburg here we come … And loaded with goodies! Photo: Wolfgang Fricke; WikiCommons.
Everyone seems to be complaining about their China policies, especially in light of the consequences of Russia policies they’re now trying to straighten out.
As Politico points out, just days after giving the green light to Chinese state-owned shipping giant China Ocean Shipping Company (Cosco) to take a stake in a container port in Hamburg, Germany was late last week set to approve a Chinese takeover of a microchip production facility.
Now, the headline above is a little below the belt, because actually it appears most Germans are against cozying up too closely with China – in fact, 84% of them reportedly want to decrease economic reliance on China.
The problem is Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
He reduced the Cosco to a 25% stake, rather than 35%, because, basically, as the Financial Times notes, he couldn’t afford to let it fall through completely ahead of becoming “the first G7 leader to hold talks in Beijing with Chinese president Xi Jinping since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Nixing the Cosco transaction would have cast a long shadow over a trip with huge symbolic importance to both Beijing and Berlin.
In a splendid rhetorical moment, the Financial Times follows up with:
Berlin is being stalked by a fear that history might be about to repeat itself — on a much grander scale. The Ukraine war exposed the folly of Germany’s decades-long reliance on Russian gas. Now, the pessimists fear, it may be about to pick up the tab for its even deeper dependence on China, a country that has long been one of the biggest markets for German machinery, chemicals and cars.
Thomas Haldenwang, head of German domestic intelligence, summed up the concern at a hearing in the Bundestag last month. China, he said, presented a much greater threat to German security in the long term than Russia. ‘Russia is the storm,’ he said. ‘China is climate change.’
Scholz has made statements that appear to show that he gets China is potentially a looming risk, but as Foreign Policy puts it:
… the chancellor shies away from pulling political support for companies that have chosen to further deepen their dependence on the Chinese market. Otherwise, he would not have invited the CEOs of BASF, Volkswagen, and Siemens to join him next week on his short trip to Beijing.
Perhaps we – and 84% of Germans too – shouldn’t be concerned.
Scholz is going to raise human rights and urge Beijing to open up its markets, a German government spokesperson said last Friday.
As we all know, that’s a tried and tested strategy that has always yielded results on visits to China by foreign representatives.
Long March rocket poised to land … wherever …
A Long March 5 Rocket non-dangerously at repose. Photo: Xiaojun Wang, China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology; Wikicommons.
For the fourth time, “remnants” of China’s Long March 5B rocket will “perform an uncontrolled re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere,” reports Gizmodo via MSN.
Most rocket stages are brought down with reignited engines, allowing them to be steered away from populated areas, but not the Long March 5B. Very irresponsibly, China’s space agency hasn’t taken this precaution with its heavy-lift launch vehicle, leaving it largely up to chance as to where it might land.
The uncontrolled crash/splashdown will play out at 10:21 pm ET on November 4, “give or take around 16 hours” (go figure on that 9.21pm) and is reportedly a risk to human lives and property.
But relax. If you’re reading this on ChinaDiction, which is read by relatively few people, the odds of you being hit are lower than winning the lottery three times consecutively – approximately.
As on previous occasions, the Aerospace Corporation’s Center for Orbital Reentry and Debris Studies (CORDS) is tracking the object and providing regular updates. The company’s initial prediction suggests the uncontrolled re-entry will happen at 10:21 p.m. ET on Friday, November 4 (Saturday, November 5 at 2:21 a.m. UTC). The Aerospace Corporation devises its estimates by analyzing data from the U.S. Space Force’s Space Surveillance Network.
The Greater Sinosphere
B-52s may head to Oz
For those who didn’t know, some B-52s have names like electric guitars. Pictured above is a B-52 Stratofortress. Photo: Airman 1st Class Victor J. Caputo; Public domain.
China is miffed and complaining that US moves to position B-52s in Australia’s Northern Territories could “spark an arms race in the region,” as if there wasn’t one already (sparked by Chinese threats on Taiwan, the South China Sea, Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands, you name it), reports the Wall Street Journal.
Basing the long-range bombers in northern Australia would allow the U.S. to project more power over the disputed South China Sea and deter Chinese activities there, some military experts said. Northern Australia already hosts U.S. Marines for part of the year and has become a key training ground for U.S. and allied forces, including aircraft.
U.S. officials view the B-52, which has flown for decades and can carry more weapons than any other Air Force jet, as crucial to providing an effective deterrent against adversaries such as China and Russia, The Wall Street Journal has previously reported.
Whether the move goes ahead – it’s unlikely it will not – it will provoke the usual debate in a conflicted Australia along the lines of we’re part of Asia and all resistance against China is futile – and China is Asia, right?
East Turkestan (Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region)
50 countries urge release of Uyghurs
Fifty countries have called to implement all recommendations in a UN report that accused China of ““crimes against humanity” against Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim ethnic groups, including releasing those “arbitrarily deprived of their liberty” in East Turkestan, now known as Xinjiang, reports the Associated Press.
Canada’s U.N. Ambassador Bob Rae read the statement at a meeting of the General Assembly’s human rights committee expressing grave concern at the human rights situation in China, and Beijing’s failure so far to discuss the report’s findings on the ongoing violations against the Uyghurs and other Muslim groups.
Human rights groups have accused China of sweeping a million or more people from the minority groups into detention camps where many have said they were tortured, sexually assaulted, and forced to abandon their language and religion. The camps were just one part of what the rights organizations have called a ruthless campaign against extremism in Xinjiang that also included draconian birth control policies and all-encompassing restrictions on people’s movement.
Editors on sedition trial
Former editors of the now shuttered Stand News served as agents for criminals and illegal ideologies on the online platform, according to prosecutors, reports the South China Morning Post.
In a strongly-worded opening statement in the District Court on Tuesday, prosecutors accused the online news service and the two editors of publishing 17 seditious articles to support “forces opposing China and disrupting Hong Kong”, glorify their so-called acts of resistance, and disparage Beijing, the local administration and the national security law.
But this is very serious business for former editor-in-chief Chung Pui-kuen, 53, and acting editor-in-chief Patrick Lam Shiu-tung, 35, who deny the charges and face up to two years imprisonment if convicted.
At this point, it’s pointless to comment on the erosion of Hong Kong’s press and other freedoms as Beijing proceeds to remodel the city as yet another “new era” model Chinese city – Asias’s World City with Chinese Socialist Characteristics.
Late-year tropical storm brings city to standstill
Typhoon weather in Hong Kong. Photo: Fredlyfish4; WikiCommons.
Hong Kong raised its storm warning today as tropical storm Nalgae sweeps through town, reports Bloomberg.
The local observatory said it will raise the No. 8 signal — its third-highest warning on a scale of five — at or before 1:40 p.m. local time. Members of the public and government employees have been advised to head home, it said in a statement.
According to Bloomberg, the storm will not affect a banking summit that has been the subject of excited debate for what feels like months – it aims to “revive the city’s status as an international finance hub, after a talent exodus due to years of pandemic isolation and political tensions.”
The summit is scheduled to finish around 2:20 p.m.
Heaven forbid any bankers lose their umbrellas in gusty downpours.
The DPP’s November blues?
We’ve finally made it into November and with any luck we’ll make it into December too – and in Taiwan this November means end-of-the-month local elections.
From a distance, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) must be looking great, given all the international press coverage about vibrant democracy and gay pride marches etc.
But, as Karis Templeman, an astute Taiwan political observer, puts it in his blog, things are not looking all that great for the DPP.
DPP candidates, he argues, are struggling in the four major municipalities they really should have winners and in …
… places where they have very winnable races, in Yilan, Keelung, and Hsinchu. And they don't seem to be primed for an upset anywhere else; the KMT's incumbents in Chiayi City, Changhua, Yunlin,
And, so to Taipei, where the DPP’s candidate for Taipei Mayor Chen Shih-chung (Chén Shízhōng, 陳時中) is the first DPP candidate since Chen Shui-bian (Chén Shuǐbiǎn, 陳水扁) in 1994 to have a realistic shot at winning even though ChinaDiction is no longer convinced he will.
As in 1994, the Taipei mayor race is a three-way race – on this occasion between Chen, KMT candidate Chiang Wan-an (Jiǎng Wàn'ān, 蔣萬安 , and a viable third party candidate, former deputy mayor Huang Shan-shan (Huáng Shānshān, 黃珊珊).
The only ethnic Taiwanese in the race, Chen was born in Taipei’s historic Dadaocheng District where the 2-28 Incident sparked an island-wide rebellion in 1947.
Chen, a dentist by profession, served as Minister of Health from 2017-2022. In 2020, he became the public face of Taiwan’s much-lauded fight against the pandemic. Addressing the nation in daily press conferences, he came across as authoritative, calm, and hardworking. He seemed to be the perfect candidate.
But on the campaign trail he appears stiff and uncomfortable. His age (68) is a problem for the younger voters the DPP need to mobilize. And, while he was generally compassionate as pandemic chief, some poorly considered comments about an outbreak in the seedier part of working class Wanhua District, have haunted him.
While Chen has turned out to be a lackluster candidate, the real problem is that the DPP’s old formula for local elections – promising good governance and clean politics, isn’t working anymore except possibly in places like Miaoli County that are decades behind the rest of the country politically.
Chen’s opponents are youngish, clean, and qualified for office. Like the broader DPP, Chen has failed to deliver a compelling vision of how he might change Taipei if elected.
Michael Fahey in Taipei and Chris Taylor in Bangkok
Taiwan Pride brushes aside pandemic concerns
We’re a bit late on this one – apologies – but, despite the usual Taipei drizzle, Taiwan Pride made what was heralded as a “triumphant return” to the streets of Taipei, sweeping up some 120,000 supporters in its wake in what must have been Taiwan’s biggest peopled gathering since Covid-19 made hermits of us all.
As The China Project reports from Taipei,
After a one-hour opening ceremony, paraders walked through the center of the city, setting out from Taipei City Hall, waving flags and carrying banners, including many in support of Ukraine, Hong Kong, and Tibet.
In 2003, the first year of Taiwan Pride Parade, only 700 showed up, many reportedly wearing masks to hide their identities.
In 2022, helium-filled balloons with rainbow motifs fluttered over the crowds in front of Taipei’s iconic hallmark, the Taipei 101 skyscraper. In front of Taipei City Hall, organizers erected a stage and set up a rainbow market across the way, where merchandise and local crafts were sold during the day.
Jimmy, Jimmy rice bowls
The Hindu reports with unveiled glee on how a Hindi classic song has taken China by storm due to oppressive lockdown measures there.
‘Give me rice [Jie mi], give me rice [ jie mi]!’, they sing, holding up empty pots in front of the camera. Some are even dressed in Indian sarees or kurtas.
“Jimmy Jimmy Aaja Aaja” from the 1982 movie “Disco Dancer” by Hindi music composer Bappi Lahiri was a “superhit” in its day, according to news and opinion website Opindia.com, which describes its resurgence in China as “the country’s anti-lockdown anthem.”
Check out the video above. It’s good.
This week in history
OK, a somewhat dated photo – as in 2008 – of factories along the banks of the Yangtze River, but China is still the world’s biggest carbon emitter by far. Photo: WikiCommons.
To all those “China leads the world in addressing climate change” fan-things, yesterday last year (that counts as history, surely?), Xi Jinping made no climate pledges in the written Cop26 address.
Xi did, however. call on developed countries to ‘provide support to help developing countries do better,’ bearing in mind that China only pretends to be a developed country when it’s demanding equal treatment with West or the right to invade neighboring countries.
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