What's With the Spikes?
The CPC doesn't want to live with covid and, while some of their methods for keeping it at bay would unpalatable elsewhere – take welding people into their homes – avoiding covid may be a good idea.
BA.5 is so mutated from the Wuhan alpha strain that some virologists question whether it’s still even Omicron. Graphic: Wiki Commons
When Communist Party Secretary of Beijing, Cai Qi, recently told state media that China would “unremittingly grasp the normalization of epidemic prevention and control” for the next five years, Chinese social media beat its collective chest and howled in shock.
The Beijing Daily, where the comment was published, hastily deleted it, but the“five years” was out there – and what if it was a conservative estimate?
Given the apparent iron-willed Communist Party of China’s commitment to “zero covid,” embracing the “let it rip, we’re vaccinated” approach most of the rest of the world has adopted is a long shot in China, even if some rules are relaxed.
It’s not as if the virus is becoming milder – less transmissible and less virulent – as was predicted a year ago. The more scientists learn about it, the clearer it becomes that covid, in its human-petri-jar eruption of variants, is a systemic disease with long-term, largely unknown outcomes.
Herd immunity turned out to be a myth – and indeed immunity itself is elusive as repeat infections are increasingly upping the odds of contracting what we’ve come to call long covid in a viral lottery of vast proportions.
In short, as the world has unmasked and China has cleaved to lockdowns, the virus has got fitter.
The so-called BA.5 is the fittest so far. As scientist and substacker Eric Topol puts it:
The Omicron sub-variant BA.5 is the worst version of the virus that we’ve seen. It takes immune escape, already extensive, to the next level, and, as a function of that, enhanced transmissibility, well beyond Omicron (BA.1) and other Omicron family variants that we’ve seen (including BA.1.1, BA.2, BA.2.12.1, and BA.4).
Meanwhile, Bill Bishop over at Sinocism (paywall), notes a sudden increase in cases, largely in
69 indigenous cases, 52 in Anhui province, 7 in Shaanxi province, 3 in Beijing municipality, 3 in Shanghai municipality, 3 in Shandong province and 1 in Guangdong province, including 9 confirmed cases converting from asymptomatic cases, 8 in Anhui province and 1 in Shandong province)
Writes the Wall Street Journal (paywall):
Coronavirus case counts in China have jumped almost 10-fold in less than a week. On June 29, China had recorded 39 such cases. By Saturday, nationwide locally transmitted cases had jumped to 385, the biggest tally since May 25.
So, what’s with the spikes, anyway? It’s an unpopular opinion, but when the virus’s spike proteins mutate, we get spikes in infections as we are right now with the rise of BA.5.
Topol points out:
The antigenic map tells us about the virus’s spike protein and how our immune system “sees” it.
BA.4, which has a very similar spike protein sequence to BA.5 (vida infra), have not been mapped by this report, but theoretically they’d be off the chart as I’ve shown here. You can see that the antigenic distance from BA.1 to BA.2 is far greater than the ancestral strain to Delta or Beta or Gamma. This is the basis for the immune escape of BA.5—our relatively poor recognition of and response to the spike protein.
BA.4/5 off the charts. Ground Truths, Eric Topol.
Under such circumstances, it’s not just the Chinese vaccines that are underperforming – all the vaccines developed for the alpha Wuhan variant are challenged and waning in efficacy too quickly for us to keep up.
As The Tyee, a Canadian website, observes in an essay, Get Ready for the Forever Plague:
Vaccinations, of course, are critical, but they have not and cannot end the pandemic by themselves. The Australian physician David Berger wisely advises citizens to view them as “an ejector seat.” It might “prevent actual death if the aircraft is on fire and the wing has fallen off, but still no guarantee, and may still end in disability. I do not decide to do a risky manoeuvre because I have the ejector seat.”
As one critic recently noted on Twitter, the world has divided into two groups of people: “Those who already realize that SARS-CoV-2 causes neurological, vascular and immune system damage… and that damage from reinfections is cumulative; [and] 2) those who are about to find out.”
As for five more years of lockdowns, Hu Xijin, former wolf-warrior editor in chief of the state-run Global Times tabloid, at first speculated that the five-year reference had been dropped to reflect “the will of the people.” He added:
‘No one wants to live in Beijing for the next five years the same way as how the first half of this year has been.’
Unfortunately unless something miraculous happens Beijingers may well have to – just as the rest of the world will likely have to go give up pretending we can just “live with it” – maskless and vulnerable in our poorly ventilated urban landscapes and commutes.
Of course, if China had extended the zero-covid policy it imposed on Wuhan in January 2020 to their international borders, there’s a possibility BA.5 wouldn’t be sneaking past immigration officials today.
The Vanishing Billionaire
Xiao Jianhua probably ‘knows too much’. Photo: SCMP TV.
Xiao Jianhua, a Chinese-born Canadian billionaire, reportedly faced a Shanghai courtroom on Monday, more than five years after he was wheeled out of a luxury Hong Kong hotel by Chinese security guards.
It’s a story that has reverberated through the years since he was drugged, kidnapped and spirited across the border unchallenged.
Mike Forsythe’s Twitter thread provides some great current and background details in personal observations and links to New York Times reports.
The secrecy surrounding Mr. Xiao’s case may be related in part to the sensitivity of the information that he probably holds. Mr. Xiao was well positioned to know about the secret wealth of China’s top officials, having assiduously courted the political elite, including the family of the country’s current leader, Xi Jinping.
Xiao even confirmed that he was involved in liquidating the assets of Xi Jinping’s assets in an awkward attempt to refute an earlier Times article on his connections and path to power after toeing the party link as head of the official Peking University student union during the protests of 1989.
Through his spokeswoman, Mr. Xiao suggested that the president’s family was determined to sell its stake in the investment firm, and even suffer losses, in order to dispose of the asset after a June 2012 Bloomberg News report about the Xi family’s fortune.
The sale, which took place in January 2013, is one of the earliest indications that the relatives of Mr. Xi had begun selling assets around the time he was ascending to the highest position of the Communist Party, and vowing a harsh crackdown on corruption that would take down ‘tigers and flies.’
At the time of publication, the details of the prosecution of Xiao were unknown, but almost nobody who goes to court in China is found not guilty.
Coal Not Crops
No country for young cabbages. Photo: Wiki Commons
Adam Minter (@AdamMinter) has a fascinating opinion piece for Bloomberg (paywall) on a new study that links declining farm yields with fossil fuel emissions.
The new peer-reviewed study, Minter writes, shows …
… how gases associated with the burning of fossil fuels inhibit crop growth worldwide. The impact on China’s crops is greater than on any other region surveyed, and could account for at least a 25% decline in winter crop yields. Adding more fossil-fuel pollution to Chinese air will only depress crop yields further, pressuring farmers, prices and — ultimately — food consumers.
Despite frequently being lauded by the Western green left for its sustainable energy policies, China is the world’s worst carbon polluter – by a country mile – and it is currently scaling back its five-year plan for renewable energy in a scramble to head off a nationwide energy squeeze.
That means, as Premier Li Keqiang put it in May this year, China has to “unleash domestic high-quality coal production capacity” in order to maintain energy supplies.
Minter notes, “depressed crop yields will be among the costs” – and in times haunted by the specter of global hunger.
Smile for Your Loyalty Scan, Please
Radio Free Asia (RFA) reports that researchers in Anhui Province have developed a facial recognition app that can read loyalty to the party via “emotionally intelligent computing” to measure to what extent subjects “feel grateful to the CCP, do as it tells them and follow its lead.”
The Hefei Comprehensive National Science Center reportedly described it as an example of “artificial intelligence empowering party-building.”
Did Someone Hack China’s Police Records Or Was the Door Just Open?
It’s all over twitter. Somebody hacked the Shanghai Police Data Base and is selling the data for bitcoin.
But Tim Culpan (@tculpan) in a Bloomberg Opinion piece maintains that it looks more like “poor digital hygiene” than a hack. There are, after all, some fishy details that should make even a non-cyber expert skeptical.
The asking price for the database, which includes several billion case records, is just 10 bitcoin ($202,000). This indicates the seller is someone who happened across the data and is being opportunistic rather than a professional hacker motivated by money.
While there's no evidence that financial details such as credit card numbers are included, investigators are likely to pore over the data to build a picture of modern Chinese society and how the government functions. A previous leak of a Chinese police database formed the foundation for research into how authorities monitor and control the country’s Uyghur population.
Whatever the data holds, if it’s authentic, it’s “intel” that for analysts of big data will provide insights into how modern China functions.
Lone Candidate Raises HK113 Million for Chief Executive Race
Did some of John Lee’s campaign funding go to catchy slogans like We and Us? Photo: Wiki Commons
The South China Morning Post reports that Hong Kong’s latest chief executive, John Lee raised almost HK$11.3m (US$1.4m) in donations in his one-horse-race for the city’s top job.
The donations, which came from 58 pro-Beijing business and community groups, were made in cash due to US sanctions for Lee’s role in cracking down on Hong Kong’s mass pro-democracy protests.
Lee and his team bought three bought three banknote counters and a safe for the funds.
Lee’s spend on social media advertisements was more than six times that of previous chief executive Carrie Lam’s election campaign in 2017. Lam spent about $300,000 on running her Facebook page during closed-circle elections against two other nominated candidates. Lam in 2017 had raised around HK$18.7m and spent HK$12.5m.
‘A Turning Point in Taiwan’s Grouper History’
No, those are not grouper, but they are fish and those are Taiwanese fisher folk. Photo: Wiki Commons
Yes, that’s how local media described China’s latest export ban to be imposed on Taiwan, according to long-time Taiwan commentator Michael Turton (@michaelturton) in the Taipei Times.
Formerly, grouper was the star agricultural product Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA), “enabling then-president Ma Ying-jeou of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) to claim that agricultural exports to China had risen in the wake of ECFA.”
Grouper exports were so promising that private equity firms switched from investments in chip production to investing in grouper product, processing and shipping, the media reported at the time. In September 2011, the KMT administration announced the completion of a government-funded grouper export ship, an excellent example of how politically-connected firms have their profits internalized but their costs socialized.
The reason given for the ban by China is “forbidden chemicals in grouper shipments from Taiwan,” but it’s also well known in Taiwan that the country is awash with unlicensed exporters.
As Turton notes, the New York Times recently reported that some local farmers are ramping up production of “four-finger threadfin fish” – apparently they’re big in China.
How Israel Taught Taiwan to Dance
According to the Times of Israel, it was Israel that taught Taiwan to dance.
It’s true that from 1949 until 1987, when martial law was finally lifted, dancing was illegal in Taiwan – that is, except for a loophole that allowed “international folk dancing.”
Enter Israel – via Americans mostly, as it turns out.
Americans like Rickey Holden, a prominent choreographer and folk dance teacher, brought songs such as “Mayim Mayim” (from Israel), “Shibolet Basadeh” (Israel), and “Wooden Shoes” (Lithuania) to Taiwanese teachers during his first visit in 1957. “Mayim Mayim” — which in Hebrew means “Water, Water” and became known as the “Water Dance” in Chinese — was one of the first folk dances introduced to Taiwan and became synonymous with the activity. Its impact was so significant that Taiwan’s International Folk Dance Association made it the theme of its 50th-anniversary seminar in 2007.
Jiaxing Jiang, a 62-year-old in Yilan, said practicing another country’s folk dance lets him feel the spirit of that country or people. What kind of feeling does Israeli dance offer to Taiwanese?
“Strength and unity.”
Will You Marry Me?
The Taiwan Chinese-language press reports on a same-sex marriage proposal gone wrong in Taoyuan City, northern Taiwan. After apparently considering how to stage an “unforgettable marriage proposal,” a 24-year-old surnamed Yang recruited two 19-year-old men on a part-time job app to undertake a “fake kidnapping, real marriage proposal” for her partner, surnamed Huang.
What could go wrong?
Well, Huang, broke free of her ropes, burst out of the rear of the kidnapping vehicle and ran the streets yelling, “Help!” – frankly, as most of us would – alerting the police.
“It was a surprise,” said Yang. “I didn't expect Huang to break free and find patrol officers.
No one was prosecuted. Whether Huang said “yes” is unknown.
87 and counting
Driven into exile in 1959 from Tibet, the spiritual leader China used to describe as “a wolf in monk's robes, a devil with a human face but the heart of a beast,” the Dalai Lama turned 87 today.
The 14th Dalai Lama was born on July 6, 1935, in a small village in the remote Amdo region of Tibet. The current Dalai Lama was exiled from Tibet in 1959 after a failed Tibetan uprising against the Chinese occupation. He led the Tibetan government-in-exile, but has retired from his democratic responsibilities.
He has received over 150 global awards, including the Nobel Peace Prize and the US Congressional Gold Medal, but the Tibetan government-in-exile has never been recognized by any country.
From a Life on the Run to Captaining the Tibetan Football Team
Jamyang Chotso fled Tibet to India over the Himalaya, sleeping in caves, at the age of eight, reports DW.
She kicked a football for the first time was when she was 12 – with no boots.
Now, at 25, Chotso is a central defender and captain of FC Tibet, the host team for the inaugural CONIFA World Cup for women, which features teams not recognized by global football's governing body, FIFA.
China’s Quest to Find Earth 2.0
An artist’s impression of an Earth 2.0 somewhere faraway in another star system. Creative Commons.
Heaven forbid that the Americans, the Brits or the Europeans – or worse still, the Japanese – discover a plum goldilocks-zone planet in another star system far away.
If it were home to intelligent life, they might think Earth to be a Sodom and Gomorrah of avaricious porn-mongers who have never published a single tome on governance.
That’s why it’s important that China gets there first, reports Vice.
Actually, Vice doesn’t precisely say that. They fudge it with talk of a telescope:
Spearheaded by the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), the so-called “Earth 2.0” (ET) mission would be the first telescope designed to measure the occurrence rate of these Earth-like worlds in our galaxy, the Milky Way, as well as the range of orbits they occupy around their host stars.
ChinaDiction is of the opinion that the authorities in Beijing haven’t thought this one through adequately. What happens, say, if they discover a non-Marxist civilization circling Alpha Centauri with 50,000 years of glorious history?
At best, the discovery would have to be stifled on WeChat.