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WHO Pushback ChinaDiction #79
The WHO defiantly rejects reports that it's giving up chasing the origins of Covid-19 due to lack of Chinese cooperation
How many deaths, how many lives turned upside down, how many vaccinations and we’re just going to let this one slide? Photo: Mat Napo; Unsplash.
On Tuesday this week, the highly respected journal Nature published a startling report that fed into the news cycle with an R0 higher than the latest mutant version of omicron.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has quietly shelved the second phase of its much-anticipated scientific investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, citing ongoing challenges over attempts to conduct crucial studies in China
The WHO reacted the next day, vehemently denying it was abandoning its search for the origins of the virus. Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO Covid-19 Technical Lead, pointed to “errors of reporting.”
Barron’s quoted the WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus as saying:
‘We need to continue to push until we get the answer’ …
‘Knowing how this pandemic started is very, very important and very crucial,’ he said.
He said he had recently sent a letter to a top official in China ‘asking for cooperation, because we need cooperation and transparency in the information... in order to know how this started.’
On October 31 last year, ChinaDiction wrote in our commentary on the issue:
It's time to admit, we don't know the origin of SARS-CoV-2; both of the two leading and contending theories are plausible.
The two plausible theories, of course, are that it was either a zoonotic spillover, possibly from a wet market in Wuhan, or it was an accidental leak from (or even en-route to) a laboratory experimenting with coronaviruses in Wuhan.
Both theories remain plausible, and the fact that the WHO has reconfirmed that it is continuing its search for the origin of SARS-CoV-2 means that the WHO itself is far from satisfied that the case is done and dusted – whatever the impediments standing in the way, the chief of which is China’s black-hole-like bureaucracy via which everything is crunched and regurgitated as indecipherable dark matter.
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The will of a swan: China and Iran
President Ebrahim Raisi paid a state visit to China from February 14 to 16 (yesterday) notes the Global Times before launching into what builds/declines (take your pick) into a frothily hyperventilating rant:
Some US and Western media outlets viewed President Raisi's China visit as China and Iran ‘huddling together for warmth.’ Such view is not surprising to us, since it's a result of their binary opposition thinking, and also because Washington has distorted the international landscape. Through a distorted mirror, all things that the US and the West see are twisted. However, it must be said this underestimates China-Iran relations. As an old saying goes: How can a sparrow know the will of a swan? We welcome President Raisi's visit, and look forward to China-Iran relations reaching a new high.
Intrigued, ChinaDiction actually looked up the sparrow and the swan saying on ChinesePod, having never heard it before:
燕雀安知鴻鵠之志 (Yànquè ān zhī hónghú zhī zhì) Can the sparrow and swallow know the will of the great swan? (idiom), fig. how can we small fry predict the ambitions of the great?
Food for thought.
Anyway, Iran’s president Raisi touched down in Beijing on Tuesday in what was the first visit to China by an Iranian president in 20 years.
Briefly, some background: in December Tehran called in China’s ambassador to register its “strong dissatisfaction” over CPC General Secretary Xi’s visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the fact that Beijing and the UAE issued a joint statement, reported Al Jazeera at the time …
… which contained several clauses that directly dealt with Iranian affairs, its nuclear programme, and its regional activities.
In January, reports the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, Iran’s deputy finance minister, Ali Fekri, complained …
… in an interview with Shargh daily … that since President Ebrahim Raisi took office, ‘The Chinese have invested $185 million in 25 different projects in Iran … We are not happy with this level … Lack of Chinese investments is often due to the sanctions regime against Iran … In comparison, China has signed a $150 billion oil contract with the Taliban regime, which is not even recognized by most countries in the world. By next year, the level of China’s investments in Afghanistan is projected to reach $540 billion.’
Raisi and Xi appear to have made up now and, according to the Caspian News (yes, I know), the two countries signed “20 cooperation documents and memoranda of understanding and discussed prospects for expanding bilateral ties.”
These amount to a bilateral “25-year Strategic Roadmap,” which the Caspian News reports that Raisi hailed as a “sign of the resolve of the two nations to advance ties," urging “speedy implementation of the agreement.”
It may be one more jigsaw piece in China’s new resolve throw off its “wolf warrior” cloak and buddy up with the global community again, which we will touch on briefly – Chinese State Councilor Wang Yi is currently touring Europe ahead of the Munich Security Conference – in “The continuation of the Balloon saga” story, coming up next.
The continuation of the Balloon saga
Did it drift or was it pushed? Either way, it did some surveillance is the new emerging narrative. AI rendering: DALL-E.
It’s not that the balloon story has popped; but it is changing tack, deflating even. Just for example, ABC News reports that the balloon probably did drift off course and the Washington Post (paywall) reported that even though the balloon had probably been heading for Guam and may have been unintentionally blown off course into the heartland of the US, Montana …
… Beijing apparently decided to seize the opportunity to try to gather intelligence.
The Wall Street Journal (paywall) reports on how Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Chinese State Councilor Wang Yi may attempt to “clear the air” on the sidelines of Munich Security Conference – remembering that the balloon aborted the former’s planned trip to Beijing.
US President Joe Biden, for his part, fell short of apologizing, but announced that he plans to talk to China’s Xi Jinping without putting a date on it, according to Bloomberg.
‘We’re not looking for a new Cold War, but I make no apologies, and we will compete,’ Biden said in remarks at the White House, his first extended effort to publicly address the uproar caused by the episodes.
In other words, after a week or so of hysteria, it looks like the US and China are trying to climb down and attempt to smile courteously as they perhaps shake hands and make an effort to talk again.
China had threatened “countermeasures” for US balloon intrusions that had undermined its “sovereignty and security,” but perhaps that can all be put aside.
Attempting to shoot down everything that’s floating around up there – UFOs, drones, balloons – would undoubtedly be massive self-goals financially for both sides, as a fascinating New York Times (paywall) graphic explainer suggests.
Healthcare cuts prompt protests
It may not be a nationwide movement, but scattered protests against healthcare cuts have been reported in Guangzhou, followed by Wuhan and possibly Dalian, according to the Associated Press.
The [Wuhan] demonstration was the latest sign of economic pain caused by China’s now-abandoned ‘zero COVID’ policy and a drop in local government coffers exacerbated by the collapse of major players in the real estate industry.
China has been pushing to implement full healthcare for its citizens – it’s been a long time coming for the communist nation – but most Chinese with coverage (around 65% of the population), have only “low coverage insurance” and payouts are being cut back by cash-strapped local governments.
In Wuhan, the city where COVID-19 was first detected in late 2019, police lined up in multiple rows, some locking arms, while hundreds of mostly elderly protesters spilled onto the main road, shouting complaints. In one video, the crowd began singing “The Internationale,” the communist anthem taught and sung in China since the Communist Party took power at the end of a civil war in 1949.
Scenes such as this are not tolerated in China and they will be snuffed out before they become a movement as unknown numbers of the elderly suffer and die nationwide.
Xinjiang governor cancels London and Brussels
Erkin Tuniyaz, governor of Xinjiang. Photo: 中国新闻网 via WikiCommons.
According to the Financial Times (paywall), the governor of Xinjiang, Erkin Tuniyaz, has canceled his controversial trip to Brussels and London, where calls for his arrest for crimes against humanity were growing in intensity and volume.
‘We were informed by the Chinese mission that the visit has been postponed,’ said the European External Action Service, the bloc’s diplomatic arm, in a statement to the Financial Times on Wednesday.
The UK Foreign Office said: ‘We understand the governor of Xinjiang has cancelled his visit to the UK.’
Koen Stoop of the World Uyghur Congress, an advocacy group, said it was “ironic” that “the Chinese delegation . . . recognised the error of this visit and chose to cancel it”, adding: “Complicity in atrocity crimes should have been a clear red line for the EU.”
Tech dealmaker goes missing
In a further sign that “economics Tzar” Liu He’s recent crowd-winning words in Davos – “China’s back,” suggesting that the country’s titans of business can sleep easy at night again – will likely come back to haunt him, China’s “top tech dealmaker” is missing, according to the Financial Times.
China’s top tech dealmaker Bao Fan has gone missing, according to his company China Renaissance, leaving one of the country’s leading investment banks in turmoil
The turmoil at the bank began in September when the group’s president, Cong Lin, was taken away by Chinese authorities, according to Caixin.
Investors close to Bao said his problems were likely linked to Cong’s and they hoped the company founder could be freed after providing information to authorities.
Bao’s disappearance makes him the latest in a long list of Chinese financial executives who have disappeared while being caught up in related corruption investigations in the mainland.
China’s back. Indeed.
The Greater Sinosphere
Population drops for 3rd year in a row
Hong Kong no doubt feels as crowded as ever, but the population is dwindling year by year, according to the government. Photo: Jeanne Rose Gomez
The Hong Kong government announced yesterday (Thursday) that “the territory’s population dropped for a third straight year,” according to the Associated Press, which also noted that the government admitted …
… deaths rose during the pandemic and anti-virus measures reduced the number of arriving workers, but [it] did not mention an exodus of residents sparked by a crackdown on the pro-democracy movement.
The city’s population declined 0.9% to 7.3 million at the end of 2022 from a year earlier, according to provisional data released by the Census and Statistics Department. It said there was a net outflow of 60,000 residents, with 21,200 new residents arriving.
Top Pentagon official to visit Taiwan
The Pentagon’s top China official is poised to visit Taiwan, in an unexpected move by a senior US defense policymaker given current tensions between Washington and Beijing, reports the Financial Times.
Michael Chase, deputy assistant secretary of defence for China, will go to Taiwan in the coming days, according to four people familiar with his trip. He is currently in Mongolia for discussions with the country’s military.
Chase would be the first senior defence official to visit Taiwan since Heino Klinck, deputy assistant secretary for east Asia, went in 2019. At the time, he was the most senior Pentagon official to visit the island in four decades.
Foxconn founder seeks to rejoin KMT and run again for president
Terry Gou in 2019. Photo: 江博云 via WikiCommons.
Foxconn founder Terry Gou (Guō Táimíng, 郭台銘), who was famously given the nod to run in the last presidential elections by the sea goddess Matsu, is going to give the presidency another shot and wants to rejoin the KMT after quitting in disappointment when he didn’t win last time, reports the Taiwan News.
Gou had been a longtime KMT member, but withdrew in 2019 after losing a presidential primary election. Rejoining the party in time to qualify for an upcoming primary will be difficult as party rules dictate a minimum waiting period of four years, with Guo needing to wait till September.
That would be too late to qualify for participation in the KMT primaries for the 2024 presidential election, but Gou is reportedly pulling out all the stops, calling on the KMT’s “blue” elite to fiddle the rules in his favor.
And if that doesn’t work, there’s always the divine intervention trick, even if it let him down last time.
Matsu suffers digital blackout … again
Taiwan’s Chinese-language CNA reports the two submarine cables between Taiwan and Matsu have been completely severed – for the 20th time in five years – by China’s sand-dredging activities, interrupting the outlying island’s communications and leading to speculation in Taiwan that the blackouts are caused deliberately by China.
Chunghwa Telecom stated that it is planning to build two more outlying island submarine cables.
The Chatbot wars
Yes, Taiwan is already talking about developing it’s own chat-generative pre-trained transformer (ChatGPT) AI chatbot in response to Baidu’s recent announcement it was developing a Chinese version of ChatGPT, according to the Taipei Times.
Taiwan aims to develop an AI chatbot trained to offer an alternative to “biased information from China or [other] authoritarian regimes from dominating the industry,” Minister of Science and Technology Wu Tsung-tsong (Wú Zhèngzhōng,吳政忠) said on Monday, according to the Taipei Times.
ChatGPT communicates in English, while a similar system developed by Baidu is expected to communicate in simplified Chinese, Wu said, adding that as competition between democratic nations and authoritarian regimes intensifies, Taiwan, as democratic nation, could contribute by developing a system that communicates in traditional Chinese.
‘ChatGPT generally uses public information to generate responses, but the system can be tweaked manually so that it can generate specific responses to certain questions,’ he said. ‘Taiwan would create its own version of ChatGPT to avoid AI systems trained to provide biased information from dominating the industry.’
Who’s got durians?
Fresh durian from Davao, Philippines, which is causing friction among Southeast Asian nations by cornering China trade. Photo: Gliezl Bancal; Unsplash.
The “love them or hate them” pungent durian may be only a small component in China’s US-dollar trade market with Southeast Asia, but any favoritism on China’s part when it comes to imports of the tropical fruit raises regional heckles, reports the South China Morning Post.
Enter a bilateral agreement between China and the Philippines in early January, which opened China’s door to fresh Philippine durians for the first time.
The deal has basically stripped Davao City – 900km southeast of Manila and dubbed “Durian Capital of the Philippines” – of the “king of fruit” and miffed the rest of Southeast Asia, who all claim to have the best “king of fruit” in the world.
One Chinese academic can explain it all:
‘Durian is a fruit that can represent the identity of Southeast Asia,’ said Xie Kankan, assistant professor of Southeast Asian Studies at Peking University.
‘So, the durian trade has more cultural and symbolic meanings, as it signifies the special relations between China and the region, which can be different from the simple economic engagement that it has with the West,’ Xie explained.
It’s deeply symbolic Asia shit that’s way off the cultural sensitivity charts for the average dumb Westerner in other words.
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