WHO investigation into the origins of the coronavirus shows that Beijing is still pulling the strings

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welcome to Foreign police‘s China Brief.

Highlights of the week: What to do with WHO survey on the origins of the coronavirus, the Biden administration announces a full review of The American strategy towards China, and how the pandemic may have affected China’s birth rate.

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A week-long World Health Organization (WHO) investigation into the origins of the coronavirus ended this week. Investigators simultaneously dismissed suspicions that the virus could come from a lab leak and endorsed Beijing-backed conspiracy theories about possible origins beyond China.

The investigation was a propaganda victory for the Chinese authorities and a bizarre misstep by the WHO, which botched initial reports of the pandemic while complying with Beijing and was frequently criticized for being too close to China . The Biden administration was quick to voice its skepticism, for good reason.

Everything indicates that the coronavirus was born from a zoonotic transfer, most likely linked to the largely unregulated wildlife trade in China. But many theories have speculated that the virus emerged from one of Wuhan’s laboratories, one of which was researching bats. The only evidence of this is summarily circumstantial, despite the Trump administration’s leaks pushing the story.

But the WHO’s investigation into the matter has hardly gone into depth. Peter Ben Embarek, the WHO team leader, said he had questioned the lab staff at length: “They are the best at dismissing claims and providing answers to all questions. But that’s not true, especially in an autocratic system that often scapegoats people for accidents: lab staff would have every reason to cover up the story.

WHO investigators also cautiously endorsed Beijing’s suggestion that the virus could have been introduced to China by cold goods transported from Europe or the United States. Each study shows that the coronavirus is transmitted through droplets suspended in the air. “There is no evidence for this epidemiologically absurd theory that she was exported to Wuhan,” said global health expert Annie Sparrow. Foreign police. “China didn’t import it. He incubated it.

The progress of the investigation appears to have divided the team itself. WHO team member Peter Daszak launched an attack on the Biden administration after questioning the results of the investigation. Daszak’s EcoHealth Alliance project was a funder of the Wuhan labs, and it has always championed the WHO position on China. But another team member, Thea Kolsen Fischer, complained about a refusal to provide full data, and still other team members spoke privately about uncooperative managers and pressure. intense politics.

“The Chinese government is simply trying to distract its attention from Wuhan, where the epidemic started and where they discovered the new coronavirus last December. Beijing concocted this theory of the spread of frozen foods to avoid being held responsible for their own deadly cover-up and causing another pandemic, ”Sparrow said. “And now we’re going to see this mission embark on a global wild goose hunt with Beijing in remote control.”


Pentagon review. The Biden administration has announced a comprehensive review of US strategy toward China. The review will be led by a team led by Ely Ratner, the US Secretary of Defense’s Special Assistant for China – and a clever and cautious hawk. After the inconsistency of the Trump years, such a review is necessary, but approaching it purely from a military perspective is not enough.

The United States has never before faced a strategic adversary who is also its greatest trading partner, and fundamentally rethinking trade, strategy and economic policy will require coordinated government-wide action and strategy. on an unprecedented scale. Of course, China’s policy cannot be run by the military and the intelligence community alone.

But the Congressional silver stream runs through the Department of Defense, and diverting it to where it’s needed most can be tricky.

The Mongols threatened. Following the crackdown on protests against the end of Mongolian education, the authorities in Inner Mongolia introduced “ethnic unity regulations”. Judging from the forerunners in Tibet and Xinjiang, the rules signal a much worse treatment of Mongolian culture and possibly the Mongols themselves.

Inner Mongolia, which was settled by the Han Chinese in the 19th century, has a long history of resistance to state power. Today, the Mongols are generally well integrated into Chinese society; they are considered a high status minority and do not face Uyghur or Tibetan fanaticism. But as Han ethnonationalism grows, that might change.

Gray early? New government figures show China’s birth rate fell 14.9% between 2019 and 2020, a startling drop likely due in part to insecurity from the pandemic. China’s birth rates have worried government planners for years, leading to the end of the one-child policy in 2016.

With parenthood increasingly expensive in cities, however, most urban families still choose to have one child to the fullest, undermining the government’s ambitions to increase the “high-end population,” the documents say. officials call on city dwellers graduating from university, while limiting rural births. Given the lack of immigration and an aging and still predominantly poor population, time could catch up with China’s rise faster than experts had expected.


Growing debt. In the wake of the crackdown on Alibaba’s Ant Group, microloans granted through mobile apps are expected to be the next target for Chinese financial regulators, as peer-to-peer lending was in 2020. That’s a good thing. As ProtocolZeyi Yang reported this week that microcredit is out of control – even food delivery apps offer to lend money to their users.

Chinese law limits these loans at an annual rate of 36%, a fraction of the cost of American payday loans but still higher than credit card or bank rates. Otherwise, these now nearly universal businesses, viewed as a gold mine by Chinese companies, have been largely unregulated. China’s central bank has previously warned that there is almost no room for household debt to rise. Urban migrants from the countryside often juggle loans from multiple sources to make ends meet.

But in the long run, sustainable credit must be available. Before online loans, many people turned to loan sharks and quasi-legal lenders such as pawn shops, who still lend hundreds of billions of yuan at high interest rates per year.

Racialized surveillance. Following numerous reports of Chinese companies, including Huawei, targeting Uyghurs in facial recognition, a Los Angeles TimesIPVM’s investigation revealed that Dahua, the world’s second-largest manufacturer of security cameras, provides Chinese police with a “real-time warning for Uyghurs” and informs them of “Uyghurs with hidden terrorist tendencies.”

In many parts of China, being Uyghur is now effectively criminalized, with the few remaining Uyghur residents of towns outside Xinjiang reporting routine harassment by police. The arrival of Uyghurs, even mothers with children, in a new town or village provokes the arrival of the police and actions ranging from warning to stay in their hotel or apartment to deportation to Xinjiang.

Dahua deploys its race-based systems in other countries, which may have their own less advantaged minorities to target.

Divergence from inflation. The latest inflation figures point to a sharp divergence in the Chinese economy, with commodity prices pushing up producer price inflation while the consumer price index shows slight declines. It’s no surprise that consumption remains depressed: Even in the wake of China’s victory over the coronavirus, unexpected lockdowns are still relatively common and families are more cautious about spending.

But the government is probably hoping for a Lunar New Year boost, which begins on Friday and typically sees a week of vacation and spending.


It’s all for this week.

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