Gene editing at Peking University

Access Archive

Dear Access member,

We’re publishing a regular explainer-type feature every week on our website. Here are the first few:

Let me know what you think of them, or if you have ideas for future explainers: Reply to this email to get in my inbox. 

—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief


1. Peking University scientists develop new gene-editing technology

Scientists at Peking University have developed a gene-editing technique “that they say could have profound effects on the treatment of certain diseases,” and “could also give CRISPR a run for its money,” reports Caixin (paywall). Their findings were published this week in British peer-reviewed journal Nature Biotechnology. More from Caixin:

LEAPER…is said to avoid several of the pitfalls of CRISPR-Cas13, the cousin of the well-known DNA-editing technique CRISPR-Cas9… Like Cas13, LEAPER targets strands of RNA — molecules in cells that like DNA carry inheritable genetic information, but also play a vital role in its replication. The technique makes use of engineered strands of RNA that “recruit” another type of enzyme, ADAR, to exchange one compound found in RNA for another. The researchers say this avoids some of the problems of existing gene-editing techniques, which include immune responses and unwanted side-effects.

LEAPER, which is short for “leveraging endogenous ADAR for programmable editing of RNA,” is efficient, rarely misses its targets, and can be used on a number of different cell types, the researchers found.

2. China’s T-bills and the techno-trade war

“China’s holdings of U.S. Treasury securities dipped in May to the lowest in two years” from $2.8 billion to $1.11 trillion, in the third straight month of declines, reports Bloomberg (porous paywall). 

What does this mean? Probably not a lot. Despite the frequent media mentions of the threat of China dumping its U.S. Treasury holdings, no serious analyst — as far as we can tell — believes this to be a real possibility. Just today, we published an explainer on this very subject on SupChina: China vs. the U.S. Treasury: Why Beijing won’t use the ‘nuclear option’ of selling American debt.

Note, in apology for the headline: China holds not only T-bills (which mature within a year), but also Treasury notes (two to 10 years) and Treasury bonds (longer than 10 years) as well as other instruments of U.S. government debt. 

3. A blow to DJI — techno-trade war news 

It’s day 377 of the U.S.-China techno-trade war by our count. Here is the latest:

A blow to dronemaker DJI: Cape, a California-based startup that is “a supplier of drone technology to dozens of state and local law enforcement and public safety agencies…will stop working with Chinese drone manufacturers, citing security concerns,” reports Bloomberg (porous paywall).

“Apple is about to start trial production of its popular AirPods wireless earphones in Vietnam as the company accelerates plans to diversify manufacturing of its consumer electronics lineup beyond China,” says the Nikkei Asian Review (porous paywall).

“The ‘Defending America’s 5G Future Act’ was introduced in the Senate by Republicans Cotton, Marco Rubio and Mitt Romney and Democrats Chris Van Hollen, Mark Warner and Richard Blumenthal,” reports Reuters, noting that the Act is intended “to keep tight restrictions on Huawei Technologies Co Ltd, amid concern about President Donald Trump’s easing of curbs on the Chinese firm.”

“How has Duke Kunshan University been affected by the U.S.-China trade war?” asks the Duke Chronicle:

Duke Kunshan University has managed to stay out of the cross fire — at least for now… As far as operations and the general situation of the school, we’ve been fairly immune from the impact of difficult relations,” said Denis Simon, executive vice chancellor of DKU. 

4. What is Google actually doing in China? 

After Trump-supporting billionaire and Facebook investor Peter Thiel insinuated that Google was working with the Chinese military (see Modern-day ‘Yellow Peril’ of Google’s Chinese links is just the same old racism in the Guardian), CNBC takes a look at what Google is currently doing in China based on actual facts. In summary: 

  • Project Dragonfly: Google says the controversial censored search engine for China is “terminated.”

  • Artificial intelligence research: “Google says AI research in China is focused on education and so-called natural language understanding — which refers to an AI technique focused on getting machines to understand human language.” 

  • Cloud computing: Google is not competing with Alibaba and Tencent for the local market but rather tries “to sell its cloud products to Chinese firms that have international operations in Southeast Asia and elsewhere.”

  • Hardware: Some products that may include “smartphones, smart speakers and thermostats” are made in China. 

  • App developers and the Google Play Store: Google’s own Play Store is blocked in China, so “Google is trying to work with app developers in China to help them bring their products onto the Play Store in international markets.”

  • Advertising: In China, Google “focuses on Chinese businesses looking to advertise on Google platforms abroad.”

Separately, U.S. Senator Mark Warner told Bloomberg (porous paywall) that Google’s chief executive said “the company has ended some partnerships in China.”

5. The hard choices facing Xi Jinping 

Here are two different pictures of the world facing Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 by two highly respected analysts of elite Party politics:

  • Xi is facing unpalatable choices between hardline and conciliatory responses to the U.S. trade war and the Hong Kong protests, argues Minxin Pei in the Nikkei Asian Review (porous paywall). “So far it is hard to tell which direction Xi is leaning. But one thing is sure: he doesn’t have much time.”

  • “The backlash abroad against President Xi Jinping’s China, at least in developed nations, has spread rapidly in the last year,” argues Richard McGregor on CNN, adding that “Beijing’s opaque internal political system means it is hard to make judgments about domestic Chinese politics, but there can be little doubt that a backlash is underway at home, too.”

6. New head for Xinjiang Small Group, same old body

I once called senior Party leader Wāng Yáng 汪洋 “the most interesting man on the Politburo Standing Committee.” The South China Morning Post says he is “known for his relatively liberal style of governance” and reports that he “attended a high-level three-day conference in Xinjiang as head of the Central Committee’s Xinjiang Work Coordination Small Group.” Here is Xinhua’s Chinese report

  • “Small Groups” or Leading Small Groups (LSGs) are Party organizations that coordinate policies and their implementation across different arms of the Party state bureaucracy. As noted in this CSIS paper, their history dates back to the Party’s revolutionary years, but in recent years, “one of the most important innovations” of the leadership of Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 “has been the expansion in number and role of LSGs.”

  • LSGs have helped Xi to “centralize authority in Beijing and provide greater strategic coordination among the different parts of the national bureaucracy.”

  • The Xinjiang Work Coordination Small Group was formed in 2000 and “has been instrumental in shaping and implementing Beijing’s Xinjiang policies,” says the SCMP.

  • The timing of the announcement of Wang’s leadership “suggested it was a calculated move by the leadership to assuage growing international concerns over the detention of an estimated one million or more Uygurs and other Muslim minorities,” according to “analysts” cited by the SCMP. However, Wang’s appointment is “unlikely to mean a softening on Xinjiang from China.”

  • For more on how Xinjiang policy is made, see this analysis by Jessica Batke. 

Related:

7. Two signs of the times

Prospect magazine has selected Xǔ Zhāngrùn 許章潤 as one of its “top thinkers” of the world for 2019

If Xu Zhangrun worried that his essays published earlier this year criticizing China’s repression under Xi Jinping might not cause a stir, the Chinese state helpfully ensured they received the prominence they deserved: Xu was suspended from his post at Beijing’s Tsinghua University and barred from leaving the country. In the past year Xi has entrenched his power, including the scrapping of presidential term limits. Xu warned that Xi’s moves had “nullified more than 30 years of reform and opening up and slapped China back to the scary era of Mao.” Especially after the state’s reaction, Xu’s critique has struck a chord.

For translations of Xu’s work, see China Heritage

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, prime minister of Denmark from 2001 to 2009 and NATO secretary general from 2009 to 2014, has published an op-ed in the Guardian titled Hong Kong showed China is a threat to democracy. Now Europe must defend Taiwan

—–

Our whole team really appreciates your support as Access members. Please chat with us on our Slack channel or contact me anytime at jeremy@supchina.com

—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief


BUSINESS AND TECHNOLOGY:

One of China’s most valuable real estate companies and the state-owned behemoth that has a near-monopoly over electricity distribution in the country are joining forces to create a network of electric-vehicle (EV) charging stations to support the country’s drive towards cleaner transportation.

State Grid Corp. of China announced [in Chinese] that it has set up a 50-50 joint venture with the technology arm of Evergrande Group in a move designed to combine its power resources and the latter’s property management knowledge. 

All but one of the 13 listed Chinese film studios that had released first-half earnings forecasts by Tuesday expect to see either their profits fall or sink into the red amid tighter government scrutiny over the industry.

Among the 13 studios, seven said they expect to report a first-half loss and five expect to see lower profits for the period.

The companies include Shenzhen-listed Huayi Brothers Media Corp., one of the country’s biggest movie studios, which forecast a loss between 325 million and 330 million yuan ($47 to 48 million), compared with a net profit of 277 million yuan ($33 million) in the same period last year.  

  • Niu: Chinese electric scooters in the U.S.
    Chinese electric scooter maker Niu pushes forward into US despite imposed tariffs / SCMP
    “Niu Technologies, a Chinese electric scooter company, is pushing ahead with its plans to expand in the US despite the trade war and 25 percent tariffs imposed on Chinese goods. US consumers will just have to pay more.”

  • Renault invests in Chinese electric carmaker
    Renault to invest in Jiangling / Bloomberg (porous paywall)
    “Renault SA will invest 128.5 million euros ($144 million) for a 50 percent stake in a venture with Jiangling Motors Corp. to develop electric vehicles in China, part of a push by the French company to make further inroads into the world’s biggest car market.” 

SCIENCE, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT: 

  • The harsh lives of rural doctors
    100 rural doctors quit over $2.2 million in unpaid medical subsidies / Caixin (paywall)
    “More than 100 rural doctors have resigned in northeastern China’s Heilongjiang Province over unpaid public health subsidies and alleged unfair treatment, with local authorities reportedly detaining at least one participating doctor.”

POLITICS AND CURRENT AFFAIRS:

The risk of collisions between Chinese vessels and those from Malaysia and Vietnam in the South China Sea has been heightened in recent weeks as China has tried to obstruct the two countries’ oil and gas exploration, a Washington-based think tank said on Wednesday.The analysis comes with a stand-off simmering between Chinese and Vietnamese vessels at Vanguard Bank, a reef in the disputed Spratly Islands, risking an escalation of tensions and anti-China protests as it did five years ago.

Beidaihe…China’s so-called summer capital — located on the Yellow Sea, more than 200 kilometers (124 miles) from Beijing — each year plays host to a conclave of Party luminaries including President Xi Jinping, his top aides, as well as retired leaders. While the meeting’s agenda, guest list and exact dates are shrouded in secrecy, there are indications that events are already underway, such as the traffic restrictions that took effect Saturday and last until August 18.

SOCIETY AND CULTURE:

From the womb to the workplace, from the political arena to the home, women in China are losing ground at every turn.

Driving this regression in women’s status is a looming aging crisis, and the relaxing of the draconian “one-child” birth restrictions that contributed to the graying population. The Communist Party now wants to try to stimulate a baby boom.

But instead of making it easier for women to both work and have children, China’s leader, Xí Jìnpíng 习近平, has led a resurgence in traditional gender roles that has increasingly pushed women back into the home.


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China vs. the U.S. Treasury: Why Beijing won’t use the ‘nuclear option’ of selling American debt

China is America’s largest foreign creditor, holding $1.1 trillion in U.S. Treasury bonds. Why won’t China “weaponize” these holdings, even with the trade war in its second year? We explain, plus give context on the related issue of Chinese currency depreciation

After latest Baidu scandal, Chinese internet users quote CEO Robin Li: ‘What’s your problem?’

Chinese search engine giant Baidu, which has been a hot mess for the last few years, continues to find ways to shoot itself in the foot. The latest example involves a now-fired editor at Baidu News who “hijacked” the account of a bereaved father who had just lost his daughter, and posted a message that was roundly derided by the Chinese public.


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ChinaEconTalk: Little Red Book, Big Red Ideas: A Global History of Maoism

This week, in part 1 of a special two-part edition of ChinaEconTalk, Jordan interviews Professor Julia Lovell, author of the recently published book on Mao’s international legacy entitled Maoism: A Global History. In this episode, Lovell introduces the core tenets of Maoist thought and its complex impact on both the Chinese Communist Party and other, offshoot devotees around the world. She outlines the key events in Mao’s life, the events that helped shaped his ideology, his idea of “violent, tumultuous world revolution,” and the friction during the Cold War that eventually culminated in the Sino-Soviet split.