Links for Tuesday, February 18, 2020

BUSINESS AND TECHNOLOGY:

In unwelcome news for protesters everywhere, some Chinese artificial-intelligence companies are announcing their technology can now identify people even when they’re wearing face masks, as part of their efforts to adapt to the continuing coronavirus outbreak.

China’s SenseTime, the world’s most valuable AI startup, said earlier this month (in Chinese) that it was rolling out a facial-recognition product that incorporates thermal imaging cameras to help spot people with elevated temperatures, and send pop-up alerts to users of the software…[F]or building access control, its software can identify people even while they’re wearing masks with a “high accuracy,” said the release, as well as flag people who aren’t wearing the protective coverings and require them to wear a mask to gain access to a building.

Tesla is in advanced stages of talks to use batteries from CATL that contain no cobalt — one of the most expensive metals in electric vehicle (EV) batteries — in cars made at its China plant, people familiar with the matter said.
Adoption would mark the first time for the U.S. automaker to include so-called lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries in its lineup, as it seeks to lower production costs amid faltering overall EV sales in China.

  • The People’s Bank of China said on February 17 it was lowering the rate on 200 billion yuan ($28.65 billion) worth of one-year medium-term lending facility loans to financial institutions by 10 basis points to 3.15% from 3.25% previously.
  • Firms in Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak, will not have to pay pensions, jobless and work-injury insurance until June, state television quoted the cabinet as saying on February 18.

The London-based bank said on Tuesday that it aimed to cut $4.5 billion in costs as it faces headwinds that include the coronavirus outbreak in China and months of political strife in Hong Kong, one of its most important bases.

Walmart said on Tuesday that while it continued to monitor the coronavirus outbreak in China and around the world, the company was not lowering its sales forecast for this year.

The announcement, released with Walmart’s fourth-quarter earnings, that the coronavirus had not yet affected the outlook for the world’s largest retailer came one day after Apple warned of a slowdown.

  • Tech company has been blacklisted by U.S. over alleged links to internment camps in Xinjiang.
  • Some critics hope U.K. Home Office will reconsider ‘disappointing’ decision to allow Hikvision to attend government-backed event.

Wanda Sports Group Co., the China-based sports marketing and event promoter, is considering selling the Ironman triathlon business it bought in 2015, according to people familiar with the matter… Wanda Sports is seeking to fetch about $1 billion for the triathlon business, one of the people said.

  • VIDEO: Drop in forecast commodity demand
    Goldman says commodity demand environment in China is ‘dire’ / Bloomberg
    IEA predicts that global oil demand will drop in the first quarter of this year, marking the first drop in a decade, before rebounding in the third quarter. Goldman Sachs’ Jeff Currie agrees that demand for commodities is dire, and that oil will likely be down in the first quarter, but says it is hard to get a clear reading on the exact drop in Chinese oil demand.  

SCIENCE, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT:

China has more than 80 running or pending clinical trials on potential treatments for COVID-19, the illness caused by a coronavirus that has thus far killed nearly 1,400 people and infected more than 48,000 across China.

New pharmaceutical drugs are listed beside thousand-year-old traditional therapies in a public registry of China’s clinical trials, which is growing every day. There is no known cure, and doctors are eager to help those with the disease — but scientists caution that only carefully conducted trials will determine which measures work.

Clinical trials being conducted in Wuhan to test Gilead Sciences Inc.’s antiviral drug, a promising remedy for the new coronavirus, are going more slowly than hoped for as the drugmaker struggles to recruit qualified patients, underscoring the challenges in quickly developing drugs during outbreaks.

  • New strain appears to be more readily transmitted from human to human than SARS, Texas researchers find.
  • Further studies needed to explore human host cells’ role in spread between people, the report says.

POLITICS AND CURRENT AFFAIRS:

“I hope the heavy price [of the outbreak] will make Chinese authorities come to realise that without press freedom, people will live in distress and the government in mendacity,” He Weifang, a professor of law at Peking University, wrote in an article shared with friends via the social media network WeChat on Monday.

According to a Taiwanese army lieutenant colonel in active service, who asked for only his last name, Lin, to be used, all the army’s front-line combat units he knows of—including armor, mechanized infantry, and artillery troops—currently have effective manpower levels of between 60 and 80 percent. This figure is consistent with Taiwanese media reports, which cite MND figures provided to Taiwan’s parliament, the Legislative Yuan, acknowledging that few front-line units have more than 80 percent of their positions filled.

“That number might not seem so bad until you realize it means at least a third of your tanks are useless in a war because there’s no one to man them,” said Lin, who most recently served as a battalion commander within one of army’s armor brigades.

I am one of the many women Mike Bloomberg’s company tried to silence through nondisclosure agreements. The funny thing is, I never even worked for Bloomberg.

But my story shows the lengths that the Bloomberg machine will go to in order to avoid offending Beijing. Bloomberg’s company, Bloomberg LP, is so dependent on the vast China market for its business that its lawyers threatened to devastate my family financially if I didn’t sign an NDA silencing me about how Bloomberg News killed a story critical of Chinese Communist Party leaders. It was only when I hired Edward Snowden’s lawyers in Hong Kong that Bloomberg LP eventually called off their hounds after many attempts to intimidate me.

SOCIETY AND CULTURE:

Hubei authorities announced new measures on Tuesday to encourage and support the work of Hubei’s front-line medical workers during the coronavirus crisis. One of these measures, rewarding the children of medical staff an extra ten points in their zhongkao [中考 zhōng kǎo] examination, became a somewhat controversial top trending topic on Chinese social media today.

The zhongkao is an important academic examination in China taken during the last year of junior high school, right before entering education institutions at the senior high school level…

On Weibo, one announcement of the new measure published by Chinese news source The Paper [in Chinese] received over 938,000 likes and more than 11,000 comments. Many Weibo users do not agree with the policy.