Links for March 26, 2020

BUSINESS AND TECHNOLOGY:

China has three leading telecom operators, namely China Mobile, China Telecom and Unicom. All three of them have reported a drop in user numbers this year amid the coronavirus outbreak…

There could be different explanations for the staggering figure. Some users may have passed away but the number can’t possibly be that high.

There has been speculation that amid the economic turmoil, people were giving up extra accounts they used to hold to separate business and private calls…

While explanations such as these do sound logical, industry veterans, however, believe the huge loss of mobile users largely has to do with dwindling of so called “water army,” a group of Internet ghostwriters paid to post online comments with particular purpose.

  • Trump considers postponing tariff payments
    White House weighs tariff delay / NYT (porous paywall)
    “The Trump administration is considering postponing tariff payments on some imported goods for 90 days, according to people familiar with the matter, as it looks to ease the burden on businesses hurt by the pandemic.”
    U.S. will approve some delays in tariff payments amid coronavirus crisis / WSJ (paywall)
    “The U.S. says it will allow some importers to delay tariff payments, following calls from business groups and import-dependent industries such as retailers and steel users for the Trump administration to cancel or at least temporarily suspend major tariffs.”
  • Tesla’s Model Y may be closer than expected
    A Tesla made-in-China Model Y may soon be a reality / TechNode
    “The made-in-China Model Y may start rolling off the Shanghai Gigafactory production lines of U.S. electric carmaker Tesla earlier than expected. The company has placed a 220 million yuan ($31 million) order from a Chinese auto parts supplier for its compact SUV…”
  • Drop in overseas demand hits China’s clothing industry hard
    China’s virus-stricken clothing industry struggles to mend / Sixth Tone

In southern China’s Guangdong province, a major clothing and textile hub, over 60% of export-oriented firms said their overseas orders have declined, according to a survey [in Chinese] by the Guangdong Clothing and Apparel Industry Association in early March. Amid the still-recovering domestic supply chain, businesses — especially the more vulnerable smaller firms — are facing issues with stockpiling, tight cash flow, and reduced staff, according to the industry trade group.

Few companies symbolized the zenith of globalization more than Li & Fung Ltd. Few events are more emblematic of its perceived retreat than the company’s decision to go private

As the world’s biggest supplier of consumer goods, Li & Fung designs, sources and transports products from Asia to retailers such as Walmart Inc. and Nike Inc. There are many factors behind its long decline, from rising factory wages in China to the “retail apocalypse” hollowing out American main streets. The U.S.-China trade war dealt another grievous blow to a business model that depended on linking factories in Asia with American retailers. The coronavirus, which shut down swathes of China’s economy and threatens to drive the world into recession, may have been the final straw.

The biggest driver of Li & Fung’s downfall, though, may be the rise of e-commerce and, specifically, of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.

The Chinese economy is expected to contract this quarter, and even though there has been some recovery, it “will not be sufficiently rapid to offset the major declines in both manufacturing and services” seen in recent weeks, according to Ed Jones of World Economics, which publishes a survey of sales managers.

Drug manufacturers in China may have cut production by almost 40% early this year as the novel coronavirus spread there, according to a U.S.-based group that supplies the basic tools for testing the quality of many medicines…

USP [United States Pharmacopeia, a NGO that sets drug quality] is attempting to pinpoint which drugs could be most affected by the apparent slowdown. Drugs made almost exclusively in China, such as certain antibiotics including penicillin, will be hardest hit.

  • U.S. firms in China hit hard, but most won’t pull investments

U.S. companies still betting on Chinese consumer, despite coronavirus / CNBC

A survey of 119 companies from March 13 to 18 by the Beijing-based American Chamber of Commerce in China found that the proportion of respondents saying they are experiencing significant revenue declines increased to 50%, up from 28% last month.

The consumer industry was among the most pessimistic about the disease’s impact on market growth this year…[but also] had the highest proportion of businesses saying they would maintain previously planned investments — at 46%, [with] 8% saying they would increase planned investments.

  • Classifieds site 58.com buys struggling car auction platform
    China’s Craigslist is buying a car auction platform / TechNode
    “Online classifieds site 58.com is purchasing the enterprise car auction unit of troubled second-hand car selling platform Uxin for $105 million in cash.”

SCIENCE, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT:

  • Hospital staff in the city say there is no evidence that these patients became infectious after recovery.
  • Tests carried out on patients suggest between 3% to 10% gave positive tests after being discharged.

Landfills and incinerators for treating municipal waste are releasing antibiotic-resistant bacteria into the surrounding air in the eastern Chinese city of Changzhou, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

The researchers said that breathing in contaminated air could potentially lead to antibiotic-resistant infections in humans that are difficult to treat.

POLITICS AND CURRENT AFFAIRS:

Central Asia faces a triple economic shock from low energy prices, COVID-19’s effect on interpersonal interactions, and declining remittances from Russia. The region is a secondary or even tertiary priority for Beijing and Moscow, but Chinese hegemony in Central Asia — and growing influence within the Eurasian Economic Union — could unsettle many Russians.  

Since August 2019, ProPublica has tracked more than 10,000 suspected fake Twitter accounts involved in a coordinated influence campaign with ties to the Chinese government. Among those are the hacked accounts of users from around the world that now post propaganda and disinformation about the coronavirus outbreak, the Hong Kong protests and other topics of state interest.

These efforts appear to be aimed at disparate audiences outside the country. Most of the posts we found are in Chinese and appear aimed at influencing the millions of ethnic Chinese who live outside of China’s borders.

A U.S. cybersecurity firm said Wednesday it has detected a surge in new cyberspying by a suspected Chinese group dating back to late January, when coronavirus was starting to spread outside China.

FireEye Inc. said in a report it had spotted a spike in activity from a hacking group it dubs “APT41” that began on January 20 and targeted more than 75 of its customers, from manufacturers and media companies to healthcare organizations and nonprofits.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took the initiative on Tuesday to talk about the proverbial elephant in the room: with Africa’s economies spiraling downwards due to the worsening COVID-19 crisis, how are they ever going to be able to pay back all that money they owe to public and private creditors?

Prime Minister Abiy deserves a lot of credit for putting the debt issue on the G20’s agenda, but it’s probably going to be more important that he speak directly with Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 if he really wants to deal with the worsening debt crisis on the continent.

SOCIETY AND CULTURE:

Over 80% of medics have seen their incomes drop due to a reduction in their basic salaries or bonuses since the coronavirus outbreak began in January, according to a survey [in Chinese] of 742 medical workers published Sunday by DXY.cn, a leading health care provider and online community for physicians.

The Chinese government has promised to grant special subsidies to frontline doctors and nurses… Many medical workers complained to DXY.cn, however, that they hadn’t received the money as of March 10.

The American Chinese community is leading the way on crowdsourcing and donations in the US amid racial tension…

Ever practical, as soon as the US’ predicament became clear, the same organizations that aided China shifted their focus to protecting and relieving their own communities across America. Hospitals, nursing homes, essential services and vulnerable populations are their focus.

Frustration at the antics of China’s overzealous fànquān 饭圈, or “fan circles” has been brewing for some time: Their immaturity, anti-intellectualism, zealousness, and blind obedience is by this point well known. For anything members find objectionable, they often display a hair-trigger response — cyberbullying, doxing, and reporting their “enemies” to platforms or even the authorities…

I have a good relationship with the ringleader of a fanquan for the idol Cai Xukun.

The pauses I used to leave in my lectures seem abrupt once transferred online, and my attempts to liven the atmosphere with an occasional joke come off as awkward. No matter how hard I try, it’s impossible to break through the wall of silence in front of my screen. Students’ feedback is essentially restricted to “likes” or comments.

Finally, online teaching models tend to infringe on student and teacher autonomy and comfort due to technological surveillance.

The literature department of Sun Yat-sen University in the southern city of Guangzhou offers an example of what this might look like. Instead of online classes, it recommended [in Chinese] a list of over 100 books to students and encouraged them to read and write at home. The idea is, quite frankly, impressive. But it also makes intuitive sense: Reading, thinking, and writing can be carried out independently, so why not allow students to study on their own and hone their independent reading and thinking skills?