Links for Thursday, April 23, 2020

BUSINESS AND TECHNOLOGY:

Bank of China Ltd. customers learned an $85 million lesson on the perils of speculating on crude oil this week.

Hundreds of angry retail investors have flooded onto the internet to protest against the lender after their investments in products linked to West Texas Intermediate were wiped out by oil’s unprecedented collapse below zero on Monday. Heaped on top of about 200 million yuan ($28 million) of initial losses is about 400 million yuan that they owe Bank of China due to the plunge into negative territory, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

Mukesh Ambani is again Asia’s richest person after a deal with Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook Inc. sent his conglomerate’s stock surging.

Ambani’s fortune rose about $4.7 billion to $49.2 billion on Wednesday, after Reliance Industries Ltd. gained 10%. The jump put Ambani about $3.2 billion ahead of China’s Jack Ma [马云 Mǎ Yún], according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. The ranking updates after the close of each trading day in the U.S.

The upcoming Labor Day holiday, which runs from May 1-5 this year, is expected to see the first holiday tourism peak in China this year in light of a much improved domestic COVID-19 situation, as the nation’s major travel platform [Ctrip] said some 90 million trips will take place, double the number during the Qingming Festival in early April.

  • Beijing has promised help to small and medium-sized businesses amid the outbreak of COVID-19, with additional liquidity released into the banking system.
  • But the loans are in some cases being obtained by dummy shell corporations and used illegally for real estate investments.

China is studying ways that it could accelerate purchases of U.S. farm goods to meet its phase-one trade deal commitments after the coronavirus delayed some imports, according to people familiar with the matter.

The proposals being considered include potentially buying 10 million tons of American soybeans for Chinese state reserves if demand from private buyers isn’t enough, said the people, who asked not to be identified as the discussions are private. A final decision has yet to be made on what actions may be taken, according to the people.

Chinese carmakers are ramping up production in Myanmar as they go head to head with dominant and entrenched Japanese rivals in the fast-growing market…

Industry estimates put annual sales of Chinese vehicles at between 2,000 and 3,000 units, or about 10% of market share, and growing rapidly.

SCIENCE, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT:

About 10,000 captive-bred Chinese sturgeon get released into the Yangtze River on Wednesday in Yichang, Central China’s Hubei province. The release is an annual event held by the Chinese Sturgeon Research Institute, which aims to prevent the critically endangered species from extinction. More than 5 million Chinese sturgeon have been returned the wild since 1984.

  • French and U.S. expertise behind establishment of China’s top-level research facility into deadly and easily transmittable pathogens.
  • International scientists defend Wuhan Institute of Virology and its deputy director Shí Zhènglì 石正丽 who discovered link between bats and SARS.

POLITICS AND CURRENT AFFAIRS:

Australia used a virtual meeting of G-20 agriculture ministers to call for scrutiny of wildlife wet markets, calling them a risk to biosecurity and human health — a move that may exacerbate tensions with China.

The Group of 20 nations have a responsibility to use global experts and international organizations to “rationally and methodically look at the many significant risks,” they pose, said Agriculture Minister David Littleproud in a statement. Governments need to “take action to protect human health and agricultural industries,” he said.

China on Thursday announced it will donate an additional $30 million to the World Health Organization.

The move comes in the wake of U.S. President Donald Trump saying he will halt U.S. funding of the WHO. It also emphasizes China’s support of Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s director-general.

With a series of high-level summits culminating in a visit to Germany in the fall by President Xí Jìnpíng 习近平, this was supposed to be the year of Europe-China diplomacy. Instead, Europeans are warning of a damaging rift.

Diplomats talk of mounting anger over China’s behavior during the coronavirus pandemic including claims of price gouging by Chinese suppliers of medical equipment and a blindness to how its actions are perceived. The upshot is that Beijing’s handling of the crisis has eroded trust just when it had a chance to demonstrate global leadership.

A Chinese citizen journalist who was missing for almost two months after posting videos from Wuhan during the coronavirus outbreak has re-appeared, claiming that he was detained by police and forcibly quarantined.

Lǐ Zéhuá 李泽华 was one of three Chinese journalists who had been reporting from the front lines in Wuhan during some of the worst weeks of the epidemic. He was last seen on 26 February after posting a video in which he was chased by a white SUV and an hours-long live-stream that ended when several agents entered his apartment.

India has opened a new all-weather access in a disputed part of its border with China to enable faster movement of troops and artillery, another potential irritant in relations between the two nuclear-armed neighbors.

The new bridge, which can take 40 tons of weight, was built in Arunachal Pradesh in India’s remote northeast, a region that’s claimed by China and near the scene of previous clashes. Border intrusions have risen 50% in 2019 compared to the previous year, people with knowledge of the matter said.

Vietnamese hackers began targeting Chinese government officials at the heart of the coronavirus outbreak in the early days of 2020, when the threat of pandemic had barely registered elsewhere in the world, according to findings by cybersecurity firm FireEye Inc.

The attacks were going on as early as January 6 and continued through April, said Ben Read, a senior manager for cyber-espionage in the firm’s threat intelligence unit. The campaign of spearphishing and malware fit a pattern the firm ascribed to APT32, a group of hackers working for the Vietnamese government, and the group’s targets were the government of Wuhan and the national ministry of emergency management, he said.

Chinese government assistance to Wa State [an autonomous region within Myanmar with ties to China] during this pandemic will be substantial. A recent UWSA document explains that “the weakness of our state’s health facilities, including detection, diagnosis and treatment capacity, are far behind China’s current status.

The African Union Commission on Wednesday commended the Chinese tech entrepreneur and philanthropist, Jack Ma [马云 Mǎ Yún], following the latest announcement of the third batch of medical supplies donated by the Jack Ma and Alibaba foundations in support of Africa’s fight against the spread of COVID-19.

The UK government has been urged to ban the import of cotton sourced from the Chinese province of Xinjiang, a region where Uyghur Muslims are being put to work in factories in conditions that amount to forced labor.

A 60-page document submitted to HMRC by lawyers and a rights group on Wednesday amounts to “overwhelming and credible evidence concerning the scale and gravity of the forced labour regime in Xinjiang”, its authors said.

Named in the submission were some the UK’s best-known brands, including H&M, Ikea, Muji and Uniqlo, known to have used Xinjiang cotton in their products in the past year.

  • Newspaper beats China at its own game?
    Adrian Zenz on Twitter: “The Daily Telegraph received a protest letter from the Chinese embassy and subjects it to its own internal censorship. Result: a fantastically creative response.”

SOCIETY AND CULTURE:

Chinese eating habits have come under a microscope after initial cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus were linked to a wet market in Wuhan, China. Lately, we’ve been getting this question a lot: “Why do Chinese people eat everything?” But is it true? Where did this stereotype come from, and how do people in China feel about it?

Shenzhen is an experimental city that could provide many valuable lessons for future cities.  However, it is not a model city in the ways in which it has been generalised — that of central planning, government control, foreign direct investment, etc.

Shenzhen was not only China’s tentative to test market economy, rather it was a critical experiment. The city was a site of cultural, social and political experimentations that were directly opposite to the way the rest of the country existed in the 80s and 90s. I hope Shenzhen continues to be a critical experiment for China and the rest of the world.

Ai [艾未未 Ài Wèiwèi] believes the virus has only strengthened what he calls the “police state,” allowing the government to continue to harvest data and build a deeper understanding of its citizens. “China has 1.4 billion people and one single power. They have to actually maintain this kind of power by knowing everybody — what’s on their mind, and their behavior.”

At dinner in China, a courteous host uses her chopsticks to take the tastiest morsel from a communal dish and put it on the plate of an honored guest. At a family meal, an elder does so for a child. Friends do it for each other. And all help themselves, taking bite-sized pieces again and again from plates of food in the middle of the table. So it has been for centuries. And then came COVID-19.