Editor’s note for Friday, July 10, 2020

A note from today's editor of the SupChina Access newsletter

In today’s newsletter:

  • No ‘end goal’ for U.S.-China trade war
  • Why is Shandong razing villages and leaving residents homeless?
  • Tencent makes peace with China’s favorite chili crisp brand
  • Hong Kong closes schools again after a rise in COVID-19 cases
  • How Beijing got to zero new COVID-19 cases — twice
  • A Chinese billionaire behind bars. And his wife, who kept the empire together.

My thoughts today:

Washington is probably about to up rhetoric against China for COVID-19. Fox News aired an interview today with a virologist named Dr. Yán Lìmèng 闫丽梦, who, until very recently, worked at the University of Hong Kong’s School of Public Health.

In the interview, she alleges that various Chinese organizations and institutions, and officials at the World Health Organization, covered up evidence in the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak. Although the way she frames her story in the interview seems to echo a lot of the Trump administration talking points about the “China virus” and their attacks on international organizations, her story does seem well documented. Yan seems to have been privy to a lot of conversations between doctors in the early days of the epidemic, and has good reason to fear for her family and colleagues — the FBI interviewed her and let her in.

And she got Fox News to allow her to recommend mask wearing, and taking the virus seriously!

But there are also reasons to treat what she says with caution. The U.S.-based Chinese website Wenxue City titled its post (in Chinese) on the interview with Yan: “Fox exclusive interview with the ‘defector expert’ who Guō Wénguì 郭文贵 ‘rescued’: She wants to expose the truth behind COVID-19.”

Guo Wengui is, of course, the dodgy, exiled, tweeting billionaire who has some kind of insalubrious association with Steve Bannon. Further pointers of a Guo Wengui association: The video blogger that Yan “leaked information” to is identified in the article as U.S.-based Hong Kong blogger Lu Deh (路德 Lù Dé). (See his video from January 18 where he discusses Yan and her fears about COVID-19 — in Chinese.) Lu appeared on the recent Guo Wengui-Steve Bannon livestream announcing the “New Federal State of China.”  

What does this all mean? Dr. Yan seems legit. But if Guo Wengui and Steve Bannon are involved, I will remain skeptical. I would not trust Guo and Bannon to look after my daughter’s hamster, let alone push an agenda for how the world should think about the coronavirus.

Two things worth reading today:

The convergence of national security and disease prevention will impact the world, and international travel, more than 9/11. See China’s troubling vision for the future of public health by Sheena Chestnut Greitens and Julian Gewirtz. It reminded me of something I wrote in February: China’s coming biosecurity state.

The humbling of the Anglo-American world” is the title of an essay by Edward Luce in the Financial Times. He argues that “America and Britain’s poor responses to COVID-19 can be traced partly to post-cold war self-congratulation — the belief that neither had much to learn from the rest of the world.” He says the damage to the “brands” of the U.S. and U.K. might take years to undo, if that is even possible.  

Luce does not mention China in his essay. But Beijing hovers in the background: Who will fill up the vacuum left behind by the Anglo-American failure to deal with COVID-19?

Our word of the day is end goal (最终目标 zuìzhōng mùbiāo).

—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief