Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Sino-US cooperation a matter of self-interest

China has learned what the US apparently has not, that pandemics affect everyone in the world eventually By GEORGE KOO MARCH 23, 2020, Asia Times

In 2014, when the Ebola virus broke out in West Africa, US president Barack Obama’s administration invited China to join in leading the multinational effort to suppress the disease. Despite ghastly local hygienic conditions and a terrifying rate of mortality, the outbreak was brought under control in a few months.

With China electing to join the effort under the auspices of the World Health Organization (WHO), it was a successful collaboration involving a host of other nations. It was a natural outcome because these countries followed international norms. That is, containing the original outbreak in situ is always easier than to let the contagion explode into a worldwide pandemic. Advanced nations with the resources and expertise to help do so out of self-interest.

But this time, the US response to the novel coronavirus outbreak in China was radically different. President Donald Trump’s White House elected to stay on the sidelines and instead raised the decibel level of a rhetorical blame game. The Trump team seemed determined to keep China as an adversary and throw sensible reasoning out the window.

Early on, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Beijing for keeping the true nature of the disease hidden. He alleged that China’s lack of candor had cost the US valuable time in preparing to fight the disease, which he persisted in calling the “Wuhan virus” until his boss overruled him by writing “Chinese virus” over “Covid-19” in his press-conference script.
The Western media joined in heaping scorn and ridicule on China. They considered the Wuhan lockdown draconian and a violation of human rights, questioned China’s competence to manage the outbreak, and labeled China the “sick man of Asia” all over again.
It wasn’t until March 13 that The New York Times made a modest attempt at balanced reporting by posting a commentary by Ian Johnson, an NYT writer based in Beijing. He flew from the Chinese capital to London and observed the rigorous precautions taken at Beijing International Airport in contrast to the lackadaisical handling of travelers at Heathrow. 

China’s lockdown wasted

Johnson sadly concluded that China’s draconian measures, which bought precious months for the world to prepare, were being squandered by the West. Notwithstanding Pompeo’s claim that his country lost precious time because of China, the Trump administration actually did squander two months, January and February, idly watching while China was battling the virus.
During this debacle, Trump got rid of public health expertise in his National Security Council, he cut the budget of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), he didn’t take the threat seriously and thought the disease would go away under the warm sun of April. As late as January 30, Trump called the virus a hoax. Then on February 25, he assured the American public that he had the matter “very well under control.” 
Trump was and is simply clueless.
Even before the NYT piece on March 13, the pandemic had already struck hard at Italy. Overnight, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte had to change his plans for a regional lockdown into a nationwide lockdown. 
He saw that for any hope to contain the contagion, he would have to follow the Wuhan protocol and take the draconian steps to lockdown. Thus the world has come to appreciate that the “Wuhan model” of total “draconian” lockdown was the only way to control the epidemic. 
A particularly useful compilation of actual events as they occurred in China was posted by Nature, a prestigious scientific journal, on March 19. 
Nature said, “By contrast [to SARS], three weeks after the first known case of the disease now known as Covid-19, China had notified the WHO of a spike in cases of a pneumonia-like disease. Two weeks after that, the coronavirus had been isolated, genetically sequenced, and a diagnostic test developed, giving China the tools it needed to launch one of the greatest infectious-disease containment efforts the world has ever seen.” 
Neither Nature nor any other third-party sources reported any evidence that China had failed to share its findings promptly with the World Health Organization or the rest of the world. In fact, the Chinese notified the WHO even before they knew exactly what they were dealing with. It would appear that accusations of coverup are based on the presumption that China should have acted on information it didn’t yet have.

Findings crucial for the world

From China’s investigations, some of the crucial findings included that the disease can be transmitted from person to person, a safe distance to maintain is at least 2 meters, and an infected person can be contagious for five days before showing any symptoms of being ill. These were essential data necessary to understand the virus and to take necessary steps to contain the epidemic.
It took about a month after the Wuhan lockdown to bring the contagion under control. Having shown the world how to contain the pandemic, China is now sending teams to Italy and Spain to help treatment and containment. Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić asked for help and Beijing responded within 24 hours. 
Cynics like to call this a Xi Jinping victory lap. That’s nonsense. China has learned what the US apparently has not, that pandemics affect everyone in the world, immediately at the site of the outbreak and everywhere else in time. Helping anyone else anywhere in the world is in China’s self-interest.
Yet America’s mainstream media can be most persuasive and determined to cast China in a bad light. To this day, even after much more information has come to light, US academics, pundits, talking heads and of course politicians of both parties still reflexively mention China’s early coverup as a given in their discussion of the coronavirus.
The real coverup is the blinders on Trump and his vision of making America great that does not rely on science, technology or international relations. 
Trump’s religion is his hutzpah and belief in his unlimited power. He needs a vaccine? He’ll get it tomorrow. He wants a cure? It will be delivered day after tomorrow. Or so he thinks.

US helped China with SARS

As a communist country, China does not rely on any religion. But because of its relative inexperience in public health issues, it did need American assistance to battle severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003. 
The CDC sent teams over to Beijing to help their counterparts implement ways to contain the virus. Since then, having learned from the SARS experience, China has invested heavily in high technology in preparation for the next outbreak.
China has developed advances in artificial intelligence, remote diagnostics, robotics, and genomic epidemiology as tools to contain infectious diseases. Also, not least is the ability to build a 1,000-bed hospital in a week.
Just one indicator of China’s progress would suffice. Beijing sent 42,000 medical workers from elsewhere in China to Wuhan to help quell the epidemic. Because of their protective gear, training and work protocol, not one was infected by the virus. That’s impressive by any measure.
In California, we are abiding by “shelter in place,” a less draconian term for a Wuhan-style lockdown. Whether it will be effective depends on American willingness to give up exercising rights of individual freedom for the common good.
Some hot spots such as Boston or New York could still go out of control and the epidemic explode exponentially. There may come a point when Trump will have to ask for an act of Congress to rescind all the hostilities toward China and send Beijing a request for assistance.
Having helped China on SARS in 2003, the likelihood of China reciprocating on Covid-19 is good.

Dr David Ho into the breach

The latest decidedly non-Trumpian development is on the cover of the latest issue of Bloomberg Businessweek featuring Dr David Ho. Inside, the magazine reported that Ho was assembling a team to find a generalized approach that would not only cure Covid-19 but would lay the foundation to treat future mutations of the coronavirus. 
Ho is a former Time magazine Man of the Year renowned for his research on the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS. His multinational and multidisciplinary team is mapping out a multifaceted and accelerated plan of attack.
Ho is an ethnic Chinese from Taiwan. Key members of his team are from the People’s Republic of China. Some of his former students hold key scientific positions in mainland China. With his reputation and network of connections, he will have access to experimental compounds from Hong Kong and Shanghai for his investigation not likely available to anyone else.
A big chunk of his financial support came unsolicited from Jack Ma and other donors in China. Funding came without preconditions, just faith and confidence in Ho’s record and reputation. This is what cross-border synergy should be all about.
Can you imagine what would have happened if Ho’s team had already been decimated by Trump’s xenophobic anti-Chinese policy? In the past two years, many ethnic Chinese technical talents have been harassed, hounded and forced to leave the US for China – a subject for another time. 
Is that smart or what?

Monday, March 2, 2020

Make The Philippines great again, say goodbye to American soldiers

This February, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte formally terminated the "Visiting Forces" agreement, which means American forces are no longer welcome in Philippines.

Basically, Duterte is declaring that Philippines do not need American troops to help fight Muslim terrorists.

What he did not publicly said is that Philippines don't need American harangue on how Duterte needs to fight the country's war on drugs and at the same time meet the standards of human rights treatment satisfactory to the American politicians.

Duterte also resents the extraterritorial privileges American soldiers enjoy while visiting in the country. This means if an American soldier commits a rape or murder, he won't face the Philippine court of law but would be tried by an American court martial.

Since Trump has a way of turning soldier-murderer into heroes, this is not reassuring.

Duterte also resents the constant reminder that the United States continues to act as if the Philippines have remained a colony.

The rupture of the bilateral relations will have short term economic consequences. Many of the brothels will have to shut their doors.

But the shortfall would be made up by investments from China. China is already in midst of converting the Clark Air Base, that the U.S. was previously evicted from, into industrial parks, apartments and airport.

The Philippines actually enjoy huge economic potential with the mineral resources lying beneath the ground. The Chinese could provide technical, financial and management assistance to exploit the hidden wealth. The kind of assistance that the Americans could have provided but didn't.

However, The Philippines have a highly educated and trained human resources along with the wealth from mega billionaires to undertake the development of its natural resources without any outside help.

But in the past, thanks to unbridled democracy, corrupt politicians rose to the top and nothing got done. Their best and brightest had to find work overseas, as doctors and nurses in America and as nannies and maids all around the world. Their remittances home became life support to the Philippines economy.

Even though being kicked out of the Philippines was okay with Trump--would save America money,-- it would leave a hole in Pentagon's strategy to surround China with the first island chain, a chain of military bases from Japan to Okinawa to Taiwan through the South China Sea.

Defense Secretary Esper has already declared the wish to renegotiate some sort of accommodation to keep a toe hold. It will be up to Duterte to decide as to the kind of "clean" break from the past that's of interest to the people of Philippines.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Trump is the real threat to the West, not Huawei

First posted on Asia Times
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi flew to Munich to join the Trump Administration in piling on Huawei, China’s largest telecommunication company. She told the international audience that Huawei’s 5G undermines national security, threatens human rights and democratic values and takes away economic independence.
Madam Fu Ying, China’s former vice minister of foreign affairs, who was in the audience at the 56th Munich Security Conference, pointed out to Pelosi that for the last 40 years, her country has imported all sorts of technology from the West and never felt threatened by the use of foreign technology.
How come, Fu asked, just one company can pose such a grave threat to western democracy? You must have very little confidence in the stability of your own government to be so worried, she suggested.
Pelosi’s somewhat sputtering response was that Huawei was more than just one company, that it has the backing of the mighty People’s Liberation Army (PLA). This was a frequently bandied about accusation based on the fact that its founder Ren Zhengfei was once an officer in the PLA. He left the military and founded Huawei many years ago, but his past continues to dog him.
Dredging up old charges and piling them on Huawei was exactly what the Trump White House has done to justify accusing the company of racketeering among other heinous (hilarious?) offenses. Even an old dispute settled with Cisco nearly 20 years ago was exhumed.
Huawei, a major international company doing over $100 billion of business annually, has suddenly become a front for gangsters, we are expected to believe.
This is clearly the handiwork of the former “we lie, we cheat, we steal” director of the CIA, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. In Munich, he called Huawei a Trojan horse intent on undermining the sovereignty of governments at every level in Europe.
Of course, no other country knows better than the United States how to steal intelligence from others. As reported by the Washington Post, the CIA jointly developed and produced the CRYPTO AG, an encryption machine introduced over 70 years ago and sold to 120 countries for use in the internal transmission of top secret information.
What these user countries, some friendly to America, didn’t know was that the CIA was reading their secret transmissions right along with them.
The United States knows how to steal information. You could hardly blame them for suspecting that others such as China would naturally do the same.
Pompeo has been calling on various heads of state to try to convince them not to adopt 5G from Huawei. Apparently, Pompeo’s shadowy reputation preceded him, and his exhortation has fallen mostly on deaf ears. The economic advantages of sticking with Huawei and its already built-in infrastructure may outweigh the benefits of listening to Pompeo.
Thus it was necessary to, as Asia Times writer David Goldman observed, double down by ascribing every imaginable possible evil to Huawei. Goldman’s analysis also concluded that the American campaign to suppress Huawei was clearly failing.
The Goldman piece also mentioned that the Trump team is considering a ban on selling GE jet engines to China for the commercial jet liner it is developing. Over the short term, this would wreck China’s plans to compete with Airbus and Boeing.
But as Asia Times pointed out, the economic devastation would be mutual. By being deprived of the right to cater to the Chinese market, GE’s return on its investment on the development of the advanced engine design would be greatly deferred.
In the meantime, China would be forced to seek an engine manufacturing partner in Russia or Ukraine, or perhaps pursue a deal with GE’s French partner. However long that would take, China would eventually become a competitor and help carve up the jet engine market.
At the same time, China would buy more Airbuses and fewer, if any, Boeings – an obvious response to the US strategy to decouple with China.
The same approach has been taken against Huawei and ZTE. Namely, restrict the sale of key American-made semiconductor components to the Chinese makers of mobile phones.
The US has forced Huawei to develop its own chipsets and graphics processors. The long-term consequence is the prospect of a significant loss of sales for the original American suppliers that may even drive them out of business.
Trump’s China team is either stupid or living in the past if they think America’s technical might can continue to keep China under water. Other nations, friendly or non-aligned, have a more realistic view and are moving away from the US sphere of influence. It must have been quite a shock for the Pentagon when the Philippines recently announced it would end its collaboration with the US Navy.
Since Pelosi, a freshman congresswoman, unfurled a human rights banner on Tiananmen Square in 1992, she has had her own axe to grind with China. However, getting in a bipartisan bed with Trump on China seems terribly unwise. As Fu Ying asked in Munich, why would Pelosi want to wear the same trousers as Trump?
It is the man currently living in the White House, a leader who wilfully shreds the constitution, considers himself above the law and tries to keep his crooked cronies from going to jail. No one is a greater threat to the stability and security of the United States than Donald Trump.
Surely, Pelosi understands what’s at stake and picking on China rather than hammering on the misdeeds by the Trump White House is not in the national interests.

Surely, Pelosi understands what’s at stake by picking on China

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Coronavirus outbreak in China as compared with H1N1

Has opened the door to all sorts of vile racism and xenophobic attack on China and on Chinese for being Chinese. Mis information and fake news are rampant on cyber space including such main stream sources as NYT, WashPo and WSJ.

To clear the air, Nathan Rich has constructed a timeline on the outbreak from the beginning to the present. This graphical presentation will help clear the air and give guidance to any of us befuddled by contradictory assertions out there.


Rich subsequently added a comparison on how the U.S. treated the H1N1 outbreak in 2009.


Rich drawing links of vaping deaths with Ft. Derrick, but his conclusion was not decisive.


Sunday, January 26, 2020

A skeptical view of phase one China trade deal

First posted on Asia Times.

US President Donald Trump loves to take victory laps, even tiny ones that go around a throw rug.
Take the North American Free Trade Agreement. Trump suffers from severe autoimmune distress over anything that includes “free trade.”
Thus Trump tore up NAFTA and renegotiated a new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement that required 13 months of effort, after which he proclaimed it as the best and most important trade deal ever made by the US.
Though tweaked around the edges, CNN among many others thought the two deals “are far more alike than they are different.” In other words, not such a big deal.
The just-concluded “first phase” of the US-China trade agreement, which took more than two years to reach a signing ceremony, deserves an even more dubious victory lap. Based on the information dribbling out of Washington, the deal seemed more cobbled together than reflecting two years of intense negotiation.
The Chinese side has very politely expressed hope that the signing of the first phase will lead to the resumption of free and open trade that existed before the trade war was initiated by the Trump White House.
What has the new trade agreement accomplished? Trump proclaimed that the deal is a win for the American middle class. But at his White House celebration of the agreement, he was surrounded by his multibillionaire donors and supporters. They are the true beneficiaries.
When Trump levied tariffs on imports from China to start the trade war, China reciprocated with tariffs on American imports. The end result was that Trump did not get his trade deficit with China reduced. Instead, the trade deficit stayed about the same as before the trade war.
But during the two-year war, American farmers sat on soybeans they couldn’t sell and had to depend on US$25 billion in subsidies from the federal government to stay solvent. The subsidy support wasn’t enough and farm bankruptcies surged by 24% in 2019 anyway.
Can American farmers sleep better at night now? Not really. The Phase 1 trade agreement is almost a version of one agreement, two countries, each according to its own interpretation.
Trump expects China to act as a command economy and commit to buying from the US to return to former levels of soybean import. China has established other suppliers now and insists that market forces will determine whom they will buy from and how much.
This means American farmers can no longer count on a predictable market for their harvest and without a stable and steady buyer, they can’t plant and avoid exposure to devastating financial losses due to “market forces.” Thanks to Trump’s trade war, gone are the good old days.
The first-phase trade agreement does not provide for a dispute-resolution mechanism involving a third impartial party. Basically, either party can walk away when they believe the other party is not living up to the agreement. It is in essence an agreement that can be canceled for cause or no cause.
China generally does not enter such loosey-goosey agreements, but I believe it has done so in this case because it is making allowances for having to deal with Trump.
The Chinese know from experience and seeing how Trump operates that his word is not worth much. At any point that Trump no longer sees any need for a trade agreement, he could walk.
He needs a deal with China now to buttress his re-election prospects. If and when he is re-elected, who knows how China will figure in his political calculator at that time?
Unlike any of his predecessors, Trump does not know China, nor does he bother. His closest adviser on China is a guy who made up the pseudonym Ron Vara rearranged from the letters of his surname, Navarro.
Whenever Peter Navarro has some especially ludicrous statements to make about China, possibly too embarrassing to attribute to himself, he quotes Ron Vara.
Despite declaring China President Xi Jinping as his great friend, Trump shares no trust or common ground with which to build a relationship with China.
As Trump goes around the world promoting his vision of “America first,” he is telling everybody that they come last.
He has told South Korea and Japan to start paying the US for the expenses of keeping American troops in their countries. Literally protection money.
He has badgered the prime minister of Iraq for half of the oil output to reimburse the US for the cost of rebuilding after the American invasion and destruction of that country. Sort of like charging the family of the executed for the bullet used in the execution.
Except for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump has no friends among world leaders. They snicker behind his back and wince at his fractured English. Donald J Trump even thinks J stands for genius.
And if you are perceived as an enemy of the US, look out, because President Trump has the divine right to send killer drones after you just to keep you from making nasty plans potentially harmful to Americans.
In the meantime, President Xi is going around the world promoting his vision of one world, one community, and making friends with the Belt and Road Initiative. This is the initiative to help trading nations improve their infrastructure and thus bring them closer to other trading nations.
The indefatigable US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been busy making the rounds bad-mouthing China’s BRI deals. When challenged as to what the US has to offer in China’s place, Pompeo’s empty-handed gesture is downright embarrassing.
A significant portion of the Chinese population is rooting for Trump to get re-elected. He has done such a terrific job of eroding America’s leadership and prestige around the world that he might as well finish the task in his second term.
Should Trump fail in his re-election bid and the Democrats take over, it will be well worth remembering that Trump’s approach to China was a total failure.
According to a Forbes article, 84% of the people in China trust their government. The US? Only 33%.
It will be useless and a waste of effort to try to convince the Chinese that they should be more like Americans. The democracy huggers in America had best direct their attention to fixing the dysfunction that is Washington.