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?

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Make America Great Again, Time to Give Science and Technology a Try

Originally posted on China US Focus.

At the beginning of this month, a group of my family and friends departed for a tour of Easter Island and Patagonia. At the time, Silicon Valley, my home base, was “normal,” in other words not paying much attention to the coronavirus contagion happening in Asia. 
Two weeks later, we had to cut short our tour and hurry our way home as best as we could. From Punta Arenas in southern tip of Chile, our group broke up into smaller groups and grabbed whatever seats available to fly to Santiago, an international hub, and continued home from there. Argentina had closed their border to international visitors and any new arrivals faced 14-day self-quarantine at their own expense. Our tour operator thought it prudent to get us home before Chilean government decide to follow suit, which it did two days after we got home. 
It was the world’s most dramatic two weeks for the turmoil caused by the novel coronavirus. From the giant statues of Rapa Nui (Easter Island) and scenic beauty of Patagonia, I followed with enforced detachment. The World Health Organization declared Covid-19 as a world pandemic during this period. With the coronavirus spreading to 80 countries in a blink of eye, the stock market plummeted to a level not seen since Trump came into office. 
Italy follows the Wuhan Model 
The disease hit Italy especially hard. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte attempted to contain the disease to one region but changed his mind overnight and declared a national lockdown. He saw that for any hope to contain the contagion, he would need to follow the Wuhan protocol and take the draconian steps to lockdown. Thus, the world began to appreciate that the “Wuhan Model” was the only way to control the epidemic. 
Up to this point, China was subject to ridicule and abuse by the western media. They said: China acted like a police state that ran roughshod over the civil liberties of its people, China was not transparent and suppress the people’s right to free speech, the Chinese were dirty and lack hygiene, China was “sick man” of Asia all over again, etc. 
Battling epidemics in the past has always been an international collaborative effect. This time the United States stayed on the sideline but got very active at the blame game. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as America’s lead diplomat insisted that Beijing has kept the true nature of the disease under wraps until it couldn’t be hidden anymore. Thus, he insists China’s lack of candor has cost the U.S. valuable time in preparing to fight the disease, which he persisted in calling as the Wuhan virus until his boss overruled by naming it Chinese virus. 
Nature magazine is the referee 
Thanks to third party, reputable publications, it’s possible to seek substance or lack thereof to support the U.S. accusations. A most useful compilation of events comes from Nature. One of the statements from the March 19 posting said, “By contrast, 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.” (underline for emphasis is mine.) 
At about the same time that the disease can be transmitted from person to person was established, Wuhan immediately imposed city wide lockdown which quickly included the Hubei Province and a population of 50 million. 
To recap, looking in retrospect December 8 was considered the appearance of the first suspicious case. Multiple cases of unusual fever appeared at the Wuhan hospitals on December 21. This raised the alarm of the medical staff and was reported to the district level Center for Disease Control. In turn the developments were reported up the line to provincial CDC and the national CDC was notified on December 30. Next day the people of Wuhan were warned, and the contagion reported on China’s central TV and officials of WHO notified. 
Bear in mind that at this point in time, the cause of pneumonia and fever was not yet understood, the virus had not been identified and genetic sequence or diagnostic tests remain yet to be done. Accusations of a China cover-up seem farfetched if not outright ludicrous. 
Yet America’s mainstream media can be most persuasive. They have blanketed the media and convince nearly everyone that something nefarious was going on in China. To this day, even after much more information has come to light, U.S. academics, pundits, talking heads and of course politicians of the entire spectrum continue to insist that China had unfortunately covered up. 
Robert O’Brien, the U.S. national security adviser said, “China had reacted slowly to the coronavirus, probably costing the world two months when it could have been preparing.” In light of the timeline presented by Nature and other postings, some responsible member of the media should ask O’Brien for an accounting of how he came up with the two months number. 
Wuhan’s lead time wasted 
Finally, on March 13, New York Times exercised a modicum of fairness in reporting by publishing the observations of their Beijing bureau chief. He compared the rigorous precautions taken at the Beijing International Airport with the lackadaisical handling of arriving travelers at London. His concluding lament: China with their draconian measures bought precious months for the world to prepare and the West squandered that time. 
Let the record show that the two months, that the novel coronavirus was known, was indeed squandered by the United States. President Trump did nothing. He thought the virus will go away when the weather gets warm. Even as late as February 25, he assured the American public that he has the matter “very well under control.” The first case in the U.S. was reported in Seattle on January 19. Since his assertion that all’s well, he has taken to calling Covid-19 as “Chinese virus,” as if that will ameliorate his having screwed up. 
The same Nature post said, “The SARS outbreak went on for three months before being identified as a distinct disease. Then, for nearly two more months, it was a disease in search of a pathogen: the identification and genomic sequencing of the virus itself largely came from researchers outside China.” But China learned from having to deal with this 2003 outbreak that also originated from China. 
China’s findings about the virus 
China was prepared to deal with the exponential nature of how contagious diseases spread and how to contain the spreading of the contagion. As soon as an outbreak is detected, China launched investigation and research. Their findings: The public health officials must as quickly as possible establish the safe distance (about 2 meters) to avoid transmission from one person to another, the genetic profile of the virus was identified so as to develop diagnostic tests to detect the presence of the virus and the duration the virus will survive on public surfaces such as door handles, etc. was about 9 days. There was no evidence sunlight will kill the virus as wished for by President Trump. 
A crucial outcome of China’s intense research was the discovery that a patient can be contagious for five days before he/she shows symptoms of the illness. On the average, during the hidden period, a virus carrier could infect anywhere from 4 to 8 others. Since these infected by the primary carrier would also be asymptomatic (that means they don’t show any signs of the illness, Mr. Pompeo), each could infect still another 4 to 8 more before they show signs of being ill. Thus, each original patient can cause the infection of a minimum of 4x4 = 16 or as many as 64 others. This is just a simple illustration of the exponential power of transmission. 
Because of the explosive nature of exponential rate of transmission, it became obvious and necessary that a total lockdown was essential to block the paths of transmission. It was the only means to contain the illness. Critics call the Wuhan lockdown draconian, but the epidemic could not be stopped without that step. Italy has recognized mathematical necessity of the lockdown and soon the U.S. will have to face the same harsh reality, no thanks to the frat boys on the Spring break who will contribute to the explosion to come. 
It took Wuhan about one month from lockdown to reporting no new cases. As Puehoshowed in his comprehensive analysis of the exponential nature of pandemics, the sooner transmission is halted and contained, and sooner new cases will stop appearing. He calls this flatlining of the total population of cases. Readers that want to understand why time to act is so important to minimizing death from the disease will find the answers in his post. Someone in the White House needs to read it. 
China now helping others 
Having shown the world how to contain the pandemic, China is ready to help others. They are sending teams to Italy and Spain to help treatment and containment. President of Serbia has asked for help and Beijing has responded within 24 hours. Cynics like to call this an Xi Jinping victory lap. That’s nonsense. China has learned, and apparently the U.S, has not, that pandemics affect everyone in the world, immediately at the site of the outbreak and everywhere else in time. Helping anyone else is in self-interest. 
There are some loose ends to wrap up before concluding this discussion. The western media and to some extent the Chinese netizens lionized Dr. Li Wenliang as a heroic whistleblower on the novel coronavirus. He was no such person. On December 30, he shared his concern with his chat group about an unfamiliar fever he observed. The local police called him in for a cautionary conversation. He was not arrested and did not sit in jail but went back to work as an ophthalmologist. Subsequently the Wuhan police apologized to his family after he died from the coronavirus. 
WHO first visited China to understand and to devise a plan to contain the disease in January. Since then Washington and Beijing began to snipe at each other. Commerce Secretary Ross sorted of initiated by expressing half-hearted condolences to China while saying out loud that maybe the flu will encourage jobs to come back to the U.S. 
Then the mutual spitting contest intensified. A glaring example is when Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) speculated that the virus was man-made from a biological lab in Wuhan and was accidentally leaked out. He offered no proof or evidence to back his contention, but the media immediately picked up and proliferated the story into a near virtual fact. As one commentator in Taiwan observed, when you are one of one hundred most senior legislators of the most powerful nation in the world, your statements are taken seriously by everyone. 
Beijing’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded in kind, claiming American soldiers competing in the multi-national games in October seeded the virus, but MFA also did not present much evidence to back up their accusations either. There were rumors in China’s cyberspace that alleged the complicity of CIA and offered as evidence that the American team did poorly and did not dominate as American athletes usually do in international games. For two great nations to devolve into such petty pissing contest has to be disheartening and embarrassing. 
Pompeo makes lofty declarations 
As if to keep the controversy from getting out of hand, Secretary Mike Pompeo’s held a press conference on 3/17/20. He said, “Now is the time to solve this global pandemic and work to take down risks to Americans and people all across the world.” This is a fine sentiment, indeed, especially coming from someone accused of trying to take over a German company said to be on the verge of developing a vaccine for Covid-19. 
According to rumors, Pompeo’s intention was to acquire and move the company into the US and keep the vaccine to serve America first. The alarmed German government stopped the process and kept the company in Germany. It’s a matter of public record that Pompeo is proud of his self-proclaimed reputation as a liar. Perhaps that’s why Chancellor Angela Merkel don’t trust him. 
Historically, international collaboration to fight pandemics has been a given. The outbreak of SARS in 2003 caught China flatfooted. Up to that time, they had limited experience in dealing with infectious diseases. The Center for Disease Control of Atlanta sent teams to Beijing, first to help the Chinese counterparts contain the epidemic and later to discuss and plan on collaboration and sharing of data and experiences. 
In 2014 the Obama Administration reached out to China and invited their collaboration to fight the deadly Ebola epidemic in West Africa, notably in Sierra Leone. The team effort was highly successful, but it should be noted that many other countries joined in the efforts to contain the frightening high fatality disease. Everybody have a stake in protecting the health of the people and keep above politics. 
When we returned to California from our interrupted travel, we immediately stayed home in accordance with the “shelter-in-place” edit issued by Governor Gavin Newsom. Hopefully, the measures will be in time to keep the contagion from blowing up into another Italy or worse. In the event the Trump Administration let Covid-19 pandemic run out of control, I am confident China, with experience, expertise and technology developed in the past few months will be standing by to help. It’ll only need a White House attitudinal change and dine on a humble pie or two.

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.