Oppressive Regimes Reach Beyond Their Borders

“”In countries like Vietnam and Australia, Chinese agents have simply abducted their prey, whether the targets were dissidents or people accused of corruption,” ProPublica reported after its own investigation.

While “China conducts the most sophisticated, global, and comprehensive campaign of transnational repression in the world,” according to Freedom House, it’s hardly alone. Russia’s overseas effort “accounts for 7 of 26 assassinations or assassination attempts since 2014, as catalogued in Freedom House’s global survey”; former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were targeted in the United Kingdom in 2018 in an attack that resulted in the death of a local woman. Saudi Arabia’s government plotted what a UN special rapporteur described as “a premeditated extrajudicial execution” of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey. Turkey, in turn, has developed a reputation for leaning on other governments “to hand over individuals without due process, or with a slight fig leaf of legality,” in the words of the report.”

‘Lay out the strategy’: Corporate America grows impatient on Biden’s China trade review

“American companies were glad to see Biden review Trump’s trade policies toward China, but eight months later, they have seen little change on tariffs or other issues bedeviling their business in the world’s second-largest economy.”

The danger of anti-China rhetoric

“As both recent and more distant history has made evident, the ways that lawmakers talk about China has huge effects. Broadly labeling China an enemy can lead to needless marginalization, violence, and even death.

“I think the biggest advice is to not have anything that was sweeping. We’re asking folks to watch their tone, tenor, and nuance in their approach to China,” said chief of staff for the Foreign Policy for America’s NextGen initiative Caroline Chang. Staying away from broad terms and talking about the government or specific leaders, such as President Xi Jinping, is a start.”

Will China’s national security law break Hong Kong as a business hub?

“The Biden administration in July issued a warning to US companies: Doing business in Hong Kong is increasingly risky. The advisory, released jointly by the departments of State, Treasury, Commerce, and Homeland Security, was basically a giant red flag cautioning companies and investors against the complications that are emerging under China’s national security law.

China imposed the sweeping legislation a little more than a year ago. It has since stifled Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement and undermined its autonomy, rule of law, and free speech traditions.

This tenuous political climate has shaken Hong Kong, but it has not yet upended its status as a global financial capital. The United States’s advisory is recognition that this might change as China continues its crackdown in the territory. International businesses — and their employees — could soon find themselves entangled in national security law enforcement.”

“China, for its part, is banking that Hong Kong’s infrastructure and economic climate will still make it a destination for foreign businesses in Asia despite the crackdown. After all, trade wars, tense Washington-Beijing relations, Beijing’s atrocious human rights record, and US sanctions have yet to stop most US firms from doing business in mainland China. And that may keep Hong Kong’s economic might intact while doing little to stop its democracy from crumbling.”

Is Anthony Fauci Lying About NIH Funding of Wuhan Lab Research? Or Is Rand Paul?

“What is not in dispute is that the NIH did provide $600,000 to the WIV, funneled through the EcoHealth Alliance research group, to study the risk that more bat-borne coronaviruses, like the 2003 outbreak of the SARS virus, would emerge in China. What is in contention is whether the NIH grant funded gain of function research at the WIV, and the entirely separate question of whether or not the COVID-19 coronavirus originated in that laboratory.”

“Those Chinese researchers took the known WIV1 coronavirus, the spike proteins of which already give it the ability to infect human cells using the ACE2 receptor, and then replaced it with spike proteins from newly discovered bat coronaviruses. The goal was to see if the spike proteins from the novel coronaviruses would be sufficient to replace the function of the WIV1 spike protein. The researchers found that two versions of the WIV1 virus modified with the novel spike proteins could still use the ACE2 receptor to infect and replicate in human cells in culture.
Is this gain of function research? To some extent, this controversy is somewhat reminiscent of President Bill Clinton’s notorious sophistic dodge, “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”

During the hearing, Paul cited statements from Richard Ebright, a long-time gain-of-function research critic and Rutgers University biologist, published by National Review back in May. “The Wuhan lab used NIH funding to construct novel chimeric SARS-related coronaviruses able to infect human cells and laboratory animals,” Ebright said. “This is high-risk research that creates new potential pandemic pathogens (i.e., potential pandemic pathogens that exist only in a lab, not in nature). This research matches—indeed epitomizes—the definition of ‘gain of function research of concern’ for which federal funding was ‘paused’ in 2014-2017.” At the hearing, Fauci responded to Paul’s assertions that the 2017 study “you were referring to was judged by qualified staff up and down the chain as not being gain of function.”

In May, the NIH, in response to a query from the Washington Post’s Fact Checker, issued a statement declaring that the agency “has never approved any grant to support ‘gain-of-function’ research on coronaviruses that would have increased their transmissibility or lethality for humans. The research proposed in the EcoHealth Alliance, Inc., grant
application sought to understand how bat coronaviruses evolve naturally in
the environment to become transmissible to the human population.”

Robert Garry, a Tulane University virologist pointed out to Newsweek that the Wuhan experiments were done to study whether the bat coronaviruses could infect humans. What they didn’t do, he argued, was make the viruses “any better” at infecting people, which would be necessary for gain-of-function research. In other words, Garry does not think that the WIV research increased the virulence or transmissibility of the modified viruses.

On Twitter, King’s College London virologist Stuart Neil observed that “the EcoHealth grant [from the NIH] was judged by the vetting committee to not involve GoF [gain of function] because the investigators were REPLACING a function in a virus that ALREADY HAD human tropism rather than giving a function to one that could not infect humans.” Neil does acknowledge that “understandably this is a grey area.” He goes on to argue, “But whether I or anyone thinks in retrospect that this is or is not GoF, the NIH did not, so in that respect Fauci is NOT lying.”

Live Congressional testimony is not always coherent, but Paul seemed to be suggesting later in the hearing that the COVID-19 coronavirus could be a gain of function virus developed by the WIV that leaked from the institute’s laboratories. Fauci responded, “I totally resent the lie that you are now propagating, senator, because if you look at the viruses that were used in the experiments that were given in the annual reports that were published in the literature, it is molecularly impossible.” Fauci is right: One point on which all researchers do agree is that none of the viruses modified in the 2017 study could be the cause of the current pandemic. They are simply too genetically different to be the precursors of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

During their heated exchange, Paul backtracked a bit, “No one is saying that those viruses caused the pandemic. What we’re alleging is the gain of function research was going on in that lab and NIH funded it.” Neil observes that “all lab leak scenarios rest on the isolation and culture of either the immediate precursor of SARS-CoV-2 or the construction of a molecular clone from such a hitherto unidentified/undisclosed virus that could serve as a template for GoF experiments not covered by the NIH funding or required for its stated aims and thus far denied by the WIV and EcoHealth.” That is as may be, but Paul seems to be asserting a different claim, which is that the NIH funded some of the research that ended up training scientists at the WIV on how to use gain-of-function techniques that would enable them to develop, either intentionally or inadvertently, more virulent and lethal strains of coronaviruses.

So who is lying? Both Paul and Fauci can cite experts who agree with their interpretations of what the NIH funded at the WIV. Consequently, both men can reasonably believe that they are each telling the truth while the other is a dishonest fraud.

It is worth noting that an international team of researchers posted earlier this month a preprint analysis that finds that most of the evidence strongly points to a natural spillover of the virus. Still, whether or not the pandemic coronavirus leaked from the WIV’s labs is yet to be determined. The fact that the Chinese government has just rejected the World Health Organization’s follow-up investigation into the origins of the virus will certainly and properly continue to fuel suspicions that it did.”

Amazing New Chinese A.I.-Powered Language Model Wu Dao 2.0 Unveiled

“Chinese artificial intelligence (A.I.) researchers at the Beijing Academy of Artificial Intelligence (BAAI) unveiled Wu Dao 2.0, the world’s biggest natural language processing (NLP) model. And it’s a big deal.

NLP is a branch of A.I. research that aims to give computers the ability to understand text and spoken words and respond to them in much the same way human beings can.

Last year, the San Francisco–based nonprofit A.I. research laboratory OpenAI wowed the world when it released its GPT-3 (Generative Pre-trained Transformer 3) language model. GPT-3 is a 175 billion–parameter deep learning model trained on text datasets with hundreds of billions of words. A parameter is a calculation in a neural network that shapes the model’s data by assigning to each chunk a greater or lesser weighting, thus providing the neural network a learned perspective on the data.

Back in November, The New York Times reported that GPT-3 “generates tweets, pens poetry, summarizes emails, answers trivia questions, translates languages and even writes its own computer programs, all with very little prompting.” GPT-3, move on over. Wu Dao 2.0 is here.

Wu Dao 2.0 (Chinese for enlightenment) is ten times larger than GPT-3, using 1.75 trillion parameters to simulate conversational speech, write poems, understand pictures, and even generate recipes. In addition, as the South China Morning Post reports, Wu Dao 2.0 is multimodal, covering both Chinese and English with skills acquired by studying 4.9 terabytes of images and texts, including 1.2 terabytes each of Chinese and English texts.

“Wu Dao 2.0’s mulitmodal design affords it a range of skills, including the ability to perform natural language processing, text generation, image recognition, and image generation tasks,” reports VentureBeat. “It can write essays, poems, and couplets in traditional Chinese, as well as captioning images and creating nearly photorealistic artwork, given natural language descriptions.” In addition, Wu Dao 2.0 can predict the 3D structures of proteins, like DeepMind’s AlphaFold, and can also power “virtual idols.” Just recently, BAAI researchers unveiled Hua Zhibing, China’s first A.I.-powered virtual student”

China Is Paying Less Than 8 Percent of Tariff Costs. Americans Are Paying the Rest.

“American consumers are bearing nearly 93 percent of the costs of the tariffs applied to Chinese goods, according to a new report from Moody’s Investors Service. Just 7.6 percent of the added costs of the tariffs are being absorbed by China, the investment firm found.

And it gets worse. When China responded to Trump’s tariffs by slapping new tariffs on many American goods, American firms paid a significant price. That’s because “U.S. exporters, unlike China’s exporters, lowered by roughly 50 percent the prices of goods affected by foreign retaliatory tariffs, carrying a much higher cost burden than foreign importers of goods under U.S. tariffs,” writes Dima Cvetkova, an associate analyst at Moody’s and author of the report.

In other words, American companies ended up on the losing end of the trade war both going and coming. Importers absorbed most of the cost of the Trump tariffs, and American businesses that export to China got hit by the retaliatory tariffs worse than Chinese exporters to the U.S. did.”

“More than half of the goods traded between the world’s two largest economies are now subject to tariffs, according to PIIE data, up from less than 1 percent before the trade war began. The so-called Phase One trade deal inked by the Trump administration and Chinese government in December 2019 (there never was a second phase) barely had any impact on those figures.”

“According to the American Action Forum, a free market think tank, Trump’s tariffs (and retaliatory tariffs imposed by other countries) have increased annual American consumer costs by about $57 billion. The Tax Foundation estimates that Trump’s tariffs amount to an $80 billion tax increase on U.S. businesses. And researchers from Columbia University, Princeton University, and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York concluded that the tariff costs “have been passed on entirely to U.S. importers and consumers.”

More than three years after Trump launched his trade war and four months after President Joe Biden inherited it, the consequences of the tariffs should no longer be subject to debate. The evidence is overwhelming and one-sided: American consumers are being hammered.”

America’s Semiconductor Industry Doesn’t Need $52 Billion in New Subsidies To Stay Ahead of China

“Rather than countering a perceived threat from China, lawmakers risk bogging down one of the most innovative and successful parts of the American economy with an industrial policy that will force chipmakers to care more about what makes Washington happy than what is best for their own businesses.”

“Companies that, by the way, admit they don’t need the cash to be competitive. Intel, one of the world’s biggest chipmaking companies, is in the process of building a $20 billion fabrication facility in Arizona. In March, CEO Pat Gelsinger said the project “would not depend on a penny of government support or state support.” (Though he immediately followed that comment by saying that “of course…we want incentives” and it appears that Congress is prepared to dutifully provide them.)”

“According to the Semiconductor Industry Association, a trade group, American-based firms control 47 percent of the global share of the semiconductor industry—a far cry from congressional concerns about the U.S. losing its competitive edge.”

“The trick that lawmakers are trying to pull here is to focus on where semiconductors are made. But this doesn’t really matter. It’s true that a smaller share is manufactured in the U.S. today than 30 years ago, but that’s the result of natural shifts in the market, not evidence of a collapse in American technological prowess.
Indeed, American companies are still at the forefront of semiconductor development—earlier this month, American-based IBM announced a breakthrough in the development of the world’s first two-nanometer chip.”

“It takes a long time to make semiconductors—up to 26 weeks, in some cases—and production is still ramping up again in the wake of last year’s disruptive pandemic. This isn’t a nationalist issue in which some evil foreigners are cutting off America’s share of semiconductors, but a market-based issue that will be resolved as chipmakers increase production capacity to catch up to increasing demand.
But what about China? Yes, the Chinese government is investing heavily in semiconductor-making technology, but it remains far behind America in terms of technological know-how. A recent Nikkei report shows that China mostly manufactures nothing smaller than 14-nanometer chips, which are several generations behind the most advanced chips being made elsewhere—remember, IBM just announced plans for a two-nanometer chip. Closing that gap will be difficult now that America has banned the sale of semiconductor-manufacturing equipment to China (and enforced that ban even when the sale involved other countries).

If there is one major worry for the global supply chain of semiconductors, it is the island of Taiwan. The majority of the world’s semiconductors are made in Taiwan, which is home to the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, by far the world’s largest chipmaker. There are obviously many complicated geopolitical issues involving Taiwan that America and the world’s semiconductor industry will have to navigate in the coming years—but it is downright foolish to believe that $52 billion in subsidies will make a meaningful impact in that complex situation, or in a global market that was worth $425 billion last year alone.”

“All it will do is shovel $52 billion of taxpayer money (some of it probably borrowed from China, ironically enough) to successful businesses flush with cash.”

China is buying Muslim leaders’ silence on the Uyghurs

“As the world increasingly speaks out against China’s genocide of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, the quietest voices continue to belong to the leaders of Muslim-majority countries.
Look no further than Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s interview this week with Axios’s Jonathan Swan. Swan asked why the premier, who often speaks out on Islamophobia in the West, has been noticeably silent on the human rights atrocities happening just across his country’s border.

Khan parroted China’s denial that it has placed roughly 2 million Uyghurs in internment camps and then evaded the issue over and over again. “This is not the case, according to them,” Khan said, adding that any disagreements between Pakistan and China are hashed out privately.

That’s a jarring statement. Instead of offering a pro forma “Yes, of course we’re concerned by this” before moving on, Khan chose instead to minimize the problem altogether.

Why would Khan do such a thing during a high-profile interview, with his self-enhanced image as a defender of Muslims on the line? The prime minister gave the game away later in the interview: “China has been one of the greatest friends to us in our most difficult times, when we were really struggling,” Khan told Swan. “When our economy was struggling, China came to our rescue.”

China has given Pakistan billions in loans to prop up its economy, allowing the country to improve transit systems and a failing electrical grid, among other things. China didn’t do that out of the goodness of its heart; it did so partly to make Pakistan dependent on China, thus strong-arming it into a closer bilateral relationship.

It’s a play China has run over and over through its “Belt and Road Initiative.” China aims to build a large land-and-sea trading network connecting much of Asia to Europe, Africa, and beyond. To do that, it makes investment and loan deals with nations on that “road” — like Pakistan — so that they form part of the network. The trade, in effect, is that China increases its power and influence while other countries get the economic assistance they need.”

“”In 2019, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt were among 37 countries that signed a letter to the U.N. Human Rights Council praising China’s “contribution to the international human rights cause” — with claims that China restored “safety and security” after facing “terrorism, separatism and extremism” in Xinjiang…

When Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman visited China in 2019, he declared that “China has the right to take anti‐terrorism and de‐extremism measures to safeguard national security.” And a March 2019 statement by the Saudi‐based Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) praised China for “providing care to its Muslim citizens.”””

“In 2009 — as Chinese authorities cracked down on Uyghurs amid ethnic violence in Xinjiang, and long before there were credible reports of arbitrary imprisonment, torture, and forced labor — the Turkish leader spoke out about what was happening.

“The incidents in China are, simply put, a genocide. There’s no point in interpreting this otherwise,” Erdoğan said.

ut now his tune has changed. In January, Turkish police broke up a protest led by local Uyghurs outside China’s consulate in Istanbul, and the government stands accused of extraditing Uyghurs to China in exchange for Covid-19 vaccines.

Why such a shift? You guessed it: Money.

The Turkish economy was in a downturn well before the coronavirus pandemic, but China has come to the rescue. Erdoğan and his team have sought billions from China in recent years, and China became the largest importer of Turkish goods in 2020. Saying anything negative about the Chinese government — especially on the Uyghur issue — could sever the financial lifeline China provides.

That said, the pressure from the pro-Uyghur public in Turkey has forced a slight shift in the Erdoğan regime’s rhetoric in recent months. In March, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said his administration has brought up the plight of the Uyghurs in private discussions with Chinese officials.

Still, that falls far short of what the world should expect from Muslim leaders.”