Adding to the confusion is the new assessment
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The New Year speech comes as China is hit by a spiraling outbreak of illness that has hurt factories and businesses and is posing a dire threat to the economy.
Prior to this, he had staked his political legitimacy on zero- Covid. Many are left questioning his wisdom when his costly strategy is dismantled after nationwide protests against it. The protests, which in some places saw rare demands for Xi and the Communist Party to “step down,” may have ended, but the overriding sense of frustration has yet to dissipate.
After three years of self-imposed global isolation and Covid restrictions, life in China may finally return to normal, as the nation learns to live with the virus, as a consequence of the haphazard reopening.
“We have now entered a new phase of Covid response where tough challenges remain,” Xi said in a nationally televised New Year’s Eve speech. “Everyone is holding on with great fortitude, and the light of hope is right in front of us. Perseverance and solidarity mean victory, so an extra effort should be made to pull through.
China’s state media softened its pro-Russia rhetoric as Russia suffered a series of setbacks in Ukraine, while the president agreed to oppose using nuclear weapons in the country.
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An explosion of cases after the lifting of restrictions last month did not have enough preparation in place to deal with the high number of patients and deaths.
The country’s fragile heath system is scrambling to cope: fever and cold medicines are hard to find, hospitals are overwhelmed, doctors and nurses are stretched to the limit, while crematoriums are struggling to keep up with an influx of bodies.
The experts say the worst is yet to come. Less developed cities and the rural hinterland are still bracing for an outbreak even though Beijing has seen the peak of the outbreak.
The outlook is grim. Some studies estimate the death toll could be in excess of a million, if China fails to roll out booster shots and antiviral drugs fast enough.
Many older people are reluctant to take the government’s booster campaign because of concerns about side effects. When the country’s medical workers are stretched thin, it will take time and effort to fight vaccine hesitancy.
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China’s growth will provide a boost to the economies that rely on Chinese demand. There will be more international travel. Demand will lead to higher energy and raw materials prices, which will push up global inflation.
Bo Zhuang, senior analyst at Loomis, Sayles & Company based in Boston, thinks that China is not prepared to deal with Covid.
Other experts also expect the economy to recover after March. HSBC economists projected a contraction in the first quarter but five-year growth in a recent report.
Chinese citizens are happy that the border can be reopened after the end ofQuarantine for international arrivals and the restart of outbound travel.
The announcement of loosened restrictions caused a sudden spike in traffic to travel websites, even though some residents voiced concern online.
Several Chinese nationals outside of China were unable to return to their home for the last few years due to the long confinement that still existed. That stretch meant major life moments missed and spent apart: graduations, weddings, childbirths, deaths.
Some countries have offered a warm welcome back, with foreign embassies and tourism departments posting invitations to Chinese travelers on Chinese social media sites. Many countries have imposed new testing requirements for travelers from China and its territories.
In many ways, it doesn’t matter if poor security at a lab in China or animal transmission caused the pandemic that killed nearly seven million people globally, according to World Health Organization figures, and more than a million in the US. Both possible routes of transmission represent a threat to humanity and need to be addressed, which is one reason why China’s lack of transparency on the issue is so potentially dangerous. The Pandemic has souring its national mythology of a rising power for China and it is still a huge embarrassment.
The new controversy over the origins of Covid-19 is a study in isolation of many of the forces ripping at US-China relations, including US mistrust of the Chinese Communist Party and its leader Xi Jinping’s desire to preserve his prestige and that of a political system he holds up as an alternative to Western democracy. China is not complying with global rules in allowing follow-up investigations on the origin of the Pandemic. It only heightens the reaction in Washington and tears at US political fault lines.
What has China done to Russia after the Covid-19 invasion? A social scientist at the University of Arizona who works at the Stimson Center
It wasn’t helped by lack of top-level face-to-face diplomacy and the freeze on in-person exchanges between policy advisers, business groups and the public.
Communication lines are open again, with the US Secretary of State, French President, Dutch Prime Minister, and Italy’s newly elected Prime Minister all expected to visit Beijing this year.
An already inflamed relationship between the US and China is being exacerbated by two fresh controversies – one over the exact origins of Covid-19 and the other stemming from stern US warnings that China must not arm Russia in its war in Ukraine.
Both leaders made a gesture of unity, with both saying the two countries should strengthen strategic coordination and inject more stability into the world.
Beijing has long refused to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, or even refer to it as such. It has instead decried Western sanctions and amplified Kremlin talking points blaming the US and NATO for the conflict.
But few experts believe China will distance itself from Russia, with several telling CNN the two countries’ mutual reliance and geopolitical alignment remains strong – including their shared vision for a “new world order.”
The China Program director of the Stimson Center said that the war has caused a nuisance for China and affected its interest in Europe. The damage is not enough to cause China to abandon Russia.
The climate of fear and anxiety hasn’t gone away — researchers are just being pressured in a new way, says Jenny Lee, a social scientist at the University of Arizona in Tucson who studies research collaborations and geopolitics. The US government has adopted various policies against China. And although the DoJ is pursuing fewer criminal charges, it says that it will work increasingly with federal agencies to investigate researchers and issue civil and administrative penalties for noncompliance. Universities are also taking a more active role in assisting investigations and pursuing potential wrongdoing, sources tell Nature.
A researcher at the University of Tennessee, who was indicted for hiding ties with China in 2020, and put under house arrest for over a year before being acquitted, is trying to get his research back on track. He has spent the past year rebuilding his lab, but has had trouble securing any funding. Before his arrest he had six students on his team, but he won’t now because it’s too risky.
The San Diego Union-Tribune reported on an example of a university being more active in the wake of the initiative. Xiang-Dong Fu, a molecular biologist at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), was forced to quit his position after the university accused him of hiding ties to China. UCSD said he had violated its conflict-of-commitment policy by accepting travel reimbursements from Chinese institutions that he had visited, and had failed to disclose Chinese grants that bore his name. Fu denies any wrongdoing, according to the Tribune.
Universities reject the idea that they are unfairly targeting researchers of Chinese heritage. According to Toby Smith, vice-president for science policy and global affairs at the Association of American Universities (AAU) in Washington DC, US institutions acknowledge the considerable research contributions from these scientists. Universities are working to ensure that all faculty members are disclosing information properly, he adds.
But he calls on US funding agencies to provide greater clarity for universities on what counts as an offence and what are appropriate and fair sanctions.
Gisela Kusakawa is the executive director of the Asian American Scholar Forum which is based in New York City. Universities and agencies should provide training for scientists on how to complete disclosure forms, and they must allow scientists the opportunity to revise completed forms to ensure that they are correct, she says.
The narrative that scientists from China are potential spies has been perpetuated by the US in the past year. In August 2022, the US Congress passed into law the CHIPS and Science Act, which earmarks an extra US$280 billion for research and innovation and includes measures designed to tighten research security. The minimum amount of gifts to be reported by the US institutions is now $250,000, down from the previous minimum of $250,000.
Chen is similarly afraid to apply for federal research funding, concerned that the government could misuse the forms against him as they did before, he says. To feel more secure, he has switched from researching nanotechnologies with obvious commercial applications to doing more-fundamental science, exploring the solar evaporation of water. He rarely responds to e-mails from people in China who are interested in his research.
The foreign ministry in China warned the Americans not to politicize the issue of the lab leak and to stop stirring up arguments about laboratory leaks.
The Department of Energy Updated on the Investigation of the COVID-19 Associated with the First U.S. Census of Communist Intelligence
Intelligence agencies can make assessments with either medium or high confidence. A low confidence assessment generally means that the information obtained is not reliable enough or is too fragmented to make a more definitive analytic judgment or that there is not enough information available to draw a more robust conclusion.
The Wall Street Journal first reported on the new assessment from the Department of Energy. A senior US intelligence official told the Journal that the update to the intelligence assessment was conducted in light of new intelligence, further study of academic literature and in consultation with experts outside government.
The Department of Energy continues to support the thorough, careful and objective work of our intelligence professionals in investigating the origin of COVID-19, as the President ordered, according to a Department of Energy spokesman.
The Department of Energy’s Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence is one of 18 government agencies that make up the intelligence community, which are under the umbrella of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
The latest intelligence assessment was provided to Congress as Republicans on Capitol Hill have been pushing for further investigation into the theory, while accusing the Biden administration of playing down its possibility.
McCaul said he was pleased that the Department of Energy had reached the same conclusion as he had already come to.
The Texas Republican said that he had asked for a full and thorough briefing on the report and evidence behind it.
“It is critical the administration also begin to work immediately with our partners and allies around the world to both hold the (Chinese Communist Party) accountable and to put in place updated international regulations to ensure something like this cannot happen again,” McCaul said.
Extensive hearings are needed. I hope our Democratic colleagues in the Congress can support that. I know the Republicans in the House are certainly supportive of that,” the Senate Armed Services Committee member said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
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The US intelligence community is still divided over the matter, so such statements do not recognize that. Many Republicans have sought to prove that the Chinese were behind the virus, and have been looking for an explanation as to why Trump was negligent in handling it.
A spokesman for the House Oversight Chairman said in statement that the committee was looking at the classified information given to them by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
One of the sources said that the new assessment from the Department of Energy is similar to information from a House Republican Intelligence Committee report released last year on the origins of the virus.
“Right now, there is not a definitive answer that has emerged from the intelligence community on this question,” Sullivan told CNN’s Dana Bash. Some elements of the intelligence community have reached conclusions on both sides of the issue. Many of them said they don’t have enough information to be sure.
What is the reason that Covid-19 came from a certain place? The next epidemic can be prevented if we find the answer, as noted by Relman in a previous interview with CNN.
Three years after the beginning of a pandemic that is still disrupting daily life, the assessment from the US Energy Department is only adding to the confusion over what actually happened in China.
A letter from public health experts published in February 2020 in The Lancet, an influential scientific journal, also set the tone early by declaring the virus to have a natural origin.
The Bipartisan Select Committee on Competition with China During the Covid-19 Experiment: The Report of the 2020 Senate Appropriate Report
Three other intelligence community elements were unable to coalesce around either explanation without additional information, the community’s report said.
For the better part of 2020, advocates of the lab leak theory had to fight against claims they were being xenophobic or racist — in part thanks to anti-Chinese rhetoric from then-President Donald Trump, who embraced the theory.
An inquiry launched by Trump’s State Department, which sought to investigate whether China’s biological weapons program could have had a greater role in the pandemic’s origin in Wuhan, was shut down early on in the Biden administration.
“Some elements of the intelligence community have reached conclusions on one side, some on the other. A number of them say they don’t have all the information they need to be sure.
It can take months or years to find out the host of a viruses that has emerged from natural transmission through animals.
The diplomatic tussle over a suspected Chinese spy balloon that flew across the US is not the most recent cause of tension.
This increasingly adversarial relationship touches multiple areas of American life – from the economy to public health. It spans the challenges faced by the US military, which are amid the great geopolitical clashes of the early 21st century, to risks posed by the Chinese-designed apps on the electronic devices everyone carries everywhere. It could lead to a potentially disastrous slide toward conflict between the US and China. And it poses serious challenges for a polarized US political system that struggles to have a rational debate on these issues without descending into a partisan game of who can be tougher on China. The self-perpetuating cycle of escalation between the two sides only deepens with one-upmanship.
It is in this politicized atmosphere that the GOP-controlled House is debuting a new bipartisan select committee on competition with China during a primetime hearing on Tuesday night, just as Washington-Beijing tensions have rarely been worse.
Republican Rep. Mike Gallagher, the new committee’s chairman, told CNN’s Manu Raju that Tuesday’s hearing would not focus specifically on the latest drama – after the Department of Energy assessed with low confidence that the Covid-19 pandemic originated with a lab leak in the Chinese city of Wuhan. He said that finding, which is a minority view among US intelligence agencies, could be examined in a future hearing but that he wanted to show Americans on Tuesday that the threat from China was “not just an over there problem, it’s … right here.”
“We want to understand what we got wrong about the Chinese Communist Party and what we need to understand about it going forward in order to get our policy right,” the Wisconsin Republican said.
While we might call it a strategic competition, it isn’t a tennis match. What type of world are we going to live in? We have a choice: do we want to live in the free world or do we want to live in the repressive Xinjiang state? The Uyghur minority in the Chinese region are accused by the US of being the subject of genocide, which China insists is false.
The committee may be one of the few areas where a divided Congress – and potentially the White House – can find common ground. The Biden administration has reinforced the already tough stance toward China that ex-President Donald Trump adopted later in his presidency. President Joe Biden, for instance, last year signed a new law that will allow the government to spend $200 billion in a bid to claim the leadership of the semiconductor chips industry – a critical sector that could decide the economic race between the US and China in decades to come.
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“There is a bottom line here, which is that neither lab leak, nor spillover – i.e. animal origin – can be ruled out. Tom Frieden, who was the director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on Monday that they didn’t have definitive information.
But it didn’t take long for Republicans to claim political victory in the wake of Sunday’s Wall Street Journal report about new intelligence causing the Department of Energy to believe with low confidence that a lab leak was to blame. Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has been accused of spreading conspiracy theories about the pandemic, tweeted, “Conspiracy theorists – 100 Media – 0.”
Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas tweeted: “Re. Being proven right doesn’t matter in China’s lab leak. What matters is holding the Chinese Communist Party accountable so this doesn’t happen again.”
It doesn’t mean the virus emerged from a lab or that the rest of the world was exposed.
But in Washington this week, the issue has again degenerated into an excuse for Republicans to target scientists and government health experts and to twist a narrative about Covid-19 that still has massive gaps.
The US, citing unpublished intelligence, has spent the last week warning that China is considering sending lethal aid to bolster Russia’s forces – a situation that would effectively put China on the opposite side of a proxy war with the US and NATO powers that have sent billions of dollars in weapons to Ukraine.
This new front in US- China antagonism is starting to make its way into US politics. While being tough on Beijing is a bipartisan position, the idea of a broadened conflict in Ukraine conflicts with the more limited view of US power projection abroad among “America First” Republicans. Traditional hawks like Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell strongly support even more US aid for Ukraine, but some conservatives like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis – a likely 2024 contender – have warned against escalating conflict. He mentioned potential Chinese involvement in a foreign policy comment last week.
His comments made clear that everything in Washington is political. tortured US relations with China is one of the most politicized issues.