Chinese Chip Central Planning Creates “Stunning Absurdities That Defy Logic and Common Sense”

(p. B1) Liu Fengfeng had more than a decade under his belt at one of the world’s most prominent technology companies before he realized where the real gold rush in China was taking place.

Computer chips are the brains and souls of all the electronics the country’s factories crank out. Yet they are mostly designed and produced overseas. China’s government is lavishing money upon anyone who can help change that.

. . .

(p. B2) In a way, China is hoping to achieve the same kind of liftoff that helped it progress from making plastic toys to crafting solar panels.

With semiconductors, though, “the model starts to break down a little bit,” said Jay Goldberg, a tech industry consultant and former Qualcomm executive. The technology is eye-wateringly expensive to develop, and established players have spent decades accumulating know-how. Europe, Mr. Goldberg noted, once had many “incredible” chip companies. Japan’s chip makers are leaders in certain specialized products, but few would call them bold innovators.

“My point is, there is a ladder — China’s moving up it,” Mr. Goldberg said. But it’s “unclear which outcome they go to.”

. . .

At a top-level meeting on the economy last week, the Communist Party’s leaders enshrined technological self-reliance as one of the country’s “Five Fundamentals” for economic development.

Complete self-sufficiency in chips, however, would mean recreating every part of the lengthy supply chains for some of the most complex technology on earth — a mission that would seem to lead, if not to madness, at least to waste.

. . .

“Up until very recently — this year — the goal had been: With state backing, move up the value chain, specialize where China has a comparative advantage, but don’t really try and fall down the rabbit hole of trying to build everything yourself,” said Jimmy Goodrich, the vice president for global policy at the Semiconductor Industry Association, a group that represents American chip companies.

Now, “it’s very clear that Xi Jinping is calling for a redundant domestic supply chain,” Mr. Goodrich said. “And so the rules of economics, comparative advantage and the supply-chain efficiencies have basically been thrown out the door.”

The government is conscious of the dangers. State-run news outlets have amply covered the recent semiconductor flameouts. The message to other upstarts: Don’t mess it up.

When the state broadcaster China Central Television visited one stalled project in the eastern city of Huai’an recently, it found dozens of giant machines idling on the factory floor, many of them still sheathed in plastic.

“There have been some stunning absurdities that defy logic and common sense,” China Economic Weekly said.

. . .

“There is definitely a bubble in China,” he said. “But you can’t overgeneralize.”

. . .

“Something is bound to accumulate, whether it’s equipment, talent or factories, right?” Mr. Liu said. “If not you or the other guy, then it will be someone else who ends up using it. I think this might be the government’s logic.”

For the full story, see:

Raymond Zhong and Cao Li. “China’s Frenzy to Master Chip Manufacturing.” The New York Times (Monday, December 28, 2020): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 24, 2020, and has the title “With Money, and Waste, China Fights for Chip Independence.”)

Hacked Trove of Documents Show China’s “Weaponized System of Censorship”

(p. 1) In the early hours of Feb. 7 [2021], China’s powerful internet censors experienced an unfamiliar and deeply unsettling sensation. They felt they were losing control.

The news was spreading quickly that Li Wenliang, a doctor who had warned about a strange new viral outbreak only to be threatened by the police and accused of peddling rumors, had died of Covid-19. Grief and fury coursed through social media. To people at home and abroad, Dr. Li’s death showed the terrible cost of the Chinese government’s instinct to suppress inconvenient information.

Yet China’s censors decided to double down. Warning of the “unprecedented challenge” Dr. Li’s passing had posed and the “butterfly effect” it may have set off, officials got to work suppressing the inconvenient news and reclaiming the narrative, according to confidential directives sent to local propaganda workers and news outlets.

They ordered news websites not to issue push notifications alerting readers to his death. They told social platforms to gradually remove his name from trending topics pages. And they activated legions of fake online commenters to flood social sites with distracting chatter, stressing the need for discretion: “As commenters fight to guide public opinion, they must conceal their identity, avoid crude patriotism and sarcastic praise, and be sleek and silent in achieving results.”

The orders were among thousands of secret government directives and other documents that were reviewed by The New York(p. 14)Times and ProPublica. They lay bare in extraordinary detail the systems that helped the Chinese authorities shape online opinion during the pandemic.

At a time when digital media is deepening social divides in Western democracies, China is manipulating online discourse to enforce the Communist Party’s consensus. To stage-manage what appeared on the Chinese internet early this year, the authorities issued strict commands on the content and tone of news coverage, directed paid trolls to inundate social media with party-line blather and deployed security forces to muzzle unsanctioned voices.

. . .

The documents include more than 3,200 directives and 1,800 memos and other files from the offices of the country’s internet regulator, the Cyberspace Administration of China, in the eastern city of Hangzhou. They also include internal files and computer code from a Chinese company, Urun Big Data Services, that makes software used by local governments to monitor internet discussion and manage armies of online commenters.

The documents were shared with The Times and ProPublica by a hacker group that calls itself C.C.P. Unmasked, referring to the Chinese Communist Party. The Times and ProPublica independently verified the authenticity of many of the documents, some of which had been obtained separately by China Digital Times, a website that tracks Chinese internet controls.

. . .

“China has a politically weaponized system of censorship; it is refined, organized, coordinated and supported by the state’s resources,” said Xiao Qiang, a research scientist at the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley, and the founder of China Digital Times. “It’s not just for deleting something. They also have a powerful apparatus to construct a narrative and aim it at any target with huge scale.”

“This is a huge thing,” he added. “No other country has that.”

For the full story, see:

Raymond Zhong, Paul Mozur, Jeff Kao and Aaron Krolik. “‘Be Sleek and Silent’: How China Censored Bad News About Covid.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, December 20, 2020): 1 & 14.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Jan. [sic] 13, 2021, and has the title “No ‘Negative’ News: How China Censored the Coronavirus.”)

In the Early Fight Against COVID-19 in China “Front-Line Bureaucrats Were Consumed With Paperwork”

(p. A15) After Chinese leader Xi Jinping ordered rural poverty eliminated by 2020, bureaucrats in the southwestern city of Mianyang got busy—with paperwork.

Instructed to devote 70% of their time to the campaign, they diligently filled out forms certifying compliance, a practice known as “leaving marks,” said Pang Jia, a local judicial clerk who joined the effort. When higher-ups demanded photographic proof of their home visits, some aid workers made up for missing winter photos by posing in cold-weather clothing during summer house calls, Ms. Pang said.

Since taking power in late 2012, Mr. Xi has realigned Chinese politics with his domineering style and a top-down drive to forge a centralized state under the Communist Party. But his efforts are running into an old foe: bureaucracy.

Party observers say the drive for centralization in a sprawling nation too often fosters bureaucratic inertia, duplicity and other(p. A10)unproductive practices that are aimed at satisfying Beijing and protecting careers but threaten to undermine Mr. Xi’s goals.

Indeed, some local officials have become so focused on pleasing Mr. Xi and fulfilling party mandates that they can neglect their basic duties as public servants, sometimes with dire results.

As the new coronavirus spread in Wuhan in late 2019, for instance, local authorities were afraid to share bad news with Beijing. That impeded the national response and contributed to the death toll, according to a Wall Street Journal investigation.

Mr. Xi and other senior officials publicly lamented how front-line bureaucrats were consumed with paperwork instead of fighting the contagion. Officials dedicated hours each day to filling out multiple documents for agencies making overlapping requests for information, including residents’ body temperatures and symptoms.

For the full story, see:

Chun Han Wong. “Xi Jinping’s Eager Minions Snarl His China Plans.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, March 8, 2021): A15.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 7, 2021, and has the title “Xi Jinping’s Eager-to-Please Bureaucrats Snarl His China Plans.”)

WHO Team Unable to Conduct a Thorough and Impartial Study of Wuhan Origin of Covid-19

(p. A1) . . . , as the WHO-led team finalizes its full report on the Wuhan mission, a Wall Street Journal investigation has uncovered fresh details about the team’s formation and constraints that reveal how little power it had to conduct a thorough, impartial examination—and call into question the clarity its findings appeared to provide.

. . .

(p. A10) The WHO asked the U.S. to recommend government experts for the team, but it didn’t contact the three that Washington put forward, according to current and former U.S. officials.

. . .

On Jan. 23, 2020, a WHO emergency committee recommended that a WHO-led group of scientists should “review and support efforts to investigate the animal source of the outbreak.”

. . .

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s director-general, discussed the matter with President Xi Jinping in a January 28 meeting. The next month, a WHO-led team, including two U.S. government experts, visited China.

Local officials appeared committed to a search and described work they had under way, according to people on that trip. But no studies emerged over the following weeks.

. . .

The team included leading specialists in animal health, epidemiology and virology, and government experts from Germany, Russia and Japan.

It included one scientist from the U.S.: Peter Daszak, a zoologist and president of EcoHealth Alliance, a New York-based nonprofit.

Dr. Daszak had experience hunting for the origins of emerging human viruses in animals, including 16 years working with researchers in China. He was on a team that pinpointed bats as the source of the coronavirus behind SARS.

Some U.S. officials and scientists were concerned some of his nonprofit’s work in China posed a conflict of interest. EcoHealth had in past years provided funding to the Wuhan Institute of Virology as part of a grant from the U.S. National Institutes of Health. The WIV is at the center of assertions by the Trump administration that the pandemic virus could have come from a lab, and Dr. Daszak had publicly dismissed the possibility.

In applying for a spot on the team, Dr. Daszak said, he described his expertise and provided a conflict-of-interest statement to the WHO including his work with the WIV.

. . .

On Jan. 28 [2021], a year to the day from the WHO director-general’s meeting with President Xi, they were cleared to begin field visits and face-to-face meetings with Chinese counterparts. For the remainder of the trip, they were restricted mainly to one part of a hotel due to more quarantine rules and forced to eat separately from Chinese counterparts—preventing the kind of informal conversations team members said were often the most fruitful in such efforts. Their contact with anyone outside the team was limited.

It soon became evident to foreign officials and scientists tracking the mission that the team’s itinerary was partly designed to bolster China’s official narrative that the government moved swiftly to control the virus. The team’s first visit was to a hospital where they met a doctor Beijing feted as the first to raise alarms through official channels about an outbreak of unknown pneumonia. The next day, after another hospital visit, the team went to an exhibition commemorating Chinese authorities’ early “decisive victory in the battle” against the virus, paying tribute to President Xi’s leadership.

. . .

Team members said it became clear to them that Chinese authorities would mostly present only their data analysis, not the raw numbers. And they hadn’t completed some short-term tasks the team had hoped for, including detailed studies of blood samples from before December 2019 and compiling a definitive list of animals sold at the Huanan market.

Among the 30 to 60 Chinese participants were nonscientists, including foreign-ministry officials, team members said. China’s team leader has said his team included 17 experts. The Chinese foreign ministry said none of its officials were in the expert group.

A heated exchange during one meeting touched on the pivotal question of how widely the virus spread around Wuhan before the first confirmed case, who Chinese officials say got sick on Dec. 8, 2019.

. . .

After leaving Wuhan, some international team members qualified their verdict on the laboratory. They lacked the authority, expertise or access to conduct a full examination of the WIV or any other research facility, several said publicly or to the Journal.

Several said that they hadn’t been able to see the raw data or original safety, personnel, experiment and animal-breeding logs—which many other scientists say are necessary elements of a full investigation.

“It’s just a great coup by China,” said Daniel Lucey, a clinical professor of medicine at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth who also teaches at Georgetown University.

A thorough investigation of a potential lab leak would require experts with forensic skills similar to those who do weapons or biowarfare inspections, scientists including Dr. Dwyer said.

“We didn’t see the actual data there,” Dr. Dwyer said. “It would be nice to have seen that, particularly around the testing of their staff and so on. But that didn’t come through. They could still provide that.”

For the full story, see:

Jeremy Page, Betsy McKay, and Drew Hinshaw. “WHO’s Hunt for Covid’s Origins Stumbled in China.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, March 5, 2021): A1 & A10.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 17, 2021, and has the title “How the WHO’s Hunt for Covid’s Origins Stumbled in China.” Where there were differences in wording between the online and the print versions, the passages quoted above follow the online version.)

Distinguished French Scientists Spearhead International Effort to Investigate Possible Wuhan Lab Origin of Covid-19

(p. A8) BEIJING—A World Health Organization team investigating the origins of Covid-19 is planning to scrap an interim report on its recent mission to China amid mounting tensions between Beijing and Washington over the investigation and an appeal from one international group of scientists for a new probe.

The group of two dozen scientists is calling in an open letter on Thursday [March 4,2021] for a new international inquiry. They say the WHO team that last month completed a mission to Wuhan—the Chinese city where the first known cases were found—had insufficient access to adequately investigate possible sources of the new coronavirus, including whether it slipped from a laboratory.

. . .

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Feb. 12 [2021] that the team would release an interim report briefly summarizing the Wuhan mission, possibly the following week, with a full report coming weeks later. But that summary report has yet to be published and the WHO team is now scrapping that plan, said Peter Ben Embarek, the food-safety scientist who led the team.

. . .

According to an advance copy of the open letter, the group of 26 scientists and other experts in areas including virology, zoology and microbiology said that it was “all but impossible” for the WHO team to conduct a full investigation, and that any report was likely to involve political compromises as it had to be approved by the Chinese side.

A credible investigation required, among other things, confidential interviews and fuller access to hospital records of confirmed and potential Chinese coronavirus cases in late 2019, when the outbreak was first identified in Wuhan, said the letter signed by experts from France, the U.S., India, Australia and other countries.

Investigators should also be allowed to view records including maintenance, personnel, animal breeding and experiment logs from all laboratories working with coronaviruses, the letter said.

“We cannot afford an investigation into the origins of the pandemic that is anything less than absolutely thorough and credible,” the letter said. “Efforts to date do not constitute a thorough, credible, and transparent investigation.”

The appeal is unlikely to gain traction, as any future probes would require Beijing’s cooperation. Moreover, many leading infectious-disease experts are skeptical that a lab accident could plausibly explain the origins of the pandemic.

Still, it expresses what has become a more widely shared dissatisfaction, voiced by the U.S. and U.K. governments and many scientists world-wide, that China has provided too little information and data to the WHO to guide researchers trying to determine where the virus originated and how it jumped to humans.

. . .

A laboratory accident is “definitely not off the table,” Dr. Ben Embarek told a seminar last week. Dr. Tedros said in February after the team’s trip that “all hypotheses remain open and require further analysis.”

The signatories of the open letter are mostly members of a broader group, spearheaded by French scientists, who have been sharing research papers and other information on Covid-19 since around December. None are associated with the WHO investigation.

Among the signatories are Etienne Decroly and Bruno Canard, molecular virologists at AFMB Lab, which belongs to Aix-Marseille University and the French National Centre for Scientific Research, France’s state research agency.

Dr. Decroly said he became involved after concluding that on the basis of available data, it was impossible to determine whether SARS-CoV-2 “is the result of a zoonosis from a wild viral strain or an accidental escape of experimental strains.”

The letter was co-organized by Gilles Demaneuf, a French data scientist based in New Zealand, and Jamie Metzl, a U.S.-based senior fellow for the Atlantic Council and adviser to the WHO on human genome editing.

Prominent critics of the laboratory hypothesis have in recent weeks published new research on bat coronaviruses found in Southeast Asia and Japan that they say shows that SARS-CoV-2 most likely evolved naturally to infect humans.

Robert Garry, a virologist at the Tulane University School of Medicine who was involved in that research, said he and other colleagues had initially considered the possibility of a leak or accident from a laboratory, but ultimately deemed it “nearly impossible.”

The Biden administration hasn’t publicly repeated its predecessor’s specific assertions regarding Wuhan laboratories.

Signatories of the open letter say they don’t back any one hypothesis but think it is premature to exclude the possibility of a leak or accident at or connected with a research facility such as the Wuhan Institute of Virology, or WIV, which runs high-security laboratories and has conducted extensive research on bat coronaviruses.

WIV scientists deny the virus came from there, saying they neither stored nor worked on SARS-CoV-2 before the pandemic and none of their staff tested positive for the virus.

Signatories said investigators should look at several possible scenarios, including whether a laboratory employee became infected with a naturally evolving virus while sampling bats in the wild, during transport of infected animals, or during disposal of lab waste.

They also said investigators should probe whether SARS-CoV-2 could have stemmed from “gain-of-function” experiments, in which viruses found in the wild are genetically manipulated to see if they can become more infectious or deadly to humans.

For the full story, see:

Betsy McKay, Drew Hinshaw, and Jeremy Page. “WHO Delays Release of Virus Origin Report.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, March 5, 2021): A8.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed dates, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated March 5, 2021, and has the title “WHO Investigators to Scrap Plans for Interim Report on Probe of Covid-19 Origins.” The online edition says that the title in the print edition was “WHO Team Delays Release of Report on Virus’s Origin.” But my copy of the print edition had the title “WHO Delays Release of Virus Origin Report.”
The last 11 paragraphs quoted above appear in the online version, but not the print version, of the article.)

The open letter mentioned above, signed by 26 scientists from Australia, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, India, New Zealand, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States, is:

Butler, Colin D., Bruno Canard, Henri Cap, Y. A. Chan, Jean-Michel Claverie, Fabien Colombo, Virginie Courtier, Francisco A. de Ribera, Etienne Decroly, Rodolphe de Maistre, Gilles Demaneuf, Richard H. Ebright, André Goffinet, François Graner, José Halloy, Milton Leitenberg, Filippa Lentzos, Rosemary McFarlane, Jamie Metzl, Dominique Morello, Nikolai Petrovsky, Steven Quay, Monali C. Rahalkar, Rossana Segreto, Günter Theißen, and Jacques van Helden. “Open Letter: Call for a Full and Unrestricted International Forensic Investigation into the Origins of Covid-19.” March 4, 2021.

Chinese Atlases Are Shrugging

(p. B4) SINGAPORE—Chinese e-commerce company Pinduoduo Inc.’s founder and chairman, Colin Huang, stepped down from the company on Wednesday [March 17, 2021], even as the five-year-old company overtook Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. to become the country’s largest e-commerce company by annual active buyers.

Mr. Huang, 41 years old, is resigning as China’s powerful internet sector comes under growing government scrutiny. His resignation follows another departure from a major company in the sector: Financial-tech giant Ant Group Co.’s Chief Executive Simon Hu stepped down earlier this month.

. . .

Beijing in recent months has been moving to rein in China’s powerful internet sector including e-commerce companies. Among the hardest hit has been Alibaba, which is under antitrust probe; its fintech affiliate Ant, whose initial public offering was canceled in November [2020]; and its founder Jack Ma.

This month, Chinese regulators fined Pinduoduo, alongside several other e-commerce companies, alleging anticompetitive practices.

For the full story, see:

Keith Zhai. “Head of China’s Giant E-Commerce Firm Quits.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, Mar 18, 2021): B4.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed dates, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated March 17, 2021, and has the title “Pinduoduo Founder Colin Huang Steps Down From Company.”)

The fictional version is:

Rand, Ayn. Atlas Shrugged. New York: Random House, 1957.

Successful Chinese Entrepreneur Stands Trial for Defending Free Speech

(p. A10) Like many entrepreneurs in China, Geng Xiaonan found a space in which to make a small fortune — in her case, publishing books on cooking, health and lifestyle.

But unlike many Chinese entrepreneurs, she mixed with critics of the party, organizing dinners and salons that brought together liberal intellectuals, retired officials and longtime dissenters.

Now, Ms. Geng is set to stand trial in Beijing on Tuesday [Feb. 9, 2021] and may spend years in prison for her support for those at odds with China’s deepening authoritarianism, her supporters say. She and her husband, Qin Zhen, have been charged with illegal business activities related to their publishing company. Friends and sympathetic legal experts maintain that her real offense in the eyes of the government was straying from business into sympathizing with critics of Communist Party power.

Ms. Geng, 46, came under growing surveillance last year after she leapt to the defense of Xu Zhangrun, a law professor in Beijing who was suspended after publishing essays scathingly critical of the party and its top leader, Xi Jinping.

“This is simply political persecution,” said Cai Xia, a former professor at the Central Party School in Beijing, who said she had been friends with Ms. Geng for about eight years. Ms. Cai has moved to the United States, where she has denounced the Chinese Communist Party’s tightening of political controls.

“It’s a selective system of enforcement,” Ms. Cai added. “They can make up whatever they want when they want to slap a crime on you.”

Ms. Geng is the latest among a handful of Chinese entrepreneurs detained or imprisoned since last year as the party draws a harder line on businesspeople it deems challengers of Beijing’s rule.

For the full story, see:

Chris Buckley. “Chinese Entrepreneur Was Model of Success, Then She Got Too Close to Critics of the Party.” The New York Times (Tues., February 9, 2021): A10.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 8, 2021, and has the title “This Chinese Businesswoman Was a Model of Success. Then She Angered the Party.”)

Chinese People Yearn for Freedom of Speech

(p. B1) For years, the Chinese government has prevented its 1.4 billion people from speaking freely online. A digital wall separated them from the rest of the world.

Then, for a precious few days, that wall was breached.

Clubhouse, a new social media app that emerged faster than the censors could block it, became a place for Mandarin Chinese speakers from the mainland and anywhere else to speak their minds. They had a lot to say.

. . .

The Chinese government blocked the app Monday [Feb. 8, 2021] afternoon. I knew it was coming, and yet I still didn’t expect to feel so dismayed.

For that brief moment, people in China proved that they are as creative and well spoken as (p. B6) people who enjoy the freedom to express themselves. They lined up, sometimes for hours, to wait for their turns to speak. They argued for the rights of the government loyalists to speak despite their disagreements. They held many honest, sincere conversations, sometimes with tears and sometimes with laughter.

Those conversations helped illuminate why the Chinese government blocks free speech online in the first place. Those free-flowing exchanges threaten to debunk the caricatures that the state-controlled media often foists upon the Chinese people. The state media dismisses people like the Tiananmen protesters, pro-democracy advocates in Hong Kong or those in Taiwan who want the island to take a different path from the mainland.

Likewise, mainlanders got a chance to prove that they aren’t brainwashed drones. People who had been demonized got a chance to speak out and be humanized.

Over the past two decades, Beijing has developed the most sophisticated online censorship system in the world. Big online platforms like Google, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube were blocked long ago. Under Xi Jinping’s leadership, a growing number of topics have become off limits on the Chinese internet. Clubhouse gave mainland Chinese users a chance to flock to chatrooms focused on those taboos.

. . .

Several chatrooms were devoted to the bloody crackdown in Tiananmen Square, a heavily censored topic on the Chinese internet. Cai Chongguo, a student leader during the protests, talked for about four hours, sharing his stories and answering questions from thousands of people.

. . .

Even during the freewheeling conversation, censorship was on the minds of many. On Monday afternoon, one room that reached Clubhouse’s maximum of 5,000 users featured speakers sharing their concerns over whether they would be questioned by the authorities for speaking out on the app.

. . .

A few hours later, mainland users began to report that the app had been blocked. Several rooms were set up immediately for people to chat it over. I joined a room for people to mourn the blocking.

The title of the room featured three candle emoticons. People lined up to share their most memorable experience. A few speakers cried.

. . .

Ms. Sun, who lives in Germany, had never talked about such politically sensitive topics with strangers. Then, on Saturday, she had waited more than two hours to speak in a chatroom about those very topics with thousands of people from mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and other parts of the world.

Someday, she said in an interview, Chinese people would be able to talk freely. Many Eastern Germans didn’t expect the Berlin Wall to fall in 1989, she added, but it happened.

“Nobody can predict the future,” Ms. Sun said. “We should believe in humanity and humanity’s yearning for freedom.”

For the full commentary, see:

Li Yuan. “THE NEW NEW WORLD; China’s Spirit Shines Behind Firewall.” The New York Times (Wednesday, February 10, 2021): B1 & B6.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Feb. 9, 2021, and has the title “THE NEW NEW WORLD; The Great Firewall Cracked, Briefly. A People Shined Through.”)

Clubhouse Tests the Market for Live Unfiltered Talk

(p. B1) Clubhouse and other audio-based social networks are attracting users with a simple appeal: hearing another human voice.

. . .

(p. B4) Clubhouse could be successful in building paid features because of its air of exclusivity—an invitation is required to join, but easy to procure—and the high-profile names coming to converse on the platform, including Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg, Tesla Inc. CEO Elon Musk, actor Lindsay Lohan and Brad Parscale, one-time campaign manager for former President Donald Trump.

. . .  Mr. Musk’s appearance had in part helped drive an influx of China-based users to Clubhouse, where they participated in a rare outpouring of free debate on topics that are taboo in China, until Beijing’s censors this week appeared to cut off access to the app.

Any Clubhouse user can create a virtual room with designated speakers to discuss any topic, for example the merits of bitcoin, startup-building advice, stand-up comedy, or recovery from childhood trauma. Poetry readings, bedtime serenades and guided meditation are on offer. A number of the conversations are about Clubhouse itself, with users dissecting the app, lamenting its shortcomings and complaining about other users.

Tech executives have questioned the staying power of an app with so few guardrails for the length and quality of conversation and no way to filter out idle chatter.

. . .

As with seemingly all online communities, the challenge of moderation looms. Live audio is tougher to moderate than text or images, . . .

For the full story, see:

Heather Somerville. “Social Networks With A Voice Draw Users.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, Feb 12, 2021): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date February 11, 2021, and has the title “Clubhouse Wins Over Hollywood, Tech, Even Elon Musk. Are You Next?”)

Evolution of 5G Will Likely Not Favor China

In the passage of the commentary quoted below “RAN equipment” stands for “radio access network equipment” which is key hardware in the latest 5G broadband technology.

(p. C3) Huawei’s first generation of 5G RAN base stations is a modified version of the older 4G infrastructure that yields faster speeds. The ultimate promise of 5G is an ubiquitous network customized to user needs. Trillions of devices and applications—known as the Internet of Things—using 5G technology will offer new solutions for everything from autonomous vehicles to industrial production management to remote surgery. But the drivers of 5G’s evolution will be semiconductors, software systems and cloud computing—areas in which the U.S., not Huawei or any other Chinese company, is the world leader.

Instead of being intimidated by Huawei, U.S. foreign policy makers should recognize the Chinese company’s situation, which is akin to the dominance that IBM enjoyed during the age of mainframe computing. IBM’s massive scale and proprietary standards and software made it hard for competitors to match its offerings. Only in the 1970s and ’80s, when Japan massively subsidized new competitors like NEC, did IBM falter. But the true decline of IBM and its Japanese competitors came with the rise of the internet. The web’s transparent standards enabled many new firms to “plug and play.” Semiconductors, software and desktop computing eventually led to the apps on your smartphone at a fraction of the cost of such functions 30 years ago.

Today, 5G is at a similar moment. A new generation of technological standards for 5G would allow specialist suppliers—like the Microsofts and Intels of the internet era—to compete against Huawei, Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung. Control via the old RAN infrastructure will be diminished by control via cloud computing and software, which plays to a key U.S. strength. Introducing these standards will take concerted action from U.S. firms, along with targeted U.S. government support, such as the adoption of procurement requirements to embody these new rules.

For the full commentary, see:

Peter Cowhey and Susan Shirk. “The Danger of Exaggerating China’s Technological Prowess.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Jan 9, 2021): C3.

(Note: the first ellipsis is added; the second and third are in the original.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date January 8, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.)

The commentary quoted above is related to the report:

Crowley, Peter, Chair. “Meeting the China Challenge: A New American Strategy for Technology Competition.” San Diego, CA: UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy, Nov. 16, 2020.

Chinese Communists Plan Years in Prison for Lawyer-Journalist Who Documented Government Failings in Covid Crisis

(p. A15) In one video, during the lockdown in Wuhan, she filmed a hospital hallway lined with rolling beds, the patients hooked up to blue oxygen tanks. In another, she panned over a community health center, noting that a man said he was charged for a coronavirus test, even though residents believed the tests would be free.

At the time, Zhang Zhan, a 37-year-old former lawyer turned citizen journalist, embodied the Chinese people’s hunger for unfiltered information about the epidemic. Now, she has become a symbol of the government’s efforts to deny its early failings in the crisis and promote a victorious narrative instead.

Ms. Zhang abruptly stopped posting in May [2020], after several months of dispatches. The police later revealed that she had been arrested, accused of spreading lies. On Monday [Dec. 28, 2020], she will go to court, in the first known trial of a chronicler of China’s coronavirus crisis.

Ms. Zhang has continued to challenge the authorities from jail. Soon after her arrest, Ms. Zhang began a hunger strike, according to her lawyers. She has become gaunt and drained but has refused to eat, the lawyers said, maintaining that her strike is her form of protest against her unjust detention.

“She said she refuses to participate in the trial. She says it’s an insult,” Ren Quanniu, one of the lawyers, said after visiting Ms. Zhang in mid-December in Shanghai, where she is being held.

Ms. Zhang’s prosecution is part of the Chinese Communist Party’s continuing campaign to recast China’s handling of the outbreak as a succession of wise, triumphant moves by the government. Critics who have pointed to officials’ early missteps have been arrested, censored or threatened by police; three other citizen journalists disappeared from Wuhan before Ms. Zhang did, though none of the rest has been publicly charged.

Prosecutors accused Ms. Zhang of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” — a frequent charge for government critics — and recommended between four and five years in prison.

For the full story, see:

Vivian Wang. “Wuhan Citizen Journalist Faces Trial for Posts in Pandemic.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, December 27, 2020): A15.

(Note: bracketed dates added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Dec. 27, 2020, and has the title “She Chronicled China’s Crisis. Now She Is Accused of Spreading Lies.”)