W.H.O. Helped Authoritarian Communist Chinese Leaders Conceal Origin of Covid-19

(p. A1) GENEVA — On a cold weekend in mid-February [2020], when the world still harbored false hope that the new coronavirus could be contained, a World Health Organization team arrived in Beijing to study the outbreak and investigate a critical question: How did the virus jump from animals to humans?

At that point, there were only three confirmed deaths from Covid-19 outside China and scientists hoped that finding an animal source for the coronavirus would unlock clues about how to stop it, treat it and prevent similar outbreaks.

“If we don’t know the source then we’re equally vulnerable in the future to a similar outbreak,” Michael Ryan, the World Health Organization’s emergency director, had said that week in Geneva. “Understanding that source is a very important next step.”

What the team members did not know was that they would not be allowed to investigate the source at all. Despite Dr. Ryan’s pronouncements, and over the advice of its emergency committee, the organization’s leadership had quietly negotiated terms that sidelined its own experts. They would not question China’s initial response or even visit the live-animal market in the city of Wuhan where the outbreak seemed to have originated.

Nine months and more than 1.1 million deaths later, there is still no transparent, independent investigation into the source of the virus. Notoriously allergic to outside scrutiny, China has impeded the effort, while leaders of the (p. A8) World Health Organization, if privately frustrated, have largely ceded control, even as the Trump administration has fumed.

. . .

. . . , the health organization pushed misleading and contradictory information about the risk of spread from symptomless carriers. Its experts were slow to accept that the virus could be airborne. Top health officials encouraged travel as usual, advice that was based on politics and economics, not science.

The W.H.O.’s staunchest defenders note that, by the nature of its constitution, it is beholden to the countries that finance it. And it is hardly the only international body bending to China’s might. But even many of its supporters have been frustrated by the organization’s secrecy, its public praise for China and its quiet concessions. Those decisions have indirectly helped Beijing to whitewash its early failures in handling the outbreak.

. . .

China’s authoritarian leaders want to constrain the organization; President Trump, who formally withdrew the United States from the body in July, now seems intent on destroying it; and European leaders are scrambling to reform and empower it.

The search for the virus’s origins is a study in the compromises the W.H.O. has made.

. . .

The W.H.O. has repeatedly said that investigations are underway but has done little to clarify the uncertainty. Chinese health and diplomatic officials did not respond to repeated interview requests and have been publicly silent on what happened.

“This is part of the Chinese psyche — to demonstrate to the world that they do the very best science,” said Peter Daszak, a disease ecologist and president of EcoHealth Alliance in New York. “But in this case, it didn’t work. And I think that is the reason why we don’t know much more.”

. . .

. . . Dr. Tedros, . . . decided against declaring an international emergency after convening a committee to advise him.

What was not publicly known, though, was that the committee’s Jan. 23 decision followed intense lobbying, notably by China, according to diplomats and health officials. Committee members are international experts largely insulated from influence. But in Geneva, China’s ambassador made it clear that his country would view an emergency declaration as a vote of no confidence.

China also presented data to the committee, portraying a situation under relative control.

Half the committee said it was too early to declare an emergency. The outcome surprised many countries, as did Dr. Tedros when he publicly praised both Mr. Xi and China’s pneumonia surveillance system.

“It was that system that caught this event,” he said during a news conference.

That was wrong. China’s surveillance system had failed to spot the outbreak, a failure that experts now say allowed its spread to accelerate.

. . .

(p. A9) On the origins of the virus, the experts mostly shifted the onus to China, asking the government to prioritize a “rigorous investigation.” But they also assured people that numerous investigations were underway.

“It was an absolute whitewash,” said Lawrence O. Gostin, a professor of global health law at Georgetown University. “But the answer was, that was the best they could negotiate with Xi Jinping.”

. . .

In January, Dr. Tedros had announced that China had agreed to share biological samples. Nothing ever came of it.

Then the thesis about the origin of the outbreak suddenly pivoted.

Dr. Gao, the director of China’s C.D.C., told the journal Science in March that the virus may not have originated at the market. Maybe, he said, it “could be a place where the virus was amplified,” meaning it began elsewhere but spread wildly there.

Then Dr. Gao told a local TV station that animal samples from the market did not contain the virus. That indicated at least that samples had been taken from animals. Yet the details remained concealed.

For the full story, see:

Selam Gebrekidan, Matt Apuzzo, Amy Qin, and Javier C. Hernández. “W.H.O. Ceded Control to China In Murky Hunt for Virus Origin.” The New York Times (Tuesday, November 3, 2020): A1 & A8-A9.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 2, 2020, and has the title “In Hunt for Virus Source, W.H.O. Let China Take Charge.”)

“Slavery Without Private Property”

(p. B11) Yuri Orlov, a Soviet physicist and disillusioned former Communist who publicly held Moscow accountable for failing to protect the rights of dissidents and was imprisoned and exiled for his own apostasy, died on Sunday [September 27, 2020] at his home in Ithaca, N.Y.

. . .

A credulous Communist Party member since college, Professor Orlov began having doubts about the party based on a growing foreboding under Stalin over what he later described as “slavery without private property.” He was further alienated by the subsequent Soviet repression of civil liberties movements in Hungary and what he called the “savage suppressions of workers’ unrest” in Czechoslovakia.

. . .

In 1956, after publicly advocating democratic socialism, Professor Orlov was fired as a research physicist at the Institute of Theoretical and Experimental Physics and expelled from the Communist Party. In 1973, in a letter to Leonid Brezhnev, the general secretary of the party, he denounced the stultifying effect of repression on scientific research and presciently proposed “glasnost,” or openness, long before that word was in common use.

. . .

Professor Orlov was arrested in 1977 and, after a show trial, sentenced to seven years in a labor camp, followed by five years in Siberian exile, for “anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda.”

For the full obituary, see:

Sam Roberts. “Yuri Orlov, Dissident Of Soviet Union Sent Into Exile, Dies at 96.” The New York Times (Friday, October 2, 2020): B11.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Oct. 1, 2020, and has the title “Yuri Orlov, Bold Champion of Soviet Dissidents, Dies at 96.”)

Chinese Communists Have Failed to Reform Toward Free Markets

(p. B6) China is the only major world economy reporting any economic growth today. It went first into Covid-19 and was first out, grinding out 3.2% growth in the most recent quarter while the U.S. shrank 9.5% and other advanced economies endured double-digit declines. High-tech monitoring, comprehensive testing and aggressive top-down containment measures enabled China to get the virus under control while others struggled. The Middle Kingdom may even deliver a modest year-over-year economic expansion in 2020.

This rebound is real, but behind the short-term numbers the economic restart is dubious. China’s growth spurt isn’t the beginning of a robust recovery but an uneven bounce fueled by infrastructure construction.

. . .

An honest look at the forces behind China’s growth this year shows a doubling down on state-managed solutions, not real reform. State-owned entities, or SOEs, drove China’s investment-led recovery.

. . .

For years, the world has watched and waited for China to become more like a free-market economy, thereby reducing American security concerns. At a time of profound stress world-wide, the multiple gauges of reform we have been monitoring through the China Dashboard point in the opposite direction. China’s economic norms are diverging from, rather than converging with, the West’s. Long-promised changes detailed at the beginning of the Xi era haven’t materialized.

Though Beijing talks about “market allocation” efficiency, it isn’t guided by what mainstream economists would call market principles. The Chinese economy is instead a system of state capitalism in which the arbiter is an uncontestable political authority. That may or may not work for China, but it isn’t what liberal democracies thought they would get when they invited China to take a leading role in the world economy.

For the full commentary, see:

Daniel Rosen, and Kevin Rudd. “China Backslides on Economic Reform.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, September 23, 2020): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sep. 22, 2020, and has the same title as the print version.)

Chinese Communists Try to Intimidate U.S. Universities

(p. A1) The effect of the new national-security law that China imposed on Hong Kong is extending far beyond the territory to American college campuses.

Classes at some elite universities will carry a warning label this fall: This course may cover material considered politically sensitive by China. And schools are weighing measures to try to shield students and faculty from prosecution by Chinese authorities.

. . .

(p. A6) “We cannot self-censor,” said Rory Truex, an assistant professor who teaches Chinese politics at Princeton. “If we, as a Chinese teaching community, out of fear stop teaching things like Tiananmen or Xinjiang or whatever sensitive topic the Chinese government doesn’t want us talking about, if we cave, then we’ve lost.”

. . .

Concerns about China’s influence on academics around the world have grown over the past two decades, as some educational institutions set up campuses in China and many increasingly rely on fees paid by Chinese students, who account for more foreign students in the U.S. than any other country.

There are indications that Chinese students in the U.S. could fall afoul of Chinese laws. A University of Minnesota student was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment after returning home to the Chinese city of Wuhan last year. He was convicted of “provocation” for tweets he wrote while studying in the U.S. that allegedly mocked Chinese leaders.

For the full story, see:

Lucy Craymer. “Hong Kong Law Makes Top U.S. Colleges Wary.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, August 20, 2020): A1 & A6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Aug. 19, 2020, and has the title “China’s National-Security Law Reaches Into Harvard, Princeton Classrooms.”)

”There Was a Great Marxist Called Lenin”

(p. C11) Robert Conquest (1917-2015) was what used to be called a Renaissance man. He was so good at everything he did—soldier, diplomat, historian and poet—that I wouldn’t be surprised to learn he also left behind a few sonatas and paintings in oil. His histories of the Soviet Union’s failures and atrocities include “The Great Terror” (1968) and “The Harvest of Sorrow” (1986), meticulously researched and humane investigations of a criminal state, surely among the major historical achievements of the 20th century. His television documentary series, “Red Empire” (1990), distills this work and makes grimly compelling viewing.

But Conquest first came to readers’ attention as a poet of sophistication and grace, . . .

. . .

”There was a great Marxist called Lenin,
Who did two or three million men in;
That’s a lot to have done in
But where he did one in
That grand Marxist Stalin did ten in.”

For the full review, see:

David Mason. “The Impervious Dream.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Aug. 22, 2020): C11.

(Note: ellipses added; the limerick in quotation marks is by Robert Conquest.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Aug. 21, 2020, and has the title “‘Robert Conquest: Collected Poems’ Review: The Impervious Dream.”)

The book under review is:

Conquest, Robert. Collected Poems. New York: The Waywiser Press, 2020.

Chinese Communist Authoritarian System Inhibited Local Officials From Sharing Covid-19 Information

(p. A5) Communist Party leaders oversee an authoritarian system that inhibits local officials from freely sharing information with national-level officials, they said, and this has had deadly consequences for the world. It is a version of the so-called Chernobyl effect, where local officials avoid telling central authorities about a catastrophic event until it is far too late, American officials said.

Moreover, officials in Beijing have tried to spread disinformation about the origins of the virus. The C.I.A. has said since at least February [2020] that Chinese central officials were not sharing everything they knew about the virus — including a more accurate case count — or doing all they could to help the world prepare for the pandemic.

For the full story, see:

Edward Wong, Julian E. Barnes and Zolan Kanno-Youngs. “Local Officials Hid Dangers From Beijing, Says U.S. Report.” The New York Times (Thursday, August 20, 2020): A5.

(Note: bracketed year added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Sept. [sic] 17, 2020, and has the title “Local Officials in China Hid Coronavirus Dangers From Beijing, U.S. Agencies Find.”)

Mainland Communists Capture Speedboat Taking Hong Kong Activists to Freedom in Taiwan

(p. A13) HONG KONG — Chinese authorities have detained a dozen activists from Hong Kong who were attempting to leave the territory via speedboat, according to people familiar with the attempt and the individuals captured, as Beijing intensifies a campaign to seek out protest leaders and others resisting the Communist Party’s tightening grip.

At least one of the people on board the boat, seized on Sunday [Aug. 23, 2020] by the Chinese Coast Guard, was an activist who was being investigated under the city’s new national security law, said one of the people familiar with the capture.

The group was apparently trying to flee to Taiwan, said a second person familiar with the episode. More than 200 Hong Kong protesters and activists have sought refuge in Taiwan over the past year. The detentions on Sunday were the first confirmed case of such activists being caught by the Chinese authorities at sea.

For the full story, see:

Austin Ramzy and Elaine Yu. “China Captures Speedboat Ferrying Hong Kong Dissidents to Taiwan.” The New York Times (Saturday, August 29, 2020): A13.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 28, 2020, and has the title “China Captures Hong Kong Activists Fleeing to Taiwan by Sea.”)

Disney’s Mulan Movie Credits Chinese Communists Who Force Uighur Muslims Into Prison Camps

(p. A10) Disney’s live-action remake of “Mulan” has drawn a fresh wave of criticism for being filmed partly in Xinjiang, the region in China where Uighur Muslims have been detained in mass internment camps.

The outcry, which has spread to include U.S. lawmakers, was the latest example of how the new film, released on Disney+ over the weekend, has become a magnet for anger over the Chinese Communist Party’s policies promoting nationalism and ethnic Han chauvinism.

. . .

The film was already coming under fire months ago, facing calls for a boycott by supporters of the Hong Kong antigovernment protests after the movie’s star, Liu Yifei, said she backed the city’s police, who have been criticized for their use of force against pro-democracy demonstrators.

Last month, as Disney ramped up promotion for the new film, supporters of the Hong Kong protests anointed Agnes Chow, a prominent democracy activist who was recently arrested under the territory’s new national security law, as their own, “real” Mulan.

Rayhan Asat, an ethnic Uighur lawyer in Washington whose younger brother, Ekpar Asat, has been imprisoned in Xinjiang, said in an interview that Disney giving credit to Xinjiang government agencies “runs counter to the ideals of those in the artistic, business and entertainment communities.”

“Devastatingly, Disney’s support amounts to collaboration and enables repression,” she added. “Those who claim to champion freedom in the world cannot afford to ignore such complicity.”

. . .

Last year, Mr. Pence criticized American companies for trying to silence speech in order to maintain access to the Chinese market. He accused Nike of checking its “conscience at the door” and owners and players in the N.B.A. of “siding with the Chinese Communist Party” by suppressing support for the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.

In July [2020], an ESPN investigation described reports of abuse of young players at the National Basketball Association’s player-development training camps in China, including in Xinjiang. After the investigation was published, the N.B.A. acknowledged for the first time that it had ended its relationship with the Xinjiang academy more than a year earlier, but declined to say whether human rights had been a factor.

On Monday, calls to boycott “Mulan” began growing on social media. Among the critics was Joshua Wong, a prominent Hong Kong pro-democracy activist, who accused Disney of bowing to pressure from Beijing. Supporters in Thailand and Taiwan had also urged a boycott of the movie, citing concerns about China’s growing influence in the region.

For the full story, see:

Amy Qin and Edward Wong. “Calls Grow to Boycott ‘Mulan’ Over China’s Treatment of Uighur Muslims.” The New York Times (Wednesday, September 9, 2020): A10.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 8, 2020, and has the title “Why Calls to Boycott ‘Mulan’ Over Concerns About China Are Growing.” Where the online and print versions differ, the passages above follow the print version.)

Chinese Communist Response to Covid-19 “Shows an Increasingly Nervous, Fragile Country”

(p. A7) LONDON — In January [2020], the Chinese city of Wuhan became the first in the world to undergo a lockdown to fight the coronavirus pandemic. In many ways this crucial period remains a mystery, with few images escaping the censors’ grasp.

A new film by the Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei helps fill in some of that missing history. Although now living in Europe, Ai remotely directed dozens of volunteers across China to create “Coronation,” a portrait of Wuhan’s draconian lockdown — and of a country able to mobilize huge resources, if at great human cost.

. . .

The overall impression, especially in the film’s first half-hour, is one of awesome efficiency. Crews quickly bolt prefabricated rooms together, I.C.U. machines beep and purr. The new party members are sworn in with their right fists raised up and the crematory laborers work so hard that they complain that their hands ache.

As the film progresses, the human costs become more apparent. A volunteer worker whose job is finished is not allowed to leave the quarantine zone, so he sleeps in his car in a parking garage. Mourners wail inconsolably at a crematory, and a man fights to be allowed to collect his father’s urn without government officials present — something authorities do not permit because they are afraid the mourning will turn to anger at the government for having allowed the virus to spin out of control.

. . .

The film is available in the United States on Alamo on Demand and in other parts of the world on Vimeo on Demand. Ai said he had hoped to show it first at a film festival, but festivals in New York, Toronto and Venice, after first expressing interest, turned him down. He said that Amazon and Netflix also rejected the movie.

He says his impression is that this was because many of these festivals and companies want to do business in China and so avoid topics that might anger Beijing, something other Chinese directors say is common.

. . .

Rather than providing the world with a model for how to govern, China’s response to the virus shows an increasingly nervous, fragile country, he said. In the scenes where mourners collect ashes, for example, Ai said viewers should note that all the people in white suits and full personal protective gear lurking in the background are members of state organizations trying to make sure that a lid is kept on the grief.

For the full story, see:

Ian Johnson. “‘This Is About China’: Artist Shines a Light on What Wuhan Went Through.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, August 23, 2020): A7.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 21, 2020, and has the title “From Ai Weiwei, a Portrait of Wuhan’s Draconian Covid Lockdown.”)

Reuters Kowtows to Beijing Communists By Erasing Tiananmen Square Stories

(p. B3) A financial-information company partly owned by the news organization Thomson Reuters removed articles related to the June 4, 1989, Tiananmen Square massacre from the feeds of its data terminals in China last week. The move came under pressure from the Chinese government, Reuters reported Monday [June 3, 2019].

The data firm that complied with the censorship demands, Refinitiv, is Reuters’s biggest customer. It prevented some articles that included mentions of the pro-democracy demonstrations from appearing on its Eikon software and mobile app in China.

In a statement, Refinitiv pointed to legal realities in China, whose government previously blocked websites from publishing stories it deemed politically sensitive. The Chinese authorities have also denied visas to journalists working for news outlets that have published articles that were critical of the nation’s leaders.

For the full story, see:

Marc Tracy. “Reuters Partner Hides Tiananmen News.” The New York Times (Wednesday, June 5, 2019): B3.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 4, 2019, and has the title “In China, a Reuters Partner Blocks Articles on the Tiananmen Square Massacre.”)

China’s “Great Firewall” Is the New Symbol of a New Cold War

(p. A11) At the United Nations Humans Rights Council in Geneva, 53 nations — from Belarus to Zimbabwe — signed a statement supporting China’s new security law for Hong Kong. Only 27 nations on the council criticized it, most of them European democracies, along with Japan, Australia and New Zealand. Such blocs would not have been unfamiliar at the height of the Cold War.

China has also wielded its vast economic power as a tool of political coercion, cutting off imports of beef and barley from Australia because its government called for an international investigation into the origins of the pandemic. On Tuesday [July 14, 2020], Beijing said it would sanction the American aerospace manufacturer Lockheed Martin over recent weapons sales to Taiwan.

. . .

A backlash against Beijing appears to be growing. The tensions are particularly clear in tech, where China has sought to compete with the world in cutting-edge technologies like artificial intelligence and microchips, while harshly restricting what people can read, watch or listen to inside the country.

If the Berlin Wall was the physical symbol of the first Cold War, the Great Firewall could well be the virtual symbol of the new one.

What began as a divide in cyberspace to insulate Chinese citizens from views not authorized by the Communist Party has now proved to be a prescient indicator of the deeper fissures between China and much of the Western world.

For the full story, see:

Steven Lee Myers and Paul Mozur. “Caught in ‘Ideological Spiral,’ U.S. and China Drift Toward a New Cold War.” The New York Times (Wednesday, July 15, 2020): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated July 23 [sic], 2020, and has the title “Caught in ‘Ideological Spiral,’ U.S. and China Drift Toward Cold War.”)