How effective are China's vaccines, the dark side of India's iron ore exports, and Xi’s message to China’s media

Welcome to today's newsletter. In this issue, I'll be looking at:
- New data and some clarity on the efficacy of Chinese vaccines
- The other side of India's booming iron ore exports to China
- A Chinese blogger who questioned Galwan deaths is detained in Dubai
- New details on Pakistan's Uyghur crackdown
- Xi's letter to the official English newspaper, China Daily

This week, the most detailed study yet on China's Sinopharm vaccine came out. Bloomberg reports (via The Print):

Vaccines from China’s Sinopharm successfully contained Covid-19, according to a study published in a prestigious U.S. medical journal, the first time detailed findings from a late-stage trial of a Chinese shot have appeared in the scientific literature.

The two inactivated vaccines developed by Sinopharm’s vaccine-making unit China National Biotec Group Co. prevented symptomatic infections by 72.8% and 78.1%, largely in-line with what the state-owned drugmaker previously announced. The findings were reported in the May 26 Journal of the American Medical Association.

Chinese shots, including those from Sinopharm and Sinovac Biotech Ltd., another Beijing-based vaccine maker, have formed the backbone of the vaccine rollout in developing countries ranging from Hungary and Serbia to Seychelles and Peru. The immunizations have come under scrutiny and their manufacturers have been criticized for not sharing adequate data about the shots’ safety and efficacy.

Here is a link to the study. The conclusions look pretty good for Sinopharm and China. From the study:

Prespecified interim analysis of an ongoing randomized, double-blind, phase 3 trial in the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain among adults 18 years and older without known history of COVID-19. Study enrollment began on July 16, 2020. Data sets used for the interim analysis of efficacy and adverse events were locked on December 20, 2020, and December 31, 2020, respectively.

Among 40,382 participants randomized to receive at least 1 dose of the 2 vaccines or alum-only control (mean age, 36.1 years; 32 261 [84.4%] men), 38 206 (94.6%) who received 2 doses, contributed at least 1 follow-up measure after day 14 following the second dose, and had negative reverse transcriptase–polymerase chain reaction test results at enrollment were included in the primary efficacy analysis.... resulting in a vaccine efficacy, compared with alum-only, of 72.8% (95% CI, 58.1%-82.4%) for WIV04 and 78.1% (95% CI, 64.8%-86.3%) for HB02 (P < .001 for both). Two severe cases of COVID-19 occurred in the alum-only group and none occurred in the vaccine groups. Adverse reactions 7 days after each injection occurred in 41.7% to 46.5% of participants in the 3 groups; serious adverse events were rare and similar in the 3 groups (WIV04: 64 [0.5%]; HB02: 59 [0.4%]; alum-only: 78 [0.6%])

COMMENT: 72.8% and 78.1% are pretty solid numbers, same ballpark as the Oxford-AZ vaccine.  This will give a boost to exports and possibly convince some countries that have been on the fence to go for Sinopharm shots. On a side note, I've been puzzled - perhaps I shouldn't have been - by the keenness of more than a few commentators, including in India, to see Chinese vaccines fail. It's pretty obvious now that the world needs more vaccines - regardless of where they come from - and it is plainly in everyone's self interest to have more vaccines that work. More of the world that remains unvaccinated, the further we are from normalcy. Seemingly obvious, but apparently not to many...

Sri Lanka is one country that's pushing ahead with Sinopharm vaccines. From the AP:

Sri Lanka has received 500,000 doses of Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine donated by China as the Indian Ocean island nation faces severe shortage of vaccines amid a recent rise in infections. The vaccine stock that arrived early Wednesday is the second donation from China, following a shipment of 600,000 doses in March.

Sri Lanka is facing a shortage of vaccine after the producer in neighboring India failed to provide the promised Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine stocks. The government on Tuesday agreed to buy 14 million doses of Sinopharm from China.

Andy Mukherjee writes for Bloomberg Opinion (via Economic Times):

India’s vaccine strategy has flopped. A dismissive attitude toward the second Covid-19 outbreak that has raged uncontrolled, and a mistaken belief that indigenously made shots would be equal to the task of inoculating a billion adults, have left the nation scrambling. Efforts are under way to procure supplies from Pfizer Inc., Moderna Inc. and Johnson & Johnson. But their order books are full.

There is a way out of the crunch, as long as authorities are realistic: acquiring vaccines from regional rival China. They don’t have the same efficacy as the leading-edge products and may not offer a ticket to herd immunity. Seychelles saw a dangerous jump in infections after making Sinopharm the mainstay of its inoculation drive. But then, herd immunity isn’t within India's reach, not with only 3% of the population fully vaccinated. New Delhi can at least ensure that the next coronavirus wave doesn’t kill thousands of people a day for want of hospital beds or oxygen.

To achieve this aim, India must talk to China. And that’s easier said than done...

The time to act is now. The World Health Organization has asked Sinovac for more data before considering authorization for emergency use, according to the Wall Street Journal. The approval, which Sinopharm has already won, will allow the firm to help supply the global Covax program to provide vaccines mainly for poor countries.

The costs of taking up the Chinese vaccines would be manageable. The $14 that Indonesia is reported to have paid per Sinovac dose may not be possible now. But so what if India were to pay $30 per shot? Fully vaccinating 25% of 1 billion adults would mean spending $15 billion, a little more than the dividend the central bank just paid the government. For assured stocks and early supplies, it's a worthwhile investment — provided that Beijing is cautious to not link vaccine access to its own geopolitical agenda. Doing so would leave New Delhi with no wiggle room.

The messaging needs to be careful on both sides. Tenders floated by some states and municipalities have barred participation from countries sharing a land border with India, a code phrase to keep out Sinopharm and Sinovac. Vaccine purchases will be very public and very large additions to the $38 billion annual trade deficit with China.

To get past this hurdle, Modi can appeal to people to boycott phones made in China. It’s a gimmick, but the public may like the idea of making a sacrifice for a national cause. Indians were spending $3.5 billion a year on Chinese smartphone components before the pandemic. The prime minister can explain how going without cheap mobile devices for five years for $15 billion in one-time vaccine imports will make India more self-reliant. Especially if it frees up local manufacturers to again export vaccines to countries needing them. That will bring huge relief to the rest of the world, and some bragging rights for India.

COMMENT: I don’t see this happening. Maybe in an ideal world, a vaccine is a vaccine is a vaccine and the only thing that would matter is efficacy and safety. But, like I said, I don't see that happening (I don’t see a boycott of Chinese smartphones - not sure if this was tongue-in-cheek from the author - happening either). In any case, vaccine politics is only growing. That China only allows foreigners vaccinated with Chinese vaccines to travel to China is a snapshot of the times we live in. (Yes, I know the policy says it's not technically a requirement but to assist 'facilitation' but I also know, from ample evidence from folks in various cities around the world, that you can forget about getting a visa for China unless you happen to have had a Chinese shot. Incidentally, apparently even that's not enough if you are in India, and I've heard of at least one case of an Indian traveller who had the Chinese shot in Dubai but was still declined a visa.) In this world, a vaccine isn't just a vaccine — for better or for worse (actually, it’s only for the worse).

In 2020, India's exports to China for the first time crossed $20 billion - a strange year, one might think, for a record, amid the pandemic, border crisis and ensuing curbs. One major reason was the Chinese demand for iron ore as its economy recovered starting in April/May 2020. Great for exporters, but in this piece, Business Today reports on the downside for many Indian steel manufacturers:

A spike in iron ore export, largely to China, has made the lives of Indian steel makers miserable. Though global steel prices have been high in the first four months of this year, producers are struggling to supply as there is a huge shortage in raw material, iron ore.

In the first four months (January-April), iron ore exports from India increased by 66 per cent to 22.42 million tonne (MT). About 90 per cent of the export goes to China. The country, which is the world's largest steel producer, imported 20.28 MT of iron ore from India in the first four months compared to 12.24 MT in the same period last year.

The price of hot rolled coil (HRC) increased to Rs 70,000 per tonne as compared to Rs 45,000 at the same time last year. On the other side, NMDC's iron ore price jumped 156 per cent to Rs 6,560 a tonne in April-beginning, compared to Rs 2,560 a year back....

Indian companies are not able to evacuate their share of raw material from eastern India, especially Odisha, the major iron ore exporting state, say industry sources. The logistic congestion had recently disturbed production of JSW Steel's Dolvi plant in Maharashtra.

Steelmakers in the country have demanded an iron ore export ban as the shortage resulted in a spike in prices of raw material as well as steel. Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan a few months ago had said the government was considering imposing a short-term ban on exports of iron ore in the wake of domestic shortage. But the government did not take any steps.

Big steelmakers with captive iron ore mines like Tata Steel, JSW Steel and ArcelorMittal Nippon are largely unaffected by the rise in raw material cost, but are getting the benefits of the resultant rise in steel prices. It is largely the small secondary steel players that have witnessed huge losses because of a steep rise in iron ore prices. The secondary steel units contribute 50 per cent of steel production in India.

A Chinese blogger (and U.S. resident) who has been wanted in China over comments questioning the official narrative on the Galwan Valley clash of last year was detained in Dubai. From the AP (via Hindustan Times)

Wang came to authorities' attention last year after brutal hand-to-hand combat between Chinese and Indian forces in a valley in the Karakoram mountains, a region disputed following a 1962 war between the two countries. In June, soldiers armed with clubs, stones and fists battled each other for hours in violence that killed 20 Indian soldiers. Months later, in February, China acknowledged the fighting killed four of its own soldiers. Wang then publicly questioned on social media why the Chinese government waited six months to release the information, sparking a harassment campaign that saw him flee to Istanbul, activists say.

Police in Wang's hometown of Chongqing reportedly have cited him for violating a 2018 law against demeaning heroes and martyrs and called his parents in for questioning. While en route from Istanbul to New York, activists say authorities arrested him April 6 at Dubai International Airport, holding him first at an immigration jail and later at another at a police station.

“While in custody, Wang has been questioned by Dubai police for endangering national security, and has, according to his statements, been visited by both Chinese Embassy (Abu Dhabi) and Consulate (Dubai) staff repeatedly,” the rights group Safeguard Defenders said in a letter Wednesday to the UAE's ambassador to the US
They “pressured him to sign a document allowing him to be deported back to China, where he is wanted for what can only be described as freedom of speech crimes,” the letter added.

A Dubai Public Prosecution charge sheet obtained by the AP describes Wang as facing an investigation over allegedly “insulting one of the monotheistic religions,” a charge typically referring to insulting Islam. However, the government's Dubai Media Office initially told the AP that Wang instead had been arrested for “non-payment of hotel bills" and denied he faced any charge for insulting Islam

Shown the charge sheet, the Dubai Media Office then said Wang had faced the insult charge later, but “hotel payments were settled and charges were dropped and he was let free.” “Chinese authorities have not inquired about Mr. Wang, nor did they request his deportation to China, nor has there been any contract between UAE and Chinese authorities with regards to Mr. Wang,” the Dubai Media Office said.

Maj Gen Ashok Mehta (retd) writes today on lesson from Ladakh:

Soon after disengagement from the Pangong Tso Lake in February during which India generously surrendered its vital ground on Chushul heights for the Chinese vacating the Fingers area, it was clear even to the blind that for the PLA, it was the end of disengagement from friction areas, despite commitment to follow up within 48 hours after the 10th round of talks to address other friction areas. Fifty days lapsed before the notional 11th round was held. The PLA had drawn curtains. Editor of Global Times Hu Xijin wrote gratuitously that India should be happy with Chinese withdrawal from Pangong Tso. The PLA added it hoped India could ‘cherish the positive trend in de-escalation’ but did not acknowledge the remaining unresolved friction areas. The statement came from the Western Theatre Command, Chengdu, not the usual MoD in Beijing...

One year on, the lessons from Ladakh could be termed as under:
- The Chinese succeeded in intelligence and operational trickery through multiple intrusions from Depsang to Demchok, promulgating the 1959 claim line further west. China has created buffer zones on Indian territory 18 km deep at Depsang and blocked patrolling by occupying Bottleneck and Y-junction. Most significantly, it inveigled India into vacating the critical Chushul heights dominating the Chinese launch pads.
- The primacy of Chinese threat over Pakistan’s has finally been accepted. This has enabled the rebalancing of forces and strategic reserves across the new LAC front and by year-end will likely minimise the Pakistan challenge.
- The Chinese have effectively demonstrated their classic policy of two steps forward, one step back.
- India’s delayed force deployment, non-use of kinetic force sans counter-intrusions failed to obtain the vacation of PLA intrusions like it did in Depsang (2013), Chumar (2014) and Doklam (2017).
- India’s key response has been politico-diplomatic: you (China) cannot have normality in bilateral relations while amassing troops along the border.

This detail jumped at me, from a detailed VICE report on Pakistan's Uyghur crackdown:

Pakistani authorities have also begun collecting biometric data on all Uyghurs living in Pakistan. Khan holds up a document handed out to households in Islamabad – the questionnaire asks about religious affiliation and family history. “For us this is more dangerous than bullets or bombs. They want to see how many ‘real Uyghurs’ are present and can be removed from Pakistan,” he said.

Here’s one for the tea-leaf readers: a somewhat puzzling tweet from MFA spokesperson Zhao Lijian today

The Xinhua piece he linked to seemed to be aimed more at Britain than India (and not even, I’d suggest, at bringing up the Kashmir dispute, which seemed to merely serve as a foil for the broader argument to hit out at Britain’s legacy). This struck me as the crux:

David Cameron, the former UK prime minister, said when answering questions from students in Pakistan in 2011: "As with so many of the problems of the world, we are responsible for their creation in the first place." But Cameron's "politics of apology" was trashed by both the Right and the Left within the UK.

The imperial past is far from being dead. We should not be surprised when British foreign policy interests and interventions today are perceived by many as "neo-colonial" in their nature. As long as the bloodshed in Kashmir continues, Britain can never clean itself from its bloody colonial past.

And finally...

A letter from Xi Jinping to the China Daily, the official English language newspaper (more 'authoritative' than its more famous cousin, Global Times) which turned 40, is interesting in how it sets out what he sees as the broad goals for China's English-language media, that cater to an international audience, to pursue:

President Xi Jinping has called on China Daily to make new contributions to promoting exchanges and communication between China and the world as the newspaper approaches the 40th anniversary of its founding on June 1.

Xi, who is also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission, urged the media group on Thursday, in a congratulatory letter, to further present "a true, multidimensional and panoramic view of China".

Recalling the past 40 years, Xi hailed China Daily as having played "an important role" in telling the country's stories well and making the nation's voice heard. When stating his hopes for China Daily, Xi underlined its duty as a bridge between China and the outside world and called for a further buildup of its all-media communication framework.

The goals outlined by Xi in his letter include having an ever-growing influence on the world, achieving greater storytelling regarding China's development philosophy, path and achievements, and giving a boost to the country's improved interactions with the rest of the world.

That's it for this issue. Thanks, as always, for reading. Have a great weekend, and stay safe.