June 4, Guangzhou in lockdown, and where China's leaders go to train abroad

Welcome to today's issue. I'll be looking at:
- June 4
- Guangzhou dealing with a cluster of cases implications for China opening up
- More on the lab origins theory of SARS-CoV-2
- Where do China's leaders train abroad?

Helen Davidson in The Guardian reports on June 4, 2021 in Hong Kong:

Hong Kong has long been the traditional home of public remembrance of the Tiananmen Square massacre, with an annual vigil in Victoria Park, attended by tens, sometimes hundreds of thousands of people.

But amid a deepening crackdown on resistance, opposition and freedom of assembly, the city’s police banned the 2021 event. After initially citing pandemic-related restrictions, they soon made it clear they were also treating the vigil as an unauthorised political act, invoking the national security law in warning people to stay away.

Determined to mark the event regardless, Hongkongers have had to become creative. One campaign has called for people to write the numbers 4 and 6 (representing the day and month of the massacre) on their light switches at home. On Wednesday evening, artists laid flowers on the street, or painted banners, while young people sat in Victoria Park and studied.

Rachel Cheung on Twitter posted a number of photos today from Hong Kong that capture the flavour of how much things have changed in the past year and some:

Geremie Barme today re-published at China Heritage Xu Zhangrun's appeal on Tiananmen from his sweeping essay from three-and-a-half years ago, along with a prose-poem reflection. Here is what Xu wrote in the July 2018 essay:

Overturn the Verdict on the ‘4th of June’ [1989 Beijing Massacre]. Over this and next year China will mark a series of sensitive anniversaries: it will be the fourth decade since the policies of [what would become known as] the Reforms and Open Door, the centenary of the May Fourth Movement [of 1919, a major feature of which was modern student activism and strident patriotism; it was also a contributing reason for the founding of the Chinese Communist Party in 1921], as well as the thirtieth anniversary of 4 June. The upshot of the Sino-US Trade War will extend through this period and will only serve to add to the uncertainty of things.

In pursuit of the usual posture of Stability Maintenance [the authorities will daresay] ‘use policing methods to deal with political issues’ in the process of which they will ‘deploy the mechanisms of the state machine [政制] to clamp down on [鉗制] the political situation [政治]’. The system will go to extremes rather than approaching matters by ‘dealing with politics by employing politics [to resolve matters]’ [as we witness in the West when they deal with difficult political issues]. Back in the day, the ‘5th of April’ [1976 Tiananmen Incident when protesters flooded to Tiananmen to mourn the recently deceased premier Zhou Enlai and denounced Mao and his coterie, later known as the ‘Gang of Four’] was re-evaluated [literally, ‘rehabilitated’] and ever since then that date has no longer been one of any particular political sensitivity. This was precisely because [after Mao’s death, the authorities] ‘confronted a political problem by employing a political solution’ — as the old saying puts it: ‘when an army approaches a good general knows how to block its advance; when the waters rise we know how to sandbag against flooding’. Everyone took from that [decision regarding the 5 April 1976 Tiananmen Incident] what they wanted and all were satisfied.

That’s why, in light of the upcoming thirtieth anniversary of 4 June [in 2019], I would encourage Those In Power to find a suitable moment either this or next year to rehabilitate ‘4 June’ publicly [that is, to re-evaluate an event which is still officially classified as a necessary military action launched to quell a ‘counter-revolutionary rebellion’ by hooligans in Beijing against the Chinese state with the aim of toppling the Communist Party]. This would not only demonstrate a sincere and wise application of the principle of ‘politics embracing the political’, it would also mean that from then on there would be no need to treat the 4th of June every year like a political emergency. [The authorities, that is Xi Jinping] would clear the way for all Chinese to enjoy a peaceful coexistence, it would uplift people psychologically and benefit [the party-state] by accruing political capital to its legitimacy.

For a rare Indian perspective of June 4, I highly recommend this new book by Vijay Gokhale, former Foreign Secretary and Ambassador to China who was a young diplomat in Beijing in 1989, who makes a case for why we need to revisit the events and re-examine both the deeply entrenched Western narratives explaining what happened that summer, as well as the CPC’s own view and subsequent re-telling of events.

Also recommend this podcast where my colleague Suhasini Haidar spoke to Gokhale about the book.

In the last issue, I noted Xi Jinping’s call on messaging and international communication, and expressed some skepticism about the idea that this means a major rethink in China’s approach externally or even the end of the ‘wolf warrior’ approach.

David Bandurski of the China Media Project has a very insightful perspective that is worth reading in full:

There is an important point of context so obvious many observers seem to have missed it. This was a collective study session, and such sessions, whatever their topic, generally benefit from the instruction of experts. In this case, we are told right at the outset of the official news release that “professor Zhang Weiwei of Fudan University offered his explanations on this issue, and suggestions for work.” What sort of teacher would Zhang Weiwei be?

A professor at Shanghai’s Fudan University, Zhang Weiwei (张维为) is director of the university’s Institute for Chinese Studies. In the 1980s he served within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as an interpreter for senior leaders, including Deng Xiaoping. He is an old hand when it comes to Chinese diplomacy, and in the course of his career has visited many countries.

Zhang is also a staunch defender of what he regards as the superiority of the political system led by the CCP, and of the so-called “China Model,” which he insistshas ‘performed better than other models.” Internationally, one of his most remembered exchanges is his 2011 debate with Francis Fukuyama, in which he extolled the virtues of the Chinese system and suggested that Western democratic systems “might be only transitory in the long history of mankind….”

Zhang has repeatedly urged “self-confidence” in China’s model, and in the building of a “Chinese discourse” grounded in self-confidence that can then be applied in public diplomacy. In a 2014 talk called “Chinese Must Have Self-Confidence” (中国人你要自信), Zhang urged an end to uncertainty: “Let us remove the hat of flagging self-confidence and give it to our opponent,” he said. It was with this newly asserted self-confidence that China should combat the distortions and misunderstandings of the West.

Given the unshakable premise that China’s system is superior in terms of its performance, it naturally follows that the core problem is Western resistance. “Because the mainstream media in the West have long reported on China in an manner that is not factual, and with a strong ideological bias and cultural prejudice,” said Zhang, “many people in many Western countries, and even many experts and scholars, have a very poor understanding of China.”

In a video interview with People’s Daily Online posted today, Zhang again places the blame for miscommunication squarely on the shoulders of the West. To the extent that the project of “telling China’s story well” has not succeeded as it might, and misunderstandings persist, this, he says, is “mainly a problem on the part of the West.”

If one detects a certain wolfishness in this perspective, Zhang does not disappoint in his views on how China should respond to the prejudices that are standard fare, according to the CCP narrative, for the West. Here is what Zhang said in September 2020, during an interview on the “This is China” television program:

”The Chinese have a culture of ‘being kind to others’ and of giving face to others, which the West does not have. That’s why I often say that in order to communicate better with the West (与西方交流), we have to learn to confront the West (与西方交锋), and after confrontation we can often communicate better. Of course, confrontation does not mean you shout yourself hoarse, as the Chinese say. Confrontation is about stating your principles clearly. Western culture is a culture of the strong (西方文化是强者文化). They respect the strong, respect the winner. If they raise a provocative issue and you dare not respond, dare not confront, then you have lost. And you’ve lost representing the country.”

A major lockdown in parts of Guangzhou as it deals with perhaps the biggest COVID challenge any Chinese city has faced in months. China hasn't had major clusters for over a year, so there is some anxiety on how things are unfolding in Guangzhou, anxiety fuelled by new variants as the sweeping actions suggest, despite the still small number of officially reported cases. The sweeping actions don’t necessarily mean that the actual number of cases is much higher than what’s been reported. It’s worth noting that it’s precisely these kind of sweeping actions coupled with continuing bans on international travel that have so far prevented a second wave in China.

 The Global Times reports:

Mutated virus strains first identified in India triggered community transmission for the first time in China in recent COVID-19 infections in South China's Guangzhou. The city expanded areas subjected to stay-at-home orders on Thursday, locking down two more streets in Liwan district covering nearly 140,000 residents.  

Guangzhou discovered six new confirmed COVID-19 cases and one asymptomatic case on Thursday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 64 and silent infections to 13 in the recent cluster of infections from May 21 to Thursday. All locally-transmitted cases were treated at Guangzhou Eighth People's Hospital under Guangzhou Medical University, a designated COVID-19 hospital in the city.

Cai Weiping, an infectious disease center doctor of the hospital, told China Central Television on Thursday that the recent COVID-19 infections in Guangzhou were caused by mutated virus strains first identified in India, which have a shorter incubation period and higher viral load and can spread faster. He said that this is also the first time that the mutated virus strains first identified in India caused community transmission in China.

Cai said that a major feature of the mutated strains is that they have an extremely high viral load found in nucleic acid tests among patients, and the amount of the viral load found in patients this time was double that of last year's patients.

The South China Morning Post adds:

Health authorities in the southern Chinese megacity of Guangzhou are hoping to stem a new outbreak of Covid-19 infections through vastly expanded testing capacity and strict quarantine measures in affected areas.

The industrial hub – home to almost 19 million people – has been grappling with a growing number of cases since May 21, from a cluster that has been traced to a 75-year-old woman from Liwan district. The woman was found to have been infected with the highly transmissible strain first detected in India, a variant now named Delta by the World Health Organization.

Mass testing has been a key strategy in trying to contain the spread of the virus, especially in the hotspot districts of Liwan, Haizhu, Yuexiu and Tianhe, where getting tested is mandatory. More than 7.81 million of the city’s residents had been tested as of Wednesday, according to Chen Bin, deputy director of Guangzhou’s Health Commission. So far, 70 locally transmitted cases have been found across Guangdong province, 14 of them asymptomatic infections. That includes 16 new cases confirmed on Wednesday, five asymptomatic.

China isn't likely to open up to international travel - which has been almost entirely restricted since last year - before early 2022. The Guangzhou developments may delay that even further. This isn't good news for either Chinese citizens who remain stranded abroad in many countries including India and haven't been able to return home, or for the thousands of international students, many in India, who have been waiting to go back:

Zhang Wenhong, a leading infectious disease expert, believes that China will be able to reopen to countries with good inoculation and low infection rates in the first half of 2022, but that will still depend on how many people in the country have been inoculated.

Countries with a higher inoculation rate such as Israel, the US and the UK will make deals to resume people-to-people exchanges in the second half of this year. But the date for a resumption of global travel remains  unknown, as that would be determined by the overall vaccination rate and speed of mutated variants, said Zhang at the Boao Forum for Asia in Qingdao, East China's Shandong Province on Wednesday.

Vincent Ni in The Guardian with an update on China's vaccination program as it gathers pace and an explainer of how it has really taken off and is now going at 10x the speed of India right now. The default reaction to that statistic on social media in India seems to be 'their numbers are all fudged!', to which you really can't have a response or reasoned debate -- I mean, where does a conversation go from there? -- but in my own view, informed by my own conversations with people in different cities in China including expats, it seems pretty clear to me the programme has been very well organised, is now going pretty fast after initial delays, and much of the initial hesitancy has dissipated (perhaps thanks to recent clusters including Guangzhou):

China would aim to inoculate 40% of its population by the end of June, while admitting it was going to be a challenging task ahead. “We don’t have much time, and we still have a large amount of work to do,” he said.

Without charting a path to achieving “herd immunity”, the current policy of zero-tolerance for cases meant, for example, that an entire neighbourhood in the southern city of Guangzhou was shut down for door-to-door testing yesterday, because of a handful of positive cases.

A national mass vaccination programme began roaring into action three weeks after Zhong’s pledge. Provinces and cities then came up with their own plans to meet the target, and to compete with each other.

Vaccination production was accelerated, too. On 1 February, only 1.5m doses were produced. But by 24 March, the capacity had been raised to around 5m doses daily. And on last Thursday alone, more than 20 million people were injected. Nearly 603m doses had been administered as of Saturday, according to the National Health Commission.

Some Chinese experts now say that the country is on its path to achieving “herd immunity”. George Gao, director of the Chinese centre for disease control and prevention, told Chinese media that he hoped between 900 million and 1 billion people can be vaccinated by the end of this year or early next year.

If there is one piece you read this weekend, make it this. Recommend setting aside 20 minutes and reading in full this 10,000 word essay on the lab-leak origins theory in Vanity Fair. It's quite a piece and there's so much to digest that I'm not even going to try and pull out an extract.

I would also recommend this piece in The Economist on the same topic, which I thought does a great job explaining the state of play clearly and in a very measured way.

And finally....

An interesting read in Sixth Tone on the overseas schools training China's leaders, the past and present:

Tens of thousands of Chinese cadres have attended midcareer training programs offered by well-known schools around the world, including Harvard University, the University of Oxford, and the National University of Singapore. Their carefully vetted attendees hail from a wide range of party organizations, government agencies, state-owned enterprises, state media outlets, government-sponsored think tanks, and mass organizations and take courses covering everything from managerial skills to the West’s political institutions, legal systems, and philosophies of governance.

Thank you for reading. Have a safe weekend, and see you next week.