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Dan Wu

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Photo of a pharmarcist walking past shelves with medication in Yucheng, northern China
Coronavirus

As COVID Explodes, An Inside Look At China's Gray Market Of Generic Drugs

COVID infections have skyrocketed since China eased restrictions as public health policy has not been able to keep up. Unable to find medications, many have turned to generic drugs of questionable safety. It's the culmination of a longstanding problem.

BEIJING — When her grandfather joined the millions of infected Chinese, Chen quickly decided to buy COVID-19 drugs to limit the effects of the virus. She woke up early to shop on Jingdong, one of China’s biggest online shopping websites, but failed in snatching the limited daily stocks made available.

Fearing COVID's effect on her grandfather, who suffers from dementia, she contacted an independent drug agent and bought a box of generic pharmaceuticals.

With China having suddenly ended its zero-COVID policy, infections have peaked. According to the latest estimates by Airfinity, a British medical information and analysis company, severe COVID outbreaks happened over Chinese New Year with 62 million infections forecast for the second half of January.

In a press conference held by China's State Council on Jan. 11, COVID-19 pills were mentioned as part of the new epidemic control mechanisms. In late 2021, Pfizer developed Paxlovid, the world's first potent COVID drug, with one 100 mg white ritonavir and two 150 mg light pink nirmatrelvir tablets taken every 12 hours. China imported the first batch of Paxlovid for clinical use in March 2022 and included it in the ninth edition of the treatment protocol.

But the first 21,200 boxes of Paxlovid were dispersed to only eight provinces, and no further information is available on where the drug ended up and how much it was used.

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A photo of A baby joins National Celebration Day in Taipei in October
Geopolitics

A Perfect Storm Of China-Taiwan Hostility: Will It Snap In 2023?

The past year has added new elements into the showdown across the Taiwan Strait, from Nancy Pelosi's visit to the war in Ukraine to Xi jinping's power grab. Now we may be reaching a tipping point that could lead to a military showdown, even if the question of when is still wide open.

-Analysis-

TAIPEI — To predict what might happen in the Taiwan Strait in 2023, one needs to bear in mind the profound influence of three significant geopolitical events in 2022: the Russian invasion of Ukraine, U.S. member of Congress Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan — followed by China's retaliatory military exercise — and, finally, Xi Jinping’s historic third term as president.

The common belief is that Xi Jinping aims to unify Taiwan in his next 10 years (or more) of rule.

These three developments have both advantages and disadvantages for Taiwan. Chinese optimism that Taiwan could be taken over in a matter of days has been brought down to earth as the world watches the Russian army continue to lose ground in Ukraine — suggesting China may have to rethink plans to attack Taiwan.

While China will not easily abandon its plans to take Taiwan by force, the outcome of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will certainly force China to be better prepared — meaning that unless something very serious happens, China will not start a war soon. After all, many key weapons of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) are not yet in service, and it will take years to build a cohesive military force.

But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has also had a negative impact on Taiwan. The U.S. supplied a large amount of arms and ammunition to Ukraine, resulting in the delayed delivery of equipment previously purchased by Taiwan. This seriously undermines Taiwan's plans to strengthen its national defense and deter China.

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Chinese catholic priests celebrating mass
Society

Between Xi Jinping And Pope Francis, China's Catholics Are Still Stuck In Limbo

An agreement between the Vatican and Beijing was quietly renewed recently. However, China still views Catholicism with a mix of deep suspicion and general distraction. Meanwhile the faithful and pastors are caught between two very different worlds.

At a mass on the Assumption of Mary, the Italian priest broke the bread and gave half of it to Liu, an underground priest from China. This simple and solemn rite symbolizes communion with Jesus and the unity of the Catholic Church. But it was only when Liu left his country that he could undertake the rite with a foreign priest, who was also not allowed to preach in China.

The atheist Chinese Communist Party considers religion to be a spiritual opium, and accuses Catholicism in particular of being an accomplice of Western imperialism. The Beijing-backed Catholic Patriotic Association began electing and consecrating its own bishops since 1958, attempting to satisfy the desire of the faithful while severing the link between Chinese Catholics and the Pope.

In order to resolve the plight of Chinese Catholics, after the efforts of three popes, the Vatican and Beijing signed a two-year Provisional Agreement on Nomination of Bishops in 2018. On Oct. 22, when the world’s eyes were focused on Xi Jinping’s groundbreaking third term as president, which is also the expiry date of the previous agreement, the Vatican immediately announced the renewal of the agreement for another two years.

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Photo of people wearing facemasks at a wet market in Kowloon, Hong Kong
Geopolitics

What Happened To China's Protests — And Missing Protesters?

Protests that engulfed China quickly faded as the government made a U-turn on its strict Zero-COVID policies, even as police sweeps of demonstrators have left families where their vanished loved ones are. Still, the "Blank Paper Revolution"'s cry for democracy may have quietly left its mark.

Dali Chan, a filmmaker and music lover, joined the protesting crowds in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou and was arrested on Dec. 4. He hasn't been seen since.

Dali is hardly the only "disappeared" protester, according to independent Chinese media NGOCN. Dianxin, a 25-year-old university student, is being held in prison in Guangzhou and denied access to a lawyer or her family members.

“Now that the Zero-COVID has been loosened, why is my daughter still in jail ?," asks her mother. "What crime has she committed?"

Charles, a 24-year-old Uyghur protester in Chengdu, was held by the police after joining a peaceful protest. His father, who barely speaks Mandarin, took a four-hour flight from Xinjiang, only to find out that his request to meet a lawyer was denied by the police. “My son is of a gentle personality,” his father says.

Because many of the arrests have been made in secret, it's impossible to know the number of protesters who have been jailed. Police are also still tracking down protesters in many cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu and Guangzhou, where large-scale protests broke out.

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Photo of police during protests in China against covid-19 restrictions
China

How China's Mass Protest Took The World By Surprise — And Where It Will End

China is facing its biggest political protests in decades as frustration grows with its harsh Zero-COVID strategy. However, the real reasons for the protests run much deeper. Could it be the starting point for a new civic movement?

In just one weekend, protests spread across China. A fire in an apartment block in Urumqi in China’s western Xinjiang region killed 10, with many blaming lockdown rules for the deaths. Anti-lockdown demonstrations spread to Beijing, Shanghai, Wuhan, Chengdu and other cities. University students from more than half of China's provinces organized various protests against COVID restrictions.

Why and how did the movement spread so rapidly?

At the core, protesters are unhappy with President Xi Jinping's three-year-long Zero-COVID strategy that has meant mass testing, harsh lockdowns, and digital tracking. Yet, the general belief about the Chinese people was that they lacked the awareness and experience for mass political action. Even though discontent had been growing about the Zero-COVID strategy, no one expected these protests.

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​Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling on a soccer pitch
Coronavirus

Chinese Students' "Absurd" Protest Against COVID Lockdowns: Public Crawling

While street demonstrations have spread in China to protest the strict Zero-COVID regulations, some Chinese university students have taken up public acts of crawling to show what extended harsh lockdowns are doing to their mental state.

Since last Friday, the world has watched a wave of street protests have taken place across China as frustration against extended lockdowns reached a boiling point. But even before protesters took to the streets, Chinese university students had begun a public demonstration that challenges and shames the state's zero-COVID rules in a different way: public displays of crawling, as a kind of absurdist expression of their repressed anger under three years of strict pandemic control.

Xin’s heart was beating fast as her knees reached the ground. It was her first time joining the strange scene at the university sports field, so she put on her hat and face mask to cover her identity.

Kneeling down, with her forearms supporting her body from the ground, Xin started crawling with three other girls as a group, within a larger demonstration of other small groups. As they crawled on, she felt the sense of fear and embarrassment start to disappear. It was replaced by a liberating sense of joy, which had been absent in her life as a university student in lockdown for so long.

Yes, crawling in public has become a popular activity among Chinese university students recently. There have been posters and videos of "volunteer crawling" across universities in China. At first, it was for the sake of "fun." Xin, like many who participated, thought it was a "cult-like ritual" in the beginning, but she changed her mind. "You don't care about anything when crawling, not thinking about the reason why, what the consequences are. You just enjoy it."

The reality out there for Chinese university students has been grim. For Xin, her university started daily COVID-19 testing in November, and deliveries, including food, are banned. Apart from the school gate, all exits have been padlock sealed.

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photo of a puddle and reflection of people walking in the rain
Society

Business Tips, Free Speech, Racism: A Nigerian Writer's China Diaries

The deepening ties between China and Africa are a hot topic, but the voices we hear are usually the same — white and Western. So what does China look like to an African? Nigerian journalist Solomon Elusoji is the best person to ask.

BEIJING — China's increasing trade links with Africa have become the most discussed bilateral relationships of the twenty-first century.

But the opinions we hear are usually white and Western. Solomon Elusoji, a Nigerian journalist, is in a unique position having spent extended periods of time in China. His perspective adds one that is oddly missing from a widely discussed topic — the voices of Africans.

In 2018, at the age of 23, Elusoji was sent to China by his editor at Nigeria's daily newspaper, This Day.

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photo of people in white suits working in foxconn factory in China
Coronavirus

Escape From Foxconn: Inside The COVID Lockdown Chaos Blocking China's iPhone Production

Around China, Zero COVID policy has shut down entire towns and workplaces. But in the high-tech Foxconn factory in Zhengzhou, famous for cranking out iPhones, employees were forced to work even if they tested positive. Exclusive testimony from some of those who fled Foxconn premises last week.

ZHENGZHOU — Luo, a newcomer at the Foxconn factory in this central Chinese city, was genuinely frightened when she heard her workplace would be an "experiment field" for new COVID-19 policies: Even during outbreaks, some employees won't stop their production work. Luo was chosen as one of the experiment subjects.

By the end of October, things were getting out of control at Foxconn: chaotic COVID testings, spreading infections, workers quitting their jobs. And Luo felt trapped inside the five million square meters of the Foxconn factory, China's largest producer of Apple's iPhones, which was falsely described as a COVID-free zone.

On Oct. 29, videos of Foxconn workers returning by foot to their hometowns began to spread on the internet. Some workers claimed that due to the company's chaotic quarantine system and poor logistical support, they had chosen to leave on their own and walk for several days back to small towns outside the city.

It would only deepen the delays piling up for iPhone deliveries around the world, and raise new questions about China's policy for dealing with the spread of COVID.

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Inside China's Surveillance State, Built On High Tech And A Billion Spies
Society

Inside China's Surveillance State, Built On High Tech And A Billion Spies

Twenty-five years in the making, China has developed a mass surveillance state, from Beijing alleyways to rural villages. And citizens don't object because they've been co-opted into it.

BEIJING — In 2021, a local police bureau in Beijing published an initiative on the Sharp Eyes project. Its description offers a chilling taste of how China's future of mass surveillance will be.

“Security cameras automatically capture the people’s faces, and match with house rental information, records in hospitals, hotels, and school, and summarize an activity log of different groups of people. With all information and data collected, an alarm model would be created to automatically identify abnormal activities."

Just exactly how the model will be implemented is not yet known. But combined with China's existing surveillance system, the Sharp Eyes project could allow community workers to proactively go to individuals' doors to investigate a crime that has not even been committed yet.

Its goal is to create a system that is literally meant to "prevent crime before it happens."

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Photo of Chinese leader Xi Jinping giving a speech at the ​20th congress of the Chinese Communist Party
Ideas

Hu Jintao Ejected, My Grandpa's Advice — A Personal Reflection On Xi Jinping

My fear for China's future has never been greater...

-Essay-

The 20th congress of the Chinese Communist Party ended as we knew it would: with Xi Jinping's well-choreographed anointment for a third term and the naming of a politburo completely loyal to him. The uniformed applause that echoed in the Great Hall of the People, across the party red setting, set the stage for total power in the hands of one man.

But there was, as many saw, one moment that appeared to go off script: the scene when ex-president Hu Jintao was removed from his seat at the closing ceremony. As the worlds' cameras zoomed in, the 79-year-old who was once Xi's boss was led away from his seat. Hu appeared to resist, while Xi remained in his central seat, looking indifferent, and the other top CCP officials sat in silence.

For a Chinese native, who grew up during Hu's reign, watching from afar was a disturbing experience to say the least.

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How Cambodia Became The Hub Of Asia's Online Fraud Racket
Economy

How Cambodia Became The Hub Of Asia's Online Fraud Racket

When China cracked down on cyber crime, many involved in the industry moved to Cambodia. The Southeast Asian country has since become synonymous with online scams and forced labor. But the Cambodian government isn't just turning a blind eye — it is actively benefiting.

Cambodia has been making headlines this year for all the wrong reasons: a rising Asian leader in "internet fraud," "forced labor" and "human trafficking."

But why, in particular, has Cambodia become a hub for online scams? How did international cyber fraud become so widespread in this Southeast Asian nation of 16.7. million? The answers begin with an unlikely source — land.

There is a joke familiar to many Cambodians: only generals with two stars or more can own land in Sihanoukville, a popular beachside destination in the south of the country. That land eventually changes hands and ends up belonging to Chinese investors, who turn it into hotels, casinos and, eventually now: cyber fraud activities.

Cambodia has private ownership of land, but its domestic politics has been turbulent for decades, with property rights still unclear. Large amounts of private land is still concentrated in the hands of the political elite through violent means, such as the forced conversion of private land into state land or the eviction of residents for commercial development.

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Photo of boy being tested for covid by man in hazmat suit
Coronavirus

Xi's Burden — Why China Is Sticking With Zero COVID

Too much has been put in to the state-sponsored truth that minimal spread of the virus is the at-all-cost objective. Xi Jinping may eventually have no choice but to renounce the harsh measures, but at this week's Communist Party Congress, the Chinese President was giving no ground.

This article was updated on Oct. 17 at 10:45 a.m. EST

The tragic bus accident in Guiyang last month — in which 27 people being sent to quarantine were killed — was one of the worst examples of collateral damage since the COVID-19 pandemic began in China nearly three years ago. While the crash can ultimately be traced back to bad government policy, the local authorities did not register it as a Zero COVID related casualty. It was, for them, a simple traffic accident.

The officials in the southern Chinese province of Guizhou, of course, had no alternative. Drawing a link between the deadly crash and the strict policy of Zero COVID, touted by President Xi Jinping, would have revealed the absurdity of the government's choices.

At a speech Sunday to open this week's historic Communist Party Congress, Xi made clear he had no immediate plans to loosen the Zero-Covid strategy. He called the tough health measures, a "people's war to stop the spread of the virus."

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