Paul Krugman | How China Lost the Covid War – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

Do you remember when Covid was going to establish China as the world’s dominant power? As late as mid-2021, my inbox was full of assertions that China’s apparent success in containing the coronavirus showed the superiority of the Chinese system over Western societies that, as one commentator put it, “did not have the ability to quickly organize every citizen around a single goal.”

At this point, however, China is flailing even as other nations are more or less getting back to normal life. It’s still pursuing its zero-Covid policy, enforcing draconian restrictions on everyday activities every time new cases emerge. This is creating immense personal hardship and cramping the economy; cities under lockdown account for almost 60 percent of China’s G.D.P.

In early November many workers reportedly fled the giant Foxconn plant that produces iPhones, fearing not just that they would be locked in but that they would go hungry. And in the last few days many Chinese, in cities across the nation, have braved harsh repression to demonstrate against government policies.

I’m not a China expert, and I have no idea where this is going. As far as I can tell, actual China experts don’t know, either. But I think it’s worth asking what lessons we can draw from China’s journey from would-be role model to debacle.

Crucially, the lesson is not that we shouldn’t pursue public health measures in the face of a pandemic. Sometimes such measures are necessary. But governments need to be able to change policy in the face of changing circumstances and new evidence.

And what we’re seeing in China is the problem with autocratic governments that can’t admit mistakes and won’t accept evidence they don’t like.

In the first year of the pandemic, strong, even draconian restrictions made sense. It was never realistic to imagine that mask mandates and even lockdowns could prevent the coronavirus from spreading. What they could do, however, was slow the spread.

At first, the goal in the U.S. and many other countries was to “flatten the curve,” avoiding a peak in cases that would overwhelm the health care system. Then, once it became clear that effective vaccines would become available, the goal was or should have been to delay infections until widespread vaccination could provide protection.

You could see this strategy at work in places like New Zealand and Taiwan, which initially imposed stringent rules that held cases and deaths to very low levels, then relaxed these rules once their populations were widely vaccinated. Even with vaccines, opening up led to a large rise in cases and deaths — but not nearly as severe as would have happened if these places had opened up earlier, so that overall deaths per capita have been far lower than in the United States.

China’s leaders, however, seem to have believed that lockdowns could permanently stomp out the coronavirus, and they have been acting as if they still believe this even in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence.

At the same time, China utterly failed to develop a Plan B. Many older Chinese — the most vulnerable group — still aren’t fully vaccinated. China has also refused to use foreign-made vaccines, even though its homegrown vaccines, which don’t use mRNA technology, are less effective than the shots the rest of the world is getting.

All of this leaves Xi Jinping’s regime in a trap of its own making. The zero-Covid policy is obviously unsustainable, but ending it would mean tacitly admitting error, which autocrats never find easy. Furthermore, loosening the rules would mean a huge spike in cases and deaths.

Not only have many of the most vulnerable Chinese remained unvaccinated or received inferior shots, but because the coronavirus has been suppressed, few Chinese have natural immunity, and the nation also has very few intensive care beds, leaving it without the capacity to deal with a Covid surge.

It’s a nightmare, and nobody knows how it ends. But what can the rest of us learn from China?

First, autocracy is not, in fact, superior to democracy. Autocrats can act quickly and decisively, but they can also make huge mistakes because nobody can tell them when they’re wrong. At a fundamental level there’s a clear resemblance between Xi’s refusal to back off zero Covid and Vladimir Putin’s disaster in Ukraine.

Second, we’re seeing why it’s important for leaders to be open to evidence and be willing to change course when they’ve been proved wrong.

Ironically, in the United States the politicians whose dogmatism most resembles that of Chinese leaders are right-wing Republicans. China has rejected foreign mRNA vaccines, despite clear evidence of their superiority; many Republican leaders have rejected vaccines in general, even in the face of a huge partisan divide in death rates linked to differential vaccination rates. This contrasts with Democrats, who have in general followed something like New Zealand’s approach, if much less effectively — restrictions early on, relaxed as vaccination spread.

In short, what we can learn from China is broader than the failure of specific policies; it is that we should beware of would-be autocrats who insist, regardless of the evidence, that they’re always right.”    -30-

Surrounded by Threats, Japan Rethinks Decades of Military Dependency – The New York Times

Motoko Rich and 

Reporting from Tokyo

“Over nearly seven decades, Japan has relied on commitments from the United States, its most important ally, for protection in the event of an enemy attack. Japan hosts the largest contingent of overseas American troops and regularly conducts drills with them. It has purchased more American-made F-35 stealth fighter jets than any other country outside the United States.

Yet now, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine challenges long-held security assumptions and as threats from China and North Korea multiply, Japan is starting to rely more on itself, a shift that could quietly alter the balance of power in Asia.

The country’s governing party is pushing to increase Japan’s defense budget drastically, develop more military hardware domestically and redefine what it can do with those weapons under the pacifist Constitution in place since the end of World War II.

By asserting its own deterrent power, Japan — the world’s third-largest economy — could become less a military protectorate of the United States and more an equal partner. That could help fulfill the desire of American leaders for Japan to serve as a stronger military counter to China, as Beijing uses its rapidly improving armed forces to menace Taiwan and send ballistic missiles and coast guard ships into Japan’s territorial waters.”

Thomas L. Friedman | How China Lost America – The New York Times

“When future historians look back on 2022, they will have a lot to choose from when they ask the question: What was the most important thing that happened that year? Was it Brexit, Chexit, Ruxit or Trumpit?

Was it the meltdown of the world’s sixth-largest economy, Britain, fueled in part by its reckless 2020 exit from the European Union? Was it the demented attempt by Vladimir Putin to wipe Ukraine off the map, which has decoupled Russia from the West — what I call Ruxit — creating havoc with worldwide energy and food markets? Was it the near-total infection of the G.O.P. with Donald Trump’s Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen — Trumpit — which is eroding our democracy’s most cherished asset: our ability to peacefully and legitimately transfer power?

Or was it China’s drive under President Xi Jinping for Chexit — an end to four decades of steady integration of China’s economy with the West, an end symbolized by the abbreviation popularized by my colleague in Beijing Keith Bradsher to describe where Western multinationals today think about putting their next factory: “A.B.C. — Anywhere But China.”

It’s a tough call. And just listing them all together only tells you what a hinge of history 2022 has become. But my vote goes to Chexit.”

Farhad Manjoo | Biden Just Clobbered China’s Chip Industry – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

“Semiconductors are among the most intricate tools that human beings have ever invented. They are also among the most expensive to make.

The latest chips — the sort that power supercomputers and high-end smartphones — are densely packed with transistors so small they’re measured in nanometers. Perhaps the only things more ingenious than the chips themselves are the machines that are used to build them. These devices are capable of working on almost unimaginably tiny scales, a fraction of the size of most viruses. Some of the chip-building machines take years to build and cost hundreds of millions of dollars each; the Dutch company ASML, which makes the world’s only lithography machines capable of inscribing designs for the fastest chips, has produced just 140 such devices over the past decade.”

China’s Heat Wave Strains Its Economy – The New York Times

Tiffany May and 

“Faced with China’s most searing heat wave in six decades, factories in the country’s southwest are being forced to close. A severe drought has shrunk rivers, disrupting the region’s supply of water and hydropower and prompting officials to limit electricity to businesses and homes. In two cities, office buildings were ordered to shut off the air-conditioning to spare an overextended electrical grid, while elsewhere in southern China local governments urged residents and businesses to conserve energy.

The rolling blackouts and factory shutdowns, which affected Toyota and Foxconn, a supplier for Apple, point to the ways that extreme weather is adding to China’s economic woes. The economy has been headed toward its slowest pace of growth in years, dragged down by the country’s stringent Covid policy of lockdowns, quarantines and travel restrictions, as consumers tightened spending and factories produced less. Youth unemployment has reached a record high, while trouble in the real estate sector has set off an unusual surge of public discontent.”

China’s Fishing Operations Raise Alarms Worldwide – The New York Times

“Over the last two decades, China has built the world’s largest deep-water fishing fleet, by far, with nearly 3,000 ships. Having severely depleted stocks in its own coastal waters, China now fishes in any ocean in the world, and on a scale that dwarfs some countries’ entire fleets near their own waters.

The impact is increasingly being felt from the Indian Ocean to the South Pacific, from the coasts of Africa to those off South America — a manifestation on the high seas of China’s global economic might.

A Chinese ship fishing for squid off the west coast of South America in July 2021. Isaac Haslam/Sea Shepherd via Associated Press

The Chinese effort has prompted diplomatic and legal protests. The fleet has also been linked to illegal activity, including encroaching on other countries’ territorial waters, tolerating labor abuses and catching endangered species. In 2017, Ecuador seized a refrigerated cargo ship, the Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999, carrying an illicit cargo of 6,620 sharks, whose fins are a delicacy in China.”

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:
Can the UN stop this behavior? Will the Chinese listen to reason? Will they only respect force? Do we have diplomatic chips to play? Maybe the US Navy and NATO and our Asian Allies should use these mother Chinese refrigerator ships, called carrier vessels, for target practice. First, we tell the Chinese Government to stop using them, then we disable or sink a few carrier vessels. This trouble shows the madness of Trump cancelling the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement set up by Obama. We need it now.
David blogs at InconvenientNews.net.

New electric cars parked under photovoltaic systems at a parking lot in Jinzhong.

From NYT article, see previous post.

“New electric cars parked under photovoltaic systems at a parking lot in Jinzhong. China has one of the fastest-growing E.V. markets, with sales expected to double this year to about six million vehicles.Credit…Visual China Group via Getty Images”

David Lindsay: We are cutting down forests to put up solar farms, when we could be doing this to parking lots all over the country!!!

Source: (20+) David Lindsay | Facebook

For China’s Auto Market, Electric Isn’t the Future. It’s the Present. Electric Isn’t the Future. It’s the Present – The New York Times

“Zhang Youping, a Chinese retiree, purchased an all-electric, small sport-utility vehicle from BYD — China’s largest electric vehicle maker — at an auto show for around $20,000 last month. Her family has bought three gas-powered cars in the last decade, but she recently grew concerned about gas prices and decided to go electric “to save money.” A few months earlier, her son had also bought an E.V. It was a $10,000 hatchback from Leapmotor, another Chinese manufacturer.

This year, a quarter of all new cars purchased in China will be an all-electric vehicle or a plug-in hybrid. There are, by some estimates, more than 300 Chinese companies making E.V.s, ranging from discount offerings below $5,000 to high-end models that rival Tesla and German automakers. There are roughly four million charging units in the country, double the number from a year ago, with more coming.

While other E.V. markets are still heavily dependent on subsidies and financial incentives, China has entered a new phase: Consumers are weighing the merits of electric vehicles against gas-powered cars based on features and price without much consideration of state support. By comparison, the United States is far behind. This year, the country passed a key threshold of E.V.s accounting for 5 percent of new car sales. China passed that level in 2018.”

Why Is This Colorful Little Wheel Suddenly Everywhere in Japan? – The New York Times

TOKYO — A few years ago, a colorful new accessory suddenly began to appear on the lapels of dark-suited salarymen across Japan: a small badge, shaped like a roulette wheel and divided into 17 rainbow-colored sections.

Soon, the logo was seemingly everywhere, proudly displayed in hip boutiques, at children’s playgrounds and on the websites of Buddhist temples.

The object of that zeal? The 17-point U.N. framework known as the Sustainable Development Goals.

S.D.G.s, as they are called, encourage every nation on earth to become a better place, with such hard-to-argue-against aspirations as ending poverty, improving education and reducing inequality.