We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

—————————

Ian Birrell in the Mail on Sunday asks,

What are they hiding? At the start of Covid many scientists believed it likely leaked from Wuhan lab – until a conference call with Patrick Vallance changed their minds. We asked for his emails about the call. This is what we got . . .

Redacted letters

China’s crackdown on profit-making education

China appears to be doing its level best to harm itself in the long term. This story hasn’t so far stirred a lot of international commentary, but it matters, I think. It shows that the rising nationalism (and arguably, a degree of paranoia) in China is reaching the point where it is damaging the domestic economy.

According to one report in Forbes:

Chinese authorities have ramped up their crackdown on after-school tutoring companies by unveiling a new set of sweeping regulations that bans the firms from making profits and raising capital from overseas markets.

Tutoring companies that teach school subjects are now required to register as non-profits. They are also banned from raising capital from overseas investors or through public listings.

What’s more, authorities will stop approving new tutoring companies seeking to teach China’s school syllabus, and require existing ones to undergo regulatory reviews and apply for licenses. The companies found to be in violation will be rectified or eradicated, according to the rules, without further elaboration.

The moves by Chinese authorities have hammered shares of firms operating in the space.

One story I read in the Wall Street Journal said that China, while hitting private sector education, is at the same time trying to make it easier for young couples to have more kids, reversing decades of its odious “one child” policy.

Why does this matter? Because the ever-shifting moves of Chinese authorities on certain sectors must make it hard for entrepreneurs in that country to plan ahead. One moment a chap like Alibaba’s Jack Ma is a sort of business “rock star”, and the next, he’s “disappeared”. In my job in the financial services industry, I have heard a lot of comments over the years on how vibrant, dynamic and coherent Chinese policymaking is, so much better than all that messy Western “neoliberalism”.

Well, it turns out that things in China aren’t quite what they are cracked up to be.

Samizdata quote of the day

“The truth is that China has come out of the lockdowns grimmer, stronger and more assertive. The world we knew has gone.”

– Daniel Hannan, Sunday Telegraph today (behind paywall).

He is writing on the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party. An organisation responsible for the deaths of tens of millions and which continues to run a heavily authoritarian and dangerous place. It is nothing to celebrate – quite the reverse.

How long will the doctors be in loco parentis?

Thirty years? Women of childbearing age should not drink – WHO

How about forever? Face masks should continue ‘forever’ to fight other diseases, says Sage scientist

Readers’ poll: what on earth did Boris mean?

Sky News on Twitter: “Boris Johnson has suggested the world’s leading nations should support a more ‘gender-neutral and feminine’ way of post-COVID economic recovery.”

“Gender neutral and feminine”? Click on the words below* that in your opinion best match what was going through Boris’s tousled head as he said these words.

(a) Pay up, Matt, I did it.

(b) Hey, if Joe can get away with “Those RFA pilots”, I can get away with this.

(c) You’re looking awfully pretty today, Carrie.

(d) You’re looking awfully pretty today, Ursula.

*Nothing will happen when you click. But you will feel better for having expressed yourself.

Five Eyes, one closing

“Five Eyes on China cut to four as New Zealand puts trade first”, reports the Times.

New Zealand has broken with Anglophone allies over using the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing network to confront China, reversing an agreement to expand the network’s remit.

Nanaia Mahuta, the foreign minister, declared that New Zealand was “uncomfortable” with pressuring China and wanted to pursue its own bilateral relationship.

The network, a Cold War-era partnership to share intelligence, took a new turn last year when it began issuing statements as a single entity, including condemning China’s human rights record.

Last May defence ministers from Britain, America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand endorsed an expanded role with a public commitment not only to meet shared security challenges but “to advance their shared values of democracy, freedom and respect for human rights”.

Mahuta, 50, said she had informed the other Five Eyes members of New Zealand’s changed position.

Ms Mahuta waxed poetical about the relationship between New Zealand and China:

She symbolised the China-New Zealand relationship as one between a “dragon and taniwha”, a serpent-like creature from Maori myth.

“I see the taniwha and the dragon as symbols of the strength of our particular customs, traditions and values, that aren’t always the same, but need to be maintained and respected,” she said. “And on that virtue we have together developed the mature relationship we have today.”

Oddly, the Times report makes no mention of the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern. If only she knew of this cynical act of realpolitik by one of her ministers!

Samizdata quote of the day

The chief publicist of the post-Cold War order was Francis Fukuyama, who in his 1992 book The End of History argued that with the fall of the Berlin Wall Western liberal democracy represented the final form of government. What Fukuyama got wrong after the fall of the Berlin Wall wasn’t his assessment of the strength of political forms; rather it was the depth of his philosophical model. He believed that with the end of the nearly half-century-long superpower standoff, the historical dialectic pitting conflicting political models against each other had been resolved. In fact, the dialectic just took another turn.

Just after defeating communism in the Soviet Union, America breathed new life into the communist party that survived. And instead of Western democratic principles transforming the CCP, the American establishment acquired a taste for Eastern techno-autocracy. Tech became the anchor of the U.S.-China relationship, with CCP funding driving Silicon Valley startups, thanks largely to the efforts of Dianne Feinstein, who, after Kissinger, became the second-most influential official driving the U.S.-CCP relationship for the next 20 years.

– Lee Smith, The Thirty Tyrants

Trouble comes to the EU from three directions

“The EU is a divided house”, writes John Keiger at the Spectator:

A 2019 German think tank report, entitled ‘20 Years of the Euro; Winners and Losers’, costed the single currency’s impact on individual states. From 1999 to 2017, only Germany and the Netherlands were serious winners with the former gaining a huge € 1.9 trillion, or around €23,000 per inhabitant.

In all other states analysed the Euro has provoked a drop in prosperity, with France losing a massive €3.6 trillion and Italy €4.3 trillion. French losses amount to €56,000 per capita and for Italians €74,000. Without fundamental reform the nineteen-member single currency’s divide between high-debt, high-unemployment southern states and their low-debt, low-unemployment northern counterparts will widen. The next crisis will come as the ECB’s quantitative easing programme ends and southern debt ceases to be sucked up by the Bank.

“The EU’s China deal is bad for democracy”, writes Edward Lucas at the Times:

The deal itself is quite narrow. It replaces and amplifies multiple existing agreements, with the aim of protecting investors against arbitrary treatment. Their bugbears include mandatory joint ventures, which China uses to steal technology and other secrets, and subsidies for local competitors. China has also made a mealy-mouthed commitment to make “continued and sustained efforts” to ratify International Labour Organization conventions that underpin free trade unions and prohibit slave labour.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) may have given away a bit on this front but has gained far more on others. Hopes of a global stance against Chinese bullying are dashed. Australia, the subject of ferocious pressure, is left marooned. Countries mulling how far to stand up to China will draw their own conclusions: Europe talks about values but self-interest trumps solidarity.

The deal exemplifies the gap between the EU’s foreign policy aims and reality. The European Commission claims to be “geopolitical”. In 2019 it deemed China a “strategic rival”. Yet the mercantilist influence of big business, particularly in Germany, steamrollers ethical and security concerns.

“EU’s coronavirus vaccination strategy in chaos as supplies run short”, write Oliver Moody and Charles Bremner, also in the Times:

The European Union’s vaccine strategy has been criticised as “clearly inadequate” after a first week of inoculation on the continent was marred by logistical mishaps.

President Macron reprimanded his ministers over France’s sluggish start after only 400 people received the Pfizer-Biontech jab in the first six days.

A senior German minister and the German-Turkish scientist who developed the Biontech vaccine questioned why the EU had not amassed a sufficient stockpile of the only vaccine it had licensed. Brussels has ordered up to 300 million doses of the jab — barely enough to cover a third of the EU’s 450 million residents — but turned down an offer of an extra 500 million doses, according to Der Spiegel magazine. This has left the bloc dependent on a range of vaccines that have yet to be licensed, including those from Sanofi and Curevac, which are not expected to be available until at least the second half of the year.

But the EU has survived many predictions of its demise, and it is not the only union of nations under strain. “With Brexit, the UK may be bolstering the EU and seeding its own disintegration”, writes Andrew Hammond in the South China Morning Post:

Within the EU, for instance, there are several key debates about the 27-member bloc’s future well under way, including rebalancing the union given the new balance of power within it, and whether the EU now integrates further, disintegrates or muddles through.

For instance, with the UK no longer in the Brussels-based club, the EU 27 has already made significant steps last year towards greater federalism. One example is the new €750 billion (US$825 billion) coronavirus recovery fund, a major political milestone in the post-war history of European integration, which saw the continent’s presidents and prime ministers commit for the first time to the principle of jointly issued debt as a funding tool.

What do you think will happen to the EU? What do you want to happen? Views from citizens or residents of EU countries would be especially welcome.

And the lesson for today is…

…from the Second Book of Kings, Chapter 20, Verses 12-19:

12 At that time Marduk-Baladan son of Baladan king of Babylon sent Hezekiah letters and a gift, because he had heard of Hezekiah’s illness. 

13 Hezekiah received the envoys and showed them all that was in his storehouses – the silver, the gold, the spices and the fine oil – his armoury and everything found among his treasures. There was nothing in his palace or in all his kingdom that Hezekiah did not show them.

14 Then Isaiah the prophet went to King Hezekiah and asked, ‘What did those men say, and where did they come from?’

‘From a distant land,’ Hezekiah replied. ‘They came from Babylon.’

15 The prophet asked, ‘What did they see in your palace?’

‘They saw everything in my palace,’ Hezekiah said. ‘There is nothing among my treasures that I did not show them.’

16 Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, ‘Hear the word of the Lord: 

17 the time will surely come when everything in your palace, and all that your predecessors have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says the Lord. 

18 And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood who will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.’

19 ‘The word of the Lord you have spoken is good,’ Hezekiah replied. For he thought, ‘Will there not be peace and security in my lifetime?’

While I would not go so far as to claim this post was divinely inspired, 2 Kings 20: 12-19 actually was the lesson in a church service broadcast on Radio 3 on Wednesday morning. I caught a little of it while in the car heading down to Bisley to perform an activity that once would have been proudly described as contributing to national security. (Do not try this line now.)

Anyway, for some reason over the next few days I found myself paying a little more attention to news stories like this one from today’s South China Morning Post,

“US blacklists about 60 more Chinese firms including top chip maker SMIC and drone manufacturer DJI”,

…or to this one from the BBC two days ago, “Huawei: Uighur surveillance fears lead PR exec to quit”,

Or to any of a thousand others. But what is the lesson for today? What should we do about the threat from the People’s Republic of China? “War is the health of the state”, wrote Randolph Bourne, and cold war is its daily vitamin pill. It was not so long ago that people like me were enthusiasts for China’s turn to capitalism. I still am, mostly. Now that their rulers have cast off all but the fig leaf of communism, a significant fraction of the human race has been lifted out of poverty in my lifetime. The Chinese people are not free, but they are much more free than they were in the days when the Eight Revolutionary Operas were almost literally the only music allowed. I am happy for them.

Yet when I see that famous video of Joe Biden, the man soon to take up residence in the White House, jovially saying, “China is going to eat our lunch? Come on, man”, I cannot but remember the words of the prophet:

And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood who will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.’

‘The word of the Lord you have spoken is good,’ Hezekiah replied. For he thought, ‘Will there not be peace and security in my lifetime?’

I wonder how long this Chinese tycoon will be seen in public?

Jack Ma, founder of Chinese e-commerce colossus Alibaba, might want to watch his back. An affiliate business of Alibaba, called Ant Financial, was due to float on the stock market last week but the IPO was suddenly pulled, leaving investment bankers who had underwritten the deal fuming. It also makes me wonder whether China’s President, Xi, is getting resentful about the power of the house that Jack built, so to speak.

Wall Street Journal has this story (item is paywalled, so here are four paragraphs):

Chinese President Xi Jinping personally made the decision to halt the initial public offering of Ant Group, which would have been the world’s biggest, after controlling shareholder Jack Ma infuriated government leaders, according to Chinese officials with knowledge of the matter.

The rebuke was the culmination of years of tense relations between China’s most celebrated entrepreneur and a government uneasy about his influence and the rapid growth of the digital-payments behemoth he controlled.

Mr. Xi, for his part, has displayed a diminishing tolerance for big private businesses that have amassed capital and influence—and are perceived to have challenged both his rule and the stability craved by factions in the country’s newly assertive Communist Party.

In a speech on Oct. 24, days before the financial-technology giant was set to go public, Mr. Ma cited Mr. Xi’s words in what top government officials saw as an effort to burnish his own image and tarnish that of regulators, these people said.

I would not be in the least surprised to see Jack Ma either end up as an exile in the West, or disappear.

As a media figure who works in the wealth management market, I often read reports about how China is kicking the West’s arse in generating gazillions of new billionaires. About how the country is overtaking the West, blah, blah. If that is the case, it is interesting that Chinese people try to get out, given half a chance, or suffer a worse fate. It is hard to see how a country that operates like this can really prosper in the long term, however mighty it looks now. People who fear that success makes them a target are not going to bother.

Samizdata quote of the day

YouTube went from restricting speech containing “violence and hate” to apparently suppressing information connecting Disney to actual violence and hate in China—the largest mass incarceration of an ethnic minority since the Holocaust. A rich irony indeed, but one that would not have surprised George Orwell.

Jon Miltimore

Bonus:

YouTube has deleted every comment I ever made about the Wumao (五毛), an internet propaganda division of the Chinese Communist Party. Who at Google decided to censor American comments on American videos hosted in America by an American platform that is already banned in China?

Palmer Luckey

Ask not for whom the tik toks

“TikTok and WeChat: US to ban app downloads in 48 hours”, reports the BBC.

All things considered, I do still want Trump to win the US election, but this sounds like a stupid measure. Banning things is almost always intrinsically stupid, as is running your politics by the threat of bans. It will also lose him votes from people who happen to like TikTok.

I suspect that like Sadiq Khan’s ban on Uber operating in London (the appeal against which will be heard on 28th September), Trump’s move is basically a shakedown. Note the delay before implementation in both cases. Either ban could be reversed at a moment’s notice for the right price. So far as I know Londoners can still use Uber now, and that will continue until the appeals process is exhausted, which could mean ten days or ten years. As for Tiktok in the US,

If a planned partnership between US tech firm Oracle and TikTok owner ByteDance is agreed and approved by President Trump, the app will not be banned.