Belmont Club

A Thousand Ways to Get Sold Out

World Airline Map by jpatokal

Although Russia and the Ukraine are the focus of U.S. media coverage, the most important recent events have occurred in China. It remains in the grip of an ever-expanding coronavirus epidemic that the WHO seems reluctant to wall off, saying Beijing would help those foreign countries that got infected.

In the wake of numerous airlines cancelling flights to China and businesses including Starbucks and McDonald’s temporarily closing hundreds of shops, Tedros said WHO was not recommending limiting travel or trade to China.

“There is no reason for measures that unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade,” he said. He added that Chinese President Xi Jinping had committed to help stop the spread of the virus beyond its borders.

“During my discussion with the president and other officials, they’re willing to support countries with weaker health systems with whatever is possible,” Tedros said.

The 2019-nCoV outbreak is proving to be not only an epidemiological event but a geopolitical development. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross pointed out the obvious. China will be diminished as a result, the only question being by how much.

“Well, first of all, every American’s heart has to go out to the victims of the coronavirus. So, I don’t want to talk about a victory lap over a very unfortunate, very malignant disease,” Ross told Fox Business Network on Thursday. “But the fact is, it does give businesses yet another thing to consider when they go through their review of their supply chain.”

“On top of all the other things, you had SARS, you had the African swine virus there, now you have this,” Ross continued. “It’s another risk factor that people need to take into account. So, I think it will help to accelerate the return of jobs to North America. Some to U.S., probably some to Mexico, as well.”

Perhaps not just China but the whole uncritical notion of a globalized world has taken a hit. In an eerie parallel development, the chairman of Harvard’s chemistry department was arrested on charges of secretly receiving money from Beijing in exchange for American biotechnology.

In 2013 Charles Lieber, a pioneer of nanoscience who is now the chairman of Harvard University’s chemistry department, visited the Wuhan University of Technology (wut), in China, to celebrate the founding of a lab he was credited by that university with helping to establish and oversee: the wut-Harvard Joint Nano Key Laboratory. It was a remarkable coup. wut is an institution of little renown. Harvard is generally regarded as the top of the academic tree. And Dr Lieber, whose research has since become part of Elon Musk’s ambitious scheme to supercharge the human brain with nanotechnology, has been seen as a potential Nobel laureate.

Harvard’s officials had not, however, approved the laboratory and did not know about it until early 2015, according to the us Department of Justice. Nor did they know that while conducting his research with grants from the Department of Defence and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Dr Lieber was, according to federal authorities, also being paid up to $50,000 a month by wut, plus at least $150,000 in “living expenses”, as a prized recruit in China’s Thousand Talents programme to bring foreign scientists, and return Chinese expatriates, to that country’s research laboratories.

Lieber’s bail has been set at a $1 million cash, the surrender of his passport, and a ban of large cash withdrawals without court approval. Even without conspiracy theory, the “Thousand Talents” program and the question of international conflict of interest will be in the dock with Dr. Lieber.

What, then, is the Thousand Talents program? This was established by the Chinese government in 2008, and it has several divisions for both Chinese researchers and foreign experts. The general idea is to recruit scientific talent and expertise to China – encouraging Chinese nationals to come back to Chinese institutions after studying overseas, funding research collaborations between Chinese groups and institutions and foreign researchers, and so on. …

There have also been concerns about outright espionage. Here’s a recent Senate report calling the Thousand Talents effort (and the many other Chinese-sponsored recruitment programs) a direct threat to US security. There have been cases of awardees taking proprietary information with them, of nondisclosure of Chinese funding (as with Prof. Lieber), and so on. In recent years, the Chinese government has reacted to this scrutiny by removing the names of awardees from public web sites in an effort to keep them from becoming targets of investigation by the FBI and other agencies (in the US and other countries).

The virus outbreak and the Thousand Talents affair will add fuel to arguments that naive globalization has been all about the elites making a killing at the expense of ordinary citizens. The amorality went both ways. If China had a Thousand Talents scheme in the U.S., the financial industry had “Sons and Daughters” program in 2016.

Regulators slapped JPMorgan with $264 million in fines and said the bank “corruptly influenced government officials” with its hiring and internship tactics in China.

The settlement follows a three-year investigation into JPMorgan and marks one of the first major crackdowns on a big U.S. bank for running afoul of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Known as the FCPA, the law prohibits companies from making payments or giving “anything of value” to win business from foreign officials.

“JPMorgan engaged in a systemic bribery scheme by hiring children of government officials … who were typically unqualified for the position on their own merit,” Andrew Ceresney, director of the SEC’s enforcement division, said in a statement.

The practice of giving the children of China’s ruling class plum jobs and internships was so common at JPMorgan that the bank even had a formal program known as “Sons and Daughters.” The program included spreadsheets that tracked how often the hires turned into business deals.

Whatever the legal relevance of excluding Hunter Biden’s connection to Burisma Holdings from Donald Trump’s impeachment may be, the saga of a political scion getting a cushy foreign job on the strength of his name plays to the populist narrative of elite betrayal almost as if it had been written by a Hollywood scriptwriter. The 2019-nCoV outbreak poses a potential political threat not just to the Chinese Communist Party but the entire One World project. If virus spreads unchecked, the public will be looking for someone to blame and it won’t just be the Chinese apparatchiks.

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Books:

Loserthink: How Untrained Brains Are Ruining America, by Scott Adams. The creator of Dilbert has come up with a guide to spot and avoid mental habits trapping victims in their own bubbles of reality, such as the inability to get ego out of your decisions, thinking with words instead of reasons, failing to imagine alternative explanations, and making too much of coincidences.

Humanity in a Creative Universe, by Stuart A. Kauffman. Best known for his philosophy of evolutionary biology, Kauffman calls into question science’s ability to ever accurately and precisely predict the future development of biological features in organisms. He argues that our preoccupation to explain all things with scientific law has deadened our creative natures and concludes that the development of life on earth is not entirely predictable, because no theory could ever fully account for the limitless variations of evolution.

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Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power, by Steve Coll. A masterful result of Coll’s indefatigable reporting, this book draws on more than 400 interviews; field reporting from the halls of Congress to the oil-laden swamps of the Niger Delta; more than 1,000 pages of previously classified U.S. documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act; heretofore unexamined court records; and many other sources. This is a defining portrait of ExxonMobil and the place of Big Oil in American politics and foreign policy.

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Open Curtains by George Spix and Richard Fernandez. Technology represents both unlimited promise and menace. Which transpires depends on whether people can claim ownership over their knowledge or whether human informational capital continues to suffer the Tragedy of the Commons.

The War of the Words, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres

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