China Bans Harsh Punishments In Schools

A pro-Beijing supporter holds China's national flag as he and others gather outside the Legislative Council in Hong Kong on November 12, 2020, a day after the city's pro-Beijing authorities ousted four pro-democracy lawmakers. Anthony WALLACE / AFP
A man holds China’s national flag. Photo: Anthony WALLACE / AFP

 

 

China has banned school teachers from meting out any punishment that can cause physical or mental trauma, after a string of student deaths linked to harsh discipline in recent years.

New rules issued by the Ministry of Education that take effect Monday forbid punishments at schools that humiliate students, as well as reinforcing the existing ban on corporal punishment.

Banned practices include caning, making students stand or kneel on the floor for hours and verbal abuse.

Students are now encouraged to write an apology letter or do classroom chores for minor offences such as forgetting to do their homework.

Those who commit more severe offences like bullying may be suspended or advised to undergo counselling.

China outlawed corporal punishment in 1986, but enforcement has been lax and parents often turn a blind eye to the practice.

The ministry did not say how it plans to punish teachers who do not obey the rules.

Chinese media regularly reports cases of children who have died after being beaten by teachers or have taken their own lives following public humiliation at school.

A 10-year-old girl in the southwestern province of Sichuan died after her maths teacher pulled her ears and beat her head for getting two sums wrong, state news agency Xinhua reported in September.

A fifth-grader in eastern Jiangsu province killed herself last June after her teacher allegedly criticized her essay for lacking “positive vibes”, China Daily reported. The teacher had allegedly slapped her and humiliated her in front of the class.

A new family education law prohibiting corporal punishment at home is also due to be taken up when China’s top legislative body, the National People’s Congress, meets later this week.

COVID-19: China Denies Using Anal Swabs On US Diplomats

A health worker wearing a Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) suit tests a swab sample for COVID-19 at a primary health centre on September 3, 2020. NOAH SEELAM / AFP

 

 

China on Thursday said it had never asked US diplomats to undergo COVID-19 anal swabs, following American media reports that State Department personnel had complained of being subjected to the intrusive test.

China — which has largely brought the virus under control domestically — said last month that anal swabs can be more effective than normal throat and nose swabs as the virus can linger longer in the digestive system.

But Beijing rebuffed reports from Vice and Washington Post — citing US officials — that State Department employees in China had been given the test “in error,” despite diplomats being exempt from the procedure.

“China has never requested US diplomatic personnel in China to undergo anal swabs,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a regular press briefing Thursday.

Officials in China have used anal swabs to test people it considers at high-risk of contracting Covid-19, including residents of neighbourhoods with confirmed cases as well as some international travellers.

State media reports that anal swabs had been used in Beijing during a small outbreak in January caused a social media uproar, with many commenters on Twitter-like Weibo reacting with a mix of horror and amusement.

But officials acknowledged it would be hard to use anal swabs as widely as the other methods, which have been used to test millions in mass campaigns, as the former technique was “not convenient.”

Tear-Jerker Chinese Film Proves Massive Box-Office Success

Jia Ling’s time-travel comedy “Hi, Mom” has seen its cumulative earnings exceed 4 billion yuan ($617 mln) as of Sunday.

 

 

Audiences are cramming into Chinese cinemas to watch a sentimental comedy that has rapidly become one of the most popular films of all time in the country and marks a triumphant debut for its female director.

Since its release a fortnight ago, Jia Ling’s “Hi, Mom” has become the fourth best-selling film ever in China with ticket sales of at least 4.3 billion yuan ($670 million), according to box-office tracker Maoyan.

If it continues its monumental success, “Hi, Mom” could become the highest-grossing movie ever by a female director.

Jia also plays the lead role as the daughter who travels back to 1981, before she was born, and tries to give her mother a better life than the one she had the first time around.

The film is partly biographical and an ode to Jia’s mother, who died in an accident when Jia was 19.

“Mum, don’t go, don’t leave me,” Jia says in the film — dissolving many in cinema audiences into tears, even though it is for the most part a comedy.

Chinese cinemas are largely back to normal after the country wrestled down coronavirus infections to a comparative trickle, and the film has given many a renewed appreciation of their mothers.

“I have never thought before that my mum was also a young girl in the past,” said college student Yu Yanting after seeing the film in Shanghai.

Thirteen-year-old Vittoria and younger sister Valeria, 11, were inconsolable after watching it with their mother.

“I hope they will appreciate mummy more now,” said their mother Elaine, holding her two daughters close.

Overcoming her tears after a few minutes, a red-eyed Vittoria said behind her face mask: “All my friends are crying to this film, but maybe not as much as me.”

– ‘Mother’s love like air’ –
Jia, who prior to this was best-known as a comedian in the male-dominated world of Chinese comedy, said that she was “tormented” when her mother died suddenly.

But she hopes that rather than thinking of it as a sad film, audiences will appreciate her mother’s spirit and optimism.

“Our mum’s love for us is like air — it is there since we were born, so we often ignore it,” Jia told state television.

“But when we lose it, we experience a sense of suffocation and helplessness.”

Film critic Jing Runcheng said that “Hi, Mom” has become an outlet for Chinese people to let their pent-up emotions flow, and knowing it is based on a true story gives it an extra impact.

“Chinese people are really introverted and not good at expressing their feelings,” said Jing.

“You never imagine Chinese people will suddenly, after watching a movie or reading something, run to their mothers and tell them they love them.

“But after watching this film, it helps give you that opportunity.”

“Hi, Mom” has been trending on Twitter-like Weibo, with one hashtag relating to the film drawing more than 1.5 billion views.

Many people have taken to Weibo to celebrate their mothers, posting pictures of themselves together or snaps of their mums when they were young.

The film has also sparked discussion online about what people would tell their mothers if they could go back in time, like in the film.

Many said they would tell their mothers not to marry their fathers or have children.

Marriage breakups have surged over the last two decades in China as divorce laws were liberalised and women became more financially independent.

Chinese Court Orders Man To Pay Ex-Wife For Housework In Landmark Ruling

A file photo of a court gavel.in

 

A Chinese man has been ordered to pay his ex-wife almost $8,000 for years of unpaid housework, in a landmark divorce case that has sparked furious debate in China.

Under the country’s new civil code, which came into effect this year, divorcing spouses have the right for the first time to request compensation if they bore more responsibilities at home.

Ex-wife Wang told the Beijing court that during five years of marriage she “looked after the child and managed household chores, while (her husband) Chen did not care about or participate in any other household affairs besides going to work”.

She filed a claim for extra compensation for housework and childcare duties, according to a February 4 court statement.

The court ruled that Wang had indeed taken on more household responsibilities and should receive 50,000 yuan ($7,700) plus sole child custody and an additional 2,000 yuan in alimony per month.

But after local media reported this week that Wang had appealed — having originally requested 160,000 yuan compensation — the ruling sparked widespread online debate over the value of women’s unpaid domestic labour.

The trending hashtag “stay-at-home wife receives 50,000 yuan housework compensation” gained over 570 million views on the Twitter-like platform Weibo by Wednesday.

READ ALSO: Myanmar Generals Under Renewed Pressure After G7 Condemnation, Sanctions

“Women should never be stay-at-home wives… when you divorce, you are left with nothing whatsoever. 50,000 yuan in housework compensation is bullshit,” read one comment.

“A full-time nanny could cost more than this for half a year, are women’s youth and feelings this cheap?” read another.

The amount reflected the length of time the couple were married plus “the effort Wang put into housework, Chen’s income and the local cost of living,” according to one of the judges, quoted Monday in local media.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has estimated that Chinese women spend nearly four hours doing unpaid labour daily — 2.5 times that of men and higher than the average.

Marriage breakups have surged over the last two decades in China as divorce laws were liberalised and women became more financially independent — to the concern of Beijing, which is trying to boost birth rates in an ageing population.

AFP

Canadian Ministers Describe China’s Treatment Of Uighurs As ‘Genocide’

In this file photo the Canadian flag flies above the Canadian embassy in Beijing on January 15, 2019. GREG BAKER / AFP
In this file photo the Canadian flag flies above the Canadian embassy in Beijing on January 15, 2019. GREG BAKER / AFP

 

Canadian MPs voted Monday to label Beijing’s treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang as genocide, a move angrily slammed by China as a “malicious provocation.”

Rights groups believe at least one million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim minorities have been incarcerated in camps in the northwestern region, where China is also accused of forcibly sterilizing women and imposing forced labor.

The motion “Uighurs in China have been and are being subject to genocide” passed unanimously in the Canadian House of Commons, and ministers called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to officially label it as such.

The motion also called for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics to be moved if the “genocide” continues.

The United States has already used the label, with the administration of former president Donald Trump slamming China in January for a “systematic attempt to destroy Uighurs.”

Trudeau had said Friday that there were significant reports of abuses coming out of Xinjiang. And following a G7 meeting, he said Canada was consulting with its international allies on the use of the term “genocide” for the treatment of Uighurs.

Beijing hit back Tuesday, calling the motion a “shameful act” and “malicious provocation against the 1.4 billion people of China.”

“Canada’s attempt to contain China’s development through passing the Xinjiang-related motion will not succeed,” the Chinese embassy in Ottawa said in a statement.

The embassy accused “hypocritical and shameless” Canadian lawmakers of “using the excuse of human rights to engage in political manipulation on Xinjiang.”

Deteriorating ties

The growing calls for action in Canada echo complaints about China’s human rights record in other Western nations, including the United States where President Joe Biden is seeking to rebuild alliances to maintain pressure on Beijing.

The new president has already criticized Beijing on its human rights situation, especially the abuses in Xinjiang, including in a marathon two-hour call with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

After initially denying the existence of the camps in Xinjiang, China later defended them as vocational training centers aimed at reducing the appeal of Islamic extremism.

Beijing had said Monday that its treatment of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang and Tibet has “stood out as shining examples of China’s human rights progress.”

And Foreign Minister Wang Yi later told the UN Human Rights Council via videolink that “there has never been so-called genocide, forced labor or religious oppression in Xinjiang.”

Relations between China and Canada have deteriorated in recent years.

Ties soured in late 2018 over the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on a US warrant, and China’s detention of two Canadians — former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor — in what Ottawa has called retaliation.

The two men have had virtually no contact with the outside world since being detained on spying charges.

 

AFP

China Overtakes US As EU’s Biggest Trading Partner

Tense Future For US-China Ties, With Or Without Trade Deal
This file picture taken on November 6, 2018 shows a Chinese and US flag at a booth during the first China International Import Expo (CIIE) in Shanghai. PHOTO: JOHANNES EISELE / AFP

 

China last year overtook the United States as the EU’s biggest trading partner, the EU statistics agency Eurostat said on Monday.

Britain meanwhile, which is no longer part of the European Union, was the third-largest trading partner for the bloc, behind China and the United States, the agency said.

The supremacy of China came after it suffered from the coronavirus pandemic during the first quarter but recovered vigorously with consumption even exceeding its level of a year ago at the end of 2020.

This helped drive sales of European products, particularly in the automobile and luxury goods sectors, while China’s exports to Europe benefited from strong demand for medical equipment and electronics.

READ ALSO: Okonjo-Iweala To Be Confirmed As WTO Boss Today

The dethroning of the US comes as the EU and China are seeking to ratify a long-negotiated investment deal that would give European companies better access to the Chinese market.

Eurostat said the trade volume with China reached 586 billion euros ($711 billion) in 2020, compared to 555 billion euros ($673 billion) for the US.

The agency said EU exports rose by 2.2 percent to 202.5 billion euros while at the same time, imports from the People’s Republic of China increased by 5.6 percent to 383.5 billion euros.

EU exports to the United States fell by 13.2 per cent in the same period and imports by 8.2 percent.

In addition to the Covid-19 crisis, transatlantic trade has been impaired by a series of tit-for-tat feuds that have resulted with tariffs being on steel and products such as French champagne or Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

Eurostat said trade with the UK plummeted in 2020, the year Britain officially left the bloc, though it was in a transition period to blunt the effects of Brexit until December 31.

EU exports to the UK fell by 13.2 percent, while imports from across the channel dropped by 13.9 percent, Eurostat said.

AFP

COVID-19: US, WHO Push China For Data From Early Days Of Contagion

Peter Daszak (C) and other members of the World Health Organization (WHO) team investigating the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic leave the Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital in Wuhan, China’s central Hubei province on January 30, 2021. Hector RETAMAL / AFP

 

The United States and a WHO expert demanded more data from Beijing on Saturday about the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, after a WHO mission to China struggled to make headway.

A team of World Health Organization experts and Chinese counterparts visited key sites around the city of Wuhan, where Covid cases were first detected, but said they had not been able to shed light on the nature of early transmissions.

US national security advisor Jake Sullivan said his country had “deep concerns” about the early findings of the investigation.

Peter Ben Embarek, who led the WHO mission, told AFP in an interview his team had asked for more data, adding: “There is a mix of frustration but also a mix of realistic expectations in terms of what is feasible under which time frame.”

Experts believe the disease — which has killed nearly 2.4 million people worldwide — originated in bats and could have been transmitted to humans via another mammal.

But while the virus was first discovered in Wuhan in December 2019, it remains unclear if that is when and where the contagion actually began.

The fallout came as Europe’s death toll topped 800,000 and concerns over coronavirus variants that first emerged in Britain and South Africa forced ever tighter border controls.

– ‘Nobody wants this’ –
Germany is ramping up its border security, closing its frontiers with the Czech Republic and parts of Austria.

“I must cross the border before midnight,” professional driver Ludvik Boucek told AFP on Saturday afternoon as he washed his truck at a service area at the western Czech crossing of Rozvadov.

“I’m glad the company dispatcher told me about the closure. I hadn’t heard anything about it.”

Portugal, among the world’s hardest-hit nations, on Saturday extended the suspension of flights from Britain and Brazil to March 1.

On Friday, the government in Lisbon extended border controls with neighbouring Spain until March 1.

The pandemic has also hit international sporting events with the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne forced to continue without spectators as Victoria state enters its third lockdown since the pandemic began.

“The feeling is completely different — nobody wants this,” said Spanish great Rafa Nadal, referring to the 15,000 empty seats that faced him at Rod Laver Arena.

– ‘Morally incompetent’ –
While the tennis has been able to continue, Brazilian officials have been forced to cancel Rio de Janeiro’s famed carnival.

The city would normally be enjoying the booming beats, glittering floats and glamorous dancers, but instead the “Sambadrome” is this year hosting a Covid-19 vaccination drive.

“Instead of a party, we’re mourning our dead,” Nilcemar Nogueira, founder of Rio’s Samba Museum, told AFP.

The virus toll in Brazil stands at over 237,000, the second-highest number of deaths worldwide after the United States.

In neighbouring Peru, health minister Pilar Mazzeti resigned on Friday as a scandal grows over claims that former President Martin Vizcarra was vaccinated before the jab was available to the public.

Peru only began its immunisation programme on Tuesday, two days after receiving 300,000 vaccine doses from state-owned Chinese company Sinopharm.

But the Peru 21 newspaper reported on Thursday that Vizcarra had been vaccinated in secret in October, just weeks before he was impeached and removed from office on charges that he was “morally incompetent”.

Meanwhile in Cyprus, police used water cannon and tear gas in rare clashes with protesters as hundreds demonstrated against government corruption and coronavirus restrictions.

AFP

WHO Experts Want ‘More Data’ From China On Possible Early COVID-19 Cases

Passangers (C) and an airport staff (L) wearing facemasks amid the concerns over the COVID-19 coronavirus walk in a nearly empty terminal at Beijing Capital International Airport on April 13, 2020. (Photo by NICOLAS ASFOURI / AFP)

 

 

WHO experts told AFP in an interview Saturday they had not received access to enough raw data while in China probing the pandemic’s origins, saying more was needed to detect possible early COVID-19 cases.

“We want more data. We have asked for more data,” Peter Ben Embarek, who headed WHO’s expert mission to Wuhan, told AFP,

“There is a mix of frustration but also a mix of realistic expectations in terms of what is feasible under which time frame,” he said, adding he hoped the requested data would be made available going forward.

The four-week WHO mission to China to uncover the origins of the coronavirus wrapped up earlier this week with no conclusive findings.

Experts believe the disease — which has killed nearly 2.4 million people worldwide — originated in bats and could have been transmitted to humans via another mammal.

But while the virus was first discovered in Wuhan in December 2019, it remains unclear if that is when and where the outbreak actually began.

The expert team determined that there were no signs of large clusters of Covid-19 in Wuhan or elsewhere prior to December that year, but did not rule out sporadic cases spreading before that.

– ‘Trying to understand’ –
Ben Embarek said the team would have been keen to have access to raw data about earlier cases of illnesses, including pneumonia, flu and fever, that could conceivably have been Covid.

Prior to the mission, Chinese scientists had scanned their systems and identified 72,000 such cases between October and December.

They had applied sets of criteria to determine if the cases could possibly be Covid, whittling down the list to just 92 cases worth examining.

Sixty-seven of those were submitted to serological tests. They all came back negative for Covid.

Ben Embarek said the team had asked in vain for the specific criteria used.

“We are trying to understand that process of getting from 72,000 down to 92”, he said, saying access to the raw data requested would make it possible to apply “less stringent criteria so we have a larger number to work with.”

“That will be a proposal for studies in the next phase,” he said.

John Watson, a British epidemiologist and a member of the team, acknowledged that there was a “full and frank discussion” about access to the data, but said focusing too much on that aspect would be unfair.

While the team’s Chinese counterparts did not share all the raw data requested, he said, they had shared “enormous detail” about their work, methods and results.

Another team member, Peter Daszak, meanwhile rejected on Saturday a report that there had been shouting matches between the international team and their Chinese counterparts over data access.

“This was NOT my experience on @WHO mission,” he said in a tweet, adding: “We DID get access to critical new data throughout.”

– No ‘smoking gun’ –
The team members have had to walk a diplomatic tightrope, with the US urging a “robust” probe and China warning against politicising the issue.

On Saturday, US national security advisor Jake Sullivan voiced “deep concerns” over China’s Covid-19 investigation, and urged it to “make available its data from the earliest days of the outbreak”.

The US and others have been fiercely critical of delays in sending the WHO team to Wuhan, with the mission taking place more than a year after the first cases surfaced.

Ben Embarek acknowledged it would “have been fantastic” to go sooner, but pointed out that when disease outbreaks occur, the first reaction is to treat patients, not to try to figure out how it happened.

He also stressed it would have been impossible to conduct investigations during the early months, when Wuhan under strict lockdown.

Going forward, he said, the world should consider trying to run source investigations “in parallel”.

But, he stressed, “it is not too late.”

“There is still a lot to be learned, a lot to be discovered.”

Watson agreed that it was still possible to learn much more about the early stages of the pandemic.

But he ruled out that investigators would “come up with a smoking gun” and determine exactly where and when the virus jumped from animals to humans.

That is “really very unrealistic”, he said.

China Bans BBC World News In Row Over Xinjiang Reporting

This photo shows the BBC logo at their Beijing bureau office on February 12, 2021. – China’s broadcasting regulator on February 11, 2021 banned BBC World News, accusing it of flouting guidelines after a controversial report on its treatment of the country’s Uighur minority.  (Photo by NOEL CELIS / AFP)

 

 

China’s broadcasting regulator has banned BBC World News, accusing it of flouting guidelines over a hard-hitting report on Beijing’s treatment of the country’s Uighur minority.

The decision came just days after Britain’s own regulator revoked the licence of Chinese broadcaster CGTN for breaking UK law on state-backed ownership, and provoked angry accusations of censorship from London.

Thursday’s move will do little to improve relations between the two countries, which have been increasingly strained by China’s introduction of a security law in Britain’s former colony, Hong Kong.

London’s decision to offer millions of Hong Kongers a pathway to British citizenship has only further infuriated Beijing, which has accused Britain of behaving with a “colonial mentality”.

London has also angered Beijing by banning Chinese telecoms group Huawei from involvement in its 5G network after the United States raised spying fears.

In an overnight statement, Beijing’s National Radio and Television Administration said BBC World News reports about China were found to “seriously violate” broadcast guidelines.

That includes “the requirement that news should be truthful and fair” and not “harm China’s national interests”.

The administrator “does not permit the BBC to continue broadcasting in China, and does not accept its new annual application for broadcast”, it added.

‘Informed citizenry’

The BBC said it was “disappointed” with the move, which applies to mainland China, where the channel is already censored and restricted to international hotels.

“The BBC is the world’s most trusted international news broadcaster and reports on stories from around the world fairly, impartially and without fear or favour,” a BBC spokeswoman said.

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab called the ban “an unacceptable curtailing of media freedom”.

“China has some of the most severe restrictions on media and internet freedoms across the globe, and this latest step will only damage China’s reputation in the eyes of the world,” he added.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Ned Price denounced the BBC ban and called on China to allow an “informed citizenry” that can freely exchange ideas.

“We call on the PRC and other nations with authoritarian controls over their population to allow their full access to the internet and media,” Price told reporters, referring to the People’s Republic of China.

On Friday, public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) — an independent but government-funded service based in the former British territory — also announced it would “suspend the relay of BBC World Service and BBC News Weekly”.

British lawmaker Tom Tugendhat, a hawk on UK-China ties, criticised Beijing’s move as “both regrettable and entirely unsurprising”.

“While this is a largely symbolic tit-for-tat retaliatory move, the deteriorating environment for journalism in China is a concern for us all,” he told AFP.

Witness testimony

Besides its reporting on Xinjiang, the BBC has also aired a hard-hitting documentary accusing China of covering up the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic around the city of Wuhan in late 2019.

It published its report detailing harrowing accounts of torture and sexual violence against Uighur women in Chinese camps in Xinjiang on February 3.

The lengthy investigation based on witness testimonies reported claims of systematic rape, sexual abuse and torture of female detainees by police and guards in the western region.

The area is home to the mainly Muslim Uighur minority and has seen a sweeping security crackdown by Chinese forces in recent years.

Rights groups believe at least one million Uighurs and other Turkic-speaking Muslims are incarcerated in camps in Xinjiang.

The Chinese foreign ministry has dismissed the BBC investigation as “false”.

Britain’s government said it showed “clearly evil acts”, and there was strong condemnation from the US State Department.

But London has resisted pressure to follow the current and former US administrations and call the treatment of the Uighurs “genocide”.

China is accused of compelling Uighurs to parrot Communist propaganda and renounce Islam, of forcibly sterilising women and imposing a regime of forced labour.

After initially denying the camps existed, China’s government acknowledged them, saying they were vocational training centres aimed at combating Islamic extremism.

China last week said British regulator Ofcom’s decision to pull CGTN from the airwaves was based on “ideological prejudice and political reasons”.

WHO Mission Member Says ‘Don’t Rely’ On US Virus Intelligence Health

Peter Daszak and other members of the World Health Organization (WHO) team investigating the origins of the COVID-19 coronavirus, leave the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan, in China's central Hubei province on February 3, 2021. Hector RETAMAL / AFP
Peter Daszak and other members of the World Health Organization (WHO) team investigating the origins of the COVID-19 coronavirus, leave the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan, in China’s central Hubei province on February 3, 2021. Hector RETAMAL / AFP

 

A member of the WHO mission to China exploring the origins of the coronavirus pandemic took a swipe Wednesday at US intelligence on the issue, after the State Department cast doubt on the transparency of their probe.

President Joe Biden “has to look tough on China”, expert Peter Daszak said in a tweet as the mission ended, adding: “Please don’t rely too much on US intel: increasingly disengaged under Trump & frankly wrong on many aspects.”

AFP

WHO Mission To China Fails To Find Animal Source Of Coronavirus

This file photo taken on April 29, 2020 shows an engineer looking at monkey kidney cells as he makes a test on an experimental vaccine for the Covid-19 coronavirus inside the Cells Culture Room laboratory at the Sinovac Biotech facilities in Beijing. Nicolas ASFOURI / AFP
This file photo taken on April 29, 2020 shows an engineer looking at monkey kidney cells as he makes a test on an experimental vaccine for the Covid-19 coronavirus inside the Cells Culture Room laboratory at the Sinovac Biotech facilities in Beijing. Nicolas ASFOURI / AFP

 

The WHO mission to China to uncover the origins of the coronavirus has failed to identify the animal source, scientists said Tuesday.

Experts believe the disease — which has gone on to kill more than 2.3 million people worldwide — originated in bats and could have been transmitted to humans via another mammal.

While transmission from animals was the likely route, so far “the reservoir hosts remain to be identified”, Liang Wannian, head of the China team, told reporters.

He added that studies showed the virus “can be carried long-distance on cold chain products,” appearing to nudge towards the possible importation of the virus — a theory that has abounded in China in recent months.

He also said there was “no indication” the sickness was in circulation in Wuhan before December 2019 when the first official cases have been recorded.

WHO foreign expert Ben Embarak, who was based in the WHO’s Beijing office for two years from 2009, backed up the assertion saying there was no evidence of “large outbreaks in Wuhan” before then.

The mission is a diplomatically knotty one, which was trailed before it began by fears of a whitewash, with the US demanding a “robust” probe and China firing back with a warning not to “politicise” the investigation.

During the closely-monitored visit, reporters were largely kept at arms’ length from the experts, but snippets of their findings crept out over Twitter and interviews.

The experts spent one month in China, two weeks in quarantine and the same again on fieldwork.

But, already over a year after the virus emerged, some of it was of questionable relevance to their stated aim of finding the virus source, including a visit to a propaganda exhibition celebrating China’s recovery from the pandemic.

The group spent just an hour at the seafood market where many of the first reported clusters of infections emerged over a year ago.

They also appeared to spend several days inside their hotel, receiving visits from various Chinese officials without going out into the city.

But deeper research was carried out at the Wuhan virology institute where they spent nearly four hours and said they met with Chinese scientists there including Shi Zhengli, one of China’s leading experts on bat coronaviruses and deputy director of the Wuhan lab.

Former US president Donald Trump repeated a controversial theory that a lab leak may have been the source of the pandemic.

Scientists at the laboratory conduct research on some of the world’s most dangerous diseases, including strains of bat coronaviruses similar to Covid-19.

Beijing is desperate to defang criticism of its handling of the chaotic early stages of the outbreak.

It has refocused attention at home — and abroad — on its handling of, and recovery from the outbreak.

China Blocks Clubhouse App That Gave Rare Access To Uncensored Topics

In this file photo taken on December 20, 2013 A woman looks at an Apple iPad at one of the company's stores in Paris. PATRICK KOVARIK / AFP
File photo: PATRICK KOVARIK / AFP

 

A rare uncensored app that had attracted Chinese internet users to freely discuss taboo topics, including the mass detention of Uighurs, democracy protests in Hong Kong and the concept of Taiwanese independence appeared to have been blocked on Monday night.

Authoritarian China deploys a vast and sophisticated surveillance state to scrub the internet of dissent and prevent citizens from accessing international social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter in what is often known as the “Great Firewall”.

But the Clubhouse app had for a brief while side-stepped the censors and drawn crowds of Chinese internet users — but appeared to quickly fall foul of the censors.

The American invite-only audio app allows users to listen and participate in loosely moderated live conversations in digital “rooms”.

And in recent days, Chinese online users have filled those rooms discussing highly censored subjects — such as Beijing’s sweeping incarceration of mostly Muslim minority Uighur communities in the far western Xinjiang region.

By Monday night, however, the app showed an error message to users without a VPN to establish a secure connection, and Chinese-language rooms quickly turned to discussion over the app’s ban.

READ ALSO: French Health Minister Encourages Use Of AstraZeneca Jab

Top trending groups turned to topics about the ban, and some Chinese language users began to discuss security implications of being on the app and whether they would face official monitoring.

“I saw many rooms chatting cross-Straits issues and sensitive issues… and thought this app wouldn’t last too long,” one Chinese-language user lamented after the app was blocked, referring to the thorny issue of Taiwan.

“What comes after the block is compiling the list of people on the platform,” worried another.

– ‘The real internet’ –

Clubhouse was launched in May last year and is currently only available on Apple devices, something only wealthier Chinese consumers can afford.

It rocketed in popularity after billionaire Elon Musk participated in a conversation on the app earlier this month.

Over the weekend the number of Chinese language discussions had drawn wider attention including on social media platform Twitter.

“A young woman from mainland China just said on Clubhouse: this is my first time getting on the real internet,” Isabelle Niu, a journalist listening to a conversation, tweeted on Sunday.

Taobao, a popular online marketplace used by millions daily, and other e-commerce sites was selling membership invitations for sale with prices ranging from 10 to 100 yuan ($1.5-$15), allowing some to bypass restrictions placed on invitations.

Kaiser Kuo, host of the China-focused Sinica Podcast, live-tweeted on Sunday some of the conversations he was hearing in a room discussing the Uighur situation.

He noted how Han Chinese — the dominant ethnic group in China — and people from the persecuted Uighur community were interacting in the space.

An AFP reporter heard a speaker identifying as mainland Chinese express opposition to the term “concentration camps” — although acknowledging the existence of facilities.

Many of those listening in were fascinated by the candour of the online discussions.

“I’m in a Taiwanese-run room in Clubhouse where 4,000 Mandarin speakers — including Uyghurs and Han Chinese IN CHINA, and outside are talking about… everything,” Berlin-based journalist Melissa Chan tweeted.

“From surveillance, to friends who’ve left re-educations camps, to normal stuff.”

But analysts had warned that it was likely Beijing would prevent access to the app before long.

“The window for listening in on frank Clubhouse conversations about politics in Chinese is already closing,” said Fergus Ryan, at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s International Cyber Policy Centre, ahead of the ban.

AFP