Editor’s Note: This is a wrap of several stories from China for 19 May 2021.
As vaccination hesitancy slows inoculation rates in some Western countries, China is going into overdrive.
Over 400 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines have now been administered in China, according to the National Health Commission – more than in the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany combined.
Of course, 400 million doses doesn’t even cover half of China’s population of 1.4 billion people, but the vaccination rate is speeding up. Chinese authorities announced the first 100 million people had been vaccinated on March 27. After that, it took another 26 days to reach 200 million, and then 17 days to hit 300 million.
The latest 100 million doses were given in just nine days.
While there has been a concerted push for vaccines by the central government and local authorities, that campaign has been helped recently by another factor – fear.
Anhui and Liaoning provinces have both seen a large spike in vaccinations over the past two weeks, following small local outbreaks of Covid-19 – 17 and 25 cases, respectively.
But that was all it took for Anhui to inoculate more than 1.1 million people in a day on May 16. The province’s average daily vaccination was more than 840,000 in the past week.
In Shenyang, the capital of Liaoning province, there have been more than 100,000 vaccinations a day since May 12, according to state-run news agency Xinhua.
The impact of the new outbreaks has also been felt nationwide: on Friday alone, 14 million people were vaccinated across China, days after the news broke of cases in Anhui and Liaoning.
And in Beijing, almost 80% of those age 18 and over have now received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, the state-run Global Times said this week, bringing the capital close to the coveted goal of achieving herd immunity.
The fear factor isn’t just at work in China.
Taiwan, which has particularly low rates of both Covid-19 transmission and vaccination take up, placed its capital Taipei under partial lockdown this week, after hundreds of new local cases were detected.
That has led to a scramble to get vaccinated among its population, suggesting that the best solution to vaccine hesitancy may be the one governments want least.
– By Laura He
The business of China: Soaring metal prices spell trouble for China’s recovery
China and the United States are in a race for scarce commodities to rebuild their economies after the pandemic. That’s pushing prices through the roof – and is threatening Beijing’s recovery plans.
The cost of everything needed for China’s post-pandemic infrastructure boom, from steel and coal to glass and cement, is soaring. The situation with steel has become so acute that China’s leaders are warning of damage to the economy. And a popular idiom for defenseless – “without an inch of steel in hand” – is now being used much more literally on social media to describe desperate buyers.
Construction is also part of the economic recovery in the US, and may accelerate soon. President Joe Biden proposed in March a roughly $2 trillion infrastructure plan aimed at helping the nation recover from the coronavirus pandemic, and reshaping the US economy to counter China’s rise.
But China has reasons to worry about the skyrocketing costs, too. China’s producer price index, which measures the change in costs that manufacturers pay for materials, rose 6.8% in April from a year earlier. While that’s somewhat distorted, given the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic shutdown in 2020, it’s still the fastest surge since October 2017.
Expensive construction projects are already pushing some Chinese companies to suspend work, according to recent survey data. And analysts warn that as smaller businesses weigh whether to cut costs or scale down, they could start shedding workers.
The stakes are high. China needs to grow a bit less than 5% each year through the next decade to hit President Xi Jinping’s goal to double GDP by 2035. The government has targeted growth of 6% or above this year, and also wants to add 11 million new jobs.
But anything that threatens its fragile economic recovery could pose risks to those ambitions – something authorities have noted. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, for example, said last month during a meeting with business executives that ensuring employment is the “key foundation for stabilizing the economy,” adding that the government would try to help curb the cost of raw materials.
Support is growing in the US for a political boycott of Beijing. But activists want more
In Washington DC, there’s one topic which always draws bipartisan support – criticism of China’s human rights record.
That held true on Tuesday, when Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi supported the push by Democrat and Republican lawmakers for a political boycott of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.
“What moral authority do you have to speak again about human rights any place in the world if you’re willing to pay respects to the Chinese government as they commit genocide?” Pelosi said in a video statement to the Congress’ Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission hearing.
A political boycott would mean no major world leaders or diplomats attending the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing 2022 Games. However, athletes would be able to complete.
Up to two million people from predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities in Xinjiang have allegedly been sent to mass detention centers, according to the US State Department, where many were subject to physical abuse, attempted indoctrination and even sterilization.
The outgoing Trump administration labeled Beijing’s actions in Xinjiang “genocide,” a move followed by parliaments in the UK, Canada and the Netherlands.
Pelosi isn’t the first prominent US representative to call for a political boycott – US Senator and former Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times in March saying the Chinese Communist Party “does not deserve an Olympic showcase.”
“(However) prohibiting our athletes from competing in China is the easy, but wrong, answer,” Romney wrote. “It would be unfair to ask a few hundred young American athletes to shoulder the burden of our disapproval.”
As US skier Mikaela Shiffrin told CNN in March: “You certainly don’t want to be put in the position of having to choose between human rights … versus being able to do your job.”
However, a coalition of human rights groups, which includes World Uyghur Congress, Tibet Action Institute and We The Hongkongers, is pushing for all countries to not send athletes to China’s Winter Olympics in February. Taking part in Beijing 2022 would be “tantamount to endorsing China’s genocide,” it said.
However, the IOC is determined to push ahead with the Beijing 2022 Olympics and there hasn’t been a national boycott of an Olympic Games in almost 30 years.
It’s worth remembering Pelosi also called for a political boycott of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics over human rights concerns in China, asking then-President George W. Bush to not attend the event.
Bush went anyway.