Access newsletter for February 28, 2022
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SupChina Access Newsletter
Monday, February 28, 2022

Today's top stories:
  • COVID-19 originated from Wuhan market, new studies find
  • Taiwan has its eyes on Ukraine, but experts discourage comparisons
  • Can a Chinese startup print rockets?
  • Beijing Paralympics set to begin this week

My thoughts today:

What did Xi know and when did he know it? That was the subject line of our email last week Friday, and in it I wrote that I found it difficult to believe that Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 did not know the invasion was coming, even if he wasn’t privy to the exact date.

What Xi definitely could not have known is how badly the Russian attack would go. The poor performance of the Russian Army and the widespread global disapproval of its actions seem to have surprised everyone, including the Russians. Historian Timothy Snyder suggests that Moscow expected a “quick and decisive” strike against Ukraine, and that it revealed its aims and plans in a media report that should not have gone out.

Which means that even if Vladimir Putin told Xi exactly what he planned to do, Beijing would have planned on a fast end to the crisis. This may explain why China’s embassy in Ukraine first told its citizens there to place a Chinese flag on their vehicles, and has now changed its advice, telling them not to reveal their identity because Ukrainians may believe that China supports the Russian invasion.

It’s all idle speculation on a darkling plain, amid the fog of war, and after the first real threat of the use of nuclear weapons that I can remember in my own lifetime.

Meanwhile, Beijing continues to make vaguely disapproving noises about Russian actions without saying anything specific at all.

Our word of the day is COVID-19 origin (新冠病毒起源 xīnguān bìngdú qǐyuán).

—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief


Vendors sell seafood at a market in Wuhan, April 29, 2020. Oriental Image via Reuters Connect.

1. COVID-19 originated from Wuhan market, new studies find

A pair of extensive studies released over the weekend suggest that COVID-19 originated from a large food and live animal market in Wuhan, adding to a mounting case of evidence that argues against theories that the virus was leaked from a lab.

  • Researchers from top global universities concluded that the coronavirus was likely present in live mammals sold at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in late 2019, and that the virus spilled over and infected people in the area. Neither study has yet been peer-reviewed or published in a professional journal.
  • “When you look at all of the evidence together, it’s an extraordinarily clear picture that the pandemic started at the Huanan market,” said Michael Worobey, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Arizona and a co-author of both studies, per the New York Times.
  • The Huanan Market was identified as a zone of transmission in the earliest days of the pandemic: Lǐ Wénliàng 李文亮, one of the first doctors to report on COVID-19 before it even had a name, wrote a WeChat message to other physicians on December 30, 2019 that “there are seven confirmed cases of SARS from Huanan Seafood Market.” He was censured for that message.

The origins of COVID-19 have never been proven conclusively, despite a series of efforts to track down the source of the pandemic. The United States and China in particular have accused each other of “politicizing” attempts to track down the virus.

  • Researchers reconsidered the accidental lab leak hypothesis in May last year, after a group of 18 scientists criticized an initial World Health Organization (WHO) report for dismissing the theory too quickly.
  • A second attempt was conducted by WHO in October of last year, after the United States declassified an intelligence report that confirmed that it had not reached a conclusion on the origins of COVID-19.
  • China has been accused of trying to “hide” the initial outbreak in Wuhan, after Chinese health authorities disinfected the area and removed all live mammals suspected of transmitting the virus before research could begin.

Knowing where COVID-19 came from may be comforting, but it’s unlikely to change much. “We [already] know how to respond to each scenario for origin,” writes Robert C. Gallo and Dean T. Jamison, two prominent U.S. researchers on virology and epidemiology. “The best way forward may be to minimize the distraction of a politicized attempt to assess origins while, instead, investing in long-term international collaborative endeavors on [COVID-19] and in preparation for future epidemics and pandemics.”

Nadya Yeh


Demonstrators outside the Moscow-Taipei Coordination Commission in Taipei on February 25. Ceng Shou Yi/NurPhoto

2. Taiwan has its eyes on Ukraine, but experts discourage comparisons

Some commentators have speculated that China may use Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a pretext to make a move on Taiwan. But this line of thinking is fallacious and premature, some experts warn.

Jordyn Haime, reporting for SupChina from Taipei, speaks to people on the ground about the situation. “I understand that right now Taiwanese people might be feeling like this,” said Oleksandr Shyn, a Ukrainian student living in Taipei. “But at the same time I think it is important not to give in to this panic. People saying ‘Taiwan is next’ are really not helping. They’re not helping Ukrainian people or Taiwanese people.”

Anthony Tao


Image via ZMorph 3D Printer

3. Can a Chinese startup print rockets?

Rumors are circulating that a startup founded in March 2021, SpaceTai (太瀚航天 Tàihànhángtiān), can manufacture approximately 90% of rocket components with specially designed metal 3D printers. The company estimates that 3D rocket printing capabilities could reduce costs for the commercial aerospace industry to one-fifth of the current average.

  • Globally, 3D rocket printing is still in its infancy. U.S. companies, including SpaceX, Rocket Lab, and Relativity Space, are still in the trial-and-error phase. Funding toward these projects have reached several hundred million dollars.
  • Now SpaceTai seeks 600 million yuan ($94.6 million) of financial support for its initiative. The capital raised will go to the development and construction of a suitable factory.
  • SpaceTai designed a printer based on the Saturn S-480 series — a programmable printer system with a bidirectional nozzle. The new W-450 metal printer series contains special support software directing alloy printing processes from plasma discharge that is slightly above aluminum’s melting temperature.

The context: A space race competition is heating up between both companies and countries. Time is of the essence for developing the next phase of rockets, and SpaceTai has ambitious targets to reach. The startup expects to send its first fully 3D-printed rocket into orbit by 2024.

  • SpaceTai is currently developing a rocket engine dubbed “Little Ant” 小蚁. However, with a thrust capacity between 20 and 30 tons, this engine is anything but little.
  • All of Little Ant’s components can be printed within 30 days, allowing for a rapid succession of testing trials. Furthermore, the startup claimed it can print a full rocket body in three months.
  • Not everything has been smooth for SpaceTai. The company recently reported glitch issues on a 3D manufacturing printer line in Xi’an.

The takeaway: 3D printing looks to be a new frontier in space exploration. But as printing makes rocket manufacturing cheaper and faster, questions will persist as to whether China might expand 3D printing beyond commercial rockets, including into military capabilities.

Houston Scott


Wang Haitao

4. Beijing Paralympics set to begin this week

China, which has won only one medal in five previous Winter Paralympics, is sending its largest-ever delegation to Beijing 2022. Some names to watch include Chinese wheelchair curling (ranked No. 1 in the world) captain Wáng Hǎitāo 王海涛, standing skier Zhāng Mèngqiū 张梦秋, and cross-country skier Zhèng Péng 郑鹏.

China has a handful of other medal hopefuls, too. Will home advantage help them achieve breakthrough success?

Also in this week’s China Sports Column: Multiple athletes who participated in the recent Winter Olympics have spoken out about China’s human rights abuses since returning home. Leading that pack is Swedish speed skater Nils van der Poel, who recently gave one of the two gold medals he won in Beijing to Angela Gui, the daughter of jailed bookseller Guì Mínhǎi 桂敏海.

Anthony Tao

These are the top five China stories from other news sources worth your time today:

What China is saying about Ukraine, in Ukraine: China’s embassy in Ukraine has advised its citizens in the country not to reveal their identity, after many in Kyiv voiced fears of rising anti-Chinese sentiment among Ukrainians who believe that China supports the Russian invasion of Ukraine, per What’s on Weibo.

  • The advice came just two days after the embassy issued a notice to its citizens in Ukraine that they should place a Chinese flag on their vehicles amid growing levels of violence across the country.
  • There are about 6,000 Chinese citizens in Ukraine, according to Chinese media quoting the embassy, though some claim the number hovers around 10,000.

What China is saying about Ukraine, in China: Russia’s attack on Ukraine is not necessarily “an invasion,” stated Huá Chūnyíng 华春莹, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, as Chinese authorities struggle to narrate the crisis at home.

  • China’s state broadcaster gave prominent coverage to Putin’s narrative, while the Ukraine-Russia conflict was pushed to the end of its main news program, per the Financial Times. People’s Daily put the war on the bottom of page three on Friday.
  • A translation of Putin’s speech by a nationalistic news site went viral, with the Weibo hashtag #putin10000wordsspeechfulltext surpassing 1 billion views within 24 hours, per the New York Times.
  • “The grand narrative of nationalism and great-power chauvinism has squeezed out their last bit of humanity,” the author of a now-deleted viral WeChat article titled “All those who cheer for war are idiots,” wrote per the New York Times.
  • “The official media coverage on Ukraine has shifted in recent days to allow for more perspectives from Ukraine and immersive imagery of the conflict. This signals a widening space for social media discourse also,” Maria Repnikova told Bloomberg.

Read our Q&A with Maria Repnikova last Friday: Maria Repnikova on Chinese soft power and Ukraine.

Xiāo Jiànhuá 肖建华 is connected to over $154 million in Toronto-area real estate, Global News reports. The Chinese billionaire, who also holds Canadian and Antiguan passports, was abducted in Hong Kong five years ago by mainland China security agents. He has yet to go on trial and has not been heard from since. In the meantime, regulators in Beijing have seized “companies worth hundreds of billions of dollars tied to Tomorrow Group,” which Xiao had controlled for years.

Hongkongers are panic-buying cold and flu medication, Bloomberg reports, while a number of other residents scramble to figure a way out amid the city’s most recent COVID outbreak. The surge in cases poses an even greater threat to Hong Kong’s vulnerable elderly population, where “more than 200 people have died this month from COVID, many of whom were over 70 and unvaccinated.”
Last week on SupChina: Hong Kong intensifies COVID control measures amid Omicron wave, pushing residents to the brink.

China’s pause on approvals of new video games, which has been ongoing since July 2021, has resulted in a “major headache for the industry,” Caixin reports. From July to December last year, 140,000 Chinese gaming companies were shut down.



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Additional business and technology links:

Has China’s crypto crackdown created a mining pollution problem?
China banished cryptocurrencies. Now, ‘mining’ is even dirtier. / NYT (paywall)
“New research shows that China’s Bitcoin ban has sent the process of creating new coins, known as mining, to countries where it uses far less renewable energy.”
Bitcoin mining is even more polluting since China’s crackdown, study finds / Bloomberg (paywall)
China steps up crypto clampdown with threat of jail sentences / Bloomberg (paywall)
“China expanded its criminal law to encompass fundraising with digital tokens, giving authorities additional firepower to stamp out a sector they declared illegal last year by using heavy sentences.”

Chinese tech startups pull out of India amid app ban
Chinese tech start-ups throw in the towel in India as New Delhi stands firm in blocking apps from mainland companies / SCMP (paywall)
“A group of Chinese start-ups are pulling out of India, following the lead of short video platform operator TikTok and other mainland tech firms, as New Delhi maintains that China-developed apps are unwelcome in the South Asian nation, according to industry insiders.”

The final steps of Yahoo’s China exit
Yahoo stops email service for mainland users in final retreat from China / SCMP (paywall)
“U.S. internet company Yahoo said it would officially stop providing email services to mainland Chinese users from February 28 onwards.”
On SupChina in November: Yahoo shuts down remaining China services.

Didi backtracks on decision to leave Russia
China’s Didi cancels exit from Russia under public pressure / Nikkei Asia (paywall)
“Didi’s abrupt reversal of its decision to shut its ride-hailing unit in Russia reflects pressure in China to publicly stick by Moscow as the government there comes under widespread sanction for its invasion of Ukraine.”
China’s Didi reverses course, will remain in Russia / Reuters

Blacklisted Chinese chipmaker goes on trial in the U.S.
Blacklisted Chinese chipmaker seeks vindication in U.S. trial / Bloomberg (paywall)
“Fujian Jinhua Integrated Circuit goes to trial Monday in San Francisco to fight criminal charges of economic espionage and conspiracy to steal trade secrets from Idaho-based Micron Technology.”

Chinese lenders tighten wallets on African borrowers
Chinese lenders squeeze African borrowers even harder / FT (paywall)
“Chinese lenders are imposing even more stringent collateral requirements on low-income country borrowers than previously known as they seek to hedge risks from their extensive overseas development finance programme.”
Chinese bank imposes ‘aggressive’ terms over Uganda airport debt / AFP via SCMP (paywall)

South Africa grants approval for China-backed coal-fired project
South African province clears way for $10 billion coal complex / Bloomberg (paywall)
“South Africa’s Limpopo province gave environmental authorization to a China-backed proposal to spend more than $10 billion building a 4,600 megawatt coal-fired power plant, a coking facility and ferroalloy and steel plants.”

China’s censors are burnt out
China’s content moderators are overworked and chronically stressed / Sixth Tone
“Several former employees complained of long work hours, minimum pay, and limited professional development.”

China plans for 3,000 startups to beef up tech industry
China to add 3,000 ‘little giants’ this year to spur innovation / Bloomberg (paywall)
Authorities are ready to name about 3,000 state-level ‘little giant’ startups this year to spur local innovation, Minister of Industry and Information Technology Xiào Yàqìng 肖亚庆 said on Monday, which would bring the total number to almost 8,000 and marks the most aggressive expansion yet to boost China’s tech capabilities.

Graft-busters offer rare rebuke on finance industry
China’s anti-graft body criticizes central bank, regulators / Bloomberg (paywall)
“China’s top disciplinary watchdog sharply criticized more than two dozen financial regulators, state banks, insurers and bad debt managers following months of investigations.”

China temporarily halts oil imports from Russia
China pausing on buying Russian Seaborne crude after invasion / Bloomberg (paywall)
“Oil importers in China, the world’s biggest buyer of Russian crude, are briefly pausing new seaborne purchases as they assess the potential implications of handling the shipments following the Ukraine invasion.”

JD to own more than half of online grocer Dada
JD increases stake in online grocer Dada with $546 million deal / TechNode
E-commerce giant JD is investing $546 million in online grocer Dada Nexus after obtaining regulatory approvals, according to a statement from Dada. Once the deal is completed, JD will holda a cumulative total of 52% of Dada’s shares.

Blue Bottle Coffee makes a splash debut in Shanghai
Blue Bottle Coffee steps into Shanghai’s crowded cafe scene / Nikkei Asia (paywall)
“Coffee buffs here gave Blue Bottle Coffee a warm welcome Friday, with a crowd of 200 to 300 lining up before the California-based chain opened its first mainland China location at 8 a.m.”

Chinese automakers seek blockchain benefits
Blockchain is helping China’s automakers boost green credentials / Bloomberg (paywall)
Chinese automakers are following global leaders, including Mercedes, BMW and Toyota, to adopt decentralized digital ledger technology, with blockchains promising to slash costs amid cut-throat competition.

Huawei launches smart office products
Huawei commits to consumer markets with ‘Smart Office’ launch / Reuters

Another Chinese brand shoots for smartphones
China’s Honor unveils first premium smartphone for global market / Nikkei Asia (paywall)

Nio, FWD, and Fenbi move to IPO in Hong Kong
Chinese EV-Maker Nio to trade shares in Hong Kong / Caixin (paywall)
Billionaire Richard Li’s FWD files for Hong Kong IPO / WSJ (paywall)
China education platform Fenbi weighing Hong Kong IPO, sources say / Bloomberg (paywall)


Mine collapse traps 14 workers in Guizhou
Rescue underway after China mine collapse traps 14 workers / AP
More than 500 rescuers and over 80 emergency vehicles were dispatched to rescue 14 workers, after the roof of a shaft at the Sanhe Shunxun coal mine in Guizhou collapsed on Friday morning, state-run China Daily reported.

Beijing bans fishing in the upper Yellow River
China puts total fishing ban on ailing Yellow River’s upper reaches / SCMP (paywall)

China builds out renewables in deserts
Huge Chinese desert projects will power next wave of wind, solar / Bloomberg (paywall)
“China aims to expand its wind and solar power capacity over the next several years through massive projects in the nation’s deserts.”

Busted gas pipelines get a face-lift
China to fix thousands of miles of gas pipelines after blasts / Bloomberg (paywall)
“China is planning to renovate 20,000 kilometers (12,427 miles) of aging gas pipelines this year after a series of fatal blasts.”

Lack of resources for breast cancer survivors
China’s breast cancer survivors face a lack of support / Sixth Tone
“The country’s breast cancer incidence rate is rising fast, but breast conserving surgeries (BCS) remain the exception, not the norm. Can better-designed bras help fill the gap?”


Ukraine crisis is putting China’s relations with Russia in a bind
Before Ukraine invasion, Russia and China cemented economic ties / NYT (paywall)
‘Abrupt changes’: China caught in a bind over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine / NYT (paywall)
Ukraine invasion tests the ties that bind Putin and Xi / NYT (paywall)
China adjusts, and readjusts, its embrace of Russia in Ukraine crisis / WSJ (paywall)
China’s Xi urges Putin to negotiate with Ukraine during call / Bloomberg (paywall)
Putin tells Xi that Russia willing to hold high-level talks with Ukraine, China says / Reuters
China distances itself from Russia, calls for halt to violence / Bloomberg (paywall)
U.S. officials repeatedly urged China to help avert war in Ukraine / NYT (paywall)
White House calls on China to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine / Reuters
Beijing says little as West blasts Ukraine invasion / Nikkei Asia (paywall)

What Chinese people are saying about Ukraine
China’s netizens split on Ukraine war as crude joke sparks anger / Nikkei Asia (paywall)
Backlash in China over vulgar social media mocking of Ukraine conflict / SCMP (paywall)
Chinese historians break ranks with party line in condemning Russia’s Ukraine war / Radio Free Asia
Ukraine as a solution by Shiping Tang / Pekingnology

More reflection on Nixon’s visit China, 50 years later
Fifty years after Nixon’s visit, China tilts back toward Russia / WSJ (paywall)
Nixon’s historic trip to China: How the landmark Shanghai Communique shaped ties for the next 50 years / SCMP (paywall)

Ukraine crisis stokes U.S. and China anxieties over Taiwan
Biden sends former top defense officials to Taiwan in show of support / Reuters
“U.S. President Joe Biden will send a delegation of former senior defense and security officials to Taiwan on Monday, a senior official of his administration said, a sign of support for the island claimed by China after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.”
China says U.S. warship sailing in Taiwan Strait ‘provocative’ / Reuters
For all its parallels, Ukraine war feels distant in Taiwan / AP
Taiwan launches campaign to raise funds for Ukrainian refugees after Russian invasion / SCMP (paywall)

Swedish Olympics speed skater gives away gold medal in protest
Swedish Olympic star gives away gold medal to protest Beijing’s abuses / NYT (paywall)
“In a rare rebuke of Beijing, Nils van der Poel, a speedskater, handed one of his gold medals to the daughter of Gui Minhai, a book publisher imprisoned in China.”
Swedish Olympic champion gives medal to man held in China / AP

Beijing nods for UN rights chief to visit Xinjiang, welcomes “people who harbor no bias”
China says UN rights boss welcome to visit Xinjiang in near future / Reuters
“Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister, said on Monday that the U.N. rights chief would be welcome to visit the Xinjiang region in the near future.”

A breakdown of trafficked women in China
China’s abducted women: 1,252 derailed lives in data / Sixth Tone
Foreign women account for half of the total number of trafficking victims, with the main country of origin being Vietnam, according to data from Chinese court verdicts compiled by RUC News Studio.

  • Approximately one out of five abducted women had a disability, usually a mental disability.
  • Close to half of the victims were lured with a lucrative job or a marriage introduction.
  • More than 10% of trafficking cases were committed by an acquaintance.

Fewer rural people are moving to China’s cities
China’s urbanization push could be at a ‘bottleneck,’ with slowest migration growth rate in quarter-century / SCMP (paywall)
“China’s decades-long urbanization push may have reached a bottleneck, after the movement of rural residents to large cities rose by less than 1 percentage point last year for the first time in 25 years.”

Nepal approves U.S. deal despite China’s disapproval
Nepal parliament approves $500 million in U.S. aid despite China’s objections / WSJ (paywall)
“Nepal’s Parliament approved a $500 million U.S. government aid program on Sunday despite objections from China and protests from locals who say it could undermine the Himalayan nation’s sovereignty and fuel a tussle for influence there between Washington and Beijing.”

China extends a carrot to the U.S. amid Ukraine crisis
China willing to work with U.S. on Build Back Better World initiative / Reuters
As tensions simmer, China demands U.S. action to improve ties / AP


Early 20th-century Shanghai
Modernism in Shanghai — an A-Z, from art deco via Lu Xun and Wing On to Zhang Ailing / SCMP
A guide by author Paul French to modernism in art, advertising, design, architecture, and literature in Shanghai in the early 20th century.

China’s formidable ancient women
Tales of “tiger women” from ancient China / Sixth Tone
“Ancient Chinese labeled tough, fierce women ‘tigresses’ — they often had to deal with sexism and unruly husbands.”

Foreign teachers discuss schools in Shanghai
Foreign teachers at Shanghai’s public schools share insights / Sixth Tone
“A group of foreign teachers in Shanghai discussed efforts to internationalize local schools and improve the city’s soft power during an event Thursday.”

Zhōu Guànyǔ 周冠宇, China’s first F1 racer
Chinese F1 trailblazer Zhou not just making up the numbers / Reuters

Sinica Podcast Network
Sinica Early Access: Biden's China policy needs to be more than "Trump lite:" A conversation with Jeff Bader

This week on Sinica, Kaiser chats with Jeff Bader, who served as senior director for Asian affairs at the National Security Council during the first years of the Obama presidency, until 2011. Jeff is the author of a fascinating book on Obama’s China policy, Obama and China’s Rise: An Insider’s Account of America’s Asia Strategy. In this conversation, he offers a candid critique of the Biden China policy to date.

  • Sinica Early Access is an ad-free, full-length preview of this week’s Sinica Podcast, exclusively for SupChina Access members. To learn how to download this podcast, contact us at

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