Looking Towards Multilateralism
Chinese President Xi Jinping called on governments worldwide to cooperate on combating the coronavirus and repairing the global economy, in a virtual meeting for the World Economic Forum this Monday. The Forum, which is typically held in the Swiss town of Davos, was moved online amid the worsening coronavirus situation.
Speaking in his first speech since U.S. President Biden's inauguration, Xi warned against isolationism, saying, "to build small circles or start a new Cold War ... will only push the world into division and even confrontation."
As Biden finishes his second full week in office, his administration's China position is taking shape. While the new administration will be reviewing Trump-era policies like the Phase One trade agreement, Biden's cabinet is expected to maintain some elements of the former administration's "tough-on-China" approach. Biden is expected to strengthen Pacific alliances and counter China by engaging other democracies worldwide.
Meanwhile, anticipation (and speculation) is building for the eventual first meeting between senior representatives from the Biden administration and China. The Chinese Embassy in Washington, DC refuted reports that it was seeking meetings with administration officials for member of China's Politburo, Yang Jiechi. The two sides are currently expected to meet in Singapore this May, after it was announced that the World Economic Forum's annual meeting will be moved from Davos to Singapore due to coronavirus concerns. Read more on the necessity of global cooperation from Tung Chee Hwa, First Chief Executive of the Hong Kong and Chairman of the China-United States Exchange Foundation, on China-US Focus.
A COVID New Year
China estimates that there will be 1.15 billion trips for this year's Lunar New Year holiday, the lowest since the country began recording data on the number of trips for the holiday. That's a decrease of about 60% compared to 2019, which was roughly 3 billion. While travel has not been restricted, the country has put in place rules around travel and gatherings to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. China reported 54 new coronavirus infections this Thursday.
As the country gears up for the 40-day holiday season, a team of World Health Organization scientists sent to investigate the coronavirus completed their 14-day quarantine in Wuhan and met with their Chinese counterparts this Friday. The two groups visited a Wuhan hospital where one of the first Covid-19 patients, at the time being seen for a "pneumonia of unknown origin," was treated late last December.
"Normal Academic Procedures"
There are increasing protests among M.I.T. faculty over the arrest of Gang Chen, a Chinese-born professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who was naturalized as an American citizen two decades ago. In Donald Trump's last week as President, prosecutors arrested Gang Chen, a professor of mechanical engineering, on suspicion of ties to the Chinese government, for the purpose of securing $19 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Energy.
But over 160 faculty members have since opposed the move in a letter, calling Chen's funding streams "normal academic procedures," and asking for the university's continued support for Chen. MIT has agreed to pay for his legal fees, including $1 million in bail.
It is not yet certain how the Biden administration will proceed with Chen's case, or other academic espionage cases brought by the former administration. Some current Justice Department officials, including Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers, have floated an amnesty program, that would allow academics to disclose past foreign funding sources without fear of penalization or punishment, but some experts are not convinced that the Biden administration will handle espionage and China much differently than from the previous administration. For more on the future of the U.S.-China relationship, read Trump's Collapse Clears the Way for Biden's Revised China Policy from James Nolt, Senior Fellow at the World Policy Institute.