China’s COVID-19 vaccines are being called into question after infections surged in countries using Chinese shots

People walking on a commercial street in Seychelles wearing masks
Pedestrians wear masks as they walk on a street in the capital Victoria, Mahe Island, Seychelles Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021.

  • Two Chinese shots have been welcomed by vaccine-deprived lower-income countries.
  • But in some, cases of COVID-19 are surging even after widespread vaccination.
  • In response, observers are questioning how well the shots work, angering China.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

By March, the Seychelles was one of the world’s most vaccinated countries. With over half of its population fully inoculated from COVID-19, the island nation off Africa was outpacing even Israel.

This speedy rollout was largely thanks to China – imports of its Sinopharm shot made up 57% of all doses delivered there.

So when the Seychelles saw a sharp rise in virus cases in mid-May, despite some 60% of the population being fully vaccinated, that came as a surprise.

Later the surprise deepened as health officials confirmed, on May 10, that more than one third of Seychelles residents to fall sick had indeed already taken their vaccines.

Since then, more countries that use Chinese vaccines have been seeing rises in cases, prompting a reckoning for China as experts reassess the effectiveness of its widespread shots.

Vaccines exported to 95 countries worldwide

While Europe and the US were hoarding the Western-made AstraZeneca, Moderna, and Pfizer vaccines, China distributed its jabs widely. It was a lifeline for lower-income countries that had little hope of securing American or European jabs.

China’s two flagship vaccines, made by biotech companies Sinovac and Sinopharm, quickly became a soft power tool in China’s foreign policy.

According to the Beijing-based Bridge Consultancy, 95 countries have received doses of the Chinese vaccines. Out of almost 800 million doses promised by China, 272 million had been delivered as of mid-June.

Nurses wearing masks walk towards a doorway, on the wall, a poster or a man is holding a vial of COVID-19 vaccine.
Nurses prepare syringes of Chinese a Sinopharm vaccine, in Bahrain on December 19, 2020.

It is not only the Seychelles. Two other countries which are highly vaccinated and rely heavily on the Sinopharm BBIB-P vaccine – Bahrain and Mongolia – have also seen a spike in cases.

Both countries have said they still trust the vaccines. Bahrain’s undersecretary of health said that more than 90% of those hospitalized there were not vaccinated.

A policy adviser to the Mongolian Government told The Daily Telegraph that the spike in cases was due to the end of a lockdown, not problems with the vaccine.

Nonetheless, some are looking to limit exposure to the Chinese shots. Bahrain and the UAE, another early adopter of Sinopharm, have started offering the option of a Pfizer booster shot to those who had been fully vaccinated with the Sinopharm vaccine.

China’s other flagship vaccine, Sinovac’s CoronaVac jab, is also being closely scrutinized.

Santiago, the capital of Chile capital, imposed another lockdown on Saturday, as cases are sharply rising in spite of almost 60% of the country being fully immunized. Chile’s vaccination program uses mostly Sinovac shots.

Variants probably have a role to play in the surge, Dr Susan Bueno, a professor of immunology from the Pontifical Catholic University, previously told the BBC. Even so, variants are present in Western nations without so pronounced an effect.

The vaccines are protective against severe disease, but maybe not against infection and mild disease

“You really need to use high-efficacy vaccines to get that economic benefit because otherwise they’re going to be living with the disease long term,” Raina MacIntyre, head of the biosecurity program at the Kirby Institute of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, told The New York Times for a recent article.

“The choice of vaccine matters.”

If the vaccine is not protective against transmission of the virus, the countries might not be able to reach the elusive state of herd immunity, when enough people in the population are protected to stop the virus from spreading.

Israel seems to have recently passed that threshold. Earlier this month, when 60% of the country’s population was fully vaccinated, cases dropped to about 15 a day, and are now hovering around zero. Israel used Western shots.

An expert previously told Insider that Israel’s example suggests that other countries can reach herd immunity with a similar level of immunization.

Whereas Moderna and Pfizer shots are based on new mRNA technology, Sinovac and Sinopharm’s vaccines use an inactivated virus in their shot. This is an older vaccine technology, used successfully in other diseases for decades.

Both Chinese shots have been given emergency use authorization by the WHO within the past six weeks.

According to published data, Sinopharm’s vaccine is 79% effective at stopping symptomatic COVID-19. But there are caveats to that study, as it is based on a cohort of people under 60, mostly men, and on average pretty young, around 31 years old. Most serious COVID-19 cases are in far older people.

Looking at the data from the Seychelles, vaccine expert Dr. Kim Mulholland told The New York Times that the Sinopharm vaccine’s efficacy was closer to about 50%.

This would be consistent with the protection seen with the Sinovac vaccine. The WHO says this shot gives 50.6% against symptomatic disease, based on data from a large study in Brazil.

By comparison, Pfizer and Moderna shots confer over 90% protection.

China does not hide that its vaccines probably don’t give comprehensive protection from COVID-19.

In an interview with state-owned Chinese National Business Daily published on June 7, Shao Yiming, Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention expert, said the Chinese vaccines available in China are designed to prevent severe illness, not all infections.

Nonetheless, China has been aggressive with media outlets which have highlighted concerns about Chinese vaccines overseas.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said such reporting “exposes their unhealthy mindset of denigrating China at every turn,” The Wall Street Journal reported.

Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying holds briefing
Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying holds a weekly press briefing in Beijing on March 21, 2018.

Could the problem harm China itself?

If the vaccines turn out to not be able to prevent outbreaks, that could be a problem for China, which after the initial wave of infections in early 2020 has largely suppressed outbreaks with swift and severe lockdowns.

The country has approved four vaccines, all made in China, three of which are based on the inactivated virus, and one, designed by CanSino Biologics, which uses a technology similar to AstraZeneca.

Over 600 million people have been vaccinated. Although it is not known how many doses of each vaccine have been used, it is likely that Sinovac’s CoronaVac and Sinopharm’s first vaccine make up the majority, since they were approved first.

Outbreaks of the Delta variant of the coronavirus may also complicate the situation in China. Studies from the UK suggest this variant is more likely to be able to escape even the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines.

In May, Yiming, China’s CDC researcher, said that the vaccines can provide protection against the variants first found in India “to a certain extent”, although he did not say which vaccines, and did not release data to support this statement.

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China says its fighter pilots are battling AI aircraft in simulated dogfights, and humans aren’t the only ones learning

J-16 fighter jet
China is using artificial intelligence to hone the skills of Chinese fighter pilots.

  • China has been pitting pilots against AI-driven aircraft in training simulations.
  • A commander told the PLA Daily that the AI aircraft were “sharpening the sword” for Chinese pilots.
  • The AI was also learning, highlighting the potential for AI systems in its armed forces.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Chinese fighter pilots have been battling aircraft piloted by artificial intelligence in simulated dogfights to boost pilot combat skills, Chinese media reported.

Fang Guoyu, a People’s Liberation Army Air Force brigade flight team leader and recognized fighter ace, was recently “shot down” by an AI adversary in an air-to-air combat simulation, according to China’s PLA Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese military.

He said that early in the training, it was easy to defeat the AI adversary. But with each round of combat, the AI reportedly learned from its human opponent. After one fight that Fang won with a bit of skillful flying, the AI came back and used the same tactics against him, defeating the human pilot.

“It’s like a digital ‘Golden Helmet’ pilot that excels at learning, assimilating, reviewing, and researching,” Fang said, referring to the elite pilots who emerge victorious in the “Golden Helmet” air combat contests. “The move with which you defeated it today will be at its fingertips tomorrow.”

Du Jianfeng, the brigade commander, told the PLA newspaper that AI is increasingly being incorporated into training.

It “is skilled at handling the aircraft and makes flawless tactical decisions,” he said, characterizing the AI adversary as a useful tool for “sharpening the sword” because it forces the Chinese pilots to get more creative.

‘Sharpening the sword’

Chinese J-15 fighter jets
Chinese J-15 fighter jets at a military parade.

China is striving to build a modern military with the ability to fight and win wars by the middle of this century, and it has made progress in recent years in advancing its air combat element, even developing a fifth-generation stealth fighter.

But far more challenging and time consuming than closing the technology gap is cultivating the critical knowledge and experience required to effectively operate a modern fighting force.

Chinese media did not offer specifics on the simulator, so there are questions about whether or not the AI adversary provides sufficiently realistic training necessary to prepare pilots to dogfight manned aircraft.

“If it does, that’s pretty good,” retired US Navy Cmdr. Guy Snodgrass, a former TOPGUN instructor and an artificial intelligence expert, told Insider.

“If it doesn’t,” he continued, “you’re really just training human operators to fight AI, and that is probably not what they are going to be going up against” since there are currently no autonomous AI-driven fighter aircraft they would need to be prepared to fight.

“There could be a divergence between real capability in a dogfight or aerial battle versus what the AI is presenting,” he said. If that’s the case, this could be wasted effort.

If it is a high-fidelity training simulator, though, it potentially lowers the cost of the air combat training because “you’re able to get that training at a price point that’s much lower than actually putting real planes in the air,” Snodgrass said.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping has repeatedly stressed the need for realistic combat training, including simulations, to help the Chinese military overcome their lack of combat experience, but it is not clear to what extent his agenda has been implemented with training simulators like what PLAAF pilots have been using.

‘The AI is learning and it’s getting better’

J-20 stealth fighters of PLA Air Force perform with open weapon bays during the Zhuhai Airshow
J-20 stealth fighters of PLA Air Force perform with open weapon bays during the Zhuhai Airshow.

Regardless of whether the pilots are learning anything valuable, Fang Guoyu’s recollection of his engagements with his AI adversary demonstrates that the AI is.

“AI requires feedback,” Snodgrass said. “And that’s exactly the kind of pathway you’d want to take, to use this to help train your pilots, but because your pilots are fighting against it, the AI is learning and it’s getting better.”

A next step, he explained, could then be to say, “This has performed very well in a virtual environment. Let’s put this into a manned fighter.”

China has invested heavily in AI research, and, like the US, it has been considering ways to incorporate AI – which can process information quickly and gain years of experience in a very short time – into the cockpits of its planes.

Yang Wei, chief designer for the J-20, China’s first fifth-generation stealth fighter, said last year that the next generation of fighter could feature AI systems able to assist pilots with decisions to increase their overall effectiveness in combat, the state-affiliated Global Times reported.

The US Air Force has expressed similar ideas. Steven Rogers, a senior scientist at the US Air Force Research Laboratory, told Inside Defense in 2018 that ace pilots have thousands of hours of experience. Then he asked, “What happens if I can augment their ability with a system that can have literally millions of hours of training time?”

Snodgrass explained that there are a number of different ways AI could be used to augment the capabilities of a pilot.

For instance, artificial intelligence could be used to monitor aircraft systems to reduce task saturation, especially for single-pilot aircraft, collect battlefield information, and handle target discrimination and prioritization. AI could even potentially chart out flight paths to minimize detection through electromagnetic spectrum analysis.

The US is currently pursuing several lines of effort exploring the possibilities of AI technology.

In a big event last summer, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) put an AI algorithm up against an experienced human pilot in a “simulated within-visual-range air combat” situation.

The artificial intelligence, which had already defeated other AI “pilots” in simulated dogfights and collected years of experience in a matter of months, achieved a flawless victory, winning five straight matches without the human, a US Air Force F-16 pilot, ever scoring a hit.

The point of the simulated air-to-air combat scenario was to move DARPA’s Air Combat Evolution program forward.

The agency said previously that it envisions “a future in which AI handles the split-second maneuvering during within-visual-range dogfights, keeping pilots safer and more effective as they orchestrate large numbers of unmanned systems into a web of overwhelming combat effects.”

It is not clear how long it would take to realize the agency’s vision for the future, but Snodgrass previously told Insider that he “would never bet against technological progress,” especially considering “all the advancements that have occurred in the last decade, in the last hundred years.”

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Alibaba billionaire founder Jack Ma is ‘lying low’ after a roller coaster year in which China cracked down on his tech empire

Jack Ma
Jack Ma.

  • Jack Ma is “fine,” an Alibaba executive said after the Chinese billionaire’s tumultuous year.
  • China pulled Ma’s record-breaking Ant IPO last fall after he publicly criticized the nation’s banking system.
  • Alibaba received a $2.8 billion antitrust fine, signaling an even greater crackdown on Ma’s tech empire.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Chinese billionaire Jack Ma is “lying low right now” after the Alibaba and Ant Group founder had a whirlwind year that led to a pulled multi-billion-dollar IPO and a heavier regulatory crackdown.

Alibaba co-founder Joe Tsai told CNBC Tuesday that Ma is “fine” and “doing very very well.” Tsai said he talks to him every day and said Ma has taken up painting.

Tsai did say it was important to separate what is going on with Ma and what’s happening with Alibaba at the moment. The executive also pushed back on the notion that Ma has “an enormous amount of power,” given the fact that the billionaire left Alibaba in 2019.

Ma’s Ant Group was once lauded as a disruptor in the booming fintech industry, and the company enjoyed massive growth thanks to little regulatory oversight in China.

The fintech company was poised to launch a $35 billion initial public offering in the fall of 2020 until Ma publicly criticized the nation’s lending methods and financial system at a conference. Chinese authorities stepped in and pulled the IPO, and reports later surfaced that Chinese President Xi Jinping personally instructed authorities to look into Ant following Ma’s comments.

The company was then ordered to restructure its business and “return to its payment origins.” And now, Ant will start running a new consumer banking company with greater oversight from the state.

Ant’s pulled IPO coincided with China’s new anticompetitive rules to rein in its homegrown tech companies. China also fined Alibaba $2.8 billion in April over concerns that it was abusing its dominant position in the online market.

The company said it “accepts the penalty with sincerity.”

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China hacked an internet security tool to target Verizon and Southern California’s water supplier, among others

iPhone displaying Pulse Secure App
  • China hacked into Pulse Connect Secure, which provides internet security for Verizon, among others.
  • Sophisticated hackers were able to exploit never-before-seen vulnerabilities.
  • It’s unclear, what, if any sensitive information the hackers were able to ascertain.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) – A cyberespionage campaign blamed on China was more sweeping than previously known, with suspected state-backed hackers exploiting a device meant to boost internet security to penetrate the computers of critical US entities.

The hack of Pulse Connect Secure networking devices came to light in April, but its scope is only now starting to become clear. The Associated Press has learned that the hackers targeted telecommunications giant Verizon and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the country’s largest water agency. News broke earlier this month that the New York City subway system, the country’s largest, was also breached.

Security researchers say dozens of other high-value entities that have not yet been named were also targeted as part of the breach of Pulse Secure, which is used by many companies and governments for secure remote access to their networks.

It’s unclear what sensitive information, if any, was accessed. Some of the targets said they did not see any evidence of data being stolen. That uncertainty is common in cyberespionage and it can take months to determine data loss, if it is ever discovered. Ivanti, the Utah-based owner of Pulse Connect Secure, declined to comment on which customers were affected.

But even if sensitive information wasn’t compromised, experts say it is worrisome that hackers managed to gain footholds in networks of critical organizations whose secrets could be of interest to China for commercial and national security reasons.

“The threat actors were able to get access to some really high-profile organizations, some really well-protected ones,” said Charles Carmakal, the chief technology officer of Mandiant, whose company first publicized the hacking campaign in April.

The Pulse Secure hack has largely gone unnoticed while a series of headline-grabbing ransomware attacks have highlighted the cyber vulnerabilities to US critical infrastructure, including one on a major fuels pipeline that prompted widespread shortages at gas stations. The US government is also still investigating the fallout of the SolarWinds hacking campaign launched by Russian cyber spies, which infiltrated dozens of private sector companies and think tanks as well as at least nine US government agencies and went on for most of 2020.

The Chinese government has denied any role in the Pulse hacking campaign and the US government has not made any formal attribution.

In the Pulse campaign, security experts said sophisticated hackers exploited never-before-seen vulnerabilities to break in and were hyper diligent in trying to cover their tracks once inside.

“The capability is very strong and difficult to defend against, and the profile of victims is very significant,” said Adrian Nish, the head of cyber at BAE Systems Applied Intelligence. “This is a very targeted attack against a few dozen networks that all have national significance in one way or another.”

The Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency, or CISA, issued an April alert about the Pulse hack saying it was aware of “compromises affecting a number of US government agencies, critical infrastructure entities, and other private sector organizations.” The agency has since said that at least five federal agencies have identified indications of potential unauthorized access, but not said which ones.

Verizon said it found a Pulse-related compromise in one of its labs but it was quickly isolated from its core networks. The company said no data or customer information was accessed or stolen.

“We know that bad actors try to compromise our systems,” said Verizon spokesman Rich Young. “That is why internet operators, private companies, and all individuals need to be vigilant in this space.”

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which provides water to 19 million people and operates some of the largest treatment plants in the world, said it found a compromised Pulse Secure appliance after CISA issued its alert in April. Spokeswoman Rebecca Kimitch said the appliance was immediately removed from service and no Metropolitan systems or processes were known to have been affected. She said there was “no known data exfiltration.”

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York also said they’ve not found evidence of valuable data or customer information was stolen. The breach was first reported by The New York Times.

Mandiant said it found signs of data extraction from some of the targets. The company and BAE have identified targets of the hacking campaign in several fields, including financial, technology and defense firms, as well as municipal governments. Some targets were in Europe, but most in the US.

The new details of the Pulse Secure hack come at a time of tension between the US and China. Biden has made checking China’s growth a top priority, and said the country’s ambition of becoming the wealthiest and most powerful country in the world is “not going to happen under my watch.”

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A Chinese spy ship and surveillance planes are keeping closer watch on the South China Sea as tensions rise

China Y-8 anti-submarine aircraft
A Chinese Y-8 anti-submarine aircraft, September 19, 2020.

  • A Chinese spy vessel could be observing how well foreign militaries work together, one analyst said.
  • Satellite images showed aircraft and a surveillance ship at Fiery Cross Reef, another report said.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The Chinese military has deployed extra surveillance forces in the air and waters near a disputed South China Sea archipelago as tensions rise between Beijing and its Southeast Asia neighbours.

Citing satellite images provided by Maxar, USNI, a US military news website, reported on Friday that a Type-815G spy ship was spotted at a military base at Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands chain.

A Chinese navy Y-8Q maritime patrol aircraft and a KJ-500 airborne early warning and control plane were also spotted on the reef’s airfield, the report said.

Collin Koh, a research fellow with the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, said the Type-815G was an elusive ship, and its main task was to collect critical intelligence on foreign military activities.

“Recently there’s been an uptick in foreign military activities, especially naval movements by US and allied forces, in the South China Sea. So I’ll surmise the ship is observing how these US and allied navies operate together,” he said.

The United States conducted 72 reconnaissance flights over the South China Sea in May, up from 65 in April, according to the Beijing-based South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative, which monitors military activity in the region.

The think tank said that when the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur transited the Taiwan Strait last month, US anti-submarine patrol and reconnaissance aircraft and a spy plane flew over the South China Sea.

Chinese military KJ-500 airborne early warning and control aircraft
A KJ-500 airborne early warning and control aircraft at Airshow China 2016 in Zhuhai, November 2, 2016.

The Pentagon released the satellite images of the Chinese ship and aircraft on Wednesday, the same day that an advisory body to the Pentagon made recommendations for improving US strategy to deal with China.

The recommendations, which were not made public, served as a new directive for the Pentagon to focus on China, and are aimed at strengthening cooperation with US allies, particularly those in the Indo-Pacific region.

Beijing claims almost all of the South China Sea, but there are overlapping claims with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan, leading to confrontations over the disputed waters.

Even though the US is not a claimant, it has sent military vessels and aircraft there for what it calls freedom of navigation operations. Beijing says such operations violate its sovereignty and create tensions, but the US says China’s military installations in the region are the major threats to security.

Tensions between China and Philippines and Malaysia are running high with Manila protesting against Beijing after more than 200 fishing vessels massed at Whitsun Reef – a move China described as normal.

Malaysia also recently protested against China, saying 16 Chinese military transport aircraft had been involved in an “intrusion” near its coastline.

But China announced this week that it plans to upgrade its diplomatic ties with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to a comprehensive strategic partnership, after meetings between Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his Asean counterparts.

Wang also told the assembled foreign ministers that China would push forward discussions for a code of conduct in the South China Sea.

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Biden plans to push NATO allies to take a tougher line with China, but their militaries aren’t equipped for the challenge

Biden, Nato
President Joe Biden at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on June 14, 2021.

  • Biden is in Belgium to meet NATO leaders.
  • They plan to take a tough new position on China, a key priority for Biden.
  • But a recent report said European militaries are too ill equipped to meet challenges posed by China.
  • Sign up for the 10 Things in Politics daily newsletter.

President Joe Biden plans to push NATO allies to adopt a tougher stance towards China at his first summit as president, but a new report says its a challenge few European members of the group are equipped to meet.

Jens Stoltenberg, the head of the 30-member military alliance of western nations, has said that one of the key issues leaders will discuss at Monday’s meeting in Brussels will be the rising threat posed by China.

“We’re not entering a new Cold War and China is not our adversary, not our enemy,” Stoltenberg told reporters at the NATO headquarters ahead of the summit.

“But we need to address together, as the alliance, the challenges that the rise of China poses to our security.”

The new focus on China reportedly came at the prompting of top Biden administration officials, with Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security advisor, saying the alliance would adopt a tough new stance against China.

“China will feature in the [NATO] communique in a more robust way than we’ve ever seen before,” Sullivan told reporters on Sunday en route to Brussels from the UK, according to Reuters.

But the tough rhetoric belies the weakness of European militaries, according to a recent report by the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank with close links to the Biden White House. The study was first reported by Politico.

The study detailed decades of decline by European militaries, such as: “Much of Europe’s military hardware is in a shocking state of disrepair. Too many of Europe’s forces aren’t ready to fight. Its fighter jets and helicopters aren’t ready to fly, its ships and submarines aren’t ready to sail, and its vehicles and tanks aren’t ready to roll.”

It noted that of particular concern in connection with the challenge posed by distant potential enemies was the fact that European militaries lack the capacity for refueling fighter jets in the air, transporting troops long distances, and surveillance and reconnaissance capacities.

In contrast, China is believed to have among the world’s most powerful militaries, with the Pentagon finding in a 2020 report the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) was aiming to supplant the US as the world’s leading military power by 2049.

The report found that Beijing has “has marshaled the resources, technology, and political will over the past two decades to strengthen and modernize the PLA in nearly every respect.”

The study said that the solution lies not just in higher military spending by European nations, but in increased cooperation and the more efficient use of resources creating a common European defense force.

Article 3 of the NATO treaty obliges members to develop their militaries to keep pace with threats to their security.

The Center for American Progress report said: “European military weakness makes shifting NATO’s focus on China or threats to other regions of the world much more difficult. But if the EU significantly developed its military capacity such that it had the capabilities and ability to defend itself, it would be natural then for Nato to focus more on global challenges such as China.”

Biden will be looking to undo Trump’s chaos

Former President Donald Trump, during his time in power, often bullied and berated NATO allies over their relatively low military expenditure, and Biden will be seeking to smooth over the cracks that appeared in the alliance.

On Monday, Biden called NATO “critically important for US interests,” signaling a sharp departure from Trump’s intentions.

But China could present a new challenge to NATO unity. Some European nations don’t share Biden’s assessment of the challenge posed by China, with the EU signing a new investment pact with Beijing in April over the objections of the Biden administration.

The allies’ inability to meet the challenges that Biden considers key could also be the source of new tensions.

Biden’s appearance at Monday’s NATO summit follows his three-day trip in Cornwall, Britain, for the G7 meeting. He plans to meet EU leaders on Tuesday and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday.

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A French company warned the US of a ‘imminent radiological threat’ at a Chinese nuclear facility but the US said the plant isn’t at ‘crisis level’: CNN

China Tianwan nuclear power plant
The Unit 4 reactor at the Tianwan Nuclear Power Plant in China’s Jiangsu province, October 27, 2018.

  • A French company sent the US a letter on an “imminent radiological threat,” in China, CNN reported.
  • Framatome said the Chinese safety authority was raising radiation detection levels outside a plant.
  • The US doesn’t believe the plant is at a “crisis level” yet.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A French company sent the US Department of Energy a letter that warned of “imminent radiological threat” at the Taishan Nuclear Power Plant in Guangdong province after the Chinese state-owned partner did not acknowledge a problem exists, CNN reported.

Framatome, the French company that part-owns and helps operate the plant, said the Chinese safety authority was raising acceptable radiation detection limits outside the plant to avoid shutting it down.

A source told CNN President Joe Biden’s administration said the facility is not at “crisis level” yet but last week, the National Security Council held multiple meetings and monitored the situation.

“It is not surprising that the French would reach out,” Cheryl Rofer, a nuclear scientist who retired from Los Alamos National Laboratory in 2001 told CNN. “In general, this sort of thing is not extraordinary, particularly if they think the country they are contacting has some special ability to help.

“But China likes to project that everything is just fine, all the time,” she added.

A source told CNN the Biden administration has been in contact with both French and Chinese officials over the issue.

Framatome was requesting a waiver to be able to use American technical assistance to fix the problem at the plant. The company did not respond to Insider’s email request for comment at the time of publication.

Last month, Al Jazeera reported that there was growing concern over China’s construction of two new nuclear reactors that will produce plutonium, which could be reprocessed and used as a fuel source for other nuclear reactors.

The intended goal of the reactors is to produce non-fossil-fuel-based renewable energy, but it’s unclear if there’s any intention to use the reactors for civilian energy, or if it could be used to produce nuclear weapons.

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China to G7 leaders: Days when world affairs are decided by a ‘small group of countries are long gone’

G7 leaders agreed on Sunday to raise their contributions to meet an overdue spending pledge of $100 billion a year to help poorer countries cut carbon emissions and cope with global warming, but campaigners said firm cash promises were missing.

  • China said that the times of a “small” group of countries deciding world decisions are “long gone,” Reuters reported.
  • The remarks came as G7 leaders met in London over the weekend.
  • A spokesperson for the China embassy in London added that “world affairs should be handled through consultation by all countries.”
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

China said that the time of a “small” group of countries has authority over global decisions is “long gone,” as a warning to Group of Seven leaders on Sunday.

“The days when global decisions were dictated by a small group of countries are long gone,” a spokesperson for the China embassy in London told Reuters.

The spokesperson continued: “We always believe that countries, big or small, strong or weak, poor or rich, are equals, and that world affairs should be handled through consultation by all countries,” according to the report.

The remarks follow after President Joe Biden and the other leaders of the G7 from Canada, Italy, Japan Germany, the United Kingdom, and France who convened in England over the weekend. They announced a multi-billion dollar infrastructure plan to challenge China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

“Ganging up, pursuing bloc politics, and forming small cliques are unpopular and doomed to fail,” Wang Wenbin, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson previously said, as Insider Kevin Shalvey reported.

The G7 also discussed how to overcome the pandemic on a global scale and revamp their economies including calling “for a timely, transparent, expert-led, and science-based WHO-convened Phase 2 COVID-19 Origins study including, as recommended by the experts’ report, in China.”

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G7 leaders push for a ‘transparent’ investigation into the origins of COVID

G7 family photo
The 2021 G7 family photo in Cornwall, England.

  • The G7 leaders want a “transparent” investigation into the origins of the coronavirus.
  • Biden signed a joint communiqué that outlined plans to defeat the virus and plan for the future.
  • The G7 also committed to giving 1 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses to countries in need.
  • Sign up for the 10 Things in Politics daily newsletter.

The Group of Seven (G7) leaders on Sunday expressed support for a “transparent” investigation into the origins of the coronavirus, while also seeking ways to better prepare for future pandemics.

President Joe Biden joined the leaders of the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan in signing a joint summit communiqué that addressed everything from strategies to end the current pandemic to a guideline for combatting climate change and an examination of international law regarding online safety and hate speech.

The international leaders are pushing for “a timely, transparent, expert-led, and science-based WHO-convened Phase 2 COVID-19 Origins study including, as recommended by the experts’ report, in China.”

The G7 also committed to giving 1 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses to countries in need as they continue to weather the pandemic.

Read more: What we learned about Joe Biden from riding Amtrak with a Senate colleague who has known the president for five decades

In recent weeks, the debate over the origins of the coronavirus has become a huge issue among US lawmakers and several health experts who question if the coronavirus possibly originated in a lab in Wuhan, China.

However, China has refuted the claim, and Republicans have been critical of involvement by the World Health Organization regarding any possible investigation.

Last month, Biden asked for the intelligence community to “redouble their efforts” in ascertaining the origins of the coronavirus after it was revealed that there was COVID-19 evidence that had not yet been analyzed, according to The New York Times

At the time, the president also requested a report on the findings to be issued in three months.

Last year’s in-person G7 summit was set to be held at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland, but was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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This was one of the worst weeks for China on the world stage in a while

China's President Xi Jinping rubs his eyes
Chinese President Xi Jinping rubs his eye as he arrives for the seventh plenary session of the first session of the 13th National People’s Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

  • It was a bad week for China on the world stage.
  • President Biden is getting a warm reception in Europe rallying our democratic allies in the G7, the EU and NATO.
  • And at home, our squabbling US Senate somehow managed to pass a $250 billion bill countering China.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

This week the leaders of the Western world turned their eyes toward China, and as a result it was one of the worst weeks for Beijing on the world stage in some time.

In Washington, Democrats and Republicans in the Senate set aside their differences to pass a $250 billion industrial policy bill aimed at preparing US commerce and government for competition with Beijing. And while on a diplomatic trip to Europe, President Joe Biden is reinvigorating our ties to our allies in Europe, the G7 group of nations, and NATO. On the top of the agenda in these meetings is the question of how to counter an aggressive, totalitarian China on the rise.

This comes as every indication points to China moving farther and farther away being an open, even remotely democratic society.

Earlier this week Amnesty International published an in-depth look at life for Muslims living in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, calling it a “dystopian hellscape” where Muslims are terrorized and arbitrarily forced into labor camps as part of “part of a larger campaign of subjugation and forced assimilation.” The Times also reported the Chinese government is seizing Uyghur Muslims who flee abroad.

On the economic front, the Chinese legislature rushed through a bill expanding the government’s means and methods to retaliate against foreign sanctions including the ability to seize foreign companies’ Chinese assets, deny visas, and block the ability to do deals in China. Foreign businesses in the country were caught flat-footed.

At the heart of China’s bellicose behavior is the belief, held among many elites in the Chinese Communist Party, that the US and its partners in the West are in a state of decline. This idea took root during the 2008 financial crisis, and then was reaffirmed by the European debt crisis, the election of Donald Trump and his agression towards our European allies, and the United State’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

To the CCP, our way of life looks like chaos – a cacophony of voices sometimes forcefully pulling our discourse to the right then back to the left. They’ve convinced themselves that we can no longer organize and unify our societies to do the ambitious things that need to be done to win the future. This week the West showed China signs that – when it comes to countering a strengthening totalitarian power – that may not be the case.

A matter of trust

China squandered a massive opportunity over the last four years. As president, Donald Trump snubbed America’s traditional allies and made overtures to the world’s thugs and petty dictators. That could have been a moment when China cozied up to Europe as a more stable alternative, instead China wound up alienating the continent with its overbearing behavior.

For example, at the beginning of this year it seemed certain that the European Union and China would sign a trade deal, against the wishes of the United States. But in March, when the EU sanctioned China over its treatment of Uyghur Muslims, Beijing – in keeping with its policy of aggressive “Wolf Warrior” diplomacy – responded by sanctioning members of EU Parliament. This put the EU-China trade deal on an indefinite hold.

That brings us to Biden and his current trip to Europe, where the president is trying to rebuild trust among nations. His administration is working on undoing the tariffs the Trump administration put on its EU partners with an aim to lift them by the end of the year. He is encouraging unity on the European continent, urging UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to settle his differences with the EU over Brexit and keep the peace on the Ireland-Northern Ireland border. Biden also announced that the US would donate 500 million doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to over 100 countries “no strings attached.”

Trump’s betrayal of our allies left commentators around the world wondering if US-led groups like the G7 would be able to cooperate enough to do hard things again. This week we’re seeing signs that they can and will. The first sign was Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen’s momentous announcement that the G7 had come to an agreement on an international minimum corporate tax to stop the race to the bottom in taxing the world’s richest companies.

And now it appears Biden is also rallying our allies to counter China. Before he left for Europe, Biden met with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg at the White House. Addressing the press after their meeting Stoltenberg said China “doesn’t share our values.” Biden will attend a NATO summit on Monday, and it will produce the strongest statement in its history on NATO’s stance on China, according to the Wall Street Journal.

From the comfortable primeval mud

Legendary American diplomat George Kennan – known for outlining the US policy of containing the USSR during the Cold War – used to say that the US people are always about 10 years behind its diplomats when it comes to seeing danger from abroad. Lecturing back in 1950 he compared democracies to a giant prehistoric monster “with a body as long as this room and a brain the size of a pin” that needs to be directly confronted with a problem before it awakens from the “comfortable primeval mud.” But when a challenge does gain our attention, Kennan said, the country lashes out with “such blind determination that he not only destroys his adversary but largely wrecks his native habitat.”

Perhaps the US has learned something from Kennan. Consider the Senate’s passage of a 2,400 page bill aimed at shoring up the US as an economic and technological superpower. The size and scope of the bill shows that our leaders are trying to meet a challenge before it’s an emergency.

The bill allocates $52 billion to building up the semiconductor industry in the US in order to decrease our dependence on semiconductors from China and Taiwan. The bill also funds major research, allocating $81 billion to the National Science Foundation from 2022 to fiscal 2026 and $120 billion into technologies like artificial intelligence and quantum computing.

There are also diplomatic and intelligence measures. It bars US diplomats from attending the Olympics in Beijing, and requires the intelligence community to produce a report about China’s efforts to influence international bodies like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organizations and United Nations. It passed the fractious US Senate – sometimes sardonically referred to as Mitch McConnell’s “legislative graveyard” – on a vote of 68 to 32.

China responded to the bill saying that it “slanders China” and is “full of Cold War mentality and ideological prejudice.”

In a time when the leaders of the richest country in the world are squabbling amongst themselves over whether or not to fund the building of roads and bridges, this bill is a heartening sight. The most important ways the US can counter China are by strengthening itself domestically and by preparing for the worst with its allies. If the giant prehistoric monster hasn’t awakened, this week shows that it now at least has one eye open.

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