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Daily Archives: March 11, 2022

Chuckles of the Day




Alcohol is Bad For Your Legs

A man goes into a cocktail lounge and approaches little old Maxine sitting by herself…

“May I buy you a cocktail?”

Maxine: “No thank you sir, alcohol is bad for my legs.”

“Sorry to hear that. Do they swell?”

Maxine: “No, they spread.”

* * * * * * *

No Sunday Newspaper

“WHERE is my SUNDAY paper?!” The little old lady calling the newspaper office, loudly demanded to know where her Sunday edition was.

“Madam”, said the newspaper employee, “today is Saturday. The Sunday paper is not delivered until tomorrow, on SUNDAY”.

There was quite a long pause on the other end of the phone, followed by a ray of recognition as the little old lady was heard to mutter, “Well, shit… that’s why no one was at church today.”




Chart: Contribution to the 7.5% YoY Rise in U.S. Consumer Prices


See large image . . . . . .

Source : The Wall Street Journal

Infographic: 看中国经济如何更好迈向高质量

Source : 新华网

Five Lessons Taiwan Is Learning from the War in Ukraine

Lili Pike wrote . . . . . . . . .

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has elicited global outrage and pledges of support for the Ukrainian people. In Taiwan, it has also provoked an existential fear.

People in Taiwan have been riveted by the news from Ukraine, and for good reason. As tensions have risen between China and the U.S., Taiwanese officials and military analysts have warned of a growing risk of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. China claims the self-governed island as its own province and has vowed to reunite it with the mainland. The conversation has long been hypothetical; now, many Taiwanese have seen a version of their worst fears playing out in Europe.

Well before the war began, Taiwan’s leadership was already watching Ukraine — a country living, as Taiwan does, in the shadow of an aggressive autocratic neighbor. “Taiwan has been facing military threats and intimidation from China for a long time,” President Tsai Ying-Wen said at a national security meeting on Jan. 28. “Therefore, we empathize with Ukraine’s situation and support the efforts of all parties involved to maintain regional security.”

Tsai created a task force to study the growing conflict and its implications for Taiwan’s future. As the war has unfolded, Taiwan has joined Western allies in sanctioning Russia and sending aid — a stark contrast to China, which has declined to condemn the invasion and blamed the U.S. and NATO for provoking Russia.

“I think the people here, they are rooting for Ukraine and it has something to do with what might happen to Taiwan,” said Lai I-Chung, a senior adviser to Taiwan Thinktank and former director of China Affairs for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party. “We want the Ukrainian people to be able to succeed in defeating the invading enemy. But we also hope that the international community can have a better or more progressive response to help the Ukraine people to defend against Russia, precisely due to the implication to Taiwan.”

It will be a long time before the broad lessons of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine are well understood. But experts tell Grid there are already important preliminary lessons for Taiwan and for all nations keeping a close eye on the Taiwan Strait.

A mirror for Taiwan (albeit an imperfect one)

The parallels between Taiwan and Ukraine are clear.

Historically, both have been ruled by powerful autocratic neighbors. Ukraine was a Soviet republic before the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991; Taiwan was ruled by the last Chinese imperial dynasty, the Qing, until Japan took control of the island in 1895. In recent years, both have grown closer to their Western allies, and those closer ties have been met by increasingly sharper threats. China and Russia have spun similar narratives about Western infringement and aggression: Russia used the eastern expansion of NATO as a pretext for war, and China has called Taiwan’s growing relationship with the West a provocation.

Most fundamentally for citizens of Taiwan and Ukraine alike, they have heard for years that theirs is not a real nation and that their land would one day be returned to its rightful ruler. Now that Putin has acted on his threat, Taiwanese are worried that the parallels will continue and put their sovereignty at risk.

But experts are also quick to point out important differences.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Ukraine has been recognized by the world as a sovereign state, whereas Taiwan exists in murkier waters. Since 1979, the U.S. has recognized the People’s Republic of China (the mainland) rather than the Republic of China (Taiwan). It’s a formula followed for geopolitical reasons by most of the world; only 14 countries recognize Taiwan as an independent nation. (Diplomatically, China does not allow countries to simultaneously have official relations with both).

Taiwan has also figured more prominently in U.S. foreign policy than Ukraine. China, not Russia, is the U.S.’s principal rival, and Taiwan sits in waters that are critical for global trade, military and even internet activity. (Important undersea cables run around Taiwan). “It occupies the most critical strategic terrain arguably on the planet today,” said Ian Easton, senior director of the Project 2049 Institute, an American think tank that advocates for U.S. interests in the Asia-Pacific.

Taiwan is also an economic powerhouse. It is the U.S.’s ninth-largest trading partner, while Ukraine takes the 67th slot. Its GDP ranked 21st in the world last year; Ukraine’s was 57th. And Taiwan is the world’s leading manufacturer of semiconductors — the chips that are central to modern technology worldwide.

Another significant difference involves geography. Taiwan is an island. From a tactical perspective, that makes it a far more difficult target than Ukraine; it would be much harder for China to launch an invasion across 100 miles of water than it has been for Russian troops to cross the land border with Ukraine.

“It is well known that any potential Chinese attempt to invade Taiwan would be extremely high-risk in military terms,” Timothy Heath, a senior international defense researcher at the Rand Corporation, told Grid.

Lessons from Ukraine

Grid spoke with military and strategic analysts and Taiwan experts about the conflict’s lessons for Taiwanese policymakers and ordinary citizens. These experts don’t always agree — and all note that the lessons may change as the war plays out. But they offer initial answers to the question: What are the main takeaways from the war in Ukraine, as seen from Taiwan?

1. Prepare for war

For many in Taiwan, Putin’s invasion has made clear the need for greater preparedness. If a war that had seemed unlikely could come to Ukraine, then the same may prove true for Taiwan, and the Taiwanese have seen the effectiveness of fierce resistance put up by Ukrainian soldiers and civilians.

“I think one of the consequences of the Ukraine invasion is telling people in Taiwan that the people matter and the will to resist matters,” said Lai, “and Taiwan actually enjoys better odds to defend itself in the face of invasion. If Ukraine can do it, then Taiwanese people can do it as well.”

Taiwan has been building its military power in recent years as China’s own military prowess has risen substantially. In the wake of the invasion of Ukraine, Tsai called for a further strengthening of the island’s defenses.

Experts also said the war underscores Taiwan’s need to ready its entire society for a potential conflict. “Taiwan should draw the lesson that it should have a strong reserve force and a territorial defense plan that includes arming civilians,” said Bonnie Glaser, the director of the Asia program at the German Marshall Fund. Journalist Hilton Yip wrote in Foreign Policy that the conflict has also led to growing calls for Taiwan to improve its current four-month mandatory conscription system.

2. Time to ease tensions with China

Some ordinary Taiwanese citizens draw a different lesson: Putin’s invasion means that Taiwan must mend relations with the mainland to ensure that tensions never escalate to actual war.

While survey data shows that very few Taiwanese people want to reunite with the mainland now, the majority supports maintaining the status quo and only a small minority wants to push for immediate full independence. So that means that the island, by and large, doesn’t want to aggravate Beijing.

Among the older generation, some remember past conflict and wish to avoid it at all costs. Tu Dong-siang, a 58-year-old woman, told the New York Times she grew up on Matsu, Taiwanese islands that were frequently shelled by mainland troops in the 1970s. “We know how horrific war can be,” she said. “That’s why I think for Ukraine, and for Taiwan, being able to live is the most important.”

From this perspective, the lesson of the Ukraine war is simple: Tsai must make it her top priority to ease tensions with Beijing.

3. “Ambiguity” may not be an effective deterrent

Until December, when the U.S. stated categorically that it wouldn’t send troops to help Ukraine in the event of a Russian invasion, the U.S. position on troop deployment was unclear — an ambiguity seemingly intended to dissuade Russia from going to war. The U.S. has employed a similar approach of “strategic ambiguity” vis-à-vis Taiwan for decades, purposefully remaining unclear as to what the U.S. military would do in the event of a Chinese invasion of the island.

The U.S. has stuck with this “strategic ambiguity” policy as a balancing act, given its support for Taiwan’s democracy and the importance of the U.S.-China relationship. But for some in Taiwan, the Ukraine war casts doubt on the strategy.

“That actually tells us that the so-called strategic ambiguity, in terms of deterring aggressors, the value isn’t really that much,” said Lai. “If it failed to deter or dissuade the Russians from invading Ukraine, how much effectiveness will it have to dissuade or deter the possible Chinese aggression against Taiwan?”

Some prominent voices have said the lesson learned from Ukraine is that the U.S. needs a new Taiwan strategy. Japan’s former prime minister Shinzo Abe said in a recent TV interview: “It is time to abandon this ambiguity strategy. The people of Taiwan share our universal values, so I think the U.S. should firmly abandon its ambiguity.”

Other experts warn that this would only escalate tensions with China. “For China, that could be a casus belli, you know, that could be a red line if the United States suddenly unambiguously commits to Taiwan’s defense or even goes further and tries to upgrade Taiwan’s diplomatic status,” said Michael Beckley, an associate professor of political science at Tufts University. “So I just think that would be foolish.”

4. The U.S. military may not come to the rescue

While the U.S. had no treaty or other obligation to intervene in Ukraine, the Taiwan Relations Act, signed into law in 1979, binds the U.S. to at least help Taiwan defend itself.

“Even though the United States and Taiwan aren’t allies and the United States doesn’t technically recognize Taiwan as a country, I think the defense partnership between the United States and Taiwan is much, much stronger,” said Beckley. “It has deeper historical roots than anything the United States has with Ukraine.”

Heath agreed: “There is a much higher likelihood that the U.S. military would intervene in a conflict between China and Taiwan.”

Still, when it comes to the U.S. commitment, the invasion of Ukraine worries many in Taiwan.

When President Joe Biden explained why the U.S. would not send troops to Ukraine, he said, “That’s a world war, when Americans and Russia start shooting at one another.” It’s a statement that could easily apply to a U.S. conflict with China as well. Chinese nationalists on the mainland have made a similar point. “The performance of the U.S. in Ukraine should remind ‘Taiwan independence’ advocates: You cannot rely on Washington,” an article in the state paper Global Times stated.

5. Good news: The U.S. and its allies are likely to help in other ways

Despite NATO’s decision not to intervene militarily in Ukraine, Taiwanese may be heartened by the range and scope of support for Ukraine — from weapons shipments to punishing sanctions against Russia. For President Xi Jinping, that show of unity is a potential problem.

“For China, it’s very concerning, because it seems like the crisis is sort of rallying the United States and its allies and causing them to band together,” said Beckley. “It kind of lays down that DNA for a future crisis.”

At the U.N. General Assembly, only five countries voted against condemning Russia. China abstained — refusing to join the condemnation. Having tried to elevate its standing in multilateral institutions in recent years, China will see that “there’s a real danger of isolation,” said Yun Sun, co-director of the East Asia program at the Stimson Center. More important, the sweeping economic response has already had a significant impact on the Russian economy, as Grid’s Matthew Zeitlin explained. Chinese leaders will worry about a similar response should they attack Taiwan.

“One lesson the U.S. can take from the Russian experience is the power of global finance,” said Heath. “The United States and its rich industrialized allies retain a powerful grip on international finance, and this remains a potent weapon to punish offending countries.”

However, it’s worth noting that it would be harder for the U.S. and allies to impose punishing sanctions against China; unlike the Russian economy, Chinese trade, finance and business are deeply intertwined with the global economy. “That would have severe blowback on us too,” said Easton.

Will Ukraine change China’s plans?

Almost universally, military experts expected the Russian army to secure a swift victory against Ukraine. Russia’s failures to dominate Ukrainian airspace, adequately supply its forces or capture key cities have been early surprises in the war. So have the casualty counts; Western officials estimate that Russia has lost thousands of troops already.

No doubt China’s military and political leaders are taking note.

Thomas Shugart, an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, said the Chinese military is probably already closely studying the Ukraine war: “I’d be very surprised if there aren’t Chinese military observers, at least at the headquarters level and their attaches, observing very closely what’s happening at the tactical level with the war in Ukraine and taking their own very detailed lessons learned.”

One immediate concern in Taiwan: that the Chinese military will draw the conclusion that the time for action is now. According to a poll conducted by the Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation in mid-February, more than a quarter of Taiwanese surveyed thought it was likely China would take the opportunity of the Russian invasion — and the West’s distraction — to attack.

However, several experts said it was unlikely China would make that decision. “I think China likely has concluded that the invasion was a mistake,” said Heath. “The war is already proving unaffordable to Russia, and prospects for victory look doubtful. Russia’s economy is crippled, and domestic opposition is rising. There is little in the Ukraine invasion to encourage China to attack Taiwan.”

The U.S. sent a high-level delegation of former military and security officials to Taiwan last week, bringing a message of support amid the Russian assault. Mike Mullen, a former chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Tsai, “I do hope by being here with you, we can reassure you and your people, as well as our allies and partners in the region, that the United States stands firm behind its commitments.”

Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at China’s Renmin University, said, “The Biden administration is, just in the heyday of Russia’s war in Europe, assuring Taiwan and doubtful opinion at home and beyond that it has both capability and will to intervene vigorously in two major theaters simultaneously, with the Indo-Pacific still kept as its strategic priority.” He added, “This is also intended, I believe, to send a message of deterrence to China, which certainly takes it into account.”


Source : GRID

How Will COVID End? Experts Look to Past Epidemics for Clues

Mike Stobbe wrote . . . . . . . . .

Two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, most of the world has seen a dramatic improvement in infections, hospitalizations and death rates in recent weeks, signaling the crisis appears to be winding down. But how will it end? Past epidemics may provide clues.

The ends of epidemics are not as thoroughly researched as their beginnings. But there are recurring themes that could offer lessons for the months ahead, said Erica Charters of the University of Oxford, who studies the issue.

“One thing we have learned is it’s a long, drawn-out process” that includes different types of endings that may not all occur at the same time, she said. That includes a “medical end,” when disease recedes, the “political end,” when government prevention measures cease, and the “social end,” when people move on.

The COVID-19 global pandemic has waxed and waned differently in different parts of the world. But in the United States, at least, there is reason to believe the end is near.

About 65% of Americans are fully vaccinated, and about 29% are both vaccinated and boosted. Cases have been falling for nearly two months, with the U.S. daily average dropping about 40% in the last week alone. Hospitalizations also have plummeted, down nearly 30%. Mask mandates are vanishing — even federal health officials have stopped wearing them — and President Joe Biden has said it’s time for people to return to offices and many aspects of pre-pandemic life.

But this pandemic has been full of surprises, lasting more than two years and causing nearly 1 million deaths in the U.S. and more than 6 million around the world. Its severity has been surprising, in part because many people drew the wrong lesson from a 2009-2010 flu pandemic that turned out to be nowhere as deadly as initially feared.

“We got all worried but then nothing happened (in 2009), and I think that was what the expectation was” when COVID-19 first emerged, said Kristin Heitman, a Maryland-based researcher who collaborated with Charters.

That said, some experts offered takeaways from past epidemics that may inform how the end of the COVID-19 pandemic may play out.

FLU

Before COVID-19, influenza was considered the most deadly pandemic agent. A 1918-1919 flu pandemic killed 50 million people around the world, including 675,000 in the U.S., historians estimate. Another flu pandemic in 1957-1958 killed an estimated 116,000 Americans, and another in 1968 killed 100,000 more.

A new flu in 2009 caused another pandemic, but one that turned out not to be particularly dangerous to the elderly — the group that tends to die the most from flu and its complications. Ultimately, fewer than 13,000 U.S. deaths were attributed to that pandemic.

The World Health Organization in August 2010 declared the flu had moved into a post-pandemic period, with cases and outbreaks moving into customary seasonal patterns.

In each case, the pandemics waned as time passed and the general population built immunity. They became the seasonal flu of subsequent years. That kind of pattern is probably what will happen with the coronavirus, too, experts say.

“It becomes normal,” said Matthew Ferrari, director of Penn State’s Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics. “There’s a regular, undulating pattern when there’s a time of year when there’s more cases, a time of year when there’s less cases. Something that’s going to look a lot like seasonal flu or the common cold.”

HIV

In 1981, U.S. health officials reported a cluster of cases of cancerous lesions and pneumonia in previously healthy gay men in California and New York. More and more cases began to appear, and by the next year officials were calling the disease AIDS, for acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

Researchers later determined it was caused by HIV — human immunodeficiency virus — which weakens a person’s immune system by destroying cells that fight disease and infection. For years, AIDS was considered a terrifying death sentence, and in 1994 it became the leading cause of death for Americans ages 25 to 44.

But treatments that became available in the 1990s turned it into a manageable chronic condition for most Americans. Attention shifted to Africa and other parts of the world, where it was not controlled and is still considered an ongoing emergency.

Pandemics don’t end with a disease ebbing uniformly across the globe, Charters said. “How a pandemic ends is generally by becoming multiple (regional) epidemics,” she said.

ZIKA

In 2015, Brazil suffered an outbreak of infections from Zika virus, spread by mosquitoes that tended to cause only mild illness in most adults and children. But it became a terror as it emerged that infection during pregnancy could cause a birth defect that affected brain development, causing babies to be born with unusually small heads.

By late that year, mosquitoes were spreading it in other Latin American countries, too. In 2016, the WHO declared it an international public health emergency, and a U.S. impact became clear. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention received reports of 224 cases of Zika transmission by mosquitoes in the continental United States and more than 36,000 in U.S. territories — the vast majority in Puerto Rico.

But the counts fell dramatically in 2017 and virtually disappeared shortly after, at least in the U.S. Experts believe the epidemic died as people developed immunity. “It just sort of burned out” and the pressure for making a Zika vaccine available in the U.S. ebbed, said Dr. Denise Jamieson, a former CDC official who was a key leader in the agency’s responses to Zika.

It’s possible Zika will be a dormant problem for years but outbreaks could occur again if the virus mutates or if larger numbers of young people come along without immunity. With most epidemics, “there’s never a hard end,” said Jamieson, who is now chair of gynecology and obstetrics at Emory University’s medical school.

COVID-19

The Geneva-based WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, 2020, and it will decide when enough countries have seen a sufficient decline in cases — or, at least, in hospitalizations and deaths — to say the international health emergency is over.

The WHO has not yet announced target thresholds. But officials this week responded to questions about the possible end of the pandemic by noting how much more needs to be accomplished before the world can turn the page.

COVID-19 cases are waning in the U.S., and dropped globally in the last week by 5%. But cases are rising in some places, including the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Hong Kong.

People in many countries need vaccines and medications, said Dr. Carissa Etienne, director of the Pan American Health Organization, which is part of the WHO.

In Latin America and the Caribbean alone, more than 248 million people have not yet had their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, Etienne said during a press briefing with reporters. Countries with low vaccination rates likely will see future increases in illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths, she said.

“We are not yet out of this pandemic,” said Dr. Ciro Ugarte, PAHO’s director of health emergencies. “We still need to approach this pandemic with a lot of caution.”


Source : AP