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Satchu's Rich Wrap-Up
Tuesday 29th of September 2020

China’s Global Lockdown Propaganda Campaign @tabletmag @MichaelPSenger
Law & Politics

In the words of Simon Leys, paraphrasing the great sinologist László Ladány, even the most mendacious propaganda must necessarily entertain some relation to truth. In Wuhan in late December, Dr. Li Wenliang warned his friends that a new SARS-like illness had begun spreading rapidly. Li’s message inadvertently went viral on Chinese social media, causing widespread panic and anger at the Chinese Communist Party. On Jan. 7, Xi Jinping informed his inner circle that the situation in Wuhan would require their personal supervision.

Two weeks later, Xi personally authorized the lockdown of Hubei province based on his philosophy of fangkong, the same hybrid of health and security policy that inspired the reeducation and “quarantine” of over 1 million Uighur Muslims “infected with extremism” in Xinjiang. The World Health Organization’s representative in China noted that “trying to contain a city of 11 million people is new to science … The lockdown of 11 million people is unprecedented in public health history, so it is certainly not a recommendation the WHO has made.”

The CCP confined 57 million Hubei residents to their homes. At the time, human rights observers expressed concerns. As one expert told The New York Times, “the shutdown would almost certainly lead to human rights violations and would be patently unconstitutional in the United States.”

Regardless, on Jan. 29, WHO Director Tedros Adhanom said he was “very impressed and encouraged by the president [Xi Jinping]’s detailed knowledge of the outbreak” and the next day praised China for “setting a new standard for outbreak response.” Yet only six days in, the lockdown—“unprecedented in public health history”—had produced no results, so Tedros was praising human rights abuses with nothing to show for them.

International COVID-19 hysteria began around Jan. 23, when “leaked” videos from Wuhan began flooding international social media sites including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube—all of which are blocked in China—allegedly showing the horrors of Wuhan’s epidemic and the seriousness of its lockdown. Viral videos claimed to show residents spontaneously collapsing in the streets in scenes likened to the movie Zombieland and the show The Walking Dead. One video purportedly showed a SWAT team catching a man with a butterfly net for removing his mask. But in hindsight, this crisis theater is somewhat comical; in the infamous video, the “spontaneously collapsing” man extends his arms to catch himself.

Official Chinese accounts widely shared an image of a hospital wing supposedly constructed in one day, but which actually showed an apartment 600 miles away. Images of Li Wenliang on a ventilator, sometimes holding his identification card, were released and widely displayed by top news outlets around the world

In a viral tweet on Jan. 25, an epidemiologist with little background in infectious disease wrote, “HOLY MOTHER OF GOD, the new coronavirus is a 3.8!!! How bad is that reproductive R0 value? It is thermonuclear pandemic level bad.” This was the first of a monthslong series of dubious, widely shared tweets by the previously unknown Eric Feigl-Ding, prompting a prominent Harvard colleague to denounce him as a “charlatan.”

And then—success! Beginning in February, the CCP reported an exponential decline in coronavirus cases, until March 19 when they announced their lockdown had eliminated domestic cases entirely.

In its Feb. 24 report, the WHO waxed rhapsodic about China’s triumph. “China’s uncompromising and rigorous use of non-pharmaceutical measures to contain transmission of the COVID-19 virus in multiple settings provides vital lessons for the global response” (emphasis added). Scientists quickly began drafting plans in many languages to imitate China’s lockdowns. The New York Times immediately cited WHO’s report, forming a pro-lockdown stance it has clung to for months with surprisingly little introspection: “China ‘took one of the most ancient strategies and rolled out one of the most ambitious, agile and aggressive disease-containment efforts in history.’”

On Feb. 26, WHO’s Bruce Aylward of Canada—who later disconnected a live interview when asked to acknowledge Taiwan—put it bluntly: “Copy China’s response to COVID-19.” In April, Canada’s parliament summoned Aylward for questioning, but the WHO has forbidden him from testifying.

Within China, the CCP has long paid hundreds of thousands of social media propagandists and also pays for posts on an a la carte basis, totaling hundreds of millions of propaganda comments each year. More recently, these activities have gone global and escalated dramatically during the coronavirus pandemic. Social media companies have proven somewhat unserious about the gravity of the problem. When the State Department provided a sample of 250,000 accounts likely involved in coronavirus disinformation, Twitter refused to take action. These activities affect countries with little say in social media governance; a recent study found thousands of inauthentic accounts still promoting Serbian-Chinese friendship after Twitter deleted thousands of others. A former Facebook employee wrote “I have blood on my hands” due to the company’s routinely discounting malicious political activity despite its “disproportionate impact.”

Italy was simultaneously bombarded with Chinese disinformation. From March 11 to 23, roughly 46% of tweets with the hashtag #forzaCinaeItalia (Go China, go Italy) and 37% of those with the hashtag #grazieCina (thank you China) came from bots.

While analysts typically focus on finding as many inauthentic accounts as possible, the purpose of the following discussion is different—using simple investigatory methods to evince the intent behind Beijing’s disinformation, which appears to be far more insidious than analysts have recognized. Social media and analytics companies generally only detect obvious automated activity, while fake, personally managed accounts can be created with ease. This works out well for the CCP, which has always preferred the human touch.

On March 12, Twitter user @manisha_kataki posted a video showing Chinese workers disinfecting streets, apparently admiring China’s strategy: “At this rate, China will be back in action very soon, may be much faster than the world expects.” As The New York Times’ Paul Mozur noted, this tweet was not shocking, funny, or newsworthy, yet it was shared hundreds of thousands of times. This caught the attention of Israeli company Next Dim, which flagged the activity as likely state-sponsored.

The collages shown here contain a tiny sample of the thousands of suspicious quote-tweets of @manisha_kataki’s video using many languages and dialects to complain in nearly identical terms about being told to “wash their hands” and denigrating other governments in contrast to China’s full lockdowns. Other suspicious quote-tweets of @manisha_kataki’s video explicitly implore leaders to copy China and lock down cities and countries. Many of these same accounts also frequently discuss racial divisions. Later in 2020, they show strong support for Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests, especially those surrounding the death of George Floyd. Racial justice is an issue of real concern to many citizens, both in America and throughout the world. But knowing that the CCP supported these protests, it’s worth pondering the likelihood that the frugal Xi would not be spending billions of dollars per year on foreign propaganda—and stepping up those activities—if he weren’t seeing results.

Some of these accounts are surely legitimate, but taken together they demonstrate conspicuous similarity that strongly suggests scripted, state-sponsored activity. Twitter responded to Mozur’s article by deleting 170,000 accounts, but at the time of this writing many of the suspect accounts are still active, and a search for hundreds of similar examples can be easily repeated with one click.

As more countries shut down, some suspicious online activity took a darker turn. When South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem famously refused to issue a statewide lockdown, suspicious accounts began filling her Twitter feed with abuse and graphic language to pressure her to do so. Upon closer examination, two of the accounts hurl similar abuse at governors thousands of miles apart.

This abuse of anti-lockdown governors continued for some time. When Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, the first governor to end his state’s lockdown, honored late Rep. John Lewis, his Twitter feed was stormed with conspicuous, vulgar language that often invoked his anti-lockdown stance.

Some CCP propagandists are identifiable by their advocacy for China’s policies and human rights abuses. The following user, @AmerLiberal, appears to be a model CCP propaganda account, showing strong support for China’s human rights abuses—including in Xinjiang and Hong Kong—and antipathy for China’s key rivals, India and the United States. The account strongly supports global lockdowns.

Though much of the CCP’s pro-lockdown influence was surreptitious, its overall stance in support of global lockdowns was explicit. In a video posted by China’s official spokesperson, a 7-year-old girl recites the importance of strict social distancing among children.

In March, Chinese state media began describing the strategy of “herd immunity”—allowing the coronavirus to spread among the young and healthy—as a violation of “human rights,” an Orwellian formulation given that lockdowns are essentially a blanket suspension of rights.

Sweden’s skepticism toward the CCP predates COVID-19. In January, Beijing threatened Swedish trade ties over an award given to Gui Congyou, a Swedish publisher detained in China. Sweden did not back down and later refused to follow China’s lockdown model, opting for a herd immunity strategy. Thus, Sweden became a prime target of a Chinese campaign portraying it as weak against the COVID threat. In the words of China’s state-run Global Times:

Chinese analysts and netizens doubt herd immunity and called it a violation of human rights, citing high mortality in the country compared to other Northern European countries. “So-called human rights, democracy, freedom are heading in the wrong direction in Sweden, and countries that are extremely irresponsible do not deserve to be China's friend …”

Initially, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also opted for herd immunity. But on March 13, suspicious accounts began storming his Twitter feed and likening his plan to genocide. This language almost never appears in Johnson’s feed before March 12, and several of the accounts were hardly active before then. Britain locked down on March 23.

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.@ReutersGraphics Global Tracker INFECTIONS WORLDWIDE

January 31st 2,129 

February 28th 2,120

March 31st 73,371

April 30th 82,677

May 31st 107,113

June 29th 157,940

July 31st 282,213

August 31st 269,185

September 24th 317,212

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Currency Markets at a Glance WSJ
World Currencies

Euro 1.1675

Dollar Index 94.259

Japan Yen 105.63

Swiss Franc 0.924445

Pound 1.2857

Aussie 0.70805

India Rupee 73.89

South Korea Won 1169.70

Brazil Real 5.6611000

Egypt Pound 15.759300

South Africa Rand 17.138900

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#Tourism made up 10% of global GDP in 2019 & was worth $9trln making the sector nearly 3 times larger than #agriculture. @LibrariumViews
Tourism, Travel & Transport

Due to #Covid19 crisis international tourist arrivals are projected to plunge by 60-80% in 2020 according to McKinsey. #Macro #GlobalEconomy #Risk

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8:41 PM · Sep 24, 2020 The direct bull case in $GOLD: If Gold can set a low at $1865 it would complete a clean bullish wedge pattern from the August high. @AdamMancini4 1882.

Resistance is $1935 and a break above would kick off a new leg higher. $1865 support must hold - otherwise the pullback continues to $1800 or $1760

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As US struggles, Africa’s COVID-19 response is praised @AP

At a lecture to peers this month, John Nkengasong showed images that once dogged Africa, with a magazine cover declaring it “The Hopeless Continent.” 
Then he quoted Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah: “It is clear that we must find an African solution to our problems, and that this can only be found in African unity.”
While the U.S. surpassed 200,000 COVID-19 deaths and the world approaches 1 million, Africa’s surge has been leveling off. Its 1.4 million confirmed cases are far from the horrors predicted. 

Antibody testing is expected to show many more infections, but most cases are asymptomatic. Just over 34,000 deaths are confirmed on the continent of 1.3 billion people.
Experts caution that data collection in many African countries is incomplete, and Nkengasong warned against complacency, saying a single case can spark a new surge.
“Africa is doing a lot of things right the rest of the world isn’t,” said Gayle Smith, a former administrator with the U.S. Agency for International Development. 

She’s watched in astonishment as Washington looks inward instead of leading the world. But Africa “is a great story and one that needs to be told.”

Supplies slowly improved, and African countries have conducted 13 million tests, enough to cover 1% of the continent’s population. But the ideal is 13 million tests per month, Nkengasong said.

“I look at Africa and I look at the U.S., and I’m more optimistic about Africa, to be honest, because of the leadership there and doing their best despite limited resources,” said Sema Sgaier, director of the Surgo Foundation, which produced a COVID-19 vulnerability index for each region. She spoke even as Africa’s cases were surging weeks ago.

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FILE - In this May 16, 2020, file photo, a billboard is installed on an apartment building encouraging people to wear face masks in Cape Town, South Africa, on the 51st day of a strict government lockdown in a bid to curb the spread of the coronavirus. @A

FILE - In this May 16, 2020, file photo, a billboard is installed on an apartment building encouraging people to wear face masks in Cape Town, South Africa, on the 51st day of a strict government lockdown in a bid to curb the spread of the coronavirus. The pandemic has fractured global relationships as governments act in the interest of their citizens, but John Nkengasong, Africa's top public health official, has helped to steer the continent's 54 countries into an alliance praised as responding better than some richer nations. (AP Photo/Nardus Engelbrecht, File)

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Fitch says the share of sub-Saharan African nations with interest-revenue ratios of >30% is higher than when HIPC write-offs happened. @PaulWallace123

It rates four SSA govts CCC, saying "default's a real possibility". Three - Angola, Gabon, Rep Congo - are #OPEC members. Mozambique's the other.

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US warns Kenya over shilling manipulation @BD_Africa
World Currencies

This pre-condition in the free trade deal (FTA) echoes past claims by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that Kenya’s currency was overvalued, which drew protests from the central bank governor, Patrick Njoroge.

“Ensure that Kenya avoids manipulating exchange rates in order to prevent effective balance of payments adjustment or to gain an unfair competitive advantage,” says the US in a raft of conditions set in the ongoing FTA negotiations between Nairobi and Washington.

Kenya and the US on July 8 formally launched negotiations for a bilateral trade pact that the two countries hope could serve as a model for additional agreements across the African continent.

Kenya is keen to do a deal before the expiry of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which allows sub-Saharan African countries to export thousands of products to the US without tariffs or quotas until 2025.

But the US has expressed fears that support offered to the shilling could make the local currency appear stronger, and make its goods uncompetitive when compared to Kenya’s.


The Irony here is that normally the US complains about Countries maintaining an artificially weak currency not a strong one. 

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by Aly Khan Satchu (www.rich.co.ke)
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September 2020

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