Even as the H7N9 avian flu continues to spread within China, a new flu strain has already claimed one life. The Los Angeles Times reports that a new H10N8 avian flu infected at least two people last month, and one of the patients (an elderly woman) did not survive. Though there have only been two reported infections so far, a Chinese study on the virus (published in The Lancet medical journal) warned of H10N8’s “pandemic potential.” The scientists are concerned that H10N8 could adapt to be spread directly between humans. However, there’s still no evidence to suggest either of these strains can currently be transmitted from person to person — patients are presumed to have caught the virus from contact with infected poultry. As a result, the Chinese government has culled chickens and banned the live poultry trade in an attempt to stop the spread of avian influenza.
But the poultry industry is fighting back, as South China Morning Post reports. Industry representatives has asked the local authorities to “stop reporting individual cases” and even suggested dropping the word “avian” or “bird” and simply referring to the outbreak as the “flu.” With billions of dollars at stake, the industry will likely exert more and more pressure to stop its losses. So far, though, the Chinese government has continued its detailed reporting on new individual cases on H7N9, a sharp (and welcome) contrast from the obfuscation that marked the SARS outbreak of 2003.
In other news, Senator Max Baucus has officially been confirmed as U.S. Ambassador to China, thanks to a 96-0 Senate vote. My colleague Zachary has more. Baucus had indicated that he will focus on economic relations, including pursuing a bilateral investment treaty. Yet such a focus seems increasingly obsolete, as Zach notes: “The view that growing trade with China would dampen geopolitical tensions was widely held in Washington for decades, but has largely fallen out of favor in recent years.” The U.S.-China relationship has moved far beyond the days when economic ties were the end-all, be-all.
However, according to Politico’s report, Baucus’ fellow senators seemed satisfied with his wish to focus on trade issues. “I can think of few more able or more qualified,” Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said. “[Baucus] is an expert on trade issues and understands what we face in the coming years in terms of China becoming the world’s largest economy, and that all of us need to embrace that fact.”
Interestingly, Politico notes that Baucus’ departure for Beijing could jeopardize the Obama administration’s signature economic initiative in the Asia-Pacific, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The ambitious trade pact faces an uphill battle in U.S. Congress, which to date has not passed the necessary “trade promotion authority” bill. Baucus had introduced a version of such a bill in January, but as a new Finance Committee chairman takes over, the legislation is likely to be reworked. This could delay the process by months.
Meanwhile, Wall Street Journal’s China Real Time Report writes on the major weather delays affecting millions as China’s New Year holiday draws to a close. Heavy snow in central and eastern China has caused travel delays. Anger over the delays reportedly caused a riot at Xinzheng International Airport in Henan province, when over 2,000 passengers learned their flights had been cancelled. China Real Time Report notes that this year, a record number of Chinese (7.69 million) chose to travel by plane for the Spring Festival. Flights weren’t the only mode of transportation affected, with bus routes and trains also experiencing delays.
Over at Tea Leaf Nation, David Wertime takes a look at a recent report by the U.S. National Science Board (NSB). The NSB report noted that China’s high-tech manufacturing (24 percent of the world’s total) is drawing close to the United States’ (27 percent), and warned that China could overtake the U.S. as the center of the tech world. China’s commitment to funding research and development as well as the popularity of degree programs in engineering (31 percent of China’s undergraduates major in engineering) has positioned China well to become the world’s top innovator in the future.
The Economist explored the China Executive Leadership Academy Pudong’s media training class for officials. The class seeks to teach Party officials how to deal with journalists, as well as the public at large. “In the past we could avoid the press…we could remain silent, but now we can no longer avoid it,” one lecturer told the class. Tips included learning useful phrases for foreign audiences (“We attach great importance to protection of intellectual property rights and take it as a national strategy”), de-politicizing language during a crisis, and avoiding boasts about how well the government is performing (“That will only invite ridicule,” a teacher admonished the class).