TikTok Caught Red-handed, 250 Million New Covid Cases, PRC-Russia Naval Drills, Growing Russia-China Energy Trade
News Brief (12/24)
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TikTok Caught Red-Handed
ByteDance finds employees obtained TikTok user data of two journalists - Reuters
ByteDance employees accessed the data as part of an unsuccessful effort to investigate leaks of company information earlier this year, and were aiming to identify potential connections between two journalists, a former BuzzFeed reporter and a Financial Times reporter, and company employees, the email from ByteDance general counsel Erich Andersen said.
The employees looked at IP addresses of journalists attempting to learn if they were in the same location as employees suspected of leaking confidential information.
The disclosure, reported earlier by the New York Times, could add to pressure TikTok is facing in Washington from lawmakers and the Biden administration over security concerns about U.S. user data.
A person briefed on the matter said four ByteDance employees who were involved in the incident were fired, including two in China and two in the United States. Company officials said they were taking additional steps to protect user data.
TikTok Spied on Forbes Journalists - Forbes
According to materials reviewed by Forbes, ByteDance tracked multiple Forbes journalists as part of this covert surveillance campaign, which was designed to unearth the source of leaks inside the company following a drumbeat of stories exposing the company’s ongoing links to China. As a result of the investigation into the surveillance tactics, ByteDance fired Chris Lepitak, its chief internal auditor who led the team responsible for them. The China-based executive Song Ye, who Lepitak reported to and who reports directly to ByteDance CEO Rubo Liang, resigned.
“I was deeply disappointed when I was notified of the situation… and I’m sure you feel the same,” Liang wrote in an internal email shared with Forbes. “The public trust that we have spent huge efforts building is going to be significantly undermined by the misconduct of a few individuals… I believe this situation will serve as a lesson to us all.”
Forbes first reported the surveillance tactics, which were overseen by a China-based team at ByteDance, in October. Asked for comment on that story, ByteDance and TikTok did not deny the surveillance, but took to Twitter after the story was published to say that “TikTok has never been used to ‘target’ any members of the U.S. government, activists, public figures or journalists,” and that “TikTok could not monitor U.S. users in the way the article suggested.” In the internal email, Liang acknowledged that TikTok had been used in exactly this way, as Forbes had reported.
Gallagher Statement on Report that ByteDance Employes Spied on Journalists - Rep. Mike Gallagher
“TikTok has repeatedly told Congress and the American public that it does not share US user data with its Chinese owner ByteDance and specifically claimed it has never targeted individual Americans. But reports out just today reveal that this was a lie and that ByteDance employees accessed the location data of US journalists who wrote critical stories about TikTok. This is egregious and another reason why the time has come to pass my bipartisan bill to ban this CCP-controlled spyware from the US.”
VERMILION: This is evidence that ByteDance lied to the US government about US data access. ByteDance released this information during a media flurry on other topics, but Congress is catching on and this will likely be part of congressional discussions in the new year. We will cover this in depth in the TikTok article coming soon.
250 Million New Covid Cases
VERMILION: Covid continues to spiral out of control in China. Earlier this week, China’s National Health Commission announced that as many as 248 million people have likely contracted Covid since December 1st and this number increased by 37 million cases in a single day last week. This indicates that the CCP has opted for a “rip the bandaid off” recovery and expects that this Covid wave will pass quickly with minimal deaths. It is clear that restarting the economy remains their top concern.
China Estimates Covid Surge is infecting 37 Million People a Day - Bloomberg
Nearly 37 million people in China may have been infected with Covid-19 on a single day this week, according to estimates from the government’s top health authority, making the country’s outbreak by far the world’s largest.
As many as 248 million people, or nearly 18% of the population, likely contracted the virus in the first 20 days of December, according to minutes from an internal meeting of China’s National Health Commission held on Wednesday, confirmed with people involved in the discussions. If accurate, the infection rate would dwarf the previous daily record of about 4 million, set in January 2022.
Beijing’s swift dismantling of Covid Zero restrictions has led to the unfettered spread of the highly contagious omicron variants in a population with low levels of natural immunity. More than half the residents of Sichuan province, in China’s southwest, and the capital Beijing have been infected, according to the agency’s estimates.
VERMILION: It is unclear how they determined these numbers as most PCR testing in China is shut down. Interestingly enough, the government is still saying that there are almost zero deaths.
Shanghai hospital warns of tragic battle as Covid spreads - Reuters
China's official death count since the pandemic began three years ago stands at 5,241 - a fraction of what most other countries faced - but now looks bound to rise sharply.
China reported no new COVID deaths for a second consecutive day for Wednesday, even as funeral parlour workers say demand for their services has increased sharply over the past week.
Authorities - who have narrowed the criteria for COVID deaths, prompting criticism from many disease experts - confirmed 389,306 cases with symptoms.
The Shanghai Deji Hospital, posting on its WeChat account late on Wednesday, estimated there were about 5.43 million positives in the city and that 12.5 million in China's main commercial hub will get infected by the end of the year.
"This year's Christmas Eve, New Year's Day, and the Lunar New Year are destined to be unsafe," said the private hospital, which employs some 400 staff.
"In this tragic battle, the entire Greater Shanghai will fall, and we will infect all the staff of the hospital! We will infect the whole family! Our patients will all be infected! We have no choice, and we cannot escape."
The post was no longer available on WeChat by Thursday afternoon. A person who answered the hospital's main telephone line said they could not immediately comment on the article.
China narrows criteria for Covid-19 deaths included in official count - PBS
ZHUOZHOU, China (AP) — China only counts deaths from pneumonia or respiratory failure in its official COVID-19 death toll, a Chinese health official said, a narrow definition that limits the number of deaths being reported as the virus surges following the easing of pandemic-related restrictions.
Deaths that occur in patients with pre-existing illnesses are not counted as COVID-19 deaths, said Wang Guiqiang, the head of infectious disease at Peking University’s No. 1 Hospital.
On Wednesday, China reported no new COVID-19 deaths and subtracted one death from its overall toll, lowering it to 5,241, according to a daily tally issued by the National Health Commission, which did not explain the decrease.
China Cities, Factories Tell People with Covid to Go Back to Work - Bloomberg
“Chinese workers with mild Covid are being told to go back to work in some cities, evidence of a complete reversal in the way the virus is being viewed as officials seek to limit the economic impact of an explosion in cases as the country reopens.”
VERMILION: China is balancing economic growth goals against covid cases. Local business leaders and government officials likely will continue to pressure workers to return to work so that they can hit local growth targets unless new guidance is issued by CCP leadership. China’s top leadership even stated that it will “focus on boosting the economy next year” as economic growth remains a top concern.
PRC-Russia Naval Drills
9 Chinese warships spotted in East China Sea ahead of week-long joint drills with Russia - SCMP
“China and Russia to hold joint naval exercises in the East China Sea Dec 21-27, according to Russian media reports.
A detachment of Russia’s Pacific Fleet had left the far eastern port of Vladivostok for the “Maritime Cooperation 2022” exercise with China from December 21 to 27, Sputnik News quoted the Ministry of Defence in Moscow as saying on Monday.
The drills were to strengthen mutual naval cooperation as well as maintain peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region, a ministry statement said.
“The Russian fleet at the exercise will be represented by [the] Pacific Fleet flagship, the missile cruiser Varyag, the frigate Marshal Shaposhnikov, and [two] corvettes,” the ministry said.
At least nine Chinese navy warships had earlier entered the western Pacific through various routes, according to the Japanese Defence Ministry. These included the aircraft carrier Liaoning and Type 055 guided-missile destroyer Lhasa, Tokyo said in statements over the weekend.
VERMILION: This exercise shows the deepening military relationship between the PRC and Russia. It is important to note that the “Maritime Cooperation 2021” included anti-submarine drills. If this week’s exercise includes these drills as well, it would show an effort to improve denial operations in the Pacific by the PRC.
Russia, China to hold joint naval drills - AP
The Russian Defense Ministry said the Varyag missile cruiser, the Marshal Shaposhnikov destroyer and two corvettes of Russia’s Pacific Fleet would take part in maneuvers in the East China Sea starting Wednesday.
The ministry said the Chinese navy planned to deploy several surface warships and a submarine for the exercise. Russian and Chinese aircraft will also take part in the drills, according to the ministry.
Moscow and Beijing have displayed their growing military cooperation in recent months.
Growing Russia-China Energy Trade
Putin overseas launch of Siberian gas field feeding pipeline to China - Reuters
“Russian President Vladimir Putin presided over the launch of a major new Siberian gas field on Wednesday to help drive a planned surge in supply to China.
The Kovykta gas field will feed into the Power of Siberia pipeline carrying Russian gas to China. With recoverable reserves of 1.8 trillion cubic metres, it is the largest in eastern Russia.
The launch is part of Russia's strategy to shift gas exports to the east as the European Union cuts reliance on Russian energy in response to the war in Ukraine.”
VERMILION: Russia-China trade is growing by leaps and bounds across categories including minerals, food, and energy, but the basis of the trade relationship is now energy. Russia is Beijing's No. 3 gas supplier. Russia also plans to construct another major pipeline, the Power of Siberia 2, via Mongolia with a view to selling an additional 50 bcm of gas per year.
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