FirstFT: China blames local officials for Covid outbreaks

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China’s health authorities yesterday blamed local governments for their handling of coronavirus outbreaks as Beijing distanced itself from the crisis after unprecedented protests against President Xi Jinping and his zero-Covid policy.

The National Health Commission reaffirmed Beijing’s commitment to the zero-Covid measures and pledged to boost vaccination rates among the elderly, a day after police and security forces appeared to have stamped out demonstrations across at least 18 cities.

Without acknowledging the protests directly, Chinese officials argued that public complaints centred on the implementation of China’s strict prevention and control measures — an area that is the responsibility of local governments — rather than Beijing’s zero-Covid policy itself. They said local officials should focus on minimising inconvenience to the public and pledged to increase central supervision.

“Some local governments take a one-size-fits-all approach, and take excessive policy steps that have neglected the demands of the public,” said commission spokesperson Mi Feng, adding lockdown extensions had at times been “reckless” and enforced far beyond necessary timeframes.

  • Zhengzhou Foxconn factory: Apple risks breaking a 14-quarter growth streak during the peak holiday period as zero-Covid backlash bites at its China assembly plant.

  • Market news: Investors are shifting into Chinese stocks on bets widespread protests against the country’s Covid-19 policies will prompt Xi to accelerate reopening of the world’s second-biggest economy.

What do you think will happen? Tell us in our poll below.

1. China set to expand nuclear arsenal, US says China has developed 400 nuclear warheads and is on course to expand its arsenal to 1,500 weapons by the middle of the next decade as its continues a sharp expansion of its nuclear forces, according to a Pentagon report. The Pentagon said Beijing was on track to have a stockpile of 1,500 nuclear weapons by 2035.

2. Jack Ma living in Tokyo since China’s tech crackdown The Alibaba founder has been living in central Tokyo for almost six months, amid Beijing’s continuing crackdown on the technology sector. Ma’s stay in Japan with his family has included stints in resorts and regular trips abroad, according to people with direct knowledge of his whereabouts.

3. US steps up pressure on European allies to harden China stance The US is trying to leverage its leadership on Ukraine to gain more support from Nato countries for its efforts to counter China in the Indo-Pacific.
According to people briefed on conversations, Washington has lobbied members of the transatlantic alliance to toughen up their language on China and to start working on concrete action to restrain Beijing.

4. BlockFi sues Sam Bankman-Fried over Robinhood shares Just hours after filing for bankruptcy, cryptocurrency lender BlockFi sued Sam Bankman-Fried to seize shares in Robinhood that the FTX founder allegedly pledged as collateral days before his exchange collapsed. BlockFi said it suffered “a severe liquidity crunch” triggered by the failure of FTX exchange.

5. Hong Kong challenges own court with appeal to block UK lawyer After the Chinese territory’s apex court rejected the government’s latest bid to bar pro-democracy tycoon Jimmy Lai from hiring Timothy Owen to defend him, the city’s leader said he had asked Beijing to step in to interpret a sweeping 2020 national security law for the first time.

The day ahead

Japanese court ruling on same-sex marriage A Tokyo court is expected to rule on constitutionality of same-sex marriage. Japan is the only G7 nation where same-sex marriage is not allowed. Earlier this month, Tokyo rolled out a partnership certificate programme for same-sex couples. (BBC)

India quarterly GDP figures Economists expect economic growth in India to have slowed to 6.2 per cent in the quarter from July-September when figures are released today, according to a Reuters poll. From April-June, India’s economy grew 13.5 per cent. (Reuters)

China purchasing managers’ index data November manufacturing and non-manufacturing PMI data is set to be released today. China’s manufacturing sector contracted at a faster than expected rate in October.

Eurozone inflation Economists polled by Reuters expect eurozone inflation to hit 10.4 per cent in November when the data are published today, a decline from 10.6 per cent for the previous month.

What else we’re reading

Eisai aims to silence critics over Alzheimer’s drug Just weeks ago, Haruo Naito, chief executive of Japan’s Eisai, was feeling vindicated after almost four decades of trying to develop an Alzheimer’s drug. But the news of a second death during trials threatens to overshadow what Naito had hoped could settle a debate among researchers about what causes the illness.

‘They grabbed whoever they could’ Russia’s mobilisation push has created the biggest labour shortage in Russia since 1993, according to a Gaidar Institute study this month. In the survey of business, most respondents said they would be unable to increase production to keep up with demand, while others said they expected production cuts and decline in output quality.

Russia’s shrinking population and ageing population - Population by age and sex (million) showing a much older population structure for Russia in 2022 compared with 1990

Can Europe keep the lights on? Ever since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, European governments have been worrying about how they will provide heat and power to their citizens this winter. Our latest interactive looks at how countries can avoid blackouts in the months to come.

The EV boom in a quiet Hungarian town In only a few years, Debrecen in the east of Hungary has become an unexpected hub of Europe’s new electric vehicle industry. By 2030, battery production alone in this town of 200,000 people will rival every European country other than Germany. But critics fear that it is becoming too dependent on China.

Money Clinic: The psychology of shopping addiction Brooke, 30, has thousands of dollars of credit card debt owing to a shopping obsession that leaves her mentally and financially exhausted. On the Money Clinic podcast, presenter Claer Barrett speaks to a financial therapist and addiction specialist on why people get addicted to shopping and what they can do to break the cycle.

Fashion

How do you dress festively without looking like a Christmas decoration? Stylist Anna Berkeley celebrates the outfits that will ensure elegance for the party season. Find inspiration for your next gathering here.

A woman wears a black dress with a festive feather trim
A feather trim can add a festive touch to a sombre dress © Robin Hudson

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