Happy Wednesday, and welcome back to Axios China. Today we've got leaked coronavirus intel, tariffs, quid pro quos, and more.
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios
In the past week or so, Americans have been inundated with intelligence reports and other information relating to the origin of the novel coronavirus. Yet these leaks seem at times to present conflicting information.
The big picture: The U.S. is bullish on the possibility that the coronavirus outbreak started with a lab accident in China. But U.S. allies say that's unlikely.
What's happening: In leaked reports and recent statements, U.S. officials have repeatedly emphasized the possibility that the epidemic resulted from accidental transmission in a Chinese lab, perhaps the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
But here's where it starts to get complicated:
The next day, however, President Trump seemed to contradict his own intelligence agencies by emphasizing the link once again.
But, but, but: U.S. allies who have had access to shared intelligence don't seem to agree with that assessment.
The Five Eyes dossier: A 15-page report prepared by governments of the Five Eyes, an intelligence-sharing partnership between the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the U.K., found:
Anonymous Western officials then told CNN it was "highly unlikely" the coronavirus spread via a lab accident, citing an intelligence report seen by the Five Eyes countries.
The bottom line: The U.S. position is increasingly at odds with what its intelligence-sharing partners are saying.
Concern about President Trump's tariffs on U.S. imports of Chinese goods hit its highest level on record in April, as the coronavirus pandemic caused more Americans to fear their impact on household finances, according to the latest survey from CivicScience, Axios' Dion Rabouin writes.
Where it stands: The tariffs remain a massive tax on American businesses and individuals at a time when Congress and the Federal Reserve are expending trillions of dollars to offset the negative economic shock of the virus.
Reality check: The tariffs have wiped out the lion's share of the average American households' savings from the 2017 tax cut, as Bloomberg noted in June.
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
A growing number of reports indicate Chinese officials pushed their counterparts in Europe to make positive statements about China in order to receive shipments of medical supplies to fight the novel coronavirus.
Why it matters: The revelations further taint Beijing's attempts to portray itself as a responsible and trustworthy leader in global public health.
Context: Over the past two months, numerous high-ranking government officials from countries fighting coronavirus outbreaks have offered seemingly effusive praise to China for its assistance.
What's happening: Officials in some countries are now saying there was pressure to praise Beijing.
Poland: In exchange for medical supplies, Chinese officials pressured Polish President Andrzej Duda to call Chinese President Xi Jinping to express gratitude.
Germany: German officials have been approached by Chinese counterparts trying to get them to make positive public statements about China’s coronavirus response and international assistance, according to German newspaper Die Welt Am Sonntag.
What they're saying: “What is most striking to me is the extent to which the Chinese government appears to be demanding public displays of gratitude from other countries; this is certainly not in the tradition of the best humanitarian relief efforts," Elizabeth Economy of the Council on Foreign Relations told the Times.
The bottom line: A quid pro quo for vital medical aid alienates global audiences who had at first been inclined to welcome Chinese Communist Party leadership in the fight against the coronavirus.
People holding up a Taiwan National Flag in Hong Kong, Oct. 10, 2019. Photo: Vernon Yuen/NurPhoto via Getty Images
World Health Organization legal counsel Steven Solomon said on May 4 that two WHO member nations have proposed the organization grant observer status to Taiwan.
Why it matters: China opposes the WHO granting recognition to Taiwan. The decision will likely be seen as a reflection of Beijing's influence within the organization.
What's happening: Taiwan's successful coronavirus response and its early warnings to the WHO have renewed international debate around its lack of official status in the organization.
Background: Taiwan had observer status in the WHO from 2009 to 2016, when Tsai Ing-wen, who favored more distant relations with China, was elected president of Taiwan.
What to watch: The debate over Taiwan's status may turn into a superpower showdown.
Just the facts: COVID-19: China medical supply chains and broader trade issues (Congressional Research Service)
Losing hearts and minds: ‘Not the world’s Number One’: Chinese social media piles on the U.S. (Politico)
Scientific model: The Chinese Academy of Sciences at 70 (Nature)
Screenshot: CCTV 9
Even tattoos can be off-limits in Chinese state media.
In recent years, censorship in China has become far more stringent, as the Chinese Communist Party has cracked down on not just political dissent but also the portrayal of vices and what they deem to be immoral behavior.