How airline ticket scalpers took over the Chinese travel market


By Serenitie Wang, CNN

When I made up my mind to travel outside of Hong Kong in early March, the city’s daily Covid-19 case count had just passed 50,000, with the highest fatality rate in the world.

But I was trying to go to Shanghai, my hometown, for the first time in more than two years.

I knew traveling from a Covid hotspot to an area with a rigorous zero-Covid policy was going to be tricky. I thought I was ready for all the hassles and hurdles to go back — countless Covid-19 tests, approved time off from work and mandatory hotel quarantines, not to mention a sizable cost.

Little did I know that the challenges were only beginning.

Third party pressures

In late February, rumors emerged that Shanghai was slashing the number of inbound flights from Hong Kong as well as capping the capacity at 50% per flight.

The policy had not been publicly announced, but the reaction was swift. When I checked airline ticket websites, I saw dates for flights in the near future turn gray one after another. In less than an hour, all available slots in the entire month of March were fully booked.

Panicking, I turned to a travel agent I knew. The next day, she called and offered me an option to fly on March 8 to Shanghai with Hong Kong Airlines.

“Do you want it or not? Make a decision now, or it’ll go away,” the agent pressured me.

I wasn’t comfortable making the decision under pressure. But seeing the tickets disappearing at a speed I had never seen, I decided to go for it.

Three days before departure, my flight got canceled. The airline offered no official explanation, but a popular theory was floated that it was the result of Shanghai’s further control on inbound flights from Hong Kong as the city was reporting Covid-19 outbreaks. I frantically called airlines and searched for more options, only to find that everything was sold out.

I felt trapped in an endless loop.

Scalpers and scams

Next, I turned to another ticketing agent: Ms. Yu, who I found on social media after seeing the recent booking she’d scored for someone else.

“Ms. Yu” doesn’t have a website. She just runs her business via WeChat, a popular social messaging app in China.

Air ticketing agents in China used to sell deeply discounted tickets from airlines. But as China essentially seals itself off from the outside world and cuts down on the number of incoming travelers, international flights have dwindled to a miniscule 2% of the pre-pandemic level, said the state aviation administration.

However, demand from Chinese people who study and work overseas continues to grow. And the extremely short supply of flights to China has turned these agents into scalpers who resell coveted tickets at exorbitant prices.

I asked the agent how much of a “premium” I would need to pay for a ticket within the month.

“To be honest, it’s really expensive these days. I feel like it’s beyond the budget of many people,” she replied. “I usually warn my customers right off their inquiry.”

It’s not just about money, either. The tickets are essentially sold on public ticketing platforms and agents aren’t given preference. What they can do, however, is keep a close eye on the reservation system and quickly scoop up any remaining tickets.

The agent said there are bots that continuously search for requested flights and seize the available tickets in no time, but the system still needs considerable manual work.

Yu said she had to work overnight to monitor the ticketing system, because the airlines tended to “drop some bookings late at night.”

For the date I planned to travel, she asked for 11,000 RMB (around $1,650) for a new booking. It was a ridiculous amount for the 2.5-hour route. The full prices pre-pandemic ranged from $300-450 per trip.

Feeling like I had no other choice, I agreed on the price and paid a $450 deposit, which Yu said would return to me if she couldn’t secure a booking within 24 hours.

As the air tickets and Covid-19 test results must work in tandem, she suggested I line up one Covid-19 test per day for the entire week in case she found any last-minute seats I could book, to ensure I’d have time to get tested before my flight, as per the rules.

Luckily, Yu helped me secure a booking on March 8. She notified me just 20 hours before the scheduled departure. Around the same time, my PCR test from the day before came back negative. I was ready to go.

A ticket isn’t a promise

The day of my trip arrived. Hong Kong International Airport was incredibly quiet, with only a few counters operating.

When it was my turn to check in, I confidently presented everything — my travel document, a Covid test report and a QR code assigned to travelers going to mainland.

“Sorry, Ms. Wang. The flight is full. We can’t get you on the plane today,” the airline clerk said.

“The Shanghai authorities only allow 50% capacity and the space is filled. But we can make sure that you make it on tomorrow’s flight.”

The airline staff members were apologetic. They continued to comfort me and promised that I could get the seat for the same flight tomorrow.

They also said they could arrange a PCR test at the airport immediately so I could have the required report ready for the following day. I felt I had no choice but to say yes. The airline also gave me $1,000 HKD ($128) in compensation.

While waiting for the airline to process my case, I saw a group of four young college students following around airline staff, begging to be let onto the flight. They looked tired and miserable. The students later told me they’d been booked on the same flight and route as me, but on a different day.

“Sorry we couldn’t get you on that plane. See that lady waiting there? She has a ticket, but we can’t even get her on today,” the clerk responded to the group, pointing in my direction.

The girl from the group walked up to me and started to talk. After I confirmed what the clerk said was true, she asked to add me as a friend on WeChat so we would stay in touch.

Her name was Sarah Wang. She told me she was with a few other friends who were mainland students studying in Hong Kong colleges. Unable to afford one of the high priced tickets from the scalpers like I had, she bought a ticket that offered flexible booking and stood by at the airport overnight, hoping to get on a plane.

When money isn’t enough

The next day, I finally boarded the plane. Instead of excited, I felt dejected and weary.

Despite all the hardships, I was among the lucky ones to make it home.

Altogether, I had spent over $3,000: I lost $160 for the canceled booking and then paid $1,726 for a new one, plus $1,130 for the mandatory quarantine hotel.

In some cases, even money can’t buy a trip home. I learned that scammers were targeting overseas Chinese and taking advantage of their desperation.

Student Sarah Wang told me that her tactic worked and she eventually made it to Chengdu in southeast China with a regularly-priced booking ($420). But before that, she lost $940 to a scalper, who promised her two bookings from Hong Kong to the mainland if she paid the deposit. The person never responded after she transferred the payment.

I could have fallen into the same trap just as easily. The agent who secured the original booking for me looked no more credible.

The market for fights to China has been the Wild West since the early days of the pandemic.

In March of 2020, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) announced it would cut down the number of international flights to only one flight a week on one route for every airline to China. On top of that, there’s a fluid “circuit breaker” system that could suspend the route for up to four weeks if more than four positive cases are found on a single flight or route.

Meanwhile, Sarah Wang has joined a WeChat group for victims of airline ticket scams. The group has more than 30 members — all fellow overseas Chinese who were or are trying to fly home.

Altogether they believe they have lost more than $70,000 to scammers pretending to be ticket scalpers.

The CAAC has rolled out regulations on the pricing of international prices flights — it imposed price control and banned some ticketing proxies, transfers and exchanges.

But the black market continues to thrive.

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‘Tip of the iceberg’: Taiwan’s spy catchers hunt Chinese poachers of chip talent


TAIPEI, April 8 (Reuters) – Taiwan’s spy catchers have launched probes into around 100 Chinese companies suspected of illegally poaching semiconductor engineers and other tech talent, a senior official at the island’s Investigation Bureau told Reuters.

That comes on top of seven prosecuted since the start of last year and includes 27 which have either been raided or whose owners have been summoned for questioning by the bureau, the official said.

Home to industry giant TSMC (2330.TW) and accounting for 92% of the world’s most advanced semiconductor manufacturing capacity, Taiwan possesses what China needs – chip expertise in spades.

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A global chip shortage and Beijing’s avowed goal of achieving self-reliance in advanced chips – more forcefully promoted by Chinese President Xi Jinping after a trade war with the former Trump administration – has only intensified the scramble for engineering talent.

Taiwan responded with the creation in December 2020 of a task force within the justice ministry’s Investigation Bureau – its main spy catching organisation – to tackle poaching.

Cases where it has taken action with raids or questioning represented “the tip of the iceberg”, the official said, asking to remain anonymous so that investigations are not impeded.

The Investigation Bureau said the official’s comments represented its views.

Heightened military pressure from China, which claims Taiwan as its territory, has only strengthened Taipei’s determination to protect its chip supremacy – an asset also strategically important to the United States as much of its chip manufacturing is outsourced to the island.

Last month the bureau conducted its biggest operation to date – a raid of eight companies aimed at countering what it said was “the Chinese Communist Party’s illegal activities of talent-poaching and secret-stealing”.

China’s Taiwan Affairs Office did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.

TRICKS EMPLOYED

It is not illegal per se for Chinese firms to hire Taiwanese engineers. Taiwanese law, however, prohibits Chinese investment in some parts of the semiconductor supply chain including chip design and requires reviews for other areas such as chip packaging, making it very difficult for Chinese chip firms to operate on the island legally.

Taiwanese engineers are also free to go to China, but many prefer the quality of life on the island, especially while COVID-19 restrictions make travel harder.

One case under investigation involves a firm that purports to be a Taiwanese data analysis company but which authorities believe is an arm of a Shanghai-based chip firm sending chip design blueprints to China, according to the official and another colleague who spoke with Reuters.

In mid-March, after nearly a year of surveillance, the bureau summoned the firm’s owner for questioning. The owner has since been released on bail, they said, declining to identify the company as charges have yet to be laid.

Other tricks employed include incorporating units in tax havens such as the Cayman Islands, making it harder to identify money inflows from China.

Beijing-based Starblaze Technology, an integrated circuit (IC) design house, has been accused of running an R&D centre in the tech hub of Hsinchu without approval. It allegedly conducted job interviews via Zoom and used a Hong Kong company to handle payroll and insurance, according to court documents reviewed by Reuters. The trial is ongoing.

Tongfu Microelectronics (002156.SZ), a Chinese state-affiliated company, was accused of having an illegal office whose employees received salaries in U.S. dollars in offshore accounts wired via a Hong Kong-based subsidiary. The defendants were found guilty in January.

Starblaze and Tongfu did not respond to Reuters requests for comment.

THE MOST WANTED

Lucy Chen, vice president of Taipei-based Isaiah Research, says that last year Chinese chip firms came wooing with salary offers two to three times local levels. Among the most sought-after employees are IC designers, who can work remotely.

While it is difficult to compete on salary, local firms aim to provide more secure long-term career development and perks such daycare centres, massages and gyms on site, said an executive at a Hsinchu chip company, declining to be identified.

Those willing to be poached risk not finding work again at Taiwanese tech firms as well as public shaming. Several senior TSMC executives who went to work for SMIC (0981.HK) in China have been branded as traitors in Taiwanese press.

Authorities are also working to increase penalties for poaching. Maximum prison sentences are set to be increased to three years from one year and maximum fines from $5,200 to $520,525.

In a related move, the government has proposed making the leaking of core chip technologies a breach of national security law.

But there are concerns that tougher rules might hinder President Tsai Ing-wen’s drive to build a supply chain spanning materials to chip manufacturing.

“What if we put off legitimate foreign investors and damage our national economy due to overly strict regulation?” said the Investigation Bureau senior official.

($1 = 28.6090 Taiwan dollars)

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Reporting by Yimou Lee and Sarah Wu; Additional reporting by Beijing newsroom; Editing by Edwina Gibbs

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.



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US hits Chinese officials with travel bans over ‘repressive acts’ | Uighur News


State Department accuses targeted Chinese officials of involvement in crackdown on religious minorities, among others.

United States President Joe Biden’s administration is imposing travel bans on Chinese officials whom it accuses of repressing Uighur Muslims, as well as other ethnic and religious minorities.

The US State Department announced on Monday that it is barring the officials from travelling to the US because of their involvement in “repressive acts” and crackdowns on freedom of speech and religion in China and abroad.

The department did not identify which officials would be subject to the expanded ban, nor say how many would be affected.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement that the sanctions are being applied to Chinese officials who “are believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, policies or actions aimed at repressing religious and spiritual practitioners, members of ethnic minority groups, dissidents, human rights defenders, journalists, labor organizers, civil society organizers, and peaceful protestors in China and beyond”.

The move adds to visa restrictions originally imposed by the administration of former US President Donald Trump over China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims in the western region of Xinjiang, as well as repression of pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong and advocates for freedoms in Tibet.

The United Nations says at least one million Uighurs have been detained in so-called “counter-extremism centres” in Xinjiang.

Rights groups have said China’s treatment of the Uighurs amounts to genocide and crimes against humanity. Beijing has rejected these allegations and says its policies towards the Uighurs, as well as other minorities, are necessary to fend off extremism.

The State Department sanctions come just days after Biden spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping amid rising US-China tensions over the war in Ukraine.

The US has raised concerns that China may come to Russia’s aid – either by giving military equipment or bypassing Western sanctions – in its increasingly brutal offensive in Ukraine, and Biden warned Xi of the “implications and consequences” of such support during their call.

The Chinese leader, for his part, stressed the need to reach a negotiated agreement to end the conflict in Ukraine, while also telling Biden that US-China relations could be negatively affected should the issue of Taiwan not be handled “properly”.

Uighur Muslim woman
Rights groups have said China’s treatment of the Uighurs amounts to genocide and crimes against humanity [File: Murad Sezer/Reuters]

Taiwan has been a source of tension between Washington and Beijing, which claims the self-ruled island as part of its territory. The US, though it does not have formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, is its most important international backer and arms supplier.

Meanwhile, the US Justice Department last week also announced charges against five men accused of acting on behalf of the Chinese government in a series of brazen and wide-ranging schemes to stalk and harass Chinese dissidents in the country.

The criminal cases, filed in federal court in Brooklyn, alleged longstanding efforts to dig up dirt on dissidents, intimidate them, and stifle their speech.

In 2020, prosecutors charged eight people with working on behalf of the Chinese government in a pressure campaign aimed at coercing a New Jersey man who was wanted by Beijing into returning to China to face charges.





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US expands travel bans on Chinese officials for persecution


WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration on Monday expanded existing U.S. travel bans against Chinese officials whom it accuses of repressing ethnic and religious minorities.

The State Department said it is barring those targeted from traveling to the United States due to their involvement in crackdowns on freedom of speech and religion in China and abroad. The department did not identify which officials would be subject to the expanded ban nor say how many would be affected.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement that the sanctions are being applied to Chinese officials who “are believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, policies or actions aimed at repressing religious and spiritual practitioners, members of ethnic minority groups, dissidents, human rights defenders, journalists, labor organizers, civil society organizers, and peaceful protestors in China and beyond.”

The move adds to visa restrictions originally imposed by the Trump administration over China’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims in the western region of Xinjiang as well as for repression of pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong and advocates for freedoms in Tibet.

“The United States rejects efforts by (Chinese) officials to harass, intimidate, surveil, and abduct members of ethnic and religious minority groups, including those who seek safety abroad, and U.S. citizens, who speak out on behalf of these vulnerable populations,” Blinken said. “We are committed to defending human rights around the world and will continue to use all diplomatic and economic measures to promote accountability.”

Just last week, the Justice Department announced charges against five men accused of acting on behalf of the Chinese government in a series of brazen and wide-ranging schemes to stalk and harass Chinese dissidents in the United States.

The criminal cases, filed in federal court in Brooklyn, alleged longstanding efforts to dig up dirt on dissidents, intimidate them and stifle their speech.

It’s not the first time the Justice Department has brought charges for similar conduct: in 2020, prosecutors charged eight people with working on behalf of the Chinese government in a pressure campaign aimed at coercing a New Jersey man who was wanted by Beijing into returning to China to face charges.



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RVshare Appoints Co-Founder of Qunar, a Chinese Online Travel Platform, and Former Dentalcorp CMO to its Board of Directors


AUSTIN, Texas and AKRON, Ohio, March 14, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — RVshare, the largest peer-to-peer RV rental marketplace, welcomes Fritz Demopoulos, a co-founder of Qunar, one of China’s largest online travel platforms, and Reetu Gupta, former Chief Marketing Officer of Dentalcorp (DNTL.TO) to its board of directors. The two new board appointees will join existing members including the company’s CEO, Jon Gray, Tritium Managing Partner Phil Siegel, HomeAway co-founder Brian Sharples, Jake Heller, and Ben Pederson from KKR’s Technology Growth team, following another record-breaking year for the company.

“We are very fortunate to welcome Reetu and Fritz to RVshare’s board of directors,” says Gray. “With their deep expertise in fields from travel to the ever-changing digital world, both members will be invaluable in taking RVshare to the next level, while capitalizing on our recent successes and exponential growth.”

Demopoulos has led a number of entrepreneurial projects over the past two decades. In 2005, he launched one of China’s largest online travel platforms, Qunar. Demopoulos previously held senior executive positions at Netease and The News Corporation. Currently, he coordinates his entrepreneurial pursuits through Hong Kong-based Queen’s Road Capital and is a member of the Listing Committee of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. Demopoulos is also a trustee of the Asia Society in New York City, Jazz at Lincoln Center, and the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California.

“I’m thrilled to be working with the team at RVshare. With the domestic RV rental market in the US massive and growing quickly combined with a rapidly expanding international market, the opportunity in front of us is very exciting,” says Demopoulos.

Gupta, a seasoned strategy, marketing, and general management executive, brings with her wide-ranging experience in the private equity, consumer, and digital space. At Dentalcorp, she launched a proprietary searching and booking engine, led their digital agenda, and helped take the company public, listing on the TSX. Prior to her role there, Gupta held large-scale global commercial roles at Coach, Avon, and Limited Brands and also helped scale numerous mid-market growth companies while at L Catterton.

“I’m delighted to be working with RVshare,” says Gupta. “As a pioneer company in consumer travel, there is always untapped opportunity to increase market share, while continuing to empower both families and owners to utilize RVs for outdoor and adventure travel.”

About RVshare
RVshare is the first and largest peer-to-peer RV rental marketplace. With more than 100,000 vehicles available, RVshare’s diverse inventory ranges from affordable travel trailers to luxury motorhomes and can accommodate any outdoor adventure, whether it’s a weekend of camping or a cross-country tour of national parks. Through RVshare, families and groups can experience a one-of-a-kind trip and create memories that will last a lifetime. In addition to offering a unique travel experience, RVshare provides RV owners in North America the opportunity to turn their RV into a second income. For more information, visit rvshare.com, and follow us on Facebook and Instagram @rvshare.

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Have Chinese Spies Infiltrated American Campuses?


When Trump came to power, he was quick to ring the alarm about China, which he said was “raping our country.” In November, 2018, Sessions held a press conference to announce the China Initiative. Our innovations, he said, “can be stolen by computer hackers or carried out the door by an employee in a matter of minutes.” As a showpiece, Sessions—who would be fired by Trump six days later—unveiled an indictment alleging that spies had targeted an Idaho-based maker of semiconductors. This was the first such program to be dedicated to the actions of a single country. Trump reportedly said at the time, of people from China, “Almost every student that comes over to this country is a spy.” Tao was the first academic arrested under the Initiative.

Franklin Tao was born Tao Feng in 1971, in a mountain village on the Yangtze River. The child of subsistence farmers, he often had little more to eat than cornmeal mixed with water. “The older men in my family were tall, but childhood malnutrition stunted my growth,” he told me. While his mother worked in the fields, he stood on a rickety stool to chop vegetables, and his fingertips were soon etched with scars. In middle school, his science teacher told him that one could make anything using chemistry, including medicine, but what particularly captivated his imagination was the idea that food could be created with only yeast.

Tao was the first student at his high school in three years to pass the national college-entrance exam, and he attended college in Chongqing. “I read my textbooks and saw that most things had been discovered by scientists in the Western world,” he told me. “I wanted to study with the people who invented and discovered these things.” In 2002, months after he and Peng married, the couple moved to Princeton, New Jersey, for his doctorate. His adviser, Steven Bernasek, told me that Tao was “an incredible student, one of the very best I’ve ever worked with—very creative, very hardworking, filled with ideas.” Tao never missed a day in the lab, and in four years completed a formidable dissertation and published fifteen papers. He felt free and happy. When the couple’s twins—a girl and a boy—were born, they were both named, with respectively gendered variations, after Bernasek; upon each was bestowed the middle name Princeton.

Tao studies an arcane subfield of chemistry that focusses on how chemicals react on the surfaces of substances. As a postdoc at Berkeley, he learned to use a technique called ambient-pressure X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, which allows for precise analyses of these reactions; though AP-XPS experiments involve highly constrained, artificial conditions, the resulting theoretical insights may eventually provide a basis for the development of clean-energy sources. The work was fiendishly difficult, but Tao found solace in Christianity, later rechristening himself Franklin, after the church in which he was baptized. Peng, who kept deferring her own professional ambitions, told me, “He should not have married me but married science.”

In 2010, Tao entered the job market. He was offered a fellowship at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, historically home to a range of classified research, and cleared a background check, but ultimately decided that he preferred a university environment. He was invited to interview at M.I.T., but before he could travel to Cambridge he received a take-it-or-leave-it offer from Notre Dame. The university promised to purchase him an AP-XPS machine—a room-size collection of dials, hoses, and domes that looks like a child’s retrofuturistic notion of a time-travel device—to support his experimental program, and he accepted. Before long, he received a prestigious grant from the National Science Foundation for about six hundred thousand dollars and another from the Department of Energy.

After four years, Tao was lured by a friend to the University of Kansas to help build a new program there. Kansas was not quite what he had envisioned—the lost M.I.T. interview was never far from his mind—but he would be hired with tenure. In August of 2014, Tao, his family, and more than a million dollars of federal grant money moved to Lawrence. In the meantime, his friend had second thoughts, and left Tao to build the new program alone. During Tao’s first semester of teaching, his father’s health deteriorated. He made the four-day journey home, and when he returned after his father’s funeral, a month later, student complaints about his absence had been registered in his file.

Two years later, Tao was passed over for an anticipated promotion. He found this baffling. He published about fifteen papers per year, most of them in his field’s top journals; in his estimation, he produced a quarter of his department’s output. But he wasn’t a schmoozer. One recent postdoc told me, “You saw other faculty members in the department go to lunch together and whatnot, but Franklin spent all his time working.” His lack of “soft skills,” as a former student delicately put it, made recruitment a challenge, and some researchers switched groups. The smartest of his American students, Tao noticed, preferred industry to scholarship, so he scouted for talent abroad. “Go to any research-university campus at 10 p.m. and knock on the door of a lab, and a lot of the researchers still working are going to be Asian,” he told me. In retrospect, Tao thinks that his single-minded ambition may have been his downfall. “We were encouraged to apply for grants from the funding agencies, and I was very successful,” he said. “But if I’d just taught they couldn’t have charged me.”

The Trump Administration’s forays into academia, where the distinction between routine coöperation and impropriety can be nebulous, proved more troublesome than officials may have expected. The D.O.J. had been emboldened by the successful prosecution of more straightforward cases of industrial espionage. In 2013, Xu Yanjun, a senior operative in Jiangsu Province’s Ministry for State Security, reached out, under various aliases, to experts at American aerospace companies, offering them paid travel expenses and stipends to give presentations at Chinese universities. In 2017, he narrowed in on an employee at G.E. Aviation, seeking information related to composite fan blades used in jet engines, which the Chinese had been unable to replicate. The employee contacted the F.B.I., which instructed him to hand over dummy documents and eventually to arrange a meeting in Belgium, where Xu was arrested. For the Administration, such activity was only the most visible aspect of a more submerged menace. In 2018, Christopher Wray, the director of the F.B.I., testified before the Senate that China represented a “whole-of-society threat,” and that its intelligence efforts were now exploiting “nontraditional collectors—especially in the academic setting, whether it’s professors, scientists, students.”

“I knew the indoor pool was too good to be true.”
Cartoon by Jon Adams

China was indeed interested in annexing the world’s research-and-development base. In the nineties, it inaugurated a raft of “talent programs” designed to encourage Chinese researchers to return from overseas posts. The prospect of repatriation apparently held little appeal, so subsequent programs allowed recipients, either Chinese expats or Westerners, to maintain jobs elsewhere as long as they spent some time contributing to scientific infrastructure in China. The country spent lavishly—by one estimate, two trillion dollars in the past decade, more than its military budget—to subsidize salaries, startup costs, and living expenses for scholars who might seed domestic programs with the newest techniques. For researchers, the benefits were obvious: whereas American science funding had been relatively flat for three decades, Chinese expenditures increased by an average of sixteen per cent every year. American universities had long been encouraging collaborations in China, which were not only productive but could be lucrative.

For those inclined to take a zero-sum view of our rivalry with China, the talent programs were easily construed as a hazard. If China could simply import basic research wholesale, it could devote its own resources to breakthroughs that might have commercial or military applications. A former U.S. government official, who worked on these issues for various intelligence agencies, told me, “This was all a literal policy plan. Back in 2014, Xi Jinping said, ‘Our national power is going to be science and technology—that’s how we’re going to be a superpower, and we’re going to displace the U.S.’ It’s not a global collaboration to further science.” He continued, “The idea is: ‘We’re going to set up a parallel lab at our institution to replicate the work you’re doing in the U.S. We’re going to place researchers at your parallel lab in China. You’re going to train them up in the U.S. so they can come back. You’re going to take the federally funded research at your facility and run it in China so we don’t have to pay for it.’ ”

Trump Administration officials blamed American academics for being naïve collaborators, warning them in one F.B.I. memo that China “does not play by the same rules of academic integrity.” (The memo goes on to assert that the annual cost of stolen intellectual property is “between $225 billion and $600 billion,” oft-repeated numbers that Mara Hvistendahl, in “The Scientist and the Spy,” her account of Chinese economic espionage directed at Monsanto, shows to be essentially made up.) Most of the examples provided were drawn from industry, and the particular campus peril was left vague. Andrew Lelling, the former U.S. Attorney in Boston and one of the architects of the China Initiative, told me that the point was to encourage transparency: “The government was worried that there was a huge amount of collaboration with the Chinese that nobody knew about, and that was true!” F.B.I. agents toured American campuses to make their case, but the meetings often ended in mutual incomprehension.

The academic skepticism was not unwarranted. Participation in a talent program is not illegal. Plenty of countries have similar incentives to encourage technological development, and scientific expertise is necessary to determine what kinds of collaboration are improper. In 2015, the physicist Xiaoxing Xi was arrested at gunpoint in front of his family for sending sensitive blueprints to Chinese colleagues; he faced eighty years in prison. It later came out that the F.B.I. hadn’t bothered to consult anyone trained to read the blueprints, which were actually for something anodyne. Classified research occurs at national laboratories; most college professors couldn’t understand what their work—which was invariably destined for open publication—had to do with national security. “When the F.B.I. people left the room, everyone looked around at each other and said, ‘They have no idea how science works,’ ” a former senior State Department official told me. “ ‘We don’t have trade secrets and we don’t work on anything that’s classified.’ ”

University administrators could ignore the F.B.I., but they couldn’t ignore major funders. In August of 2018, the National Institutes of Health sent more than ten thousand letters to academic institutions saying that it had reason to suspect that “systematic” attempts to steal intellectual property were under way, and advising them to pay attention to scientists who didn’t disclose foreign ties. Some letters mentioned individual scientists, whose names had been drawn from research papers where Chinese institutions were listed before American ones.



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Chinese travel for Lunar New Year despite plea to stay put


BEIJING — Chinese are traveling to their hometowns for the Lunar New Year, the country’s biggest family holiday, despite a government plea to stay where they are as Beijing tries to contain coronavirus outbreaks.

The holiday, which starts with Chinese New Year’s Eve on Monday, usually is the biggest annual movement of humanity as hundreds of millions of people who migrated for work visit their parents and sometimes spouses and children they left behind or travel abroad.

Some 260 million people traveled in the 10 says since the holiday rush started Jan. 17, less than before the pandemic but up 46% over last year, official data shows. The government forecasts a total of 1.2 billion trips during the holiday season, up 36% from a year ago.

“I know we are encouraged to spend the New Year in Beijing, but I haven’t been back home for three years,” said Wang Yilei, whose hometown is Tangshan, east of the capital. “My parents are getting old and they are looking forward to seeing me.”

The Chinese capital, Beijing, is tightening controls to contain coronavirus outbreaks ahead of next week’s opening of the Winter Olympics, a high-profile prestige event.

China’s infection numbers are modest compared with India, South Korea and some other countries. But they challenge Beijing’s “zero tolerance” strategy that aims to keep the virus out of China by isolating every infected person.

Athletes, reporters and officials at the Winter Games are required to avoid contact with outsiders in hopes of preventing infection.

Some 106 of the 3,695 people who arrived from abroad for the Games so far tested positive for the coronavirus. Two are athletes or team officials.

Authorities in Beijing have ordered mass testing for more than 2 million people in the capital’s Fengtai district following outbreaks there. Some families were ordered not to leave their homes.

Elsewhere, 1.2 million people in an area 60 miles (100 kilometers) south of Beijing that is being developed as a possible site for ministries to relocate were told to stay put.

Restrictions were imposed on Xiong’an New District this week after five cases were found in people who came from the capital, according to notices circulated online by residents. They said the controls would last seven days.

People who travel are required to show a negative result of a virus test within 48 hours before departure.

“We should go back home for the New Year as long as we can, if the local prevention policies allow us to,” said Wu Jinpeng, a university student who was en route from the southern island of Hainan to his hometown near Beijing.

Some travelers face the prospect of being ordered into quarantine if they arrive from areas deemed at high risk of infection.

Travelers are tracked by “health code” software on smartphones that records where they go and the results of virus tests.

“I called the government hotline of my hometown and they said I can go back, as long as my health code is green,” said Sun Jinle, a bank employee from Qinhuangdao, east of Beijing.

“If I live in Fengtai District of Beijing then I can’t (go home),” Sun said. “Luckily, I live in Tongzhou District,” which has no travel ban.





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First flights leave Chinese city Xi’an as travel curbs ease | News


BEIJING (AP) — The first commercial airline flights in one month took off Saturday from Xi’an in western China as the government eased travel curbs imposed after a coronavirus outbreak ahead of next month’s Winter Olympics in Beijing.

Seven planes took off, according to the website of Xi’an Xianyang International Airport. It said four were due to arrive Sunday.

Access to Xi’an, a city of 13 million people about 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) southwest of Beijing, was suspended Dec. 22 following an outbreak attributed to the coronavirus’s delta variant.

The ruling Communist Party has stepped up enforcement of its “zero tolerance” strategy that aims to keep the virus out of China by finding and isolating every infected person. It suspended access to Xi’an and other cities after outbreaks were found.

Nationwide, China reported 63 new confirmed infections in the 24 hours through midnight Friday. That included 10 in Beijing and six in the neighboring port city of Tianjin.

China’s official death toll stands at 4,636 out of 105,547 confirmed cases.

Xi’an has reported 2,053 cases since Dec. 9. None were reported Friday.

Airline passengers who want to leave Xi’an are required to show a negative test within the past 48 hours, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. It said people from areas deemed at high risk for infection were barred from the airport.

Authorities said Jan. 16 restrictions on low-risk areas of Xi’an had been lifted at least in part. People who had been confined to their homes in other areas were allowed out to buy daily necessities.

The severity of the lockdown on Xi’an prompted complaints about food shortages. A pregnant woman suffered a miscarriage outside a hospital after being refused admission, reportedly because she lacked a valid virus test.

Authorities have called on the public to stay where they are during the Lunar New Year instead of traveling to their hometowns for the year’s most important family holiday.

Original Location: First flights leave Chinese city Xi’an as travel curbs ease

 

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First flights leave Chinese city Xi’an as travel curbs ease


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Updated:

A worker wearing a protective suit swabs for a COVID-19 test in northern China’s Tianjin municipality, Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022. Officials are still working to eliminate a coronavirus outbreak in the nearby city of Tianjin as the 2022 Winter Olympics are set to begin in Beijing on Feb. 4. (Chinatopix via AP)

BEIJING (AP) — The first commercial airline flights in one month took off Saturday from Xi’an in western China as the government eased travel curbs imposed after a coronavirus outbreak ahead of next month’s Winter Olympics in Beijing.

Seven planes took off, according to the website of Xi’an Xianyang International Airport. It said four were due to arrive Sunday.

Access to Xi’an, a city of 13 million people about 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) southwest of Beijing, was suspended Dec. 22 following an outbreak attributed to the coronavirus’s delta variant.

The ruling Communist Party has stepped up enforcement of its “zero tolerance” strategy that aims to keep the virus out of China by finding and isolating every infected person. It suspended access to Xi’an and other cities after outbreaks were found.

Nationwide, China reported 63 new confirmed infections in the 24 hours through midnight Friday. That included 10 in Beijing and six in the neighboring port city of Tianjin.

China’s official death toll stands at 4,636 out of 105,547 confirmed cases.

Xi’an has reported 2,053 cases since Dec. 9. None were reported Friday.

Airline passengers who want to leave Xi’an are required to show a negative test within the past 48 hours, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. It said people from areas deemed at high risk for infection were barred from the airport.

Authorities said Jan. 16 restrictions on low-risk areas of Xi’an had been lifted at least in part. People who had been confined to their homes in other areas were allowed out to buy daily necessities.

The severity of the lockdown on Xi’an prompted complaints about food shortages. A pregnant woman suffered a miscarriage outside a hospital after being refused admission, reportedly because she lacked a valid virus test.

Authorities have called on the public to stay where they are during the Lunar New Year instead of traveling to their hometowns for the year’s most important family holiday.



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Chinese cities on high COVID-19 alert as Lunar New Year travel season starts; Omicron spreads | U.S. & World


BEIJING (Reuters) -Several Chinese cities went on high COVID-19 alert as the Lunar New Year holiday travel season started on Monday, requiring travellers to report their trips days before their arrival, as the Omicron variant reached more areas including Beijing.

Authorities have warned the highly contagious Omicron adds to the increased risk of COVID-19 transmission as hundreds of millions of people travel around China for the Lunar New Year on Feb. 1.

Cities such as Luoyang in central China and Jieyang in the south said on Sunday travellers need to report to communities, employers or hotels their trips three days ahead of arrival.

The southwestern city of Yulin said on Saturday those who want to enter should fill in an online form, including their health credentials and trip details, one day in advance.

Over the weekend, the capital Beijing and the southern technology hub Shenzhen each detected one domestically transmitted Omicron case.

The possibility that the Omicron case in Beijing was infected through imported goods can’t be ruled out, Pang Xinghuo, an official at the city’s disease control authority, said on Monday.

Li Ang, vice director at the Beijing Municipal Health Commission, said a local hospital had admitted nine Omicron infections, with six still being treated. He did not say when the infections arrived or why they hadn’t been disclosed earlier.

The city of Meizhou in Guangdong province found one Omicron infection linked to an outbreak in Zhuhai, state television said on Monday.

So far, at least five provinces and municipalities reported local Omicron infections, while 14 provincial areas found the variant among travellers arriving from overseas.

China is yet to show any solid sign of shifting its guideline of quickly containing any local infections, despite a high vaccination rate of 86.6%. The strategy has taken on extra urgency in the run-up to the Winter Olympics, to be staged in Beijing and neighbouring Hebei province starting Feb. 4.

Many local governments have already advised residents not to leave town unnecessarily trips during the holiday, while dozens of international and domestic flights have been suspended.

China’s aviation regulator said on Monday it would suspend two flights from the United States over COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of cancelled flights this year from the country, where Omicron is spreading, to 76.

China reported 163 locally transmitted infections with confirmed symptom for Sunday, official data showed on Monday, up from 65 a day earlier.

Sunday’s increase in infections was mainly driven by more cases in the cities of Tianjin and Anyang, where Omicron has been found in local clusters.

Tianjin and Anyang reported slightly more than 600 local symptomatic infections from the current outbreaks, smaller than many clusters overseas, but authorities there still have limited movement within the cities and trips to outside.

(Reporting by Roxanne Liu, Stella Qiu, Albee Zhang and Ryan Woo; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Michael Perry)



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