Chinese officials are bracing for “a rising wave of hostility…that could tip relations with the United States into confrontation,” Reuters reports this morning off an internal report from a Chinese think tank (the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations) affiliated with the Ministry of State Security.
About the rising wave of hostility, the New York Times reported Sunday, “Australia has called for an inquiry into the origin of the virus. Germany and Britain are hesitating anew about inviting in the Chinese tech giant Huawei.” In addition to heated U.S. rhetoric, the Times’ Steven Erlanger writes from Brussels, those tensions are “creating a deeply polarizing battle of narratives and setting back China’s ambition to fill the leadership vacuum left by the United States.”
Chinese officials presented that think tank report to President Xi Jinping in April, warning “global anti-China sentiment is at its highest since the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown,” according to Reuters, which “has not seen the briefing paper, but it was described by people who had direct knowledge of its findings.”
Critical caveat: “Reuters couldn't determine to what extent the stark assessment described in the paper reflects positions held by China's state leaders, and to what extent, if at all, it would influence policy. But the presentation of the report shows how seriously Beijing takes the threat of a building backlash that could threaten what China sees as its strategic investments overseas and its view of its security standing.”
On Friday, we learned that White House officials wanted U.S. spies to link the coronavirus outbreak with a lab in China. “Senior Trump administration officials have pushed American spy agencies to hunt for evidence to support an unsubstantiated theory that a government laboratory in Wuhan, China, was the origin of the coronavirus outbreak,” the Times reported.
Also Friday, Trump was asked, "Have you seen anything at this point that gives you a high degree of confidence that the Wuhan Institute of Virology was the origin of this virus?"
The president replied, "Yes, I have. Yes, I have." When asked what gives him confidence in his reply, he answered, "I can't tell you that. I'm not allowed to tell you that."
And on Sunday, AP reported that U.S. officials think China covered up the outbreak “to stock up on medical supplies needed to respond to it,” according to a four-page Department of Homeland Security intelligence report from May 1. "Those conclusions are based on the 95% probability that China’s changes in imports and export behavior were not within normal range, according to the report," AP writes, adding this clarifying statement, "There is no public evidence to suggest it was an intentional plot to buy up the world’s medical supplies.”
State Secretary Mike Pompeo was asked Sunday if he thought the virus was accidentally or intentionally released. Here’s his reply to ABC News’s Martha Raddatz: “You know, I don't have anything to say about that. I think there's a lot to know. But I can say this. we've done our best to try and answer all of those questions. We tried to get a team in there, the World Health Organization tried to get a team in there, and they have failed. No one's been allowed to go to this lab or any of the other laboratories. There are many labs inside of China, Martha. This risk remains. This is an ongoing challenge.” More from that interview, here.
Speaking of ongoing challenges, “The coronavirus pandemic is likely to last as long as two years and won’t be controlled until about two-thirds of the world’s population is immune,” Bloomberg reported Friday from the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. Find CIDRAP’s report (PDF), here. Coverage continues below.
From Defense One
Russian Arms Production Slowed by Coronavirus, Analysts Find // Patrick Tucker: A report drawing on anonymized phone data, and other open-source information belies Vladimir Putin’s everything’s-under-control message.
States ‘Reopening’ Might Not Apply to Troops, Military Families // Katie Bo Williams: Georgia is opening up. Fort Benning may not.
Propaganda, the President, and the ‘Reopen’ Protesters // Kevin Baron: The military’s nostalgic WWII-style posters urge face masks and national unity, but they’re not reaching Trump and his disbelieving followers.
Defense Innovation Board Director Moves to Google // Patrick Tucker: It’s another sign of the healing relationship between the Defense Department and big tech.
US Army Wants to Model COVID's Impact on Combatant Commands // Aaron Boyd, Government Executive: The Walter Reed Army Institute of Research has sent an urgent request for COVID-19 modeling and prediction analyses services.
May the Force be with us all on this #MaytheFourth edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Send us tips from your community right here. And if you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here.
Friday was the deadliest day yet for the coronavirus in the United States: 2,909 people died of the coronavirus in the 24 hours ending 4 a.m. The U.S. is leading all countries in total cases (more than 1.1 million) and total deaths (67,772).
Testing must increase. Public-health experts still insist safely reopening the country requires at least doubling our ability to test for COVID. An April study from the Harvard Global Health Institute concluded that the country will need to test at least 500,000 to 600,000 people per day. “This is clearly on the low side,” the researchers wrote. “If we can’t be doing at least 500,000 tests a day during May, it is hard to see any way we can remain open.” Indeed, another Harvard study put the daily testing requirement at 5 million by June and 20 million by July.
The U.S. has administered just 237,019 known tests on Sunday, according to the COVID Tracking Project, a volunteer effort launched by The Atlantic after the federal government stopped releasing testing numbers earlier this year.
Still, President Trump is continuing to press states to reopen, even as he said to Fox on Sunday 100,000 Americans might ultimately die of COVID-19.
In case you were curious, here is where all 50 states stand on reopening, via CNN.
One more thing: On Sunday night, Trump conceded that he was warned back on Jan. 23 about the pandemic by U.S. intelligence officials, and still he continued to downplay it for at least six weeks. The Washington Post has a look at how a president and his staff hurried to justify talking about reopening the economy rather than marshaling federal power to fight the outbreak. “So determined was Trump to extinguish the deadly virus that he repeatedly embraced fantasy cure-alls and tuned out both the reality that the first wave has yet to significantly recede and the possibility of a potentially worse second wave in the fall.” Read on, here.
Meanwhile, in Iraq: oil revenues have nosedived, forcing the country’s political leaders to contemplate spending cuts in a year when unrest has already spiked. AP has more, here.
SecDef Esper is online this morning. Defense Secretary Mark Esper has scheduled a webinar appearance with the Brookings Institution’s Senior Fellow Michael O’Hanlon at 11 a.m. ET. The plan is for the two to chat on “U.S. defense policy, how the armed forces will ensure readiness amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, and [what U.S.] investments [are] needed to fight the wars of the future.” Catch the livestream here.
Newsflash: North Korea’s leader is apparently not dead. State-run media released imagery Friday alleging as much. See for yourself, here.
No big deal, but North and South Korean soldiers exchanged gunfire across the DMZ over the weekend. But it was all an accident, U.S. State Secretary Mike Pompeo said Sunday to ABC News. “We think those are accidental. South Koreans did return fire. So far as we can tell, there was no loss of life on either side,” Pompeo said. Full transcript, here.
Taliban truck bomb killed 5 Afghan troops on Sunday. The blast in southern Helmand province hit “a military centre where at least 150 members of the Afghan army and intelligence wing were stationed, according to government officials and the Taliban,” Reuters reported.
That followed a week of attacks by the group that left 17 dead and 49 injured across the country, The Hill reports.
There will be American “responses” if the violence continues, U.S. Forces-Afghanistan spokesperson Col. Sonny Leggett wrote in a letter to Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid that he posted a copy of to Twitter. “We spoke of ALL sides reducing violence by as much as 80% to pave the way for peace talks," Leggett wrote “Afghans should sit down now and begin talking about the future of Afghanistan together.” A bit more, here.
Finally today: A former Green Beret is in the media spotlight for an attempted invasion of Venezuela that appears to have left at least eight rebel fighters dead and two others captured, AP reports in a followup today to a remarkable story published Friday.
This story involves:
- A plan to invade Venezuela from Colombia, with 300 volunteers;
- A ringleader now in jail on narcotics charges;
- A planning session which was, according to one participant, a “Star Wars summit of anti-Maduro goofballs”;
- A failed beach invasion;
- A man nicknamed the “Panther”;
- A reference to a battle by Alexander the Great; and more.
And here’s a bit more from Venezuelan officials on the foiled beach landing Sunday.