Exclusive: Internal Chinese report warns Beijing faces Tiananmen-like global backlash over virus

BEIJING (Reuters) – An internal Chinese report warns that Beijing faces a rising wave of hostility in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak that could tip relations with the United States into confrontation, people familiar with the paper told Reuters.

The report, presented early last month by the Ministry of State Security to top Beijing leaders including President Xi Jinping, concluded that global anti-China sentiment is at its highest since the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, the sources said.

As a result, Beijing faces a wave of anti-China sentiment led by the United States in the aftermath of the pandemic and needs to be prepared in a worst-case scenario for armed confrontation between the two global powers, according to people familiar with the report’s content, who declined to be identified given the sensitivity of the matter.

The report was drawn up by the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), a think tank affiliated with the Ministry of State Security, China’s top intelligence body.

Reuters has not seen the briefing paper, but it was described by people who had direct knowledge of its findings.

“I don’t have relevant information,” the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson’s office said in a statement responding to questions from Reuters on the report.

China’s Ministry of State Security has no public contact details and could not be reached for comment.

CICIR, an influential think tank that until 1980 was within the Ministry of State Security and advises the Chinese government on foreign and security policy, did not reply to a request for comment.

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.

Relations between China and the United States are widely seen to be at their worst point in decades, with deepening mistrust and friction points from U.S. allegations of unfair trade and technology practices to disputes over Hong Kong, Taiwan and contested territories in the South China Sea.

In recent days, U.S. President Donald Trump, facing a more difficult re-election campaign as the coronavirus has claimed tens of thousands of American lives and ravaged the U.S. economy, has been ramping up his criticism of Beijing and threatening new tariffs on China. His administration, meanwhile, is considering retaliatory measures against China over the outbreak, officials said.

It is widely believed in Beijing that the United States wants to contain a rising China, which has become more assertive globally as its economy has grown.

The paper concluded that Washington views China’s rise as an economic and national security threat and a challenge to Western democracies, the people said. The report also said the United States was aiming to undercut the ruling Communist Party by undermining public confidence.

Chinese officials had a “special responsibility” to inform their people and the world of the threat posed by the coronavirus “since they were the first to learn of it,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in response to questions from Reuters.

Without directly addressing the assessment made in the Chinese report, Ortagus added: “Beijing’s efforts to silence scientists, journalists, and citizens and spread disinformation exacerbated the dangers of this health crisis.”

A spokesman for the U.S. National Security Council declined to comment.

REPERCUSSIONS

The report described to Reuters warned that anti-China sentiment sparked by the coronavirus could fuel resistance to China’s Belt and Road infrastructure investment projects, and that Washington could step up financial and military support for regional allies, making the security situation in Asia more volatile.

Three decades ago, in the aftermath of Tiananmen, the United States and many Western governments imposed sanctions against China including banning or restricting arms sales and technology transfers.

China is far more powerful nowadays.

Xi has revamped China’s military strategy to create a fighting force equipped to win modern wars. He is expanding China’s air and naval reach in a challenge to more than 70 years of U.S. military dominance in Asia.

In its statement, China’s foreign ministry called for cooperation, saying, “the sound and steady development of China-U.S. relations” serve the interests of both countries and the international community.

It added: “any words or actions that engage in political manipulation or stigmatization under the pretext of the pandemic, including taking the opportunity to sow discord between countries, are not conducive to international cooperation against the pandemic.”

COLD WAR ECHOES

One of those with knowledge of the report said it was regarded by some in the Chinese intelligence community as China’s version of the “Novikov Telegram”, a 1946 dispatch by the Soviet ambassador to Washington, Nikolai Novikov, that stressed the dangers of U.S. economic and military ambition in the wake of World War Two.

Novikov’s missive was a response to U.S. diplomat George Kennan’s “Long Telegram” from Moscow that said the Soviet Union did not see the possibility for peaceful coexistence with the West, and that containment was the best long-term strategy.

The two documents helped set the stage for the strategic thinking that defined both sides of the Cold War.

China has been accused by the United States of suppressing early information on the virus, which was first detected in the central city of Wuhan, and downplaying its risks.

Beijing has repeatedly denied that it covered up the extent or severity of the virus outbreak.

China has managed to contain domestic spread of the virus and has been trying to assert a leading role in the global battle against COVID-19. That has included a propaganda push around its donations and sale of medical supplies to the United States and other countries and sharing of expertise.

But China faces a growing backlash from critics who have called to hold Beijing accountable for its role in the pandemic.

Trump has said he will cut off funding for the World Health Organization (WHO), which he called “very China-centric,” something WHO officials have denied.

Australia’s government has called for an international investigation into the origins and spread of the virus.

Last month, France summoned China’s ambassador to protest a publication on the website of China’s embassy that criticized Western handling of coronavirus.

The virus has so far infected more than 3 million people globally and caused more than 200,000 deaths, according to a Reuters tally.

(Editing by Peter Hirschberg)

Tyson warns of U.S. meat shortages as coronavirus shuts livestock plants

By Karl Plume

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Millions of pounds of beef, pork and chicken will vanish from U.S. grocery stores as livestock and poultry processing plants have been shuttered by coronavirus outbreaks among workers, the chairman of Tyson Foods Inc said.

John Tyson warned that the U.S. “food supply chain is breaking” as a growing number of plant closures have left farmers with fewer options to market and process livestock.

Tyson Foods announced last week that it would shutter two pork processing plants, including its largest in the United States, and a beef facility to contain the spread of the virus.

Other major meat processors like JBS USA [JBS.UL] and Smithfield Foods have closed facilities in recent weeks as cases of COVID-19, the potentially lethal respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, have soared among plant workers.

More than 5,000 U.S. meat and food-processing workers have been infected with or exposed to the virus, and 13 have died, the country’s largest meatpacking union said Thursday.

Companies say they are checking workers’ temperatures, working with local health officials and taking other steps to prevent the spread of the virus.

It is unclear how soon meat processing plants may reopen.

“There will be limited supply of our products available in grocery stores until we are able to reopen our facilities that are currently closed,” John Tyson said in a release published on Sunday.

“In addition to meat shortages, this is a serious food waste issue. Farmers across the nation simply will not have anywhere to sell their livestock to be processed, when they could have fed the nation,” he said.

Tyson shares are down more than 34% since the beginning of the year but have recovered from a more than four-year low hit in March.

(Reporting by Karl Plume in Chicago; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Trump says he will suspend all immigration into U.S. over coronavirus

By Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Monday he will suspend all immigration into the United States temporarily through an executive order in response to the coronavirus outbreak and to protect American jobs.

The move, which the Republican president announced on Twitter, effectively achieves a long-term Trump policy goal to curb immigration, making use of the health and economic crisis that has swept the country as a result of the pandemic to do so.

The decision drew swift condemnation from some Democrats, who accused the president of creating a distraction from what they view as a slow and faulty response to the coronavirus.

Trump said he was taking the action to protect the U.S. workforce. Millions of Americans are suffering unemployment after companies shed employees amid nationwide lockdowns to stop the contagion.

“In light of the attack from the Invisible Enemy, as well as the need to protect the jobs of our GREAT American Citizens, I will be signing an Executive Order to temporarily suspend immigration into the United States,” Trump said in a tweet.

The White House declined to offer further details about the reasoning behind the decision, its timing, or its legal basis.

“As our country battles the pandemic, as workers put their lives on the line, the President attacks immigrants & blames others for his own failures”, former Democratic presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar said in a tweet.

Immigration is largely halted into the United States anyway thanks to border restrictions and flight bans put in place as the virus spread across the globe.

But the issue remains an effective rallying cry for Trump’s supporters.

Trump won the White House in 2016 in part on a promise to curb immigration by building a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico. He and his advisers have spent the first three years of his tenure cracking down on both legal and illegal entries into the country. Crowds regularly chant “Build the Wall!” at Trump’s political rallies, which are now idled because of the virus.

Trump has lamented the economic fallout of the outbreak; his stewardship of the U.S. economy was set to be his key argument for re-election in November.

The U.S. death toll from the virus topped 42,000 on Monday, according to a Reuters tally.

The U.S. economy has come to a near standstill because of the pandemic; more than 22 million people applied for unemployment benefits in the last month.

“You cut off immigration, you crater our nation’s already weakened economy,” former Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro said in a tweet. “What a dumb move.”

The United States has the world’s largest number of confirmed coronavirus cases, with more than 780,000 infections, up 27,000 on Monday.

But the president has made a point of saying the peak had passed and has been encouraging U.S. states to reopen their economies.

“It makes sense to protect opportunities for our workforce while this pandemic plays out,” said Thomas Homan, Trump’s former acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “It’s really not about immigration. It’s about the pandemic and keeping our country safer while protecting opportunities for unemployed Americans.”

The United States in mid-March suspended all routine visa services, both immigrant and non-immigrant, in most countries worldwide due to the coronavirus outbreak in a move that has potentially impacted hundreds of thousands of people.

U.S. missions have continued to provide emergency visa services as resources allowed and a senior State Department official in late March said U.S. was ready work with people who were already identified as being eligible for various types of visas, including one for medical professionals.

The administration recently announced an easing of rules to allow in more agricultural workers on temporary H2A visas to help farmers with their crops.

(Additional reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru, Humeyra Pamuk in Washington, and Mica Rosenberg; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

Sport could resume in empty stadiums says top U.S. disease expert

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The NFL campaign and an abbreviated baseball season may be possible if games are played without fans and players are kept in lockdown, U.S. President Donald Trump’s leading infectious disease adviser said on Wednesday.

It has been a little over a month since the NBA season was abruptly halted amid the novel coronavirus outbreak, with most professional sports following suit, leaving arenas and stadiums empty amid speculation over when live sport can return.

“There’s a way of doing that: Nobody comes to the stadium, put them (the players) in big hotels, wherever you want to play, keep them very well surveilled,” Anthony Fauci, the leading U.S. health expert said in a Snapchat interview.

“Make sure they don’t wind up infecting each other or their family and just let them play the season out.”

Fauci, who appeared last month in an Instagram live interview with Golden State Warriors sharp-shooter Steph Curry, said he would recommend that athletes should be tested roughly once a week after resuming play.

The prospect of sports going ahead without fans has met with some criticism. Major League Baseball recently damped down talk it would return as soon as May with players competing in an isolation bubble.

Last month, before professional sport was suspended, 16-time NBA All-Star LeBron James called the notion of playing without fans impossible.

“People say, ‘Well, you know, you can’t play without spectators,’” said Fauci. “Well, I think you probably get enough buy-in from people who are dying to see a baseball game – particularly me.

“I’m living in Washington, we have the World Champion Washington Nationals, I want to see them play again.”

The NFL regular season is due to kick off on Sept. 10, but there is no date for the MLB to start or for the NBA and NHL to resume. Major League Soccer said on Tuesday its projection to return in mid-May was “extremely unlikely.”

(Reporting by Amy Tennery; Editing by Ken Ferris)

U.S. may need to extend social distancing for virus until 2022, study says

(Reuters) – The United States may need to endure social distancing measures adopted during the coronavirus outbreak until 2022, according to researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health.

The study comes as more than 2,200 people died in the United States from the outbreak on Tuesday, a record, according to a Reuters tally, even as the country debated how to reopen its economy. The overall death toll in the U.S. from the virus stands at more than 28,300 as of Tuesday.

“Intermittent distancing may be required into 2022 unless critical care capacity is increased substantially or a treatment or vaccine becomes available”, the Harvard researchers said in findings published Tuesday in the journal Science.

Giving examples of South Korea and Singapore, the researchers wrote that effective distancing could reduce the strain on healthcare systems and enable contact tracing and quarantine to be feasible.

The study acknowledged that prolonged distancing would most likely have profoundly negative economic, social, and educational consequences.

The study added that even in the case of “apparent elimination”, SARS-CoV-2 surveillance should still be maintained, as a resurgence in contagion may be possible as late as 2024.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that infections had “certainly” not yet peaked. Nearly 2 million people globally have been infected and more than 124,000 have died in the most serious pandemic in a century.

The epicenter has shifted from China, where the virus emerged in December, to the United States, which has now recorded the most deaths.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

U.S. coronavirus outbreak could peak this week, CDC director says

By Doina Chiacu and Lisa Lambert

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The coronavirus outbreak could reach its peak in the United States this week, a top U.S. health official said on Monday, pointing to signs of stabilization across the country.

The United States, with the world’s third-largest population, has recorded more fatalities from COVID-19 than any other country, more than 22,000 as of Monday morning according to a Reuters tally.

About 2,000 deaths were reported for each of the last four days in a row, the largest number of them in and around New York City. Experts say official statistics have understated the actual number of people who have succumbed to the respiratory disease, having excluded coronavirus-related deaths at home.

“We are nearing the peak right now,” Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told NBC’s “Today” show. “You’ll know when you’re at the peak when the next day is actually less than the day before.”

Sweeping stay-at-home restrictions to curb the spread of the disease, in place for weeks in many areas of the country, have taken a painful toll on the economy, raising questions over how the country can sustain business closures and travel curbs.

On Sunday, a Trump administration official indicated May 1 as a potential date for easing the restrictions while cautioning that it was still too early to say whether that goal would be met.

Redfield refused to give a time frame for the re-opening of the U.S. economy and praised social-distancing measures that he said helped curb the mortality rate.

“There’s no doubt we have to reopen correctly,” Redfield said. “It’s going to be a step-by-step gradual process. It’s got to be data-driven.”

Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, cautioned that the country was not prepared to end the shutdown.

“We all desire an end to the shutdown orders so we can get Americans back to work and back to normal,” Pelosi said in a statement. “However, there is still not enough testing available to realistically allow that to happen.”

This week Congress will work on further measures to soften the blow of the pandemic. Democrats want to add money for other anti-coronavirus efforts to a measure targeted at small businesses, including funding for rapid national testing and personal protective equipment.

“It cannot wait,” Pelosi said.

President Donald Trump retweeted a call to fire Dr. Anthony Fauci after the country’s top expert on infectious diseases said lives could have been saved if the country had shut down sooner during the novel coronavirus outbreak.

The retweet fueled speculation Trump was running out of patience with the popular scientist and could fire him. The White House on Monday did not comment on Trump’s retweet.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Lisa Lambert in Washington, writing by Maria Caspani; Editing by)

Side effects: Fuel demand crash shuts U.S. ethanol plants, meatpackers lack refrigerant

By Stephanie Kelly and Tom Polansek

NEW YORK/CHICAGO (Reuters) – A slew of U.S. ethanol plants have shut down as fuel demand has collapsed during the coronavirus outbreak, and meatpackers have been hit by a worrying side-effect: less carbon dioxide is now available to chill beef, poultry and pork.

“We’re headed for a train wreck in terms of the CO2 market,” said Geoff Cooper, president of the Renewable Fuels Association industry group. The RFA said 29 of the 45 U.S. ethanol plants that sell carbon dioxide, or CO2, have idled or cut rates. The U.S. ethanol sector is the top supplier of commercial carbon dioxide to the food industry, accounting for around 40% of the market, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.

That has put the U.S. meat industry on high-alert. It uses carbon dioxide as a refrigerant and preservative for meat, and also uses the gas to stun animals before slaughter.

The CO2 crunch is the latest supply chain disruption threatening the food industry as it struggles to keep workers on the job during the coronavirus outbreak while meeting rising demand at grocery stores.

Cargill Inc [CARG.UL], the world’s biggest supplier of ground beef, and chicken processor Perdue Farms said they are seeking to make sure they have enough supplies.

“We are working with our partners to ensure they understand that we offer an essential service to the world – providing the ingredients, feed and food that nourish people and animals – and maintain our supply,” Cargill spokesman Daniel Sullivan said. He added that the company is aware of “potential shortages or limited allocations” in certain areas.

Perdue Farms has enough CO2 “for now” and back-up plans if supplies run low, spokeswoman Andrea Staub said.

But if shortages of carbon dioxide worsen, meat companies may not be able to produce food at regular rates, said Rich Gottwald, president of the Compressed Gas Association.

“If they don’t have CO2, then it will slow their production of those food products,” he said.

The North American Meat Institute, an industry group that represents processors like Tyson Foods Inc <TSN.N> and WH Group Ltd’s <0288.HK> Smithfield Foods Inc [SFII.UL], said it was helping connect carbon dioxide suppliers with meat companies that anticipated possible problems obtaining CO2.

While supplies remain available, Veronica Nigh, a farm bureau economist, said some meat companies already were paying more for CO2.

“They’re certainly feeling the impact of limited supply and the price that ends up translating to,” she said on a conference call on Friday.

(Reporting by Stephanie Kelly in New York and Tom Polansek in Chicago. Additional reporting by PJ Huffstutter in Chicago; Editing by David Gregorio)

More than 170,000 volunteer to help UK fight coronavirus

LONDON (Reuters) – More than 170,000 people have signed up to help Britain’s National Health Service tackle the coronavirus outbreak just hours after a request for a quarter of a million volunteers.

“At times of crisis people come together,” Stephen Powis, the national medical director of NHS England, told BBC TV. “This is a health emergency and we can all play a role.”

Britain had called for 250,000 volunteers to deliver food and medicines, provide transport for patients and supplies, and to telephone those who are becoming lonely because of self isolation.

The system aims to reach up to 1.5 million people who are “shielding” – keeping themselves at home for 12 weeks under government advice to protect those with serious health conditions.

The death toll from coronavirus in the United Kingdom jumped on Tuesday by 87 to a total of 422 – the biggest daily increase since the crisis began.

(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; editing by Kate Holton)

Moscow’s coronavirus outbreak much worse than it looks, Putin ally says

By Andrew Osborn and Tom Balmforth

MOSCOW (Reuters) – The mayor of Moscow told President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday that the number of coronavirus cases in the Russian capital far exceeded the official figures, as Putin donned a protective suit and respirator to visit a hospital.

The comments by Sergei Sobyanin, a close ally of Putin, were authorities’ strongest indcation yet that they do not have a full grasp of how widely the virus has spread throughout Russia’s vast expanse.

Russia has so far reported 495 cases of the virus and one death, far fewer than major western European countries.

Putin has previously said the situation is under control, but some doctors have questioned how far official data reflect reality, and the government on Tuesday closed nightclubs, cinemas and children’s entertainment centres to slow the spread of the virus.

“A serious situation is unfolding,” Sobyanin told Putin at a meeting, saying the real number of cases was unclear but that they were increasing quickly.

Testing for the virus was scarce, he said, and many Muscovites returning from abroad were self-isolating at home or in holiday cottages in the countryside, and not being tested.

“In reality, there are significantly more sick people,” Sobyanin said.

The government also said it would organise a return of its citizens from countries hit by the coronavirus if they wanted to come.

Meanwhile Putin donned a bright yellow full-body hazmat suit and respirator as he visited a hospital on the outskirts of Moscow that is treating coronavirus patients, and praised the doctors for their work.

Separately, two senior lawmakers including Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of the lower house of parliament, proposed legislation to make flouting anti-virus quarantine measures punishable with jail time.

The bill would provide for up to seven years’ jail for actions that led to the death of two or more people, or up to three years for causing mass infection, the RIA news agency reported.

(Additional reporting by Polina Devitt; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

‘Tens of thousands’ of National Guard troops could be used to assist with coronavirus

By Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of U.S. National Guard troops could be activated to help U.S. states deal with the fast-spreading coronavirus outbreak, the head of the U.S. National Guard said on Thursday.

The National Guard, part of the reserve component of the U.S. Armed Forces, has already been called up in 27 states, including New York, to assist with cleaning public spaces and to deliver food to homes.

General Joseph Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said that a total of about 2,000 troops have been activated so far and he expected that number to double by the weekend.

“It’s hard to tell what the exact requirement will be, but I’m expecting tens of thousands to be used inside the states as this grows,” Lengyel said during a Pentagon press briefing.

The National Guard could, for example, assist local law enforcement efforts under state control, he said. But that is something it cannot do if it is federalized, Lengyel said, adding he was not aware of any such plans and did not think it was a good idea.

“That would not make sense in this situation,” Lengyel said.

A Pentagon spokeswoman said the Defense Department was not considering federalization of the National Guard.

Nearly 9,000 cases of the novel coronavirus have been reported in the United States, with more than 3,000 in New York state, according to state health departments.

“It’s a historic event, unlike any we have faced in recent years,” Lengyel said.

Dealing with the coronavirus outbreak is an unusual mission for the National Guard, best known for assisting during national disasters like hurricanes and supplementing the U.S. military overseas or during times of war. More than 21,000 National Guard members are currently abroad.

Lengyel compared the coronavirus outbreak to a national disaster of unprecedented scale.

“It’s like we have 54 separate hurricanes in every state and territory and the District of Columbia… Unlike a hurricane, we don’t know when this is going to dissipate or move out to sea,” he added.

Even within the military, the disease is taking a toll. The Pentagon said that 51 U.S. military service members had been diagnosed but, as of Thursday, none were hospitalized and two had recovered.

In a sign of the impact the outbreak was having, the director of the Defense Health Agency said on Thursday that calls to the U.S. military health system’s nurse advice line had surged by about 500% in just the past few days.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Diane Craft)