Cruising for a bruising on the rising Covid waves

The cruise industry appears more on the ball than the average China watcher when it comes to Covid restrictions

ChinaDiction was founded by Chris Taylor, a long-time observer of China, Taiwan, and cross-strait affairs. Below is an edited extract of the ChinaDiction newsletter from November 9. Click here for the original version on the ChinaDiction website.

The picture above has haunted me for days, leading to the thought that perhaps I could somehow weave it into some commentary on a recent report by the Financial Times on how cruise ships are skirting China due to Covid controls.

The connection is tenuous at best, but for what it’s worth:

While cruise bookings around the world are rising to pre-pandemic levels, analysts and industry insiders said a recovery for the sector in China and Asia could only begin after 2024, given that cruise lines typically plan operations a year or more ahead.

Carnival’s Costa Cruises, which used to have a strong Asia presence with a quarter of its fleet stationed in the region, has suspended sailings owing to uncertainties over a tourism rebound. Norwegian Cruise Line and MSC Cruises no longer deploy ships in the region, while Genting Hong Kong, which used to operate Dream Cruises, went bankrupt this year.

Royal Caribbean is basing only one of its cruises, the 2,137-cabin Spectrum of the Seas, in Singapore as its home port, as its former port Hong Kong only removed cruise restrictions in October.

And that brings us back to China’s zero-Covid policy – a subject I’m so fed up with that I’ve been inclined to quit Substack and this newsletter altogether recently.

But, anyway, given we’ve come this far, what is happening with China’s Covid policy?

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Opinion writer Shuli Ren over at Bloomberg is of the opinion – “Is the Great China Covid Reopening a Myth or a Must?” – that, while what China does next is the “trillion dollar question,” basically “reopening is no longer a policy choice, but a must.”

The latest omicron wave has placed more than half of China’s economy in high- or mid-risk areas, which in turn result in restricted personal freedoms and business activities. In terms of economic impact, it is even worse than the harsh two-month Shanghai lockdown earlier in the year. 

The Wall Street Journal essentially agrees it’s a “must,” and thinks that China is probably going to ease up on the controls but “cautiously” and without a timeline – hedging their bets:

Chinese officials have grown concerned about the costs of their zero-tolerance approach to smothering Covid-19 outbreaks, which has resulted in lockdowns of cities and whole provinces, crushing business activity and confining hundreds of millions of people at home for weeks and sometimes months on end. But they are weighing those against the potential costs of reopening for public health and support for the Communist Party.

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Meanwhile, The Economist sensibly notes that as bad as we hear it is, China has more than 100 cities with more than 1 million people, and most of those are not under lockdown at the same time (good news).

An Economist reporter even went to one such not-locked-down city – Jingdezhen (population 1.7 million) in Jiangxi Province, historically famed for its porcelain – and discovered:

Once a visitor is inside the city, the pandemic feels far away. Jaw agape, your columnist joined hundreds of maskless locals thronging People’s Square on a weekend evening as they danced in formation, watched over scooter-riding children or twirled a dragon-headed streamer: scenes of freedom unimaginable elsewhere in China.


The problem is that numbers are mounting in China, driven by the BA.5.2 strain, according to the South China Morning Post. It adds that districts in Guangzhou such as Haizhu and Liwan (which has a population of some 1.3 million – get that: a district with a population of 1 million+), Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang are getting hit hard.

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Bloomberg today reports – “China’s Lockdowns Fail to Contain Covid as People’s Anger Grows” – that the dire situation is general China-wide.

Xinjiang reported the fourth-highest number of new cases nationally for Monday, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, despite some cities in the region in China’s northwest locked down for 90 days. Inner Mongolia, which was sealed off in early October, saw cases jump to almost 1,800 from 1,033 a day earlier, while Henan province’s infections more than doubled in a day to 747.

And that brings us full circle back to those cruises.

As delightful as the one pictured at the head of this think piece looks, you will not be taking a cruise to China. In fact, you won’t be going to China at all any time soon.

Whether – and we simply don’t know what the upper echelons of the party are thinking and anyone who says they do is indulging in fancy – China is going to ease out of its stringent zero-Covid policies, they’re unlikely to do so just as the virus looks set to triumph.

That would be giving up and the Chinese government does not want to give the impression it’s doing that, not without months of warm-up propaganda.

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‘Don’t do it,’ Xi to Putin. Image: Burnt Pineapple Productions / WikiCommons

Xi warns Russia against nuclear option

It’s possibly theater aimed at presenting China in a less aggressive light. Then again, Xi Jinping may genuinely have qualms about the Ukraine conflict turning into an outright nuclear blitz.

Politico reports:

The international community, said Xi [Jinping], should ‘jointly oppose the use of, or threats to use, nuclear weapons,’ according to a statement carried by Xinhua, China’s state news agency. The world should also ‘advocate that nuclear weapons cannot be used, a nuclear war cannot be waged, in order to prevent a nuclear crisis’ in Europe or Asia, Xi added. 

It would be naive to assume this is China turning against comrade-in-arms Russia.

Xi didn’t call on Vladimir Putin to call the Ukraine offensive off. Rather he called on Europe to engage in negotiations and it’s difficult to see where they would even start given Putin’s pledged determination to make Ukraine one with Russia.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of China Factor.