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Goldman Sachs Unit Pleads Guilty Over Fraud Scheme

Goldman Sachs admitted its Malaysian subsidiary “knowingly and willingly” conspired to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act because some former employees paid bribes to officials in connection with the looting of a sovereign wealth fund, a scandal that toppled that country’s leader and triggered criminal cases that spanned the globe.

The subsidiary pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge on Thursday in Brooklyn federal court, and the bank itself entered into a three-year deferred prosecution agreement to resolve one of the biggest scandals in the Wall Street giant’s long history.

Separate from the penalties the bank will pay, the board of Goldman Sachs said it was taking steps to withhold or recoup $174 million in compensation from current and former executives — including its chief executive, David Solomon, and his predecessor, Lloyd Blankfein — either in lost pay or the return of money already paid.

In a statement, Mr. Solomon said Goldman “fell short” in overseeing its employees.

“While it is abundantly clear that certain former employees broke the law, lied to our colleagues and circumvented firm controls, this fact does not relieve me or anyone else at the firm of our responsibility to recognize two critical realities,” Mr. Solomon said.

Mr. Blankfein, reached by phone, declined to comment.

All told, Goldman will pay billions in penalties and disgorgement in Malaysia, the United States and Hong Kong for its role in the looting of the 1Malaysia Development Berhad fund. The scandal ultimately brought down the government of Malaysia’s prime minister at the time, Najib Razak, and turned a financier with expensive tastes named Jho Low into an international fugitive.

As part of the plea deal, Goldman has agreed to a statement of facts compiled by federal authorities that it will not be able to dispute. That document outlines a number of internal control failings at Goldman that authorities said should have detected the wrongdoing by its former employees, as well as the involvement of Mr. Low in helping to arrange the deals and pay more than $1 billion in bribes to official in Malaysia.

“Other personnel at the bank allowed this scheme to proceed by overlooking or ignoring a number of clear red flags,” said Brian C. Rabbitt, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s criminal division, said during a news conference.

More than $2.7 billion raised for the fund in bond offerings arranged by Goldman financed lavish lifestyles for powerful Malaysians, including friends and family of Mr. Najib. The money bought paintings by van Gogh and Monet, a mega-yacht docked in Bali, a grand piano made of clear acrylic that was given to a supermodel as a gift, and a king’s ransom in jewelry. Pilfered money also financed a boutique hotel in Beverly Hills, a share of the EMI music publishing portfolio and the Hollywood movie “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

Goldman Sachs earned $600 million in fees to arrange the bond sales.

Federal prosecutors had already brought charges against two Goldman bankers and Mr. Low, who is believed to be living in China. One of the bankers, Tim Leissner, the husband of the fashion designer and model Kimora Lee Simmons, has pleaded guilty and agreed to forfeit up to $43.7 million.

Malaysian prosecutors also brought criminal charges against Goldman and more than a dozen executives, but the bank agreed in July to pay $2.5 billion to resolve that investigation. Goldman also pledged to cover any shortfall from the sale of $1.4 billion in assets that have been seized by prosecutors in the United States and Malaysia.

Much of the property seized belonged to Mr. Low, who has never appeared in court to face charges in the case. He has denied wrongdoing through representatives in the United States, but agreed last year to give up all claims to seized assets worth as much as $900 million.

While the legal saga is essentially over for Goldman, it will continue for some individuals: Mr. Leissner still awaits sentencing, and the other banker charged in the United States, Roger Ng, has pleaded not guilty and awaits trial. Another former Goldman executive, Andrea Vella, has been barred from the financial industry by the Federal Reserve. (Goldman’s board said it was taking steps to recoup tens of millions of dollars in compensation from them as well.)

In Malaysia, Mr. Najib was convicted last July in a corruption case and sentenced to up to 12 years in prison, but the sentence was stayed on appeal.

Mr. Low’s exact whereabouts remain a mystery.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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As Local News Dies, a Pay-for-Play Network Rises in Its Place

The instructions were clear: Write an article calling out Sara Gideon, a Democrat running for a hotly contested U.S. Senate seat in Maine, as a hypocrite.

Angela Underwood, a freelance reporter in upstate New York, took the $22 assignment over email. She contacted the spokesman for Senator Susan Collins, the Republican opponent, and wrote an article on his accusations that Ms. Gideon was two-faced for criticizing shadowy political groups and then accepting their help.

The short article was published on Maine Business Daily, a seemingly run-of-the-mill news website, under the headline “Sen. Collins camp says House Speaker Gideon’s actions are hypocritical.” It extensively quoted Ms. Collins’s spokesman but had no comment from Ms. Gideon’s campaign.

Then Ms. Underwood received another email: The “client” who had ordered up the article, her editor said, wanted it to add more detail.

The client, according to emails and the editing history reviewed by The New York Times, was a Republican operative.

Maine Business Daily is part of a fast-growing network of nearly 1,300 websites that aim to fill a void left by vanishing local newspapers across the country. Yet the network, now in all 50 states, is built not on traditional journalism but on propaganda ordered up by dozens of conservative think tanks, political operatives, corporate executives and public-relations professionals, a Times investigation found.

The sites appear as ordinary local-news outlets, with names like Des Moines Sun, Ann Arbor Times and Empire State Today. They employ simple layouts and articles about local politics, community happenings and sometimes national issues, much like any local newspaper.

But behind the scenes, many of the stories are directed by political groups and corporate P.R. firms to promote a Republican candidate or a company, or to smear their rivals.



One of the websites in the network is Illinois Valley Times.

Nearly every story at the top of the homepage in early September was about Sue Rezin, a Republican state senator. Ms. Rezin said in an interview that she didn’t know why the outlet focused on her so much, but that she didn’t mind all the positive coverage.

As of Oct. 14, one reporter had written 34 of his last 40 stories on the site about Ms. Rezin. When contacted, he said the company would not let him speak to reporters.


The network is largely overseen by Brian Timpone, a TV reporter turned internet entrepreneur who has sought to capitalize on the decline of local news organizations for nearly two decades. He has built the network with the help of several others, including a Texas brand-management consultant and a conservative Chicago radio personality.

The Times uncovered details about the operation through interviews with more than 30 current and former employees and clients, as well as thousands of internal emails between reporters and editors spanning several years. Employees of the network shared emails and the editing history in the site’s publishing software that revealed who requested dozens of articles and how.

Mr. Timpone did not respond to repeated attempts to contact him by email and phone, or through a note left at his home in the Chicago suburbs. Many of his executives did not respond to or declined requests for comment.

The network is one of a proliferation of partisan local-news sites funded by political groups associated with both parties. Liberal donors have poured millions of dollars into operations like Courier, a network of eight sites that began covering local news in swing states last year. Conservative activists are running similar sites, like the Star News group in Tennessee, Virginia and Minnesota.

But those operations run just several sites each, while Mr. Timpone’s network has more than twice as many sites as the nation’s largest newspaper chain, Gannett. And while political groups have helped finance networks like Courier, investors in news operations typically don’t weigh in on specific articles.

While Mr. Timpone’s sites generally do not post information that is outright false, the operation is rooted in deception, eschewing hallmarks of news reporting like fairness and transparency. Only a few dozen of the sites disclose funding from advocacy groups. Traditional news organizations do not accept payment for articles; the Federal Trade Commission requires that advertising that looks like articles be clearly labeled as ads.

Most of the sites declare in their “About” pages that they to aim “to provide objective, data-driven information without political bias.” But in April, an editor for the network reminded freelancers that “clients want a politically conservative focus on their stories, so avoid writing stories that only focus on a Democrat lawmaker, bill, etc.,” according to an email viewed by The Times.

Other news organizations have raised concerns about the political bent of some of the sites. But the extent of the deceit has been concealed for years with confidentiality contracts for writers and a confusing web of companies that run the papers. Those companies have received at least $1.7 million from Republican political campaigns and conservative groups, according to tax records and campaign-finance reports, the only payments that could be traced in public records.

Editors for Mr. Timpone’s network assign work to freelancers dotted around the United States and abroad, often paying $3 to $36 per job. The assignments typically come with precise instructions on whom to interview and what to write, according to the internal correspondence. In some cases, those instructions are written by the network’s clients, who are sometimes the subjects of the articles.

The emails showed a salesman for Mr. Timpone’s sites offering a potential client a $2,000 package that included running five articles and unlimited news releases. The salesman stressed that reporters would call the shots on some articles, while the client would have a say on others.

Ian Prior, a Republican operative, was behind the articles about Ms. Gideon, the Senate candidate in Maine, as well as articles promoting Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Roy Blunt of Missouri, according to the internal records. Mr. Prior previously worked for the Senate Leadership Fund, a political action committee that has spent $9.7 million against Ms. Gideon.

Juan David Leal, who has worked in the Mexico office of the Berkeley Research Group, a consulting firm, ordered up articles criticizing the Mexican government’s response to the coronavirus.

And employees at the Illinois Opportunity Project, a conservative advocacy group, requested dozens of articles about specific Republican politicians in Illinois. The group has paid $441,000 to Mr. Timpone’s companies, according to the nonprofit’s tax records.

A spokeswoman for Ms. Collins, the Maine senator, said the campaign answers questions “from media outlets of all stripes and persuasions,” including the Maine Beacon, a local-news outlet funded by a liberal group.

Mr. Prior leads a P.R. firm that markets its ability to get coverage in local-news outlets. He said in an email that he pitches stories to a variety of outlets, including Mr. Timpone’s network because it “actually covers local issues.” He did not respond to questions about whether he had paid for the coverage.

The Illinois Opportunity Project did not respond to requests for comment. Mr. Leal did not comment for this article.

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Credit…Matthew Gilson

Some of the most popular articles on Mr. Timpone’s sites get tens of thousands of shares on social media. That is a modest reach in the national conversation. But with the focus on small towns, less readership is needed to make an impact. In some of those towns, Mr. Timpone’s outlets also publish newspapers and deliver them, unsolicited, to doorsteps.

Ben Ashkar, the chief operating officer of Locality Labs, one of the companies connected to the sites, was the sole executive at the network who spoke on the record for this article. He said he didn’t think people could pay for coverage.

“I hope not,” he said. “How would I know? Honestly I don’t think people are paying.”

Mr. Timpone, who turns 48 this month, got his start in politics by covering it. In the 1990s, he was a news anchor and reporter at Illinois TV stations. Eventually he became the spokesman for the State House’s Republican minority leader.

A personable guy and persuasive salesman, according to people who know him, Mr. Timpone then became focused on replacing the old print guard as a digital-news mogul.

“Big metro papers are like the fly in your house that gets slow and you just catch it with your hand,” he said in a 2015 interview with Dan Proft, a conservative radio talk show host in Chicago.

About a decade ago, Mr. Timpone started Journatic, a service that aimed to automate and outsource reporters’ jobs, selling it to two of the nation’s largest chains, Hearst and Tribune Publishing. He used rudimentary software to turn public data into snippets of news. That content still fills most of his sites. And for the articles written by humans, he simply paid reporters less, even using workers in the Philippines who wrote under fake bylines.

When the radio show “This American Life” revealed his strategy in 2012, Mr. Timpone defended his approach as a way to save local news. “No one covers all these small towns,” he said. “I’m not saying we’re the solution, but we’re certainly on the road to the solution.”

Around 2015, he teamed up with Mr. Proft and started a chain of websites and free newspapers focused on suburban and rural areas of Illinois.

The publications looked like typical news outlets that covered their communities. But a political action committee controlled by Mr. Proft paid Mr. Timpone’s companies at least $646,000 from 2016 to 2018, according to state campaign finance records, money that largely came from Dick Uihlein, a conservative megadonor and the head of the shipping-supply giant Uline.

After complaints, the Illinois Board of Elections ordered the newspapers to say Mr. Proft’s committee funded them. A small disclaimer in their “About” pages now says the sites are funded, “in part, by advocacy groups who share our beliefs in limited government.” The Illinois sites are virtually the only ones in Mr. Timpone’s network with such a disclosure.

The regulators’ questions didn’t slow Mr. Timpone down. He doubled the size of the Illinois network to 34 sites, and by 2017 was expanding to other states. He also added dozens of sites with focuses beyond politics, including 11 that look like traditional legal-news publications but are funded by a U.S. Chamber of Commerce group.

Then, from June through October last year, the network ballooned further, from roughly 300 sites to nearly 1,300, according to a Times analysis of data collected by the Global Disinformation Index, an internet research group. (The Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University tallied a similar number of sites in the network.)

Timpone network websites

Watch the number of sites in the network grow over time.

2020

By Ella Koeze·Websites that look like local news are placed on the map by county. Websites that look like state and intra-state regional news are placed by state. Dots are sized by the number of sites related to each county or state.·Data via Global Disinformation Index and Ben Decker. Sites were discovered using reverse lookups of Google Analytics and Google Adsense.

“It’s astounding to see how quickly the sites have popped up across the country in an attempt to fill the news void,” said Penelope Muse Abernathy, a University of North Carolina journalism professor who has calculated that about 2,100 newspapers have folded across the country since 2004, a 25 percent decline.

Some of the new sites have only the automated content, but they have quickly sprung to life when local news has arisen. That happened in August when protests erupted in Kenosha, Wis., after the police shot an unarmed Black man. One of the sites, Kenosha Reporter, published multiple articles about the criminal backgrounds of the man and protesters. One of those articles was shared 22,000 times on Facebook, reaching 2.6 million people, according to CrowdTangle, a Facebook-owned data tool.

Mr. Timpone’s role in the network is supported by public and internal documents. In emails viewed by The Times, he assigned stories, and editors called him the network’s top executive.

He has also said publicly, and in a filing with the Federal Election Commission, that he runs some of the sites.

But the web of companies behind the network make it more difficult to track the money behind the sites, and even Mr. Timpone’s oversight of them. It is unclear whether that is intentional. Those companies include Metric Media, Locality Labs, Newsinator, Franklin Archer and Interactive Content Services. The exact ownership of the companies is also unclear.

Most of the network’s new sites say they are part of Metric Media. A Texas P.R. consultant named Bradley Cameron says in his online résumé that he is the general manager of Metric Media and is “currently retained by private investors to develop a national media enterprise.” Internal records show that the same editors run Metric Media’s news operations and Mr. Timpone’s other sites.

In August, two local newspapers, a combined 142 years old, in Mount Vernon, Ohio, and Lake Isabella, Calif, announced to their readers that they had been purchased by Metric Media LLC.

Tanner Salyers, a city councilman in Mount Vernon, population 17,000, said that when he emailed Metric Media to ask what its plans were for the town’s only newspaper, Mr. Timpone called back to say that he now owned the Mount Vernon News and that he would rebuild it. Yet since the change in ownership, Mr. Salyers said, the newspaper has cut much of its staff and reduced print circulation to two days a week from six.

“I’m the first person to admit that the Mount Vernon News was not Pulitzer material,” Mr. Salyers said. “But nevertheless, it was local and independent. You could go to the grocery store and bump into the writers.” Now, a reporter based in Atlanta has covered local happenings, he said, and not well. When a water line broke last week, forcing the town’s residents to boil their water, the Mount Vernon News didn’t mention it.

The Times spoke with 16 reporters who have worked for Mr. Timpone. Many said they overlooked their doubts about the job because the pay was steady and journalism gigs were scarce.

Pat Morris said she had begun writing for the network after being laid off from The Florham Park Eagle in northern New Jersey.

“I wanted to make a living,” she said. “I was tired of banging on doors.” She thought the sites were a “content mill” to sell ads, but she eventually figured out the mission. She quit in July.

Ms. Underwood, who wrote the Maine Business Daily article, said she, too, had felt duped once the political agenda had become clear.

“You say you’re never going to dance with the devil like that; you just judge people for doing it,” Ms. Underwood said. “And then you’re just in the exact same position.”

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Credit…Shane Lavalette for The New York Times

In the publishing tool used by reporters and editors at Mr. Timpone’s websites is a list of names with a peculiar title: “Story watchers.” These are Mr. Timpone’s clients.

The Times reviewed the history behind dozens of articles in the publishing tool, revealing more than 80 story watchers. Many have pitched stories with instructions on what reporters should write, whom they should talk to and what they should ask. Over 17 days in July, these clients ordered up around 200 articles, company records show.

Internal documents show how much influence the clients have. “The clients pay us to produce a certain amount of copy each day for their websites,” said one “tool kit” for new writers. “In some cases, the clients will provide their own copy.”

John Tillman, an activist who once led the Illinois Opportunity Project and whose other groups have paid Mr. Timpone’s companies hundreds of thousands of dollars, said in an email that some of the payments to Mr. Timpone were to underwrite his news operation. Mr. Timpone, he said, allows “community leaders and influencers” to “pitch (not ‘order’) story ideas.”

Mr. Ashkar, the Locality Labs executive, said the sites wrote more about Republicans because they, unlike Democrats, talked to the reporters. “It’s like covering a beat, right? You’re a journalist,” he said. “They make relationships with people, and then they’re trusted and then they write stories about them.”

He said he didn’t find the sites’ focus on certain politicians unusual.

“Go look at The New York Times. It’s all about Trump,” Mr. Ashkar said. “How’s that any different?”

Jeanne Ives, a Republican candidate for the U.S. House in Illinois, has had a direct financial relationship with the operation.

Ms. Ives has paid Mr. Timpone’s companies $55,000 over the past three years, according to state and federal records. During that time, the Illinois sites have published overwhelmingly positive coverage of her, including running some of her news releases verbatim.

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Credit…Rich Hein/Chicago Sun-Times, via Associated Press

In an interview, she said her payments were to create her website and monitor her Wikipedia page. One $14,342 payment included the note “Advertising-newspaper.” Ms. Ives initially could not explain why. She later called back to say Mr. Timpone had bought Facebook ads for her.

Asked if she was paying for positive coverage, she replied: “Oh, no, there’s none of that going on. I assure you. Oh, my gosh, no. Oh, no, not at all.”

Ms. Ives is listed as a “story watcher.” She said she did not know why.

In March, Monty Bennett, the hotel magnate, faced a crisis. The coronavirus had halted travel, and his company, Ashford, which oversees more than 100 hotels, was facing big losses. So he ordered up a news article.

“I want to push our government to go after China. Why should this murderous regime be let off the hook while we suffer,” said a story pitch attributed to Mr. Bennett on the publishing tool behind Mr. Timpone’s sites.

The pitch resulted in an article that repeated his claims on DC Business Daily, which appears to be a straightforward business and politics news outlet in Washington.

“A national hotel chain executive said he is fed up with the way the United States is dealing with China in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic,” the article began. There was no disclosure that Mr. Bennett had ordered it.

Mr. Bennett, a major donor to President Trump, also used the sites to lobby for a stimulus bill to help his company, according to documents. Mr. Bennett posted a link to one of the articles on Twitter.

Ashford received around $70 million in federal loans intended for small businesses, making the publicly traded company the single largest recipient of such loans — and Mr. Bennett the subject of national anger.

In response, P.R. professionals began ordering positive articles about him on Mr. Timpone’s sites, according to records in the publishing system. Eventually, Mr. Bennett returned the federal money.

But he was not done using Mr. Timpone’s sites. Now Mr. Bennett owed money to creditors. One pitch attributed to him in the publishing system instructed a reporter to call one of his creditors and ask, “Why did you say you were going to help, but then don’t help?”

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Credit…Milken Institute, via Youtube

A site called New York Business Daily ran the article, saying the creditor was squeezing the finances of a struggling Manhattan hotel.

What the article didn’t mention: Mr. Bennett owned the hotel and dictated the article.

His spokeswoman said in a statement that Mr. Bennett “has no relationship with the websites.” She added that he had spoken to numerous news outlets “to obtain economic aid for the hotel industry.”

After The Times presented evidence that he directly ordered articles, lawyers representing Mr. Timpone sent The Times a cease and desist letter, demanding that it not publish the information.

Ben Decker, Jacob Meschke and Jacob Silver contributed reporting. Data analysis was contributed by Kellen Browning, Mariel Wamsley, Emile Robert, Elaine Chen, Ellie Zhu and Lindsey Cook. Susan Beachy, Kitty Bennett and Alain Delaquérière contributed research.

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With Covid-19 Under Control, China’s Economy Surges Ahead

BEIJING — As most of the world still struggles with the coronavirus pandemic, China is showing once again that a fast economic rebound is possible when the virus is brought firmly under control.

The Chinese economy surged 4.9 percent in the July-to-September quarter compared with the same months last year, the country’s National Bureau of Statistics announced on Monday. The robust performance brings China almost back up to the roughly 6 percent pace of growth that it was reporting before the pandemic.

Many of the world’s major economies have climbed quickly out of the depths of a contraction last spring, when shutdowns caused output to fall steeply. But China is the first to report growth that significantly surpasses where it was at this time last year. The United States and other nations are expected to report a third-quarter surge too, but they are still behind or just catching up to pre-pandemic levels.

China’s lead could widen further in the months to come. It has almost no local transmission of the virus now, while the United States and Europe face another accelerating wave of cases.

The vigorous expansion of the Chinese economy means that it is set to dominate global growth — accounting for at least 30 percent of the world’s economic growth this year and in the years to come, Justin Lin Yifu, a cabinet adviser and honorary dean of the National School of Development at Peking University, said at a recent government news conference in Beijing.

Chinese companies are making up a greater share of the world’s exports, manufacturing consumer electronics, personal protection equipment and other goods in high demand during the pandemic. At the same time, China is now buying more iron ore from Brazil, more corn and pork from the United States and more palm oil from Malaysia. That has partly reversed a nosedive in commodity prices last spring and softened the impact of the pandemic on some industries.

Still, China’s recovery has done less to help the rest of the world than in the past because its imports have not increased nearly as much as its exports. This pattern has created jobs in China but placed a brake on growth elsewhere.

China’s economic recovery has also been dependent for months on huge investments in highways, high-speed train lines and other infrastructure. And in recent weeks, the country has seen the beginning of a recovery in domestic consumption.

The affluent and people living in export-oriented coastal provinces were the first to start spending money again. But activity is resuming now even in places like Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the new coronavirus first emerged.

“You’ve had to line up to get into many restaurants in Wuhan, and for Wuhan restaurants that are popular on the internet, the wait is two or three hours,” said Lei Yanqiu, a Wuhan resident in her early 30s.

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Credit…Hector Retamal/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

George Zhong, a resident of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province in western China, said that he had made trips to three provinces in the past two months and has been actively shopping when he is home. “I spend no less than in previous years,” Mr. Zhong said.

China’s economic growth in the past three months came in slightly below economists’ forecasts of 5.2 percent to 5.5 percent. But the performance was still strong enough that stock markets in Shanghai, Shenzhen and Hong Kong rose in early trading on Monday.

The country’s broadening recovery could also be seen in economic statistics just for September, which were also released on Monday. Retail sales climbed 3.3 percent last month from a year ago, while industrial production was up 6.9 percent.

China’s model for restoring growth may be effective, but may not be appealing to other countries.

Determined to keep local transmission of the virus at or near zero, China has resorted to comprehensive cellphone tracking of its population, weekslong lockdowns of neighborhoods and cities and costly mass testing in response to even the smallest outbreaks.

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Credit…Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters

China’s rebound also comes with some weaknesses, particularly a jump in overall debt this year by an amount equal to as much as a third of the economy’s overall output. Much of the extra debt is either borrowing by local governments and state-owned enterprises to pay for new infrastructure, or mortgages taken out by households and companies to pay for apartments and new buildings.

The government is aware of the risk of letting debt accumulate quickly. But reining in new credit would hurt real estate activity, a sector that represents up to a quarter of the economy.

Another risk to China’s recovery is its heavy dependence on exports. The surge in exports in the past three months, along with lower prices for imports of commodities, accounted for a sizable chunk of economic growth. Exports still represent over 17 percent of China’s economy, more than double the proportion that they make up in the American economy.

China’s leaders recognize that the country’s exports are increasingly vulnerable to geopolitical tensions, including the Trump administration’s moves to unwind trade relations between the United States and China. Shifts in global demand might also threaten exports, as the pandemic batters overseas economies.

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Credit…Jane Barlow/Press Association, via Associated Press

Xi Jinping, China’s top leader, has increasingly emphasized self-reliance, a strategy that calls for expanding service industries and innovation in manufacturing, as well as enabling residents to spend more.

“We need to make consumers the mainstay,” said Qiu Baoxing, a cabinet adviser who is a former vice minister of housing, at the news conference in Beijing. “By focusing on domestic circulation, we are actually enhancing our own resilience.”

But empowering consumers has long been a challenge in China. Under ordinary circumstances, most Chinese are compelled to save for education, health care and retirement because of a weak social safety net. The economic slowdown, and the pandemic, have meant lost jobs, compounding the problem, particularly for low earners and rural residents.

Beijing’s approach to helping ordinary Chinese during the slowdown has been to provide companies with tax rebates and large loans from state-owned banks, so that businesses would not need to lay off workers. But some economists argue that Beijing should instead be handing out coupons or checks to more directly assist the country’s poorer citizens.

Millions of Chinese migrant workers endured at least a month or two of unemployment in the spring as factories were slow to reopen after the epidemic. Young Chinese found themselves dipping into their savings to eat or taking on second jobs to make up for slashed wages.

But Chinese government economists are wary of providing direct payments to consumers. They say that the government’s priorities are investment-driven growth and measures to improve productivity and quality of life, such as digging new sewerage systems or adding elevators to three million older apartment towers that lack them.

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Credit…Keith Bradsher/The New York Times

“We’ve seen a lot of suggestions to increase consumption, but the crux is to enrich people first,” said Yao Jingyuan, a former chief economist of the National Bureau of Statistics who is now a policy researcher for the cabinet.

Western governments have experimented with providing extra-large unemployment checks, one-time payments and even subsidized meals at restaurants. These payments have been aimed at helping families sustain a minimum standard of living through the pandemic — which in turn has fueled demand for imports from China.

The widening of the trade surplus — in which the increase in exports exceeded the growth in imports — represented 0.6 percentage points of the 4.9 percent economic growth, an official said on Monday. Consumption and investment in China accounted for the rest.

“On the whole, China’s economy was primarily driven by domestic demand,” Liu Aihua, a spokeswoman for the National Bureau of Statistics, said at a news conference in Beijing.

But Michael Pettis, a finance professor at Peking University, said that as people in other countries supported by government subsidies continue to turn to China for products during the pandemic, “we’re going to see a resurgence of trade conflict, and not just U.S.-China, but global.”

Liu Yi and Amber Wang contributed research.

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Coronavirus Exposes Holes in Sweden’s Generous Social Welfare State

In the popular imagination, Sweden does not seem like the sort of country prone to accepting the mass death of grandparents to conserve resources in a pandemic.

Swedes pay some of the highest taxes on earth in exchange for extensive government services, including state-furnished health care and education, plus generous cash assistance for those who lose jobs. When a child is born, the parents receive 480 days of parental leave to use between them.

Yet among the nearly 6,000 people whose deaths have been linked to the coronavirus in Sweden, 2,694, or more than 45 percent, had been among the country’s most vulnerable citizens — those living in nursing homes.

That tragedy is in part the story of how Sweden has, over decades, gradually yet relentlessly downgraded its famously generous social safety net.

Since a financial crisis in the early 1990s, Sweden has slashed taxes and diminished government services. It has handed responsibility for the care of older people — mostly living at home — to strapped municipal governments, while opening up nursing homes to for-profit businesses. They have delivered cost savings by relying on part-time and temporary workers, who typically lack formal training in medicine and elder care.

This is how the nursing staff at the Sabbatsbergsbyn nursing home in the center of Stockholm found itself grappling with an impossible situation.

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Credit…Felix Odell for The New York Times

It was the middle of March, and several of the 106 residents, most of them suffering dementia, were already displaying symptoms of Covid-19. The staff had to be dedicated to individual wards while rigorously avoiding entering others to prevent transmission. But when the team presented this plan to the supervisors, they dismissed it, citing meager staffing, said one nurse, who spoke on the condition on anonymity, citing concerns about potential legal action.

The facility was owned and operated by Sweden’s largest for-profit operator of nursing homes, Attendo, whose stock trades on the Nasdaq Stockholm exchange. Last year, the company tallied revenue in excess of $1.3 billion.

On weekends and during night shifts, the nurse was frequently the only one on duty. The rest of the staff lacked proper protective gear, said the nurse and a care aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being fired. Management had given them basic cardboard masks — “the kind house painters wear,” the nurse said — while instructing them to use the same ones for days in a row. Some used plastic file folders and string to make their own visors.

By the time the nurse quit in May, at least 20 residents were dead, she said.

“The way we had to work went against everything we learned in school regarding disease control,” the nurse said. “I felt ashamed, because I knew that we were spreaders.”

The lowest-wage workers — who are paid hourly and lack the protection of contracts — continued showing up for shifts, even after falling ill, because government-furnished sick pay did not cover all of their lost wages, the care aide said.

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Credit…Felix Odell for The New York Times

“This is an undervalued part of the labor market,” said Marta Szebehely, an expert in elder care at Stockholm University. “Some care workers are badly paid, badly trained and have really bad employment conditions. And they were supposed to stop a transmission that nobody knew anything about, and without much support.”

Vulnerability in another area was central to the devastation: Over the last two decades, Sweden has substantially reduced its hospital capacity. During the worst of the initial outbreak, elderly people in nursing homes were denied access to hospitals for fear of overwhelming them.

When nursing home residents displayed Covid symptoms, guidelines in force in Stockholm in the initial phase of the pandemic encouraged physicians to prescribe palliative care — forgoing efforts to save lives in favor of keeping people comfortable in their final days — without examining patients or conducting blood or urine tests, said Dr. Yngve Gustafson, a professor of geriatrics at Umea University. He said that practice amounted to active euthanasia, which is illegal in Sweden.

“As a physician,” Dr. Gustafson said, “I feel ashamed that there are physicians who haven’t done an individual assessment before they decide whether or not the patient should die.”

In the United States, some 40 percent of total coronavirus deaths have been linked to nursing homes, according to a New York Times database. In Britain, Covid has been directly blamed in more than 15,000 nursing home deaths, according to government data.

But these are countries characterized by extreme levels of economic inequality. An estimated 45,000 Americans die every year for lack of health care, according to one report. Britons endured a decade of punishing austerity that battered the national health system.

Sweden is supposed to be immune to such dangers. Yet this country of only 10 million people has been ravaged by the coronavirus, with per capita death rates nearly as high as the United States, Britain and Spain, according to World Health Organization data.

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Credit…Elisabeth Ubbe for The New York Times

One element appears to have substantially increased the risks: Sweden’s decision to avoid the lockdowns imposed in much of the rest of Europe as a means of limiting the virus. Though the government recommended social distancing, and many people worked from home, it kept schools open along with shops, restaurants and nightclubs. It did not require that people wear masks.

“There’s been more society transmission, and it’s been more difficult to hinder it from entering the care homes,” said Joacim Rocklov, an epidemiologist at Umea University. “The most precious time that we lost, our mistake was in the beginning.”

Those who operate private nursing homes in Sweden assert that residents have been the victims of the government’s failure to limit the spread of the virus.

“It’s the total transmission in society, that’s the key,” said Martin Tivéus, chief executive of Attendo, the company that owns the Sabbatsbergsbyn home in Stockholm.

Investigations by Swedish media have concluded that private nursing homes suffered lower death rates than their public counterparts. But experts say private and public homes are governed by the same decisive force: Municipalities handle elderly care, and taxpayers have been inclined to pay less.

For decades aggressive public spending was the rule in Sweden, rendering joblessness a rarity. By the beginning of the 1990s, a sense had taken hold that the state had overdone it. It was subsidizing industries that were not internationally competitive. Wages were rising faster than productivity, yielding inflation.

In 1992, Sweden’s central bank lifted interest rates as high as 75 percent to choke off inflation while preventing a plunge in the national currency, the krona. The next year, amid a tightening of credit, Sweden’s unemployment rate surged above 8 percent. The economy contracted, depleting municipal tax revenues.

This played out just as the policy sphere became infused with the thinking of economists like Milton Friedman, whose neoliberal principles placed faith in shrinking the state and lowering taxes as a source of dynamism.

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Credit…Felix Odell for The New York Times

From the middle of the 1990s through 2013, Sweden dropped its top income tax rate to 57 percent from 84 percent while eliminating levies on property, wealth and inheritance. The net effect was a reduction in government revenue equivalent to 7 percent of national economic output.

Under a 1992 law, Swedish elder care shifted from a reliance on nursing homes to an emphasis on home care. Part of the alteration was philosophical. Policymakers embraced the idea that older people would better enjoy their last years in their own homes, rather than in institutional settings.

But the shift was also driven by budget imperatives.

As a share of its economy, Sweden spends 3.2 percent a year on long-term care for the elderly, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, compared with 0.5 percent in the United States and 1.4 percent in Britain. Only the Netherlands and Norway spend more.

But that expenditure is now spread across a population with greater needs. With home care the rule, nursing homes are reserved for older people suffering from complex ailments.

Attendo said it had enough protective gear to satisfy Swedish guidelines, and more than public nursing homes had, but not enough to manage the pandemic. When the company realized it needed more, it confronted a global shortage.

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Credit…Associated Press

“It took five or six weeks to get the volumes outside of China,” said Mr. Tivéus, the Attendo chief executive.

The shortages at Swedish nursing homes underscore the extent to which budget math has taken precedence over social welfare, say those who have watched the refashioning.

“What this pandemic has done is demonstrate a number of system errors that have gone under the radar for years,” said Olle Lundberg, secretary general of Forte, a health research council that is part of the Swedish Ministry of Health and Social Affairs. “We totally rely on the global production chain and just-in-time delivery. The syringes we need today should be delivered in the morning. There is no safety margin. It may be very economically efficient in one way, but it’s very vulnerable.”

Mia Grane was unaware of the systemic issues when she moved her parents into the Sabbatsbergsbyn home in the summer of 2018.

In their younger days, her mother had been an Olympic swimmer. Now, she was descending into Alzheimer’s. Her father used a wheelchair.

The home sat in the center of Stockholm, a 15-minute bike ride from her apartment, with lovely gardens that were used for midsummer parties.

“It was a perfect place,” said Ms. Grane, 51. “They felt at home.”

But her confidence evaporated as the pandemic spread. When she asked the nursing home staff how it planned to manage the danger, it reassured her that everything was fine.

“I thought, ‘If this virus gets into this place,’” she said, “‘a lot of people are going to die.’”

A week later, she read in a local newspaper that a prominent Swedish musician had died. He had lived in the same ward as her parents. She called the home and was told that her father was suffering cold symptoms. A test showed that he had contracted Covid.

Ms. Grane urged the staff to transfer her father to the hospital. It told her that no one was making that journey, she said.

Nursing homes lack advanced medical equipment like ventilators, and hospitals were effectively off limits to nursing home residents.

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“We knew that Sweden had fewer intensive care beds per inhabitants than Italy,” said Dr. Michael Broomé, a physician at an intensive care unit in Stockholm. “We had to think twice about whether to put elderly people with other conditions on ventilators.”

This forced the nursing home to administer comfort care, easing the pain with opioids as death approached.

Ms. Grane’s father died on April 2. “He was all alone,” she said.

She begged the staff to save her mother — “the most important person in my life.” But she wasn’t eating. A week later, her mother died, too.

Ms. Grane struggles to make sense of it — the staff not having proper masks, the hospital deemed off limits, the lack of concern about the nature of the threat.

“For me, it’s clear that they wanted to save costs,” she said. “In the end, it’s the money that talks.”

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China Gives Unproven Covid-19 Vaccines to Thousands, With Risks Unknown

First, workers at state-owned companies got dosed. Then government officials and vaccine company staff. Up next: teachers, supermarket employees and people traveling to risky areas abroad.

The world still lacks a proven coronavirus vaccine, but that has not stopped Chinese officials from trying to inoculate tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people outside the traditional testing process. Three vaccine candidates are being injected into workers whom the government considers essential, along with many others, including employees of the pharmaceutical firms themselves.

Officials are laying out plans to give shots to even more people, citing emergency use, amounting to a big wager that the vaccines will eventually prove to be safe and effective.

China’s rush has bewildered global experts. No other country has injected people with unproven vaccines outside the usual drug trial process to such a huge scale.

The vaccine candidates are in Phase 3 trials, or the late stages of testing, which are mostly being conducted outside China. The people in those trials are closely tracked and monitored. It is not clear that China is taking those steps for everyone who is getting the shots within the country.

The unproven vaccines could have harmful side effects. Ineffective vaccines could lead to a false sense of security and encourage behavior that could lead to even more infections.

The wide use of vaccines also raises issues of consent, especially for employees of Chinese vaccine makers and state-owned companies who might feel pressure to roll up their sleeves. The companies have asked people taking the vaccines to sign a nondisclosure agreement preventing them from talking about it to the news media.

“My worry for the employees of the companies is it may be difficult for them to refuse,” said Dr. Kim Mulholland, a pediatrician at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia, who has been involved in the oversight of many vaccine trials, including those for a Covid-19 vaccine.

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Credit…Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

While China is racing the United States and other countries to develop a vaccine, its rivals are moving more cautiously. American companies have pledged to thoroughly vet a vaccine before wide use, despite pressure from President Trump to go faster. In Russia, the first country to approve a vaccine even before trials were completed, the authorities have yet to administer it to a large population, according to health officials and experts.

It is not clear how many people in China have received coronavirus vaccines. Sinopharm, a Chinese state-owned company with a vaccine candidate in late-stage trials, has said hundreds of thousands of people have received its shots. Sinovac, a Beijing-based company, said more than 10,000 people in Beijing had been injected with its vaccine. Separately, it said nearly all its employees — around 3,000 in total — and their families had taken it.

Hong Kong-based Phoenix Television said this month that its Chinese journalists had been given the Sinopharm vaccine.

Tao Lina, a vaccine expert in Shanghai, said part of the government’s motivation was to “test” the public’s willingness to take a vaccine, laying the groundwork for wider acceptance.

“I think this is our country feeling us out,” said Mr. Tao, a former immunologist at the Shanghai Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “That is to say, even without an epidemic, everyone should consider the possibility of a resurgence and weigh whether they want to get a shot or not.”

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Credit…Wang Zhao/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

On Friday, Zheng Zhongwei, an official with China’s National Health Commission, said the government had “gained the understanding and support” of the World Health Organization after China’s cabinet approved the emergency use program. A spokesperson for the W.H.O. said on Saturday that China had issued a “domestic emergency use authorization,” which are issued at the discretion of countries and are not subject to W.H.O. approval.

The vaccine candidates in Phase 3 trials have been previously tested on smaller groups of people. Phase 3 involves administering a candidate and a placebo to hundreds more, to see whether they are safe to take and effective in stopping the coronavirus. Roughly 100,000 people are involved in those trials, based on Chinese company disclosures. Virtually all of them are in other countries, however, because the coronavirus has been largely tamed in China.

Still, the Chinese government had already approved three vaccines for emergency use on others at home. In July, it said it would prioritize medical workers, epidemic prevention personnel, border inspection officials and people who “ensure basic city operations” to receive vaccines.

Now, it appears that those groups could be expanding.

This month, the government of Shaoyang, a city in Zhejiang Province, asked local officials to identify more people who could qualify as “emergency users.” People in schools, kindergartens and nursing homes were recommended for inclusion, as well as travelers heading to “medium- to high-risk areas.”

Other government notices have asked local officials to identify people as candidates for getting vaccinations, though it was not always clear whether they would be inoculated before or after vaccines had cleared Phase 3 trials.

Tough containment efforts appear to have tamed the virus in most parts of China. Still, outbreaks in Beijing and the far west in recent months have spooked the country’s leaders, who worry that lockdowns could disrupt the economic recovery. Chinese public health experts are also concerned that the arrival of winter and the need to keep people indoors might usher in another outbreak.

A senior Chinese official said this month that a vaccine could be made available to the public as early as November. That same day, a spokeswoman for the United Arab Emirates’ Foreign Ministry said on Twitter that the government had authorized the Sinopharm vaccine to be given to its frontline workers after successful Phase 3 trials in the Emirates.

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Credit…Tingshu Wang/Reuters

Raina MacIntyre, who heads the biosecurity program at the Kirby Institute of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, said she would not recommend the emergency use of vaccines before the conclusion of Phase 3 trials. AstraZeneca, the British-Swedish company, halted late-stage testing in the United States on a vaccine candidate this month after one volunteer fell seriously ill for unknown reasons.

Flawed vaccines can cause significant health problems. In 2017, children who were injected with Sanofi’s dengue vaccine became sicker. Children vaccinated against respiratory syncytial virus, or R.S.V., in the 1960s also suffered side effects, resulting in trials being scrapped.

Broad inoculation campaigns also increase the risk of getting multiple vaccines, which could have adverse effects on a person’s immune response.

“It may be three to six months before we get Phase 3 trial results — it’s not that long to wait,” Dr. MacIntyre said. “You are potentially muddying the waters for the time when we do have Phase 3 trial data for the best possible vaccine.”

Still, China may not want to wait.

In an interview with China Central Television, the state broadcaster, Mr. Zheng, the health official, said that when cold weather arrived, the government might consider expanding the scope of who qualified for emergency use, adding people who work in markets, transportation and the service industry.

“The goal is to first establish an immune barrier among special populations, so that the operations of the entire cities will have a stable guarantee,” Mr. Zheng said.

The vaccine makers and local governments stress that participation is voluntary, and many people who take the vaccines pay a considerable amount to do so. According to government notices, the vaccines would cost about $148, putting them out of reach for many in a country where 600 million people make that much in a month.

It is not clear whether recipients have been fully warned about the risks of taking an unapproved vaccine.

Dr. Mulholland, of the Murdoch institute, said he would give an experimental coronavirus vaccine only to health care workers, especially in places like Brazil, which has one of the world’s highest case counts, and continue monitoring them. “They can be educated on the potential risks,” he said.

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Credit…Nicolas Asfouri/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Jerome Kim, head of the International Vaccine Institute, said he would like to know whether the Chinese authorities were following up on the vaccine recipients. He worries that people might engage in risky behavior if they believe they are protected by a vaccine of unknown efficacy.

“That has all sorts of negative consequences,” Dr. Kim said. “They could be infected and not know it, or they could be spreading the infection because they are relatively asymptomatic if the vaccine partially works.”

That possibility seems not to have fazed many in China.

On a recent Tuesday, Chen Deming, a former commerce minister, boasted to a trade and investment forum in Beijing that he did not need to wear a mask because he had taken a vaccine in Phase 3 trials. “Everybody, please relax,” he said, drawing laughter and applause from the audience.

Later, in an interview on the sidelines of the event, Mr. Chen, who turns 71 this year, said that his vaccine was developed by Sinopharm and that he had developed antibodies to protect against the coronavirus. He said a third of the Commerce Ministry’s staff had joined him in applying to receive the inoculation.

“Because I go abroad sometimes, I applied to take it,” Mr. Chen told a New York Times reporter. Later, he added: “Do you want a shot, too?”

Keith Bradsher contributed reporting. Amber Wang, Claire Fu and Liu Yi contributed research.

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Pasta, Wine and Inflatable Pools: How Amazon Conquered Italy in the Pandemic

NAPLES, Italy — Ludovica Tomaciello had never shopped on Amazon before being trapped at her parents’ house in March during Italy’s coronavirus lockdown. Bored one afternoon scrolling TikTok, she spotted hair scrunchies that she then tracked down and ordered on Amazon.

When the package arrived, she was hooked. She soon signed up for Amazon Prime and turned to the site to buy a tapestry and neon lights to decorate her bedroom; halter tops, jeans and magenta Air Jordan sneakers; and a remote to wirelessly take selfies for Instagram.

“My mom was like, ‘Can you stop this?’” Ms. Tomaciello, 19, who is pursuing a language degree, said while at a cafe near her home in Avellino, about 20 miles east of Naples. When stores reopened in May, Amazon remained her preferred way to shop because of the convenience, selection and prices, she said. One friend even asked her to use it to discreetly order a pregnancy test.

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Credit…Gianni Cipriano for The New York Times

Amazon has been one of the biggest winners in the pandemic as people in its most established markets — the United States, Germany and Britain — have flocked to it to buy everything from toilet paper to board games. What has been less noticed is that people in countries that had traditionally resisted the e-commerce giant are now also falling into its grasp after retail stores shut down for months because of the coronavirus.

The shift has been particularly pronounced in Italy, which was one of the first countries hard hit by the virus. Italians have traditionally preferred to shop in stores and pay cash. But after the government imposed Europe’s first nationwide virus lockdown, Italians began buying items online in record numbers.

Even now, as Italy has done better than most places to turn the tide on the virus and people return to stores, the behavioral shift toward e-commerce has not halted. People are using Amazon to buy staples like wine and ham, as well as web cameras, printer cartridges and fitness bands. At one point, orders of inflatable swimming pools through the site were so backlogged that some customers complained.

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Credit…Gianni Cipriano for The New York Times

“The change is real, the change is deep, and the change is here to stay,” said David Parma, who has conducted surveys about shifting consumer behavior in Italy for Ipsos in Milan. “Amazon is the biggest winner.”

North America is Amazon’s largest market, accounting for about two-thirds of its $245.5 billion global consumer business. But the Seattle-based company has been targeting Europe and other new markets to grow.

Amazon entered Italy in 2010; its first sale in the country was a children’s book. But the company had only muted success over the next decade. Fewer than 40 percent of Italians shopped online last year, compared with 87 percent in Britain and 79 percent in Germany, according to Eurostat, a European Union government statistics group.

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Credit…Gianni Cipriano for The New York Times

Amazon was hampered in Italy by a lack of widespread broadband and poor roads for delivering packages, especially in the south. Italy has the oldest population in Europe, and many people are also wary of providing their financial details online. E-commerce accounts for only 8 percent of retail spending in the country.

“There were some structural issues that we had to face,” said Mariangela Marseglia, Amazon’s country manager for Italy. “Unfortunately, our country was and still is one of those where technological understanding and tech culture is low.”

The turning point was the pandemic. Mr. Parma said 75 percent of Italians shopped online during the lockdown. Total online sales are estimated to grow 26 percent to a record 22.7 billion euros this year, according to researchers from Polytechnic University of Milan. Netcomm, an Italian retail consortium, called it a “10-year evolutionary leap,” with more than two million Italians trying e-commerce for the first time between January and May.

Hurdles remain for Amazon. Small and midsize businesses are an integral part of Italian society. They make up roughly 67 percent of the economy, excluding finance, and about 78 percent of employment, which are higher than E.U. averages, according to E.U. statistics.

In Gragnano, a hilltop town near the Amalfi Coast with a 500-year history of pasta manufacturing, Ciro Moccia, the owner of La Fabbrica della Pasta, said Amazon was a “dangerous” monopoly that could destroy businesses like his that rely on conveying the quality of a product.

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Credit…Gianni Cipriano for The New York Times
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Credit…Gianni Cipriano for The New York Times

But during the lockdown, his company had no choice but to sell on Amazon after many stores shut. Standing above the family’s factory recently, where semolina flour was mixed with spring water and pressed into 140 different pasta shapes, Mr. Moccia said, “I am very worried.”

His son, Mario, 24, who tried for years to get his father to sell more online, said he saw it as an opportunity.

“If you are not on Amazon, you don’t have the same visibility,” he said.

Amazon’s success has drawn scrutiny. Unions have also criticized Amazon’s labor practices, including staging a multiday strike in March over virus-related safety policies. Italian regulators are investigating it for price gouging during the pandemic. In 2017, Amazon agreed to pay €100 million, or roughly $118 million, to settle a government tax dispute.

Ms. Marseglia said Amazon was “a lifeline for customers” in the pandemic and provided a new way for businesses to reach people online.

Amazon has rushed to keep up with demand. It plans to open two new fulfillment centers and seven delivery stations in Italy. It also is aiming to hire roughly 1,600 more people by the end of the year, pushing its full-time work force to 8,500 from fewer than 200 in 2011.

“We are accelerating the rhythm with which we make investments and hire new people,” said Ms. Marseglia, who is originally from Puglia in southern Italy.

With unemployment about 9 percent nationwide — and closer to 20 percent in areas of southern Italy — many are eager for Amazon to expand.

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Credit…Gianni Cipriano for The New York Times
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Credit…Gianni Cipriano for The New York Times

When Francesca Gemma graduated from college in 2016, Amazon was the only company hiring in her area. She now works at an Amazon fulfillment center picking hundreds of products from the shelves every hour so the goods can be shipped to customers.

“On the first day, the muscles of my legs felt like I had done a marathon — I couldn’t climb up the stairs,” she said. “It’s not for everyone, but it’s a job.”

Ms. Gemma, who is also a representative for Cgil, a national labor union, inside the center, said orders had skyrocketed during the lockdown and remained high. But she said that besides some bonuses she received at the peak of the emergency, Amazon did not provide warehouse staff much else to share in its success.

“Nothing remained for workers,” Ms. Gemma said, adding that her work has become more monotonous because of the enforcement of the sanitary protocols.

Amazon said it paid higher-than-average wages for warehouse work.

Amazon has made an effort to win over Italians. Parents are encouraged to shop on its website through a program that can steer a percentage of their purchases to their children’s school.

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Credit…Gianni Cipriano for The New York Times

In Calitri, a village of 4,000 people in southern Italy, Amazon sponsored a Christmas festival last year as part of a marketing campaign to show it could reach even the most isolated areas. It paid for a Christmas tree in the town square and provided gifts to children. The mayor hoped it would lead more artisans and farmers to sell through the site.

But Luciano Capossela, a jeweler in Calitri, helped organize a protest of the Christmas festival with other shop owners, who closed their stores for the night and blacked out their windows.

He has watched as the community has embraced Amazon. One customer recently texted him a screenshot of a wristwatch for sale on Amazon, asking if Mr. Capossela could match the price. When he said the Amazon price was lower than what he could get from a distributor, the customer never replied.

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Credit…Gianni Cipriano for The New York Times
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Credit…Gianni Cipriano for The New York Times

“If we keep going this way in 10 to 15 years, we will only have Amazon and everything else will no longer exist,” Mr. Capossela said. In an area where depopulation is so bad that some property is for sale for just 1 euro, he said last year’s protest was meant as a warning: “A village with couriers and without shops.”

He pulled up a picture on his phone taken the morning after the Amazon festival. It showed that the Christmas tree had blown over in a storm.

“It was God’s will,” he said.

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As China Ages, a Push to Add Elevators Offers a New Kind of Economic Relief

GUANGZHOU, China — When China faced previous economic slowdowns, it favored pharaonic, multibillion-dollar construction projects to quickly pump money into the economy. A bullet train network that now connects 700 cities. Ultramodern expressways longer than America’s interstate highways. And 81 of the world’s 100 highest bridges.

Now, a top Chinese official has a new idea to rev up growth during the coronavirus pandemic: elevators.

China’s premier, Li Keqiang, and his allies in the government want to retrofit as many as three million older, walk-up apartment buildings, projects that usually cost less than $100,000.

The downsized ambitions reflect the evolution of China, from a youthful but impoverished country to a graying but increasingly middle-class one.

Although China still likes grandiose infrastructure projects, they no longer have the same economic effect. High-speed rail lines and superhighways already link every large city, so new ones connect smaller and smaller communities in China’s mountainous interior — at exorbitant cost. And the country’s debt has spiraled so high that it has become a serious drag on growth.

While elevators may pack a smaller economic punch, they provide a social benefit for a rapidly aging population. A wealthier Chinese society is also demanding more from its leaders.

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Credit…The New York Times

Kong Ting endured nine months of pregnancy in a 10th-floor walk-up apartment in Guangzhou, the semitropical hub of southeastern China. Several times a day, she trudged up and down the building’s 162 stairs. “The hardest part was carrying food and drinking water,” she said.

Every day, she sat on the building’s third-floor patio and complained to the neighbors, many of them older. Last year, most apartment owners in the building chipped in $4,300 apiece, collected a large municipal subsidy, and added a small elevator to the side of the building.

Buildings all over China need a similar upgrade.

As China’s economy started to open up after Mao’s death in 1976, young migrants moved en masse from the farms to newly built factories popping up everywhere. Over the next 25 years, Chinese cities swelled by almost as many people as the entire population of the United States.

To house the new city dwellers, municipal governments and state-owned enterprises hastily built no-frills apartment towers of seven to 10 stories across the country. The Soviet-style, hulking complexes soon dominated the landscape, particularly in manufacturing hubs like Guangzhou.

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Credit…The New York Times

Almost none had elevators. China was still a poor country. It had few factories to manufacture elevators. Imports were expensive.

The lack of elevators is now a major problem in a rapidly aging society.

Through the 1960s, Mao encouraged families to have lots of children. The slogan became “the more people, the stronger we are.”

Starting this year, babies born in the 1960s are turning 60, an age by which many Chinese retire. They have few children or grandchildren to help them, since China began imposing its stringent “one child” policy in the 1970s.

“If we do not prepare ahead of time, we may have a greater challenge than expected” as the number of older adults in China rises steeply, said Lu Jiehua, a professor of demographic studies at Peking University.

Without elevators, many longtime tenants become trapped in their homes, reliant on food deliveries and unable to meet friends or go for walks.

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Credit…The New York Times
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Credit…The New York Times

Jiang Weixing, a white-haired woman in her 90s, sat in sunshine in a wheelchair outside a Guangzhou clinic on a recent afternoon. She waited briefly with two younger family members for a special wheelchair-accessible taxi that took her home after a medical treatment.

Until the recent addition of an elevator to her high-rise building, Ms. Jiang almost never left her apartment. Doing so required two or three people to carry her down many flights of stairs.

Elevators, or the lack of them, have become another cause of surging economic inequality in China.

Guangzhou, a fairly affluent and socially progressive city, can afford to subsidize the projects and has already added about 6,000 elevators to older buildings — almost as many as the rest of China combined. In Beijing, the prosperous municipal government pays almost the entire cost of elevator installations, offering a $93,000 subsidy to apartment buildings within the city limits.

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Credit…The New York Times

Many less affluent cities have no programs for elevator installation or tiny ones. In far southern China, Zhanjiang offers a meager $3,000 subsidy for each apartment building.

The projects also are not universally appreciated, particularly by residents on bottom floors. Elevators usually block one or more of their windows and scarcely benefit them.

Chen Xin, a 52-year-old owner of a ground-floor apartment in Guangzhou, initially resisted an elevator project in her building that involved bricking up her front door, forcing her to come and go through a side door onto a patio. Ms. Chen agreed after residents of higher floors paid her $3,500.

To avoid arguments and court cases, Guangzhou imposed rules on the projects. If the owners of two-thirds of the units in an apartment building and two-thirds of the square footage in the building vote in favor of the elevator, the project must be installed.

Guangzhou’s approach is spreading. Hefei, a metropolis of eight million people in central China, announced on Sept. 1 that it was adopting a similar rule.

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Credit…The New York Times

From an economic perspective, a national elevator policy, which Premier Li proposed in May in his annual speech to the country’s legislature, could help mitigate the economic effects of the pandemic on China’s blue-collar workers.

Constructing elevator towers of concrete or glass and steel up the sides of apartment buildings is labor intensive. It could provide jobs to some of the tens of millions of still-unemployed Chinese migrant workers.

But the plan’s supporters may lack the political muscle to make it truly national.

Building elevator shafts on the sides of buildings is a task dominated by small, private contractors in China. The contractors then buy elevators from a multinational — usually Otis Elevator, Schindler, Kone, Mitsubishi Electric or Hitachi — or one of several smaller Chinese manufacturers, like IFE Elevators in Guangzhou.

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Credit…The New York Times
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Credit…The New York Times

While China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, has called for greater reliance on domestic demand to stimulate growth and has separately called for addressing poverty and improving housing for the elderly, he has not specifically backed a national elevator agenda.

His main constituencies — the military, security agencies and very large state-owned enterprises — have little to gain from elevator projects. They have focused on building rail lines and highways that allow China to rush troops to remote hot spots, like the border with India.

Housing experts in China insist that the country will resolve its elevator shortage. “Everyone invests together, and then solves the issue,” said Huo Jinhai, a senior engineer at the Ministry of Housing and Construction.

And the plan has a powerful backer: the Ministry of Finance.

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Credit…The New York Times

Such support is rare. The ministry has kept central government spending on a very tight rein even as most local and provincial governments have plunged deep into debt.

One of the ministry’s most famous budget hawks is Jia Kang, its longtime research director. When he finally retired, the ministry set up an influential advisory group nearby for him to run, the China Academy of New Supply-Side Economics.

In his new role, Mr. Jia has emerged as an outspoken advocate of spending money — on elevators. His support is born of personal experience.

Mr. Jia, 66, and his wife, Jiang Xiaoling, 63, bought a tiny ground-floor apartment years ago and then, as their savings grew, purchased a somewhat larger third-floor apartment nearby. They walk back and forth between the two apartments many times every day, and want an elevator installed so that they do not need to trudge up the stairs.

“In recent years,” he said, “my wife frequently complains, ‘Why do we tolerate these conditions?’”

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Credit…The New York Times

Coral Yang contributed research.

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‘It’s So Essential’: WeChat Ban Makes U.S.-China Standoff Personal

Every day for nearly five years, Juliet Shen’s 94-year-old grandmother in Shanghai has begun her day with a WeChat message to her 40 children and grandchildren scattered across the globe.

“Good morning, everyone!” she writes.

And each time, the diaspora of family members across China, the United States and Central America respond with a cascade of warm replies. Ms. Shen, 27, who lives in Brooklyn, also chats with her parents in China and her brother in Nicaragua in a separate WeChat group, where they share thoughts about their daily meals and other quotidian routines.

On Friday, Ms. Shen called her own meeting with her parents and brother to discuss the U.S. government’s plan to hobble WeChat, the hugely popular messaging service that is a lifeline for many Americans to stay in touch with family and friends in China. When she heard the news about WeChat, Ms. Shen said, “I felt like the wind got knocked out of me. It is the only and easiest way I’ve stayed connected to my family.”

The escalating tensions between the United States and China have long been a largely esoteric issue for many people, something that seemed to be made up of officials bickering with each other over measures like tariffs and items like semiconductors. But the U.S. government’s action to cut off the Chinese-owned WeChat and another app, TikTok, from American app stores at midnight on Sunday has now made the battle intensely personal for millions of people.

The feud is jeopardizing an essential means of communication when Americans are already restricted from traveling to China because of the coronavirus and travel rules. The Commerce Department’s action on Friday focused on new downloads of WeChat and the ability to transfer payments through the app, but those who already have the messaging service are likely to see its service degrade over time because they will be unable to update it with software improvements and security fixes.

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Credit…Thomas Peter/Reuters

The Trump administration’s action further decouples the digital systems of China and the United States, creating an increasingly fragmented internet. The United States is imposing the type of exclusionary restrictions that China has long placed on foreign tech companies that tried to operate there. Facebook and Google dominate in most of the world, but they do not offer their services in China. Twitter is also blocked in China.

WeChat, a do-everything social network that is owned by China’s Tencent, was one of the last major bridges connecting the two digital worlds.

“This move is a page ripped straight out of China’s playbook,” said Lan Xuezhao, founding partner of Basis Set Ventures, a venture capital firm in San Francisco.

Ms. Lan, who was born in China and travels there once a year, said that the internet experiences in the two countries had diverged for years, but that this latest escalation was “a new level.” She herself has lots of family in China, including older relatives who all use WeChat and are not prepared to move to a new service, she said.

“There’s no way that people like me don’t use WeChat,” she said. “It’s so essential.”

She added that she planned to use a virtual private network, a service that can disguise the true location of a user, to continue using WeChat in the United States. It’s a common tactic employed by people in China to gain access to Google, YouTube and Facebook.

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Credit…Yan Cong for The New York Times

Much has been made of the Trump administration’s moves against TikTok, the viral video app owned by China’s ByteDance, but the Commerce Department said a full ban of TikTok would not take effect till Nov. 12. TikTok is in deal talks with the American software maker Oracle and others, which may give it a reprieve from being blocked.

That means the fallout is more severe for WeChat users. Lindsey Luper, 17, who lives in central New Jersey and has both TikTok and WeChat, said her family used WeChat to send money and canned goods to relatives in China who needed financial support and food. Losing access to the app is “very scary,” she said.

She enjoys TikTok, but she said what was happening with WeChat was much more distressing.

“It’s like comparing a game on your phone to the messages app,” she said. “If both were getting banned, clearly one you need for communication with pretty much everyone in your life. And the other one, it’s unfortunate, but it’s not a necessity in the slightest.”

To prevent a WeChat ban, a group calling itself the U.S. WeChat Users Alliance has filed a motion in a federal court in San Francisco asking for a temporary injunction against the block.

Other people said they were scrambling to find alternatives to WeChat. Sirui Hua, 29, a resident of Jersey City, N.J., told family and friends in China to sign up for QQ, a messaging app also owned by Tencent. He is also planning to use Apple’s FaceTime to video chat with his parents in China. But it is hard to replicate the experience of WeChat, where he has more than 2,000 contacts, he said.

Every Saturday evening, Mr. Hua’s parents, who live in Jiangsu Province near Shanghai, message him — their only child — on WeChat for a one-hour video chat. Lately, they have warned him to stay home and to always wear his mask as coronavirus rates increase in the United States. It’s a reversal from early this year, he said, when he warned his parents to stay home in China because of soaring infection rates there.

During the pandemic, WeChat has been a particularly important line of connection, he said. Mr. Hua has his WeChat desktop app open during the day, getting messages from dozens of friends in China. His phone app is where he sees the app’s scrolling Moments feed, similar to a Facebook Timeline, which keeps him updated on how they are doing.

Other WeChat users in the United States rely on the service to keep in touch with customers or maintain important cultural traditions.

Hong Allen, 53, works for Usana Health Sciences, a nutritional and dietary supplement company that is based in Salt Lake City and has operations in China. Most of her clients and customers are in China, and she uses WeChat to communicate with them. Now, she is afraid she will lose all her contacts.

“I really don’t know what to do,” said Ms. Allen, a resident of Vancouver, Wash. “How do I live?”

Huajin Wang, 43, of Pittsburgh, uses WeChat to send a virtual red envelope of money — a Chinese tradition of giving a cash gift in red packets for special occasions or holidays — to friends and family. The U.S. restrictions would prevent that small but meaningful gesture, she said.

“It’s just a small amount, like 50 cents a person, but it is a tradition and sending it make me feel connected to these traditions,” Ms. Wang said.

Ms. Shen said she and her family decided to fall back on email and Skype for communication, the tools they used before WeChat became a daily fixture for them. She added that the feud between China and the United States had slowly pulled her family apart.

Her father, a U.S. permanent resident, was held by Transportation Security Administration officials while traveling to China six months ago, and his laptop was confiscated, she said. Her parents, who have lived in the United States since the 1980s, were on their way to take care of their aging parents in Beijing and Shanghai. Now they are afraid they will face difficulties returning.

“It’s an impossible choice,” Ms. Shen said. “They feel pressure to declare loyalty. It feels like no matter what we do, we will be punished.”

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Facebook Is Failing in Global Disinformation Fight, Says Former Worker

OAKLAND, Calif. — While Facebook has heralded improvements to its fight against disinformation in the United States, it has been slow to deal with fake accounts that have affected elections around the world, according to a post published by a former employee.

The employee, who worked on a Facebook team dedicated to rooting out so-called inauthentic activity on the service, said executives ignored or were slow to react to her repeated warnings about the problem.

“In the three years I’ve spent at Facebook, I’ve found multiple blatant attempts by foreign national governments to abuse our platform on vast scales to mislead their own citizenry,” Sophie Zhang, the employee, wrote in a 6,600-word post shared with the entire company on her final day on the job.

As countries like Russia, China and Iran have continued sophisticated disinformation operations, Ms. Zhang’s post has drawn attention to smaller countries that run cheap and easy bot networks to influence their citizens. In one example, bots promoted the president of Honduras. In another, they attacked opposition figures in Azerbaijan.

Facebook’s failure to root out the bots, or automated accounts, operating on behalf of political figures raises questions for how effectively the company can police a platform used by over 2.7 billion people.

Ms. Zhang was fired in August, and left the company in early September. In her post, she speculated that part of the reason she lost her job at Facebook was because she neglected the routine duties of her work to focus on the political activity by the false accounts.

In response to Ms. Zhang’s post, Facebook said the company regularly removed coordinated influence campaigns, and had a large team working on security.

“Working against coordinated inauthentic behavior is our priority, but we’re also addressing the problems of spam and fake engagement. We investigate each issue carefully, including those that Ms. Zhang raises, before we take action or go out and make claims publicly as a company,” said Liz Bourgeois, a Facebook spokeswoman. The company would not comment on why Ms. Zhang was fired.

BuzzFeed News reported about the post earlier on Monday.

Ms. Zhang’s post details how she chanced upon the politically motivated activity by the bots. It was outside the scope of her duties at Facebook, she wrote, but she decided to take action and try to draw attention to the problem.

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Credit…Gustavo Amador/EPA, via Shutterstock

“I found and took down attacks of this sort worldwide — from South Korea to India, from Afghanistan to Mexico, from Brazil to Taiwan, and countless other nations,” wrote Ms. Zhang, who declined to answer questions from The New York Times about what she wrote. “I have personally made decisions that affected national presidents without oversight, and taken action to enforce against so many prominent politicians globally that I’ve lost count.”

Though she briefed Facebook executives, including a vice president and members of the policy team, the company continued to drag its feet on taking action against the bots, wrote Ms. Zhang. She added that she was considered a low-level employee and was given neither support nor guidance on how to deal with the fake accounts. Instead, she wrote, she faced stonewalling and delays largely from Facebook’s policy and legal teams.

A network that included false accounts boosting the Honduran president, Juan Orlando Hernandez, was discovered by Ms. Zhang in 2019, but it took Facebook more than nine months to act, Ms. Zhang wrote. Two weeks after Facebook removed the accounts, many returned.

Facebook was just playing “whack-a-mole,” with the false accounts, wrote Ms. Zhang. On her last day at the company, she searched and found current activity from the accounts, she added.

Ms. Zhang discovered that the ruling political party in Azerbaijan was also using false accounts to harass opposition figures. She flagged the activity over a year ago, she said, but Facebook’s investigation remains open and officials have not yet taken action over the accounts.

Facebook was “largely motivated by PR,” wrote Ms. Zhang, who added that “the civic aspect was discounted because of its small volume, its disproportionate impact ignored.”

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From Asia to Africa, China Promotes Its Vaccines to Win Friends

The Philippines will have quick access to a Chinese coronavirus vaccine. Latin American and Caribbean nations will receive $1 billion in loans to buy the medicine. Bangladesh will get over 100,000 free doses from a Chinese company.

Never mind that China is still most likely months away from mass producing a vaccine that is safe for public use. The country is using the prospect of the drug’s discovery in a charm offensive aimed at repairing damaged ties and bringing friends closer in regions China deems vital to its interests.

Take, for example, Indonesia, which has long been wary of Beijing. China’s leader, Xi Jinping, assured the nation’s president, Joko Widodo, in a call last week: “China takes seriously Indonesia’s concerns and needs in vaccine cooperation.”

Mr. Xi hailed the two countries’ cooperation on developing a vaccine as “a new bright spot” in relations, according to a statement from China’s Foreign Ministry. “Together, China and Indonesia will continue to stand in solidarity against Covid-19,” he promised.

China’s vaccine pledges, on top of earlier shipments of masks and ventilators around the world, help it project itself as a responsible player as the United States retreats from global leadership. Beijing’s moves could also help it push back against accusations that the ruling Communist Party should be held responsible for its initial missteps when the coronavirus first emerged in China in December.

The ability to develop and deliver vaccines to poorer countries would also be a powerful signal of China’s rise as a scientific leader in a new post-pandemic global order.

“People are very willing to take a Chinese vaccine,” said Ghazala Parveen, a senior official at the National Institute of Health in Pakistan, where two Chinese vaccine makers are conducting trials. “In fact, we are being asked by people to have the vaccine ready as soon as possible.”

By some measures, China is leading the global race for a Covid-19 vaccine. It has four candidates in the last phase of clinical trials, more than any other country.

The United States has three vaccine candidates in late-stage trials, with Pfizer saying it could apply for emergency approval as early as October and Moderna saying it hopes to have a vaccine by the end of the year. AstraZeneca, a British-Swedish company that received U.S. government funding to develop its vaccine, paused its late-stage global trials this week because of a serious suspected adverse reaction in a participant.

China has approved at least two experimental vaccines under an emergency use program that started in July with soldiers and employees of state-owned companies and has quietly expanded to include health care and aviation workers. Its vaccine makers have built factories that can produce hundreds of thousands of doses.

Mr. Xi has declared that China would make domestically developed vaccines a global public good, though his government has provided few details.

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Credit…Ding Haitao/Xinhua, via Associated Press

China has long viewed contributing to global health as an opportunity to build its soft power.

“The government definitely would like to see that China is successful in producing a good vaccine and that many countries want it,” said Jennifer Huang Bouey, an epidemiologist and China expert at the RAND Corporation. “It’s beneficial for its diplomacy and changing the narrative on Covid.”

But Chinese vaccine companies that have gone abroad to conduct clinical trials have generated controversy amid fears that local residents are being treated like guinea pigs. And with so much still unknown about the coronavirus, the vaccines could make it to the last stage of trials only to stumble.

Despite the uncertainty, Beijing has pushed its prospective vaccines with confidence and has used them to help smooth over frictions.

Last month, Premier Li Keqiang met with officials from Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam to damp criticism that China had contributed to a devastating drought in the Southeast Asian nations. He also offered Chinese vaccines — a proposal that was well received.

In a speech during the same summit, Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia, a staunch supporter of China, singled out Beijing for praise, saying he “would like to give a high appreciation of efforts of our friend China in producing a vaccine.”

In the Philippines, where China is competing with the United States for influence, President Rodrigo Duterte told lawmakers in July that he had “made a plea” to Mr. Xi for help with vaccines. He also said he would not confront China over its claims to the South China Sea.

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Credit…Iqbal Kusumadireza/EPA, via Shutterstock

A day later, Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry, said China was willing to give the Philippines priority access to a vaccine.

Chinese leaders have made similar offers to countries in Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, the Middle East and South Asia — regions where Beijing has sought to expand its influence.

“We pledge that once the development and deployment of the Covid-19 vaccine is completed in China, African countries will be among the first to benefit,” Mr. Xi told a meeting of African leaders in June. The Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi, promised in July that China would extend $1 billion in loans for vaccines to Latin American and Caribbean countries, according to the government of Mexico.

For all its talk of providing vaccines as a public good, China seems determined to do so only on its own terms. It has been reticent on whether it plans to join Covax, a World Health Organization-backed mechanism that aims to help countries distribute a coronavirus vaccine equitably. (The Trump administration has flat-out rejected the initiative.)

“In fact, we have already cooperated with some countries,” Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for China’s Foreign Ministry, told reporters last week. “China always keeps its word.”

If China wins the race for a vaccine, it will owe its success to some of these countries, which have played an indispensable role by providing Chinese vaccine makers with human test subjects.

Chinese drugmakers have taken their research abroad because the outbreak at home has been under control for months.

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Credit…Nicolas Asfouri/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

In Bangladesh, Sinovac Biotech, a vaccine maker based in Beijing, is testing its vaccine on 4,200 health care workers in Dhaka, the capital. The Chinese company has agreed to provide over 110,000 free vaccine doses to the country, according to Dr. John D. Clemens, executive director of Bangladesh’s International Center for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, which is helping conduct the trials.

That is a tiny fraction of the 170 million residents of Bangladesh, one of Asia’s poorest countries. And despite their participation in the Chinese clinical trials, Bangladeshis fear that the vaccines that result may be priced out of the reach of most of the country’s citizens.

“If any person in the world gets deprived of their right to a Covid-19 vaccine because of patent rights and profitability, this would be the biggest injustice in this century,” said Md. Sayedur Rahman, a professor of pharmacology at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University in Dhaka.

The Foreign Ministry in Beijing has emphasized that China will not seek to establish a monopoly on vaccine supply. State news media reports have also rejected accusations that China is using vaccines as a diplomatic tool, while government-backed academics assert that the provision of vaccines is altruistic.

“There will certainly be no strings attached,” said Ruan Zongze, executive vice president of the China Institute of International Studies. “Since it is going to be a global public good, adding any conditions would arouse suspicion from the other party.”

But China is already drawing concern in countries on the receiving end of its overtures, as well as from regional powers that view Beijing as encroaching on their spheres of influence.

In Nepal, where China would like to conduct clinical trials on 500 workers in a cement company, politicians have raised questions about the safety of the vaccines and the lack of transparency.

“Shouldn’t we be assured about its side effects?” Prakash Sharan Mahat, a former foreign minister of Nepal and a leader of the country’s main opposition party, Nepali Congress, said in an interview.

India, which is wary of Beijing’s intentions in South Asia, has responded to China’s offers of vaccines for Bangladesh and Nepal with its own pledges to provide its allies with vaccines.

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Credit…Roman Pilipey/EPA, via Shutterstock

Some countries may have few alternatives to China.

Indonesia has started a last-stage clinical trial for Sinovac on 1,620 volunteers and has signed an agreement with the Chinese company for 50 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine concentrate that would allow an Indonesian state-owned vaccine maker, PT Bio Farma, to produce doses locally.

Some political experts in Indonesia worry about the leverage that China would wield over the country, but they acknowledge that Indonesia has little choice.

“Should we be suspicious, or should we be grateful?” asked Muhammad Zulfikar Rakhmat, an academic at Universitas Islam Indonesia, who researches China’s foreign policy in Indonesia.

“I think both.”

Reporting was contributed by Julfikar Ali Manik, Muktita Suhartono, Bhadra Sharma and Salman Masood. Amber Wang and Claire Fu contributed research.