Just months after returning to the skies, Boeing’s troubled 737 Max jet is facing another setback.
Boeing said Friday that it had notified 16 airlines and other customers of a potential electrical problem with the Max and recommended that they temporarily stop flying some planes. The company refused to say how many planes were affected, but four U.S. airlines said they would stop using nearly 70 Max jets. Boeing would not say how long the planes would be sidelined.
Airlines and Boeing have tried hard in the last several months to convince passengers that the Max is safe. This latest problem is sure to spur further doubt among some travelers about the plane.
“It’s a Max, so everybody is interested and that makes perfect sense, but this is the aviation maintenance system working the way that it should,” said John Cox, a former airline pilot and crash investigator and chief executive of Safety Operating Systems, an aviation consulting firm.
Boeing said the affected airlines should verify that a component of the electrical power system on certain Max planes was sufficiently fastened. Airlines had resumed flying the jet after it was grounded for nearly two years because of a pair of accidents that killed nearly 350 people.
have complained of careless practices there in the past, including debris left dangerously close to electrical wiring of the 787 Dreamliner, a large plane used on long flights.
The families of those killed in the crashes have been critical of both Boeing and the F.A.A., saying neither has done enough to root out the problems that caused the crashes.
“Boeing proclaims to be a changed company, but it’s clear their culture is built around cutting corners and putting profits over safety,” Yalena Lopez-Lewis, whose husband, Antoine, died in the crash in Ethiopia, said in a statement on Friday. “Since the deaths of 346 people, their sole focus has not been safety but to perform the bare minimum for regulators to allow it back in the air. This grounding illustrates that the Max is still unsafe to fly.”
After working to fix the Max and restore its credibility with airlines and regulators for much of the past two years, Boeing has been on an upswing in recent weeks. United said it was speeding up deliveries of the Max and expanding its order to 180 planes in the coming years. Europe and the United States agreed to temporarily suspend tariffs in a long-running dispute over Boeing and its rival Airbus. And February was the first month in more than a year in which Boeing reported net positive commercial airplane sales.
The company’s stock is up about 17 percent for the year.
WASHINGTON — A highly infectious variant of the coronavirus that was first identified in Britain has become the most common source of new infections in the United States, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Wednesday. The worrisome development comes as officials and scientists warn of a possible fourth surge of infections.
Federal health officials said in January that the B.1.1.7 variant, which began surging in Britain in December and has since slammed Europe, could become the dominant source of coronavirus infections in the United States, leading to a huge increase in cases and deaths.
At that point, new cases, hospitalizations and deaths were at an all-time high. From that peak, the numbers all declined until late February, according to a New York Times database. After several weeks at a plateau, new cases and hospitalizations are increasing again. The average number of new cases in the country has reached nearly 65,000 a day as of Tuesday, concentrated mostly in metro areas in Michigan as well as in the New York City region. That is an increase of 19 percent compared with the figure two weeks ago.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the C.D.C. director, who warned last week that she felt a recurring sense of “impending doom,” said on Wednesday that 52 of the agency’s 64 jurisdictions — which include states, some major cities and territories — are now reporting cases of these so-called “variants of concern,” including B.1.1.7.
60 percent more contagious and 67 percent more deadly than the original form of the coronavirus, according to the most recent estimates. The C.D.C. has also been tracking the spread of other variants, such as B.1.351, first found in South Africa, and P.1, which was first identified in Brazil.
The percentage of cases caused by variants is clearly increasing. Helix, a lab testing company, has tracked the relentless increase of B.1.1.7 since the beginning of the year. As of April 3, it estimated that the variant made up 58.9 percent of all new tests.
That variant has been found to be most prevalent in Michigan, Florida, Colorado, California, Minnesota and Massachusetts, according to the C.D.C. Until recently, the variant’s rise was somewhat camouflaged by falling infection rates over all, leading some political leaders to relax restrictions on indoor dining, social distancing and other measures.
against the warnings of some scientists.
Federal health officials are tracking reports of increasing cases associated with day care centers and youth sports, and hospitals are seeing more younger adults — people in their 30s and 40s who are admitted with “severe disease,” Dr. Walensky said.
It is difficult for scientists to say exactly how much of the current patterns of infection are because of the growing frequency of B.1.1.7.
“It’s muddled by the reopening that’s going on and changes in behavior,” said Dr. Adam Lauring, a virologist at the University of Michigan.
But he noted that people were becoming less cautious at a time when they should be raising their guard against a more contagious variant. “It’s worrisome,” he said.
At the same time, the United States is currently vaccinating an average of about three million people a day, and states have rushed to make all adults eligible. The C.D.C. reported on Tuesday that about 108.3 million people had received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, including about 64.4 million people who have been fully vaccinated. New Mexico, South Dakota, Rhode Island and Alaska are leading the states, with about 25 percent of their total populations fully vaccinated.
Scientists hope that vaccination will blunt any potential fourth surge.
On Tuesday, President Biden moved up his vaccination timetable by two weeks, calling states to make every American adult eligible by April 19. All states have already met or expect to beat this goal after he initially asked that they do so by May 1.
hundreds of genomes predicted that this variant could become predominant in the country in a month. At that time, the C.D.C. was struggling to sequence the new variants, which made it difficult to track them.
But those efforts have substantially improved in recent weeks and will continue to grow, in large part because of $1.75 billion in funds for genomic sequencing in the stimulus package that Mr. Biden signed into law last month. By contrast, Britain, which has a more centralized health care system, began a highly promoted sequencing program last year that allowed it to track the spread of the B.1.1.7 variant.
“We knew this was going to happen: This variant is a lot more transmissible, much more infectious than the parent strain, and that obviously has implications,” said Dr. Carlos del Rio, a professor of medicine and an infectious disease expert at Emory University. In addition to spreading more efficiently, he said, the B.1.1.7 strain appears to cause more severe disease, “so that gives you a double whammy.”
Perhaps even more troubling is the emergence of the virulent P.1 variant in North America. First identified in Brazil, it has become the dominant variant in that country, helping to drive its hospitals to the breaking point. In Canada, the P.1 variant emerged as a cluster in Ontario, then shut down the Whistler ski resort in British Columbia. On Wednesday, the National Hockey League’s Vancouver Canucks said at least 21 players and four staff members had been infected with the coronavirus.
“This is a stark reminder of how quickly the virus can spread and its serious impact, even among healthy, young athletes,” the team’s doctor, Jim Bovard, said in a statement.
Covid-19 was the third leading cause of death in the United States in 2020, displacing unintentional injuries and trailing only heart disease and cancer, federal health researchers reported on Wednesday.
The coronavirus was the cause of death for 345,323 Americans in a year that exacted a steep price in lives lost. In roughly 30,000 additional cases, death certificates cited Covid-19 but it was not deemed the cause of death, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
Some 3,358,814 Americans died of all causes in 2020, a 15 percent increase in the age-adjusted death rate over that in 2019, when 2,854,838 Americans died. In addition to Covid-19, heart disease claimed higher numbers of lives than expected last year, as did Alzheimer’s and diabetes — a phenomenon statisticians refer to as excess deaths.
“There’s a substantial number of excess deaths, beyond what we would have expected in a normal year,” said Robert Anderson, chief of the mortality statistics branch at the N.C.H.S. and a senior author of two reports published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
the virus was in fact the underlying cause of death in the vast majority of the cases. “Since the beginning of the pandemic, people were claiming deaths were simply being attributed to Covid when people were dying of other causes,” Dr. Anderson said. “We show that’s not the case.”
The researchers’ examination of accompanying conditions on death certificates, like pneumonia or respiratory failure, and contributing conditions, like high blood pressure and diabetes, were consistent with what doctors see in patients who die of Covid-19.
Covid-19 death rates were highest among men; elderly people aged 85 and over; and Native American, Alaska Native and Hispanic individuals. Over all, the highest age-adjusted death rates for all causes were seen among the elderly; Black, Native American or Alaska Native individuals; and men.
President Biden wants to forge an “alliance of democracies.” China wants to make clear that it has alliances of its own.
Only days after a rancorous encounter with American officials in Alaska, China’s foreign minister joined his Russian counterpart last week to denounce Western meddling and sanctions.
He then headed to the Middle East to visit traditional American allies, including Saudi Arabia and Turkey, as well as Iran, where he signed a sweeping investment agreement on Saturday. China’s leader, Xi Jinping, reached out to Colombia one day and pledged support for North Korea on another.
Although officials denied the timing was intentional, the message clearly was. China hopes to position itself as the main challenger to an international order, led by the United States, that is generally guided by principles of democracy, respect for human rights and adherence to rule of law.
John Delury, a professor of Chinese studies at Yonsei University in Seoul, said of China’s strategy.
As result, the world is increasingly dividing into distinct if not purely ideological camps, with both China and the United States hoping to lure supporters.
geopolitical competition between models of governance. He compared Mr. Xi to the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, “who thinks that autocracy is the wave of the future and democracy can’t function” in “an ever-complex world.”
He later called the challenge “a battle between the utility of democracies in the 21st century and autocracies.”
declared a genocide.
quashing of dissent in Hong Kong, from Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, though a Saudi statement did not mention Xinjiang.
China’s most striking alignment is with Russia, where Mr. Putin has long complained about American hegemony and its use — abuse, in his view — of the global financial system as an instrument of foreign policy.
The Russian foreign minister arrived in China last Monday railing about American sanctions and saying the world needed to reduce its reliance on the U.S. dollar.
China and Russia have drawn closer especially since Mr. Putin’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 was met with international outrage and Western penalties. While the possibility of a formal alliance remains remote, the countries’ diplomatic and economic ties have deepened in common cause against the United States. So have strategic ties. The People’s Liberation Army and the Russian military now routinely hold exercises together and have twice conducted joint air patrols along Japan’s coast, most recently in December.
The two countries announced this month that they would build a research station on the moon together, setting the stage for competing space programs, one led by China and the other by the United States.
“The latest steps and gestures by the Biden administration, seen as hostile and insulting by the Russian and Chinese leaders, have predictably pushed Moscow and Beijing even deeper into a mutual embrace,” said Artyom Lukin, a professor of international studies at the Far Eastern Federal University in Vladivostok, Russia.
report on human rights in the United States on Wednesday, using as an epigraph George Floyd’s plea to the police,“I can’t breathe.”
“The United States should lower the tone of democracy and human rights and talk more about cooperation in global affairs,” Yuan Peng, president of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, a government think tank, wrote the same day.
From that perspective, Mr. Xi’s outreach to North Korea and Mr. Wang’s visit to Iran could signal China’s interest in working with the United States to resolve disputes over those two countries’ nuclear programs.
Mr. Biden’s administration may be open to that. After the Alaska meetings, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken mentioned both as potential areas where “our interests intersect” with China’s.
sealed trade and investment agreements, including one with the European Union, hoping to box out Mr. Biden.
It didn’t work. The first results of Mr. Biden’s strategy emerged last week, when the United States, Canada, Britain and the European Union jointly announced sanctions on Chinese officials over Xinjiang. China’s condemnation was swift.
“The era when it was possible to make up a story and concoct lies to wantonly meddle in Chinese domestic affairs is past and will not come back,” Mr. Wang said.
China retaliated with sanctions of its own against elected officials and scholars in the European Union and Britain. Similar penalties followed Saturday on Canadians and Americans, including top officials at the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, a government body that held a hearing this month on forced labor in Xinjiang. All affected will be barred from traveling to China or conducting business with Chinese companies or individuals.
Theresa Fallon, director of the Center for Russia Europe Asia Studies in Brussels, said China’s sanctions on Europeans were an overreaction that would drive officialsinto an anti-China camp.
They could also jeopardize China’s investment deal with the European Union, as many of those penalized are members of the European Parliament, whose approval is required. So could new campaigns by Chinese consumers against major Western brands like H & M and Nike.
Until now, many European Union nations have not wanted to explicitly choose sides, eschewing the kind of bipolar ideological divisions seen during the Cold War, in part because of deepening economic ties with China.
With each new twist in relations, however, clearer camps are emerging. “The Chinese mirror all the time,” Ms. Fallon said. “They always accuse people of Cold War thinking because I think that’s really, deep down, how they think.”
Chris Buckley contributed reporting, and Claire Fu contributed research.
Five people, including the Czech Republic’s richest man, were killed on a heli-skiing excursion on Saturday when their chopper crashed near a glacier in Alaska, officials said.
The Czech billionaire, Petr Kellner, whose net worth has been estimated at $17.5 billion by Forbes, was aboard the Airbus AS350 B3 helicopter when it went down near Knik Glacier, the lodge that chartered the aircraft said on Sunday.
Mr. Kellner, 56, was killed, along with another guest of the Tordrillo Mountain Lodge, Benjamin Larochaix, also of the Czech Republic; two of the lodge’s guides, Gregory Harms and Sean McMannany; and the helicopter’s pilot, Zach Russel, officials said.
One survivor was listed in serious but stable condition, according to the Alaska State Troopers, which said that the National Transportation Safety Board would conduct an investigation to determine what caused the crash. Emergency responders said they were notified at 10 p.m. on Saturday that the helicopter had not returned from an excursion and that debris from a crash had been observed near Knik Glacier.
The accident was the latest misadventure for an extreme sport with little margin for error that has become a magnet for thrill seekers. Flights to remote mountains, playgrounds of untouched powder, are known for their steep price tags and risk.
The lodge, which offers weekly packages of $15,000 per person for shared accommodations and heli-skiing charters, expressed its sorrow about the crash in a statement on Sunday night.
“This news is devastating to our staff, the community in which we operate and the families of the deceased,” the lodge said. “In 17 years of operations this is the first time we’ve had to face an event of this measure.”
A representative for the lodge, which is in Judd Lake, Alaska, said she did not know what caused the crash. Officials said the helicopter was operated by Soloy Helicopters in Wasilla, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The lodge confirmed that it had chartered the flight.
According to the lodge, Mr. Kellner was a frequent guest and friend of the resort. His investment company, PPF Group, also confirmed the death in a statement released Monday, saying that the crash was under investigation.
“His professional life was known for his incredible work ethic and creativity, but his private life belonged to his family,” the company said of Mr. Kellner, adding that the funeral would be held with only close family members.
Mr. Kellner made his first fortune in the 1990s after starting an investment fund, which he used to buy a controlling stake in the country’s largest insurance company.
In October, he acquired a major European broadcast network, Central European Media Enterprises, for $1.1 billion, raising concerns in the Czech Republic that the network might lose independence. But in a statement released at the time, Mr. Kellner said the acquisition was driven by “a sense of responsibility” and vowed that the network would retain its objectivity.
PPF Group has also donated millions of respirators and masks and thousands of coronavirus testing kits and swabs to help the Czech Republic in the pandemic, the Czech news media reported.
He was married with four children, according to his company’s website.
According to the lodge, Mr. Harms, 52, was a pioneering guide in the Alaskan heli-skiing community and operated his own excursion business, Third Edge Heli. Mr. McMannany, 38, had been a guide for more than 10 years and was an avalanche instructor, the lodge said.
Details about Mr. Larochaix, 50, and Mr. Russel, 33, the pilot, were not immediately available.
Texas announced on Tuesday that all adult residents in the state will be eligible for coronavirus vaccinations starting on Monday. Texas is the latest state to broaden vaccine eligibility to all adults ahead of a May 1 deadline set by President Biden.
“With every dose, Texas gets closer to normal and protects more lives from COVID-19 hospitalization and death,” the state’s health department said in a Twitter post.
West Virginia, Alaska and Mississippi are the only states where all adults are currently eligible. Others, like Texas, have announced expansions for a future date or are more gradually expanding eligibility.
If the start of spring break is any indication — when an average of more than a million fliers a day passed through security at U.S. airports — domestic summer travel is poised to pop.
Airlines have been expanding their route networks, especially in vacation destinations, as competition for leisure travelers heats up. Leisure travelers are expected to lead the recovery as business travel continues to lag.
Here are five things we know about flying this summer.
The skies will be busier, the planes fuller
According to the airline industry group Airlines for America, passenger volume on U.S. carriers was down 53 percent in mid-March compared to pre-Covid-19 levels, but up from the darkest days of the pandemic, when it bottomed out below 90 percent.
With the soft bounce, only Delta Air Lines has continued to block middle seats through April. It would not comment on an extension. (Alaska Airlines is keeping middle seats open in its Premium Class through May 31).
Global Business Travel Association doesn’t expect a full business travel recovery before 2025.
The expansion of low-cost carriers during the pandemic is likely to keep prices down.
“Leisure low-cost carriers will be back to 2019 levels this summer, maybe even a little bit higher,” said Savanthi Syth, an airline analyst at Raymond James & Associates.
Southwest Airlines plans to begin service to Myrtle Beach, S.C., this summer, one of 17 destinations it has added or announced in the pandemic, including Palm Springs, Calif., and Bozeman, Mont.
Spirit Airlines is adding St. Louis, Mo., and Milwaukee. Shortly after Feb. 23, when Spirit announced it would serve Louisville, Ky., a Hopper survey found competing fares from Louisville to Las Vegas went from $330 to $225 round-trip.
Breeze Airways and Avelo Airlines, expected to launch this year. “The more low-fare airlines, the more low-fare seats available to the public, not just on these airlines, but on carriers that compete with them.”
Flexible terms will tighten, as voucher dates loosen
During the pandemic, most airlines eliminated their cancellation and change fees (though Southwest never charged them), but the rules are changing for some of the cheapest fares.
By April, basic economy tickets at American and Delta will become nonrefundable and nonchangeable, as they were before the pandemic. United said it hasn’t decided whether to extend the waiver on basic fares past March 31.
Beginning April 1, JetBlue passengers buying the carrier’s basic fare will be subject to change and cancellation fees.
Ultra-low-cost carriers are also ditching waivers. Spirit is suspending fees on tickets booked only through the end of March. After March 31, change fees at Frontier Airlines will range from zero to $59, depending on when a ticket is changed.
Many travelers who had to cancel their plans since the pandemic have received vouchers for use on future flights that normally expire after a year. A study by TripActions, a business travel management company, found that 55 percent of vouchers for unused tickets will expire in 2021, and 45 percent in 2022.
The fight for refunds from pandemic-related cancellations continues. This month, Consumer Reports and U.S. Public Interest Research Group sent a letter to 10 airlines demanding refunds if requested — citing the nearly 90,000 refund complaints received by the U.S. Department of Transportation in 2020, representing 87 percent of all complaints about airlines — and an extension of voucher expirations to the end of 2022.
Scott’s Cheap Flights.
Passengers will still be masking between bites
Move over, Biscoff cookies. Chicken wraps and Coca-Cola are poised to make a comeback.
During the pandemic, many airlines reduced or eliminated food service, but this summer, Frontier Airlines plans to resume food sales. United said it will adjust its policies in the coming weeks. Southwest plans to add soft drinks in addition to cups of water with its snacks. Delta implemented a new touchless paying system on March 16 for onboard sales, currently limited to earbuds, but expected to expand to food and drink.
“This is one of the biggest gripes passengers have about flying right now,” Mr. Harteveldt said, noting that in many airports, concessions remain closed, making it hard for travelers to bring their own food on board. “If health considerations are improving to where restaurants can reopen and if industry-funded research shows airplanes are one of the cleanest and safest places to be, and you layer in vaccinations, I think airlines have no choice than to plan to resume cabin service.”
Most observers say the protocols airlines put in place to make the public feel safe about flying again — especially deep cleaning and mask mandates — will continue.
Airlines had mask mandates before the Biden administration’s executive order went into effect Feb. 1. Implementing the order, the Transportation Security Administration requires masks in airports and on planes until May 11.
A T.S.A. spokeswoman said it was too soon to say what will happen after that date, but given airline support, masks are likely to be required going forward.
requiring face-coverings for all passengers and customer-facing employees since last April, and this policy will remain in place for the duration of the pandemic,” wrote Katherine Estep, a spokeswoman for group, in an email.
A recent J.D. Power survey of more than 1,500 travelers in airports found 58 percent said requiring masks was the most important safety measure for airports to adopt; 42 percent said they would likely continue mask-wearing and social distancing through 2021 and beyond.
Even if you can eat in the air, don’t expect to remove the masks for prolonged periods. “Masks must be worn between bites and sips,” United says on its website.
There will be easier access to the great outdoors
The lack of international and business travel has scrambled the airline route map. Flights to international business destinations like London and Frankfurt were trimmed in favor of more flights to vacation destinations, particularly in Florida and Mountain States like Montana.
Comparing March 2021 to March 2019, nearly all states saw declines in scheduled flights. Only traffic to South Dakota and Montana grew.
Most carriers are announcing new service to leisure destinations in time for summer and in many cases are offering convenient point-to-point service, modeled on low-cost carriers, rather than routing fliers through hubs.
There are new flights to Honolulu from Austin, Texas, coming in April on Hawaiian Airlines. With partners JetBlue and Alaska, American is adding 10 routes from Austin. Southwest plans to extend its original winter service to Telluride and Steamboat Springs, Colo., through the summer. JetBlue recently added Miami and Key West, Fla., and Allegiant is new to Key West, Jackson, Wyo., and Portland, Ore.
While the trend may be rural, bargains remain in cities.
“U.S. cities are very affordable this summer, and appear poised to make a comeback,” wrote Mel Dohmen, a spokeswoman at the online travel agency Orbitz in an email, noting flights to Chicago, New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle are all cheaper this July compared to July 2019.
New York will again lower its age requirements for Covid-19 vaccine eligibility, allowing anyone 50 and older to be inoculated beginning on Tuesday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said on Monday.
The change moves the state closer to meeting a call from President Biden for all U.S. states to open vaccinations to all eligible adults by May 1.
So far, only Alaska and Mississippi have opened Covid-19 vaccination to all adults in those states, though an increasing number of states and Washington, D.C., have announced plans to do so by Mr. Biden’s deadline, if not earlier.
Mr. Cuomo has not set a timeline for doing so, but New York has been gradually expanding eligibility as more vaccine supply has become available.
New York City’s health data, 27 percent of the city’s adult residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine, while 13 percent have been fully vaccinated.
HONG KONG—The U.S. and China are tiptoeing toward cooperation on climate change despite recent testy talks between senior officials, with the two governments’ chief climate envoys scheduled to come together for formal discussions this week.
The U.S.’s climate envoy, John Kerry, will join his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, at a virtual climate conference on Tuesday. China will chair the meeting of top officials from dozens of European countries, the European Union and Canada.
Tuesday’s conference, known as the Ministerial on Climate Action, is an annual meeting of major economies and polluters that was set up by China, the European Union and Canada after the U.S. moved to exit from the Paris accord in 2017. Mr. Kerry’s decision to join the event is intended to signal that the U.S. is back at the climate table, people familiar with the plans said.
The event marks the first formal engagement between Messrs. Kerry and Xie in the two months since the Biden administration took office, though the two have spoken informally about the possibility of setting up a more formal mechanism of engagement to tackle climate issues, according to the people.
It comes on the heels of talks last week in Alaska between the most senior American and Chinese foreign-affairs officials, who sniped openly over human rights, aggression against other countries and the U.S.’s role in the world.
Given the tensions, the Kerry-Xie interaction marks a test of the Biden administration’s China strategy, which looks to carve out cooperation on issues like climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic while the two powers compete for global influence and the control of critical technologies.
More on U.S.-China Relations
Beijing also wants to put the rivalry on a more predictable track after relations went into near-freefall during the Trump administration.
“Climate is an existential issue. It’s possible to work on it even when there is great power competition,” said one of the people familiar with the coming Kerry-Xie meeting.
The State Department and China’s environmental protection ministry confirmed Messrs. Kerry’s and Xie’s attendance at Tuesday’s virtual climate meeting. China said both men wouldn’t meet separately during the virtual conference, while the State Department declined to comment whether Mr. Kerry would interact directly with his Chinese counterpart.
Climate has emerged as a promising area for collaboration for the world’s two largest emitters of greenhouse gases. President Biden has made the issue a priority, vowing to make the U.S. a global leader and re-entering the landmark international accord known as the Paris Agreement, which former President Donald Trump withdrew from, saying it was unfair to the U.S.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has likewise made it known he takes climate seriously, using a policy meeting this month to reiterate China’s need to restrain carbon emissions and reach carbon neutrality.
Mr. Xie and Mr. Kerry, as secretary of state in the Obama administration, worked on the Paris accord together. After Mr. Kerry was named climate envoy by Mr. Biden, the Chinese government reappointed Mr. Xie to the role he held for more than a decade before stepping down in 2018.
The Biden administration is under domestic political pressure to hew to the tough stance it has promised on China. Republican lawmakers and China hawks in the security establishment have warned that Mr. Kerry and climate negotiations might be used by Beijing as a wedge to divide the administration and soften its approach.
During Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s confirmation hearing in January, Sen. Mitt Romney (R., Utah) told him: “I hope you’re never tempted to give in in your strategy with regards to China in order to obtain a climate advantage that Secretary Kerry might be promoting.”
Mr. Blinken shook his head in apparent agreement.
Chinese policy makers likewise worry that the U.S. could try to leverage cooperation on climate to extract concessions in other areas, said Li Shuo, a Beijing-based senior policy adviser at Greenpeace.
Following Mr. Blinken’s Alaska talks with his Chinese counterparts, the official Chinese-language readout published by China’s state news agency Xinhua on Saturday said Washington and Beijing would set up a working group on climate change.
In response to a request for confirmation from The Wall Street Journal, a State Department spokesman said the two sides discussed the climate crisis in Alaska but didn’t form a formal working group.
Mr. Kerry said during a news conference in January that the U.S. intended to work with China on climate change as a “critical stand-alone issue” without trading at the expense of other concerns. Mr. Kerry is coordinating his work with the rest of the national security team, said one of the people familiar with the matter.
Washington and Beijing have both shown a desire to ramp up leadership and rally countries to set ambitious goals ahead of a United Nations climate conference in November.
Mr. Biden is expected to announce new climate goals for the U.S. before or at a global environmental summit on April 22. Chinese officials have proposed scheduling a virtual meeting between Messrs. Xi and Biden on the sidelines.
Mr. Xi said in September that China would achieve carbon neutrality—net zero carbon-dioxide emissions—by 2060, with emissions peaking before 2030.
The U.S. wants a stronger commitment from Beijing. While its commitments are “a significant step forward, China is not yet on a path that will allow the world to keep a 1.5-degree Celsius limit on global temperature rise within reach, which scientists tell us is necessary to stave off the most catastrophic impacts,” the State Department said.
Looser peak emissions targets for China and other developing countries compared with more stringent cuts for developed nations was among the reasons the Trump administration gave for quitting the Paris accord.
Mr. Xi could add to China’s commitments by, for example, pledging a ban on investments in coal at home and abroad, implementing an absolute carbon emissions cap or moving China’s carbon peak forward, said some of the people familiar with the negotiations.
For the U.S., talks with China won’t be the way to get Beijing to move, said one of the people. Rather, the U.S. needs to get stronger offers on climate from other countries, especially in Asia. “You need to have others on board. You need a coalition. That’s how you move China,” the person said.
A joint announcement of climate targets in 2014 by Mr. Xi and then-President Barack Obama served as a galvanizing moment for other countries to come on board the Paris Agreement.
U.S.-China collaboration will also be necessary to rally countries in the run-up to the United Nations conference later this year, said Kevin Rudd, a former Australian prime minister and the president of the Asia Society.
“They will work together because it’s in their own national interest,” Mr. Rudd said. What form that cooperation takes is a secondary concern, he added.
—Bob Davis contributed to this article.
Write to Sha Hua at firstname.lastname@example.org and William Mauldin at email@example.com
A Chinese court on Monday tried a former Canadian diplomat on accusations of spying, Canadian officials said, the second such trial in recent days and one that will most likely intensify tensions among China, Canada and the United States.
A court in Beijing presided over the trial of the former diplomat, Michael Kovrig, who was detained by the Chinese authorities in late 2018, shortly after Canada arrested a top executive at the Chinese technology firm Huawei at the request of the United States.
The trial was held in secret, according to the Canadian Embassy in Beijing, with the Chinese authorities barring foreign diplomats and journalists from attending. In a show of support for Mr. Kovrig, more than two dozen diplomats representing 26 countries, including Canada and the United States, tried to gain access to the courtroom in Beijing on Monday, only to be turned away by security officials.
Mr. Kovrig’s friends, family and former co-workers have said he is innocent.
“From the moment he was detained, the political nature of his case has been clear,” said Richard Atwood, interim president of the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based research organization where Mr. Kovrig worked as an adviser. “Michael should be released immediately so he can return home to his loved ones.”
appeared before a court on Friday in Dandong, a northeastern city. That verdict would be announced at a later date, the court said.
“The arbitrary detention of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig for more than two years now is completely unacceptable,” Jim Nickel, a top official at the Canadian Embassy in Beijing who tried to gain access to the courtroom on Monday, said in a statement.
The prosecutions of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor have unfolded against a backdrop of growing tensions over China’s increasingly assertive behavior on the global stage. Critics have labeled China’s action “hostage diplomacy” and have called on Canada and the United States to work to secure the two men’s release.
Canadian and American officials have described the men’s detention as arbitrary and part of China’s efforts to secure the release in Canada of the Chinese executive Meng Wanzhou, the daughter of the founder of Huawei. Ms. Meng faces sweeping fraud charges in the United States, which is seeking her extradition.
marred by tensions, and the two sides left without any joint statement of their willingness to work together.
American officials on Monday denounced China’s decision to go forward with the trials. “The charges are a blatant attempt to use human beings as bargaining leverage,” a spokesman for the United States Embassy in Beijing said in a statement. “The practice of arbitrary detention to exercise leverage over foreign governments is completely unacceptable.”
China has defended its handling of the cases, saying that the Canadians broke Chinese law.
“Chinese judicial organs handle cases independently in accordance with the law and fully guarantee the lawful rights of the individuals concerned,” Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said at a news briefing in Beijing on Friday.