Erosions of human rights, he said, “are being worsened by Covid-19, which autocratic governments have used as a pretext to target their critics.”

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Blinken’s Welcome by NATO Doesn’t Hide Differences on Key Issues

BRUSSELS — Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken sought to smooth alliance feathers ruffled by the previous U.S. administration on a trip to NATO and the European Union this week, but his diplomatic calm did not completely mask deep-seated issues.

Mr. Blinken appeared to hit all the right soothing notes, talking of the American desire to “revitalize the alliance” and consult and coordinate with America’s Western allies “wherever and whenever we can.” He met with the E3 — the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany — and those of the Visegrad Four — Romania, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. He met with his Baltic colleagues.

He praised NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who has faced internal criticism for his sometimes awkward efforts to flatter former President Donald J. Trump and keep him from blowing up the alliance with bombastic threats. Mr. Blinken also offered nice words for embattled European Union Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and the bloc’s foreign-policy chief, Josep Borrell Fontelles.

And he scheduled meetings with his Belgian counterpart and a virtual thank-you to the staff of the three American embassies in Brussels.

the troop withdrawal agreement it struck with the Taliban last year is coming due. A decision is coming soon, and “in together, adjust together and, when the time is right, leave together” remains the NATO position, even if it is becoming clearer that the original withdrawal deadline of May 1 is likely to slip by several months.

Mr. Blinken said that he had provided NATO colleagues “the president’s thinking.” But just as important, he insisted, were their views, which he had shared with the White House Tuesday night, he said.

“We will consult with our friends, early and often,’’ he said, describing it as “a change from the past that our allies are already seeing.’’

He gave no indication of when a decision on how many troops to withdraw, and when, might be coming. But it seemed clear that Washington and NATO will want to give time, perhaps as much as six months, for a new effort at getting the Afghan government and the Taliban to reach a power-sharing government. The risk is that after May 1, the originally agreed date for American troops to leave, the Taliban will renew attacks on NATO forces.

China is also an undercurrent of strain. European allies are reluctant to be pushed into an American-led confrontation with China. Those countries, and especially large export-driven economies like Germany, are more dependent on China for trade.

But Mr. Blinken promised that “the United States won’t force our allies into an ‘us-or-them’ choice with China,” despite Beijing’s “coercive behavior,” he said, that “threatens our collective security and prosperity” and its efforts “to undercut the rules of the international system and the values we and our allies share.”

At the same time, Mr. Blinken said, Washington would seek to work with China on issues like climate change and health security, and do the same with Russia, despite its own aggressive actions, on nuclear arms control, “strategic stability” and climate.

And then there is the Nord Stream 2 natural-gas pipeline, a Russia-owned project that will take Russian gas to Germany, bypassing Ukraine and Poland. Mr. Biden has made no secret of his opposition to the pipeline and his intention to follow legal requirements to impose sanctions on any company or institution that aids in its construction.

Mr. Blinken repeated that position to Foreign Minister Heiko Maas of Germany at the start of their bilateral meeting. At the same time, he emphasized that Germany is among America’s most important allies, that the pipeline is “an irritant in an rock-solid alliance,’’ and that Germany has some choices to make.

On Iran, Mr. Blinken insisted that the E3, participants in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, were aligned with Washington in demanding that Iran make the first move to restore compliance with it. Mr. Blinken said that Washington remained open to restart diplomatic talks with the Iranians on nuclear issues, but that “the ball is in their court.’’ Iran has rejected that stance, arguing that the United States abandoned the deal under Mr. Trump, reimposing harsh sanctions, and should remove them first.

Mr. Blinken also encouraged NATO allies to continue to spend more on defense as they have promised, saying that a more modern and adaptable NATO needs more resources. “When our allies shoulder their fair share of the burden, they will have a fair say in the decisions,’’ he said.

But he also had a veiled warning for NATO allies who are regressing in democratic practices, like Hungary, Poland and Turkey. Without naming them, he said, “some of our allies are moving in the wrong direction.” NATO allies must “all speak up when countries take steps that undermine democracy and human rights,’’ he said.

He further warned that to maintain and sustain American support, the alliance must also serve American interests.

“We can’t build a foreign policy that delivers for the American people without maintaining effective alliances,’’ he said. “And we can’t sustain effective alliances without showing how they deliver for the American people.’’

Of course the other 29 countries in the alliance have voters, too. But this week’s visit was about restoration and revival, not open criticism.

As Mr. Stoltenberg said: “We have now a unique opportunity to start a new chapter in the trans-Atlantic relationship,” adding: “Secretary Blinken, Tony, once again welcome to NATO. You are here not just among allies, but also among friends.’’

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North Korea Launches Missile Test as Tensions Rise With U.S.

SEOUL — North Korea test-fired two short-range cruise missiles over the weekend, South Korean defense officials confirmed Wednesday, adding to a series of provocations and statements in recent weeks that experts say are warnings to Washington.

The test took place off the west coast of North Korea on Sunday, just days after the country accused the United States and South Korea of raising “a stink” on the Korean Peninsula with their annual military drills. It did not violate United Nations resolutions, which ban North Korea from developing or testing ballistic missile technologies. It did, however, mark the country’s first missile test since President Biden took office in January.

When North Korea launches missile tests, they are usually celebrated through state media and quickly confirmed by the South Korean military. ​But North Korean media has not reported on Sunday’s test. South Korean officials​ said Wednesday that they had​ detected the test when it occurred, but decided not to immediately report on it. They did not elaborate on their decision.

South Korean defense officials tend to consider short-range cruise missile tests less of a provocation than ballistic launches. They also tend not to highlight what they consider minor provocations from the North when trying to promote inter-Korean dialogue. Sill, when North Korea launched short-range cruise missiles off its east coast in April last year, they were promptly confirmed by South Korea. ​In this case, South Korean officials only confirmed the test after it was first reported by The Washington Post.

extradite the North Korean businessman, who is set to face trial in an American court on charges of money laundering and violating international sanctions. North Korea accused Washington of being a “backstage manipulator” in the case, and warned that it would “pay a due price.”

It also said​ that it felt no need to respond to recent attempts by the Biden administration to establish dialogue, dismissing them as a “delaying-time trick.”

As Washington strengthens its alliances with Tokyo and Seoul​, Mr. Kim and Xi Jinping, China’s leader, have vowed to bring their two communist countries closer together.

In a message to Mr. Xi reported in North Korean media this week, Mr. Kim stressed the need to strengthen the unity between the two countries in order to “cope with the hostile forces.” In his own message to Mr. Kim, Mr. Xi vowed to ​help ​preserve “peace and stability” on the Korean Peninsula.

North Korea’s latest missile test suggests Mr. Kim “will tolerate continued economic reliance on China in order to come out of the pandemic on the offensive against Washington and Seoul,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.

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Fear and Hostility Simmer as Ethiopia’s Military Keeps Hold on Tigray

The calm is deceptive.

A stubbled crater attests to a recent artillery barrage, but with its bustling streets and shops, the highland Ethiopian city of Mekelle has an air of relative peace.

Then the stories start spilling out.

Of the hospital that begins its days with an influx of bodies bearing gunshot or knife wounds — people killed, relatives and Red Cross workers say, for breaching the nightly curfew.

Of the young man who made the mistake of getting into a heated argument with a government soldier in a bar. Hours later, friends said, four soldiers followed him home and beat him to death with beer bottles.

Of a nightlong battle between government forces and local militia fighters in a nearby town and its aftermath, when soldiers returning to collect their dead stormed into nearby homes, firing indiscriminately.

obtained by The New York Times.

A spokesman for the Ahmara regional government told Bloomberg this week that it was pressing to officially incorporate western Tigray into Amhara.

an investigation was approved by the U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

In testimony to Congress last week, the United States secretary of state, Antony J. Blinken, called the situation in Tigray unacceptable and reiterated calls for Eritrean troops to withdraw immediately.

“They need to come out,” Mr. Blinken said.

Mr. Mulu, the interim leader of Tigray, cuts a lonely figure in Mekelle. An ethnic Tigrayan installed by Mr. Abiy nine days into the war, he lives and works from a suite at the Axum Hotel where he is trying to trying to restart Tigray’s war-battered bureaucracy.

Unlike Mr. Abiy, Mr. Mulu does not deny the Eritrean presence in Tigray. And in an interview he said he had initiated his own investigation into reported atrocities.

“It’s not acceptable that people should die like this,” he said. “But we need evidence. We have requested our security forces to investigate it.”

Tigray’s health services, once among the best in Ethiopia, have been ravaged. On Monday, Doctors Without Borders said that dozens of clinics across the region had been destroyed and plundered by soldiers, often deliberately.

quit his job over the reports of atrocities in Tigray, accusing Mr. Abiy of leading Ethiopia “down a dark path toward destruction and disintegration.”

Inside Tigray, soldiers detained Ethiopian translators and reporters working for four international outlets, including The Times, last month. The men were released without charge days later, but by then most foreign reporters had been forced to leave Tigray.

In such a fraught environment, even massacres are contested.

Mr. Abiy’s officials frequently cite a massacre in Mai Kadra, a town in western Tigray, on Nov. 9, as an example of T.P.L.F. war crimes. Witnesses cited in an Amnesty International report blamed the deaths on Tigrayan fighters.

with a reputation for brutality, and insisted that the majority of victims were Tigrayans.

Solomon Haileselassie, 28, said he watched the slaughter from his hiding place in a garbage dump. “I saw them cut off people’s legs and arms with axes,” he said.

Fisseha Tekle, Amnesty International’s Horn of Africa researcher, said the group had received credible new evidence of Tigrayan deaths, but stood by the finding that the majority of victims were Amharas.

Restricted access and the “high politicization of violence” make it hard to establish the truth about much of anything in Tigray, Mr. Fisseha added.

An employee of The New York Times contributed reporting from Mekelle, Ethiopia.

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In First Talks, Dueling Accusations Set Testy Tone for U.S.-China Diplomacy

ANCHORAGE — Even before the Biden administration’s first face-to-face meeting with senior Chinese diplomats on Thursday, American officials predicted the discussions would not go well. They were right: The traditional few minutes of opening greetings and remarks dissolved into more than an hour of very public verbal jousting, confirming the expected confrontational tone between the geopolitical rivals.

U.S. officials said the two days of talks would continue, but immediately accused the Chinese delegation of violating the format for the sensitive discussions that had sought to find some common ground amid the many conflict points between them.

Yang Jiechi, China’s top diplomat, accused the United States of taking a “condescending” approach to the talks and said the American delegation had no right to accuse Beijing of human rights abuses or give lectures on the merits of democracy.

At one point, he said the United States would do well to repair its own “deep seated” problems, specifically pointing to the Black Lives Matter movement against American racism. At another, after it looked as if the opening remarks had concluded and journalists were initially told to leave the room to let the deeper discussions begin, Mr. Yang accused the United States of being inconsistent in its championing of a free press.

new economic sanctions that were issued against 24 Chinese officials on the eve of the talks. “This is not supposed to be the way one should welcome his guests,” said the Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi.

The sanctions punished Chinese officials whom the Biden administration said had undermined democracy in Hong Kong by rewriting the territory’s election laws and pushing the changes through its pliant Communist Party-controlled legislature. Biden administration officials had earlier said the sanctions were not deliberately timed to affect the talks in Anchorage.

But they clearly offended the Chinese diplomats, who seized on them as proof that the diplomatic overture was intended not to set ground rules for a bilateral understanding of each capital’s priorities, but to give the United States a home-turf platform for embarrassing Beijing.

The tit-for-tat, which a senior U.S. official described as “grandstanding” by the Chinese for their domestic audience, left little doubt that not much would be achieved from the diplomatic discussions. However, the official said later, the discussion cooled down after journalists left the room, and yielded a substantive conversation that lasted far longer than initially planned.

After an often-conflicting strategy for dealing with China over the past four years — which pit President Donald J. Trump’s desire for a trade deal against punishing Beijing for its rampant abuses of minority Uyghurs, military aggressions in regional waters and refusal to immediately address the coronavirus outbreak — the Biden administration has sought to take a new approach.

The new policy toward China is one based largely on competition — economic and diplomatic — but it is also prepared to alternately cooperate or confront Beijing when necessary. The talks in Anchorage were meant to set a baseline for that approach.

It is now unclear how much cooperation between the two nations will be possible, although that will be necessary to achieve a host of shared goals, including limiting Iran’s nuclear program and North Korea’s weapons systems.

Senior Biden administration officials had earlier joked that hopes of making much progress in the talks were so low that it would be more efficient for both sides to simply fax over their respective talking points.

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The U.S.-China Talks: A Meeting of Friends and Foes

The Biden administration has not exactly been rolling out the red carpet for this meeting. Yesterday it announced subpoenas against top Chinese companies suspected of threatening national security, and last week Blinken told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that he believed the Chinese government was committing “genocide” against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang. What does this tell us about how the administration plans to approach diplomacy toward China?

It tells you that the Biden administration is, so far, sounding a lot tougher on China than many expected. That should be no surprise. While the Republican talking point during the campaign was that Biden would give away the store to the Chinese, the history of Biden and his top foreign policy aides, Blinken and Sullivan, suggests a very different approach. They are focused on the technological competition with China, the threat of continuing cyberattacks (and China is believed to be behind one of the biggest in recent weeks, aimed at Microsoft systems), and new forms of military competition.

As Sullivan pointed out in an essay published last year, it’s possible that China is looking to follow the American model from 130 years ago, building up its navy and expanding its reach, to push us farther and farther east in the Pacific. But it is equally possible that its strategy is to deploy its 5G networks around the world, make nations dependent on its aid, its infrastructure projects and its vaccines, and spread influence that way. Or it may try both. In any case, we now have a full-scope competitor — an economic and technological competitor and a military adversary.

The subpoenas that Biden’s Commerce Department served to the Chinese companies were sent out under a Trump administration policy, which allows the executive branch to intervene on sales of foreign-made communications equipment if national security is seen as at risk. Would you say U.S.-China relations represent a rare area in which Biden is not seeking a hard break from his predecessor’s policies?

Certainly the Biden team has not walked away from the instruments of power exercised by Trump; I think it realizes that Trump accurately identified the importance of addressing the China challenge. The Biden camp just believes he confronted it the wrong way. Trump thought he could ban Chinese technologies, and impose sanctions on the country until it came to the bargaining table.

But China is too big to sanction effectively. And at the end of the day, the U.S. has to innovate and produce competitive products. To the Biden team, that means we need our own answer to 5G networks, because right now there is no American-made alternative. It means we need to make advances in semiconductors and artificial intelligence, even if that requires some innovative, government-backed industrial policy.

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North Korean Threat Forces Biden Into Balancing Act With China

SEOUL — As it ends its first high-level diplomatic tour of Asia on Thursday, the Biden administration is banking on international alliances in the region to help stem the growing threat posed by North Korea’s ballistic missiles and nuclear capabilities.

But the country that is perhaps in the best position to influence Pyongyang is one that President Biden has increasingly viewed as an adversary: China.

Following meetings this week in South Korea and Japan, the administration finds itself facing a diplomatic stalemate of the kind that irritated former President Barack Obama and drove former President Donald J. Trump to declare his love for Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea, in a manic but ultimately thwarted drive for a breakthrough.

At stake is the risk posed by North Korea’s weapons systems and its repressive domestic policies involving surveillance, torture and prison camps, which international officials have said amount to human rights violations. Recent attempts by the Biden administration to open a line of communication were rebuffed by North Korea, leaving American officials to appeal to its partners in the region to join a pressure campaign against Pyongyang.

chief financial and political benefactor, and Mr. Blinken acknowledged that Beijing “has a critical role to play” in any diplomatic effort with Pyongyang. He suggested China was also concerned about North Korea’s nuclear and missiles programs.

“China has a real interest in helping to deal with this,” Mr. Blinken said. “So we look to Beijing to play a role in advancing what is, I think, in everyone’s interests.”

Whether the United States can recruit Beijing to participate will be clearer after talks later on Thursday and on Friday in Anchorage, Alaska, when China’s top two diplomats meet with Mr. Blinken and the White House national security adviser, Jake Sullivan. American officials have billed the talks as a blunt exchange of policy views.

economic coercion in the Indo-Pacific region.

Mr. Blinken has previously described China as America’s “biggest geopolitical test of the 21st century,” and the Biden administration has issued stern warnings and financial sanctions against Beijing, including on Wednesday, in response to some of its actions.

repeatedly argued that a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula is possible, insisting that Mr. Kim is willing to give up his weapons and focus on economic growth should Washington provide the right incentives.

After meeting with the American envoys, Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong of South Korea said he hoped for an “early resumption of dialogue” between the United States and North Korea, and that the government in Seoul would continue to support Washington’s efforts to establish diplomatic contact with Pyongyang.

helped to bring Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim together for two summits. But after the second, in 2019, abruptly ended without an agreement on American sanctions relief or the pace of North Korean disarmament, Mr. Moon struggled to regain his relevance in negotiations. Last June, North Korea blew up the joint inter-Korean liaison office on its side of the border, the first of a series of actions that threatened to reverse a fragile détente.

diatribe issued hours after the senior American envoys landed in Tokyo earlier this week, North Korea warned the Biden administration to “refrain from causing a stink.”

vowed to further advance his country’s nuclear capabilities, declaring that it would build new solid-fuel I.C.B.M.s and make its nuclear warheads lighter and more precise.

Analysts said Pyongyang was closely following this week’s trips by Mr. Blinken and Mr. Austin to Tokyo and Seoul for clues to the Biden administration’s approach. It is expected that North Korea will decide after watching Washington whether to resume weapons tests and create a new cycle of tensions to gain leverage.

a fix ever since the North Korea-United States talks broke down.”

Mr. Blinken said the American posture toward North Korea would include a mix of regional pressure options and the potential for future diplomacy when the Biden administration’s current policy review is concluded, as soon as next month.

Mr. Aum, the North Korea expert at the U.S. Institute of Peace, said that the policy could include plying China to do more to rein in North Korea, potentially by deploying additional weapons systems in the region or conducting larger military exercises with South Korea — both of which would irritate Beijing.

China has largely urged North Korea and the United States to resolve the impasse themselves, although it has called for sanctions relief and a pause of American military exercises with Seoul in exchange for Pyongyang freezing its nuclear and missile tests.

“All parties should work together to sustain peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula,” a spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Zhao Lijian, said this week. “China will continue to play a constructive role in this process.”

Steven Lee Myers and John Ismay contributed reporting from Seoul.

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U.S. Punishes 24 Chinese Officials on Eve of First Talks Under Biden

Such remarks have heartened traditional American allies and stirred anger in China, which has repeatedly called on the United States to abandon a confrontational approach. Mr. Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, and Mr. Blinken are scheduled to meet the top Chinese diplomats, Yang Jiechi and Wang Yi, in Alaska beginning on Thursday.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Zhao Lijian, accused the United States of a “zero-sum mind-set” that was “doomed to end in the dustbin of history.”

“Those wearing colored lenses can easily lose sight of the right direction, and those entrenched in the Cold War mentality will bring harm to others and themselves,” Mr. Zhao said on Monday.

The United States has imposed sanctions against Chinese officials before under the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, which was approved by Congress and signed into law by Mr. Trump last year. Among other things, it authorizes the State Department to restrict designated officials from using American financial institutions.

Wang Chen, a veteran party leader who led the legislative changes adopted last week, is the most senior Chinese official targeted so far. The Trump administration previously imposed the sanctions on Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, the police chief and the justice secretary.

The ultimate impact on Chinese behavior has, so far, been minimal, but the latest designations significantly expand the number of officials targeted.

In all, the latest American sanctions would affect 14 vice chairmen of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, which recently concluded its annual gathering in Beijing, and officials from the Hong Kong Police Force’s National Security Division, the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, and the Office for Safeguarding National Security.

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Visiting Japan, Top U.S. Envoys Set Combative Tone for China Talks

Now, with the Biden administration in place and with China growing increasingly assertive, Japan seems more willing to join with the United States in its unequivocal criticism of China’s actions.

Mr. Kishi, the defense minister, said that Japan could “absolutely not accept” China’s actions to increase tensions in the East and South China Seas, and indicated they were violating international laws.

Yet the Japanese foreign minister, Toshimitsu Motegi, was less overt in criticizing China.

While Mr. Blinken explicitly singled out China — and Myanmar, where the military staged a coup last month — for threatening “democracy, human rights and rule of law,” Mr. Motegi avoided mentioning China directly. He said that he welcomed the alliance for its role in protecting “peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific.”

Analysts said Japan may temper its language because it has more to lose from confrontation with China.

“One big difference is their economic relationships with China,” said Narushige Michishita, vice president of the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo. “While the U.S. can live without China, Japan cannot. They have to find a common ground there.”

The high-level visit from Washington sought, in part, to remind Japan that it shares much common ground with the United States. That it was the first official trip overseas for both Mr. Blinken and Mr. Austin since taking office was repeated several times on Tuesday to assure Japan of its value to the Biden administration.

The alliance with Japan never suffered as much damage under the Trump administration as U.S. partnerships in Europe. Mr. Abe maintained a close relationship with Mr. Trump and hosted him for two visits to Japan. Last October, when then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, the two exchanged a fist bump that lasted 15 seconds.

On Tuesday, when Mr. Suga met with Mr. Austin and Mr. Blinken at his official residence, they all bowed — as is the custom in Japan.

Makiko Inoue contributed reporting from Toyko, and Steven Lee Myers from Seoul.

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