Vietnam’s Workers Hesitate to Return After Covid Outbreak

Thu Trang traveled to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, in 2019, ecstatic to get a job at a factory. She worked eight-hour shifts and was guaranteed overtime pay, and the wages were nearly triple what she had made as a farmer back home.

But during a Covid-19 outbreak this summer, the factory where she worked making Adidas, Converse and New Balance shoes virtually shut down. She and her co-workers were forced to live in a cramped apartment for nearly three months, subsisting on a diet of rice and soy sauce. In October, when restrictions loosened as global supply chain issues surged, Thu Trang decided she would pack up and return to her home province, Tra Vinh.

Her manager promised her higher wages, but she didn’t bother to find out how much.

“Even if the company doubles or triples our wages, I insist on moving back home,” said Thu Trang, who asked to be identified only by her first name because she feared retribution from her company and the government. “Ho Chi Minh City was once a destination where we sought our future, but this is no longer a safe place.”

Just last year, Vietnam’s coronavirus controls were lauded by health officials around the world. The country was so successful that it achieved the highest economic growth in Asia last year, at 2.9 percent. That outlook has dimmed: Workers have fled their factories, managers are struggling to get them back, and economists are forecasting that a full recovery in output won’t come until next year.

monthslong factory shutdowns in the Southeast Asian country. It could mean a longer wait for Nike sneakers, Lululemon yoga pants and Under Armour tank tops before the holidays. Several American retailers have already switched to suppliers in China to ease the crunch.

Patagonia and other brands.

Ms. Doan said that when the government imposed coronavirus restrictions, she went days without food and received only about $130 for August and September from local authorities. The subsidy was not enough for her to pay rent. She said she was waiting for the company to approve her resignation.

“My trust in the authorities has vanished,” she said. “They failed to control the pandemic effectively, causing many to die from infection and to live in hunger.”

the deliveries of gifts during the Christmas season.

Nike cut its 2022 revenue growth forecast, saying in September that it had lost 10 weeks of production because 80 percent of its footwear factories were in the south of Vietnam and nearly half of its apparel factories in the country were closed.

On earnings calls, Chico’s, a women’s clothing maker based in Florida, and Callaway, the golf company, said they had moved some of their production out of Vietnam.

Adam Sitkoff, the executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Vietnam, said many companies were looking for workarounds and other remedies to help ease the stress.

“American companies are seeing what they can do,” Mr. Sitkoff said. “If we charter buses and send them to whatever province and hometown, will that help us get the people back?”

American businesses have pushed the Vietnamese government to speed up its vaccine program, which they say is essential for workers to feel safe. Only 29 percent of the population has been fully inoculated, one of the lowest rates in Southeast Asia. Vietnam says it hopes to fully vaccinate 70 percent of its population by the end of the year.

Nguyen Huyen Trang, a 25-year-old worker for Changshin Vietnam, a major supplier for Nike, is fully vaccinated but said she still feared being back on the factory floor. Ms. Nguyen and her husband returned to their home in Ninh Thuan, a province in central Vietnam, from Dong Nai when cases there started soaring at the end of July. Her husband wants to go back to the city, but her family is pressuring her to stay.

She said her manager called her in October and offered to increase her wages if she returned. Her response, she said, was “a definite head-shaking no.”

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Near-Daily Covid Tests, Sleeping in Classrooms: Life in Covid-Zero China

The southwestern Chinese city of Ruili is small, remote and largely unknown internationally. It is also, when it comes to the coronavirus, perhaps the most tightly regulated place on earth.

In the past year, it has been locked down four times, with one shutdown lasting 26 days. Homes in an entire district have been evacuated indefinitely to create a “buffer zone” against cases from elsewhere. Schools have been closed for months, except for a few grades — but only if those students and their teachers do not leave campus.

Many residents, including 59-year-old Liu Bin, have gone months without income, in a city that relies heavily upon tourism and trade with neighboring Myanmar. Mr. Liu, who ran a customs brokerage before cross-border movement essentially stopped, estimated he had lost more than $150,000. He is tested on a near-daily basis. He borrows cigarette money from his son-in-law.

“Why do I have to be oppressed like this? My life is important too,” he said. “I’ve actively followed epidemic control measures. What else do we normal people have to do to meet the standards?”

remained the last country chasing full elimination, for the most part with success. It has recorded fewer than 5,000 virus-related deaths, and in parts of the country without confirmed cases, the outbreak can feel like a hazy memory.

But the residents of Ruili — a lush, subtropical city of about 270,000 people before the pandemic — are facing the extreme and harsh reality of living under a “Zero Covid” policy when even a single case is found.

live on campus. Classrooms have been converted to dorms. Since students are always around, they also have classes on weekends.

told state media he had taken 90 Covid tests over the last seven months. Another parent said that his one-year-old son had been tested 74 times.

Tens of thousands of residents have fled the city for elsewhere in China in the breaks between lockdowns; officials recently acknowledged that the population had dropped to about 200,000. To control the outflow, the authorities now require people to pay for up to 21 days of pre-departure quarantine.

In a sign of the desperation many residents are feeling, a former deputy mayor of Ruili last month wrote a blog post called “Ruili Needs the Motherland’s Care” — a stunning move in a country where officials almost never deviate from the government line.

“Every time the city is locked down is another instance of serious emotional and material loss,” wrote the official, Dai Rongli. “Each experience battling the virus is a new accumulation of grievances.”

according to state media. No cases have been traced to people leaving Ruili for elsewhere in China.

Even so, officials insist that there is little room for adjustment.

“If Ruili’s epidemic does not reach zero, there will be risk of outward transmission,” Ruili’s deputy mayor, Yang Mou, said at a news conference on Oct. 29.

Shanghai’s Disneyland spent hours waiting to be tested on Sunday night before they could leave the park. Parts of Beijing are locked down, and many incoming trains and flights have been canceled.

announced that all traffic lights would be turned red, to prevent unnecessary travel. (It later backtracked.)

Ruili is uniquely vulnerable to both the virus and the burdens of lockdown.

Nestled in the corner of Yunnan Province, it shares more than 100 miles of borders with Myanmar, attracting tourists and traders. In 2019, people passed through its border checkpoint nearly 17 million times, according to official statistics.

When China sealed up the country, trade and tourism all but collapsed. Yet Ruili’s borders remained porous, raising fears of imported cases. And the military coup in Myanmar this year has led some to seek refuge in Ruili, legally or illegally. Some residents have had to dodge stray bullets from the conflict across the border, according to Chinese media reports.

banned residents from livestreaming about the local jade industry to limit gem orders and the movement of delivery people.

told state media that “at the moment, we do not need” additional help. The day before, he had warned against “criminals” who he said would use “public opinion and false information to disrupt social order.”

have admonished people for protesting lockdown conditions.)

Earlier this year, Mr. Li and a group of fellow investors pooled together about $3 million for a jade market in Ruili, which they had hoped to open in May. Instead, the premises have sat empty, though they have continued to pay rent. He has heard nothing about government assistance.

Originally, his company employed about 50 people. Now? “We only dare to keep one person, to guard the door,” he said. “What can you do? We can’t pay them.”

The cost of daily living has shot up. A kilogram of bok choy used to cost less than 6 renminbi, or under $1, Mr. Li said; now the price has jumped to 8 or 10 renminbi.

“The ordinary people,” he sighed, “have no way to live.”

Liu Yi contributed research.

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Biden Eases Fray with France and Savors Meeting with Pope as Europe Trip Begins

ROME — After a six-week diplomatic uproar over a scuttled submarine deal and accusations of American duplicity, President Biden made a one-on-one effort Friday to mend fences with President Emmanuel Macron of France by admitting that, yes, the matter could have been handled better.

“What we did was clumsy,” Mr. Biden told reporters hours after arriving in Italy to attend a summit with other world leaders. “It was not done with a lot of grace.”

By delivering an in-person mea culpa to the leader of one of America’s oldest allies, Mr. Biden signaled that he was ready to move on from an embarrassing spat that grew from a secretive American agreement with Britain and Australia to supply Australia with nuclear-powered attack subs, effectively canceling out a lucrative and strategically important French contract.

“I was under the impression that France had been informed long before that the deal was not coming through,” Mr. Biden said, effectively inviting his negotiating partners to shoulder some of the blame after weeks of weathering French ire. Later in the day, the two issued a joint statement that confirmed Mr. Biden’s support for America’s European allies to develop a “stronger and more capable European defense” as a compliment to NATO.

global agreement to set minimum levels of corporate taxation, aimed at stopping companies from stuffing income into tax havens. He will also prod other countries to assist in uncorking supply chain bottlenecks, announce a global task force to fight the coronavirus and urge investments to curb global warming.

But his trip began with a private audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican, a diplomatic meeting that the president, who was grinning broadly as he emerged from his presidential limousine, seemed to enjoy.

After spending about 90 minutes with Francis in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace, Mr. Biden told reporters that the pope had called him a “good Catholic” who should keep receiving holy communion.

The apparent show of support would mark the first time the pope has explicitly pushed back against a campaign by conservative bishops in the United States to deny Mr. Biden, a fellow Roman Catholic, the sacrament because of his support for abortion rights. Asked if the two had spoken about abortion, the president said no, but that the topic of receiving the sacrament had come up.

“We just talked about the fact he was happy that I was a good Catholic,” Mr. Biden told reporters, “and I should keep receiving communion.”

have become common targets of powerful conservative American bishops seeking to undercut them.

Massimo Faggioli, a theology professor at Villanova University and author of “Joe Biden and Catholicism in the United States,” said there was “no question” that American bishops would be angered by the pope’s encouragement, and wondered whether the president had cleared his decision to speak publicly about it with the Vatican.

The heavily edited footage released by the Vatican appeared to underscore the warm bond shared by the two leaders. Mr. Biden clasped the pope’s hand and called him “the most significant warrior for peace I’ve ever met.”

After their private talk they exchanged gifts, and Mr. Biden gave the pope a presidential challenge coin that featured Delaware, his home state, and Beau’s Army National Guard unit. “I know my son would want me to give this to you,” he said.

As Francis showed Mr. Biden and Jill Biden, the first lady, to the door, Mr. Biden was in no rush to leave.

He unspooled a folksy yarn that referred to both he and the pope ascending to their positions later in life. In a nod to their ages — he is 78 and Francis is 84 — he relayed a story about Satchel Paige, the legendary Black player who pitched the majority of his career in the Negro Leagues, and who was allowed to join the Major Leagues only in his 40s.

“Usually, pitchers lose their arms when they’re 35,” Mr. Biden said to the pope, who seemed a little lost by the baseball reference. “He pitched a win on his 47th birthday.”

As Mr. Biden explained it, reporters asked the pitcher: “‘Satch, no one’s ever pitched a win at age 47. How do you feel about pitching a win on your birthday?’” and the pitcher responded: “‘Boys, that’s not how I look at age. I look at it this way: How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?’”

The pope looked at Mr. Biden.

“You’re 65, I’m 60,” the president said. “God love ya.”

Jim Tankersley contributed reporting from Rome, and Ruth Graham from Dallas.

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What America’s Port Crisis Looks Like Up Close

SAVANNAH, Ga. — Like toy blocks hurled from the heavens, nearly 80,000 shipping containers are stacked in various configurations at the Port of Savannah — 50 percent more than usual.

The steel boxes are waiting for ships to carry them to their final destination, or for trucks to haul them to warehouses that are themselves stuffed to the rafters. Some 700 containers have been left at the port, on the banks of the Savannah River, by their owners for a month or more.

“They’re not coming to get their freight,” complained Griff Lynch, the executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority. “We’ve never had the yard as full as this.”

As he speaks, another vessel glides silently toward an open berth — the 1,207-foot-long Yang Ming Witness, its decks jammed with containers full of clothing, shoes, electronics and other stuff made in factories in Asia. Towering cranes soon pluck the thousands of boxes off the ship — more cargo that must be stashed somewhere.

turmoil in the shipping industry and the broader crisis in supply chains is showing no signs of relenting. It stands as a gnawing source of worry throughout the global economy, challenging once-hopeful assumptions of a vigorous return to growth as vaccines limit the spread of the pandemic.

Germany’s industrial fortunes are sagging, why inflation has become a cause for concern among central bankers, and why American manufacturers are now waiting a record 92 days on average to assemble the parts and raw materials they need to make their goods, according to the Institute of Supply Management.

On the surface, the upheaval appears to be a series of intertwined product shortages. Because shipping containers are in short supply in China, factories that depend on Chinese-made parts and chemicals in the rest of the world have had to limit production.

But the situation at the port of Savannah attests to a more complicated and insidious series of overlapping problems. It is not merely that goods are scarce. It is that products are stuck in the wrong places, and separated from where they are supposed to be by stubborn and constantly shifting barriers.

The shortage of finished goods at retailers represents the flip side of the containers stacked on ships marooned at sea and massed on the riverbanks. The pileup in warehouses is itself a reflection of shortages of truck drivers needed to carry goods to their next destinations.

Vietnam, a hub for the apparel industry, was locked down for several months in the face of a harrowing outbreak of Covid. Diminished cargo leaving Asia should provide respite to clogged ports in the United States, but Mr. Lynch dismisses that line.

“Six or seven weeks later, the ships come in all at once,” Mr. Lynch said. “That doesn’t help.”

Early this year, as shipping prices spiked and containers became scarce, the trouble was widely viewed as the momentary result of pandemic lockdowns. With schools and offices shut, Americans were stocking up on home office gear and equipment for basement gyms, drawing heavily on factories in Asia. Once life reopened, global shipping was supposed to return to normal.

But half a year later, the congestion is worse, with nearly 13 percent of the world’s cargo shipping capacity tied up by delays, according to data compiled by Sea-Intelligence, an industry research firm in Denmark.

Many businesses now assume that the pandemic has fundamentally altered commercial life in permanent ways. Those who might never have shopped for groceries or clothing online — especially older people — have gotten a taste of the convenience, forced to adjust to a lethal virus. Many are likely to retain the habit, maintaining pressure on the supply chain.

“Before the pandemic, could we have imagined mom and dad pointing and clicking to buy a piece of furniture?” said Ruel Joyner, owner of 24E Design Co., a boutique furniture outlet that occupies a brick storefront in Savannah’s graceful historic district. His online sales have tripled over the past year.

On top of those changes in behavior, the supply chain disruption has imposed new frictions.

Mr. Joyner, 46, designs his furniture in Savannah while relying on factories from China and India to manufacture many of his wares. The upheaval on the seas has slowed deliveries, limiting his sales.

He pointed to a brown leather recliner made for him in Dallas. The factory is struggling to secure the reclining mechanism from its supplier in China.

“Where we were getting stuff in 30 days, they are now telling us six months,” Mr. Joyner said. Customers are calling to complain.

His experience also underscores how the shortages and delays have become a source of concern about fair competition. Giant retailers like Target and Home Depot have responded by stockpiling goods in warehouses and, in some cases, chartering their own ships. These options are not available to the average small business.

Bottlenecks have a way of causing more bottlenecks. As many companies have ordered extra and earlier, especially as they prepare for the all-consuming holiday season, warehouses have become jammed. So containers have piled up at the Port of Savannah.

Mr. Lynch’s team — normally focused on its own facilities — has devoted time to scouring unused warehouse spaces inland, seeking to provide customers with alternative channels for their cargo.

Recently, a major retailer completely filled its 3 million square feet of local warehouse space. With its containers piling up in the yard, port staff worked to ship the cargo by rail to Charlotte, N.C., where the retailer had more space.

Such creativity may provide a modicum of relief, but the demands on the port are only intensifying.

On a muggy afternoon in late September, Christmas suddenly felt close at hand. The containers stacked on the riverbanks were surely full of holiday decorations, baking sheets, gifts and other material for the greatest wave of consumption on earth.

Will they get to stores in time?

“That’s the question everyone is asking,” Mr. Lynch said. “I think that’s a very tough question.”

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Live Updates: Summit Over, Putin and Biden Cite Gains, but Tensions Are Clear

military threats to human rights concerns. Some were longstanding, others of newer vintage.

During the Cold War, the prospect of nuclear annihilation led to historic treaties and a framework that kept the world from blowing itself up. At this meeting, for the first time, cyberweapons — with their own huge potential to wreak havoc — were at the center of the agenda.

But Mr. Putin’s comments to the media suggested the two leaders did not find much common ground.

In addition to his denials that Russia had played a destabilizing role in cyberspace, he also took a hard line on human rights in Russia.

He said Mr. Biden had raised the issue, but struck the same defiant tone on the matter in his news conference as he has in the past. The United States, Mr. Putin said, supports opposition groups in Russia to weaken the country, since it sees Russia as an adversary.

“If Russia is the enemy, then what organizations will America support in Russia?” Mr. Putin asked. “I think that it’s not those who strengthen the Russian Federation, but those that contain it — which is the publicly announced goal of the United States.”

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Biden Raises Human Rights and Cybersecurity With Putin

Mr. Biden discussing his meeting with Mr. Putin.

I told President Putin my agenda is not against Russia or anyone else. It’s for the American people, fighting Covid-19, rebuilding our economy, re-establishing relationships around the world with our allies and friends and protecting the American people. That’s my responsibility as president. I also told him that no president of the United States could keep faith with the American people if they did not speak out to defend our democratic values, to stand up for the universal and fundamental freedoms that all men and women have in our view. That’s just part of the DNA of our country. So human rights is going to always be on the table, I told him. It’s not about just going after Russia when they violate human rights. It’s about who we are. This is about practical, straightforward, no-nonsense decisions that we have to make or not make. We’ll find out within the next six months to a year, whether or not we actually have a strategic dialogue that matters. We’ll find out whether we work to deal with everything from release of people in Russian prisons or not. We’ll find out whether we have a cybersecurity arrangement that begins to bring some order because, look, the countries that most are likely to be damaged — the failure to do that — are the major countries.

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Mr. Biden discussing his meeting with Mr. Putin.CreditCredit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Biden said on Wednesday that “I did what I came to do” in his first summit meeting with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

Speaking after the summit in Geneva, Mr. Biden said the two leaders had identified areas of mutual interest and cooperation. But he said he had also voiced American objections to Russia’s behavior on human rights, and warned that there would be consequences to cyberattacks on the United States.

Any American president representing the country’s democratic values, Mr. Biden said, would be obliged to raise issues of human rights and freedoms. And so he said had discussed with Mr. Putin his concerns over the imprisonment of the Russian opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny and warned there would be “devastating” consequences if Mr. Navalny were to die in prison.

Mr. Biden also brought up the detentions of two American citizens in Russia, Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed, he said.

On the issue of cybersecurity, Mr. Biden said he had argued that certain parts of the infrastructure need to be off limits to cyberattacks. He said he had provided Mr. Putin with a list of critical areas, like energy, that must be spared. Mr. Biden also said the two leaders had agreed to enlist experts in both countries to discuss what should remain off limits and to follow up on specific cases.

“We need to have some basic rules of the road,” Mr. Biden told reporters after the summit.

And if Russia continues to violate what he called the basic norms of responsible behavior, he said, “We will respond.”

Mr. Biden made clear that, during his discussions with Mr. Putin, there were no threats, no talk of military intervention and no mention of what specific retaliation the United States would take in such cases. But Mr. Biden said that the United States was fully capable of responding with its own cyberattacks — “and he knows it.”

Mr. Biden said “there’s much more work to do,” but declared over the course of his weeklong European trip, he had shown that “the United States is back.”

He also said Russia stood to lose internationally if it continued to meddle in elections. “It diminishes the standing of a nation,”Mr. Biden said.

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Mr. Putin told reporters Wednesday that there had been “no hostility” in his first meeting with Mr. Biden.CreditCredit…Pool photo by Alexander Zemlianichenko

President Vladimir V. Putin on Wednesday repeated well-worn denials of Russian mischief and tropes about American failings, as he spoke to the press after his first summit with President Biden.

But between those familiar lines, he left the door open to deeper engagement with Washington than the Kremlin had been willing to entertain in recent years. On issues like cybersecurity, nuclear weapons, diplomatic spats and even prisoner exchanges, Mr. Putin said he was ready for talks with the United States, and he voiced unusual optimism about the possibility of achieving results.

“We must agree on rules of behavior in all the spheres that we mentioned today: That’s strategic stability, that’s cybersecurity, that’s resolving questions connected to regional conflicts,” Mr. Putin said at a nearly hourlong news conference after the summit. “I think that we can find agreement on all this — at least I got that sense given the results of our meeting with President Biden.”

Mr. Putin’s focus on “rules of behavior” sounded a lot like the “guardrails” that American officials have said they hope to agree on with Russia in order to stabilize the relationship. “Strategic stability” is the term both sides use to refer to nuclear weapons and related issues.

To be sure, there is no guarantee that the United States and Russia will make progress on those fundamental issues, and American officials fear Russian offers of talks could be efforts to tie key questions up in committees rather than set clear red lines. But in recent years, substantive dialogue between the two countries has been rare, making Wednesday’s promises of new consultations significant.

But Mr. Putin fell back on familiar Kremlin talking points to bat away criticisms, pointing to supposed human rights violations in the United States and denying Russian complicity in cyberattacks. He also refused to budge in response to questions over his repression of dissent inside Russia and the imprisonment of the opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny. As he has said in the past, he repeated that the Kremlin does not see domestic politics as up for negotiation or discussion.

“If you ignore the tiresome whataboutism, there were some real outcomes,” said Samuel Charap, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation in Arlington, Va. “Russia is not in the habit of confessing its sins and seeking forgiveness. Particularly under Putin.”

The main outcomes to Mr. Charap were the agreement on U.S.-Russian dialogue on strategic stability and cybersecurity, as well as the agreement for American and Russian ambassadors to return to their posts in Moscow and Washington. Mr. Putin also said there was “potential for compromise” on the issue of several Americans imprisoned in Russia and Russians imprisoned in the United States.

To tout his renewed willingness to talk — while acknowledging the uncertainty ahead — Mr. Putin quoted from Russian literature.

“Leo Tolstoy once said: ‘There is no happiness in life — there are only glimmers of it,’” Mr. Putin said. “I think that in this situation, there can’t be any kind of family trust. But I think we’ve seen some glimmers.”

Mr. Biden and the first lady earlier this month.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

After President Biden met his Russian counterpart on Wednesday, the two men did not face the news media at a joint news conference.

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia spoke first, followed by Mr. Biden, in separate news conferences, a move intended by the White House to deny the Russian leader an international platform like the one he received during a 2018 summit in Helsinki with President Donald J. Trump.

“We expect this meeting to be candid and straightforward, and a solo press conference is the appropriate format to clearly communicate with the free press the topics that were raised in the meeting,” a U.S. official said in a statement sent to reporters this weekend, “both in terms of areas where we may agree and in areas where we have significant concerns.”

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On Wednesday, President Biden met with the president of Russia, Vladimir V. Putin, in Geneva. The two global leaders are meeting as tensions between Washington and Moscow have escalated over the last year.CreditCredit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Top aides to Mr. Biden said that during negotiations over the meetings the Russian government was eager to have Mr. Putin join Mr. Biden in a news conference. But Biden administration officials said that they were mindful of how Mr. Putin seemed to get the better of Mr. Trump in Helsinki.

At that news conference, Mr. Trump publicly accepted Mr. Putin’s assurances that his government did not interfere with the 2016 election, taking the Russian president’s word rather than the assessments of his own intelligence officials.

The spectacle in 2018 drew sharp condemnations from across the political spectrum for providing an opportunity for Mr. Putin to spread falsehoods. Senator John McCain at the time called it “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.”

Mr. Putin’s limousine arriving at the Villa La Grange on Wednesday.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Piggybacking on the attention to Russia with the Biden-Putin meeting on Wednesday, the European Union issued a long and pessimistic report on the state of relations between Brussels and Moscow.

“There is not much hope for better relations between the European Union and Russia anytime soon,” said Josep Borrell Fontelles, the E.U.’s foreign policy chief, introducing the report. It was prepared in advance of a summit meeting of European leaders next week at which the bloc’s future policy toward Russia will be on the agenda.

That discussion has been delayed several times by other pressing issues, including the pandemic.

“Under present circumstances, a renewed partnership between the E.U. and Russia, allowing for closer cooperation, seems a distant prospect,” Mr. Borrell said in a statement, introducing the 14-page report prepared by the European Commission.

The report urges the 27-member bloc to simultaneously “push back” against Russian misbehavior and violations of international law; “constrain” Russia’s efforts to destabilize Europe and undermine its interests, especially in the Western Balkans and neighboring post-Soviet states; and “engage” with Russia on common issues like health and climate, “based on a strong common understanding of Russia’s aims and an approach of principled pragmatism.”

The ambition, Mr. Borrell said, is to move gradually “into a more predictable and stable relationship,” a similar goal to that expressed by the Biden administration.

Mr. Borrell had an embarrassing visit to Moscow in February as he began to prepare the report. He stood by without reacting in a joint news conference as his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, called the European Union an “unreliable partner.”

As they were meeting, Moscow announced that diplomats from Germany, Poland and Sweden had been expelled for purportedly participating in “illegal protests” to support the jailed opposition politician Aleksei A. Navalny, a fact Mr. Borrell discovered only later through social media.

He defended the trip, telling the European Parliament that he “wanted to test whether the Russian authorities are interested in a serious attempt to reverse the deterioration of our relations and seize the opportunity to have a more constructive dialogue. The answer has been clear: No, they are not.”

Relations have worsened since then with overt Russian support for a crackdown against democracy and protests in Belarus.

Soldiers working with artillery at a base in Khlibodarivka, Ukraine, in April.
Credit…Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times

Even before the summit between the United States and Russia got underway on Wednesday, Ukrainian officials played down the prospect for a breakthrough on one of the thornier issues on the agenda: ending the war in eastern Ukraine, the only active conflict in Europe today.

Ukraine said it would not accept any arrangements made in Geneva between President Biden and President Vladimir V. Putin on the war, which has been simmering for seven years between Russian-backed separatists and the Ukrainian Army, officials said.

Before the summit’s start, Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman, said that Ukraine’s entry into NATO would represent a “red line” for Russia that Mr. Putin was prepared to make plain on Wednesday. Mr. Biden said this week that Ukraine could join NATO if “they meet the criteria.”

The Ukrainian government has in recent years dug in its heels on a policy of rejecting any negotiation without a seat at the table after worry that Washington and Moscow would cut a deal in back-room talks. The approach has remained in place with the Biden administration.

“It is not possible to decide for Ukraine,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Monday. “So there will be no concrete result” in negotiations in Geneva, he said.

Ukraine’s foreign minister drove the point home again on Tuesday.

“We have made it very clear to our partners that no agreement on Ukraine reached without Ukraine will be recognized by us,” Dmytro Kuleba, the foreign minister, told journalists. Ukraine, he said, “will not accept any scenarios where they will try to force us to do something.”

Ukraine will have a chance for talks with the United States. Mr. Biden has invited Mr. Zelensky to a meeting in the White House in July, when a recent Russian troop buildup along the Ukrainian border is sure to be on the agenda.

Russia massed more than 100,000 troops along the Ukrainian border this spring. Despite an announcement in Moscow of a drawdown, both Ukrainian and Western governments say that only a few thousand soldiers have departed, leaving a lingering risk of a military escalation over the summer.

With Donald J. Trump in Osaka, Japan, in 2019.

Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

With Barack Obama in New York in 2015.

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

With George W. Bush in Washington in 2005.

Credit…Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

With Bill Clinton in Moscow in 2000.

Credit…Dirck Halstead/Liaison
President Donald J. Trump with President Vladimir V. Putin during a joint news conference in Helsinki in 2018.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

If President Biden wanted an example of a summit that did not go according to plan, he needed only to look back to 2018.

That year, President Donald J. Trump flew to Helsinki to meet President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, the first face-to-face meeting between the two and a highly anticipated moment given the then-ongoing investigations of Russian interference and cooperation with Mr. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

It might have been a chance for Mr. Trump to push back against those accusations by offering a forceful denunciation of Russia’s actions in private, and again during a joint news conference by the two men.

Instead, standing on the stage by Mr. Putin’s side, Mr. Trump dismissed the conclusions by U.S. intelligence agencies about Russian meddling and said, in essence, that he believed Mr. Putin more than he did the C.I.A. and other key advisers

“They said they think it’s Russia,” Mr. Trump said. “I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia.” He added that he didn’t see any reason Russia would have been responsible for hacks during the 2016 election. “President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”

It was the kind of jaw-dropping assertion that U.S. administrations usually strive to avoid in the middle of highly scripted presidential summits. Critics lashed out at Mr. Trump for undermining his own government and for giving aid and comfort to an adversary. Even Republican allies of the president issued harsh denunciations.

“It is the most serious mistake of his presidency and must be corrected — immediately,” said Newt Gingrich, the former Republican House speaker and a staunch supporter of Mr. Trump.

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A Look Back at Trump’s 2019 Meeting With Putin

Former President Donald J. Trump met with Vladimir V. Putin in June of 2019, where he warned the Russian president not to interfere with the U.S. election.

“You don’t have a problem with Russia, we have — you don’t have a problem. Thank you very much, everybody, it’s a great honor to be with President Putin, his representative, my representative. We have many things to discuss, including trade and including some disarmament and some little protectionism, perhaps, in a very positive way. And we’re going to discuss a lot of different things. We’ve had great meetings we have a very, very good relationship.” Reporter: “Mr. President, will you tell Russia not to meddle in the 2020 election?” [reporters shouting questions] Reporter: “What about the Ukrainian —” “Don’t, don’t meddle in the election.”

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Former President Donald J. Trump met with Vladimir V. Putin in June of 2019, where he warned the Russian president not to interfere with the U.S. election.

There was nothing about the one day Helsinki summit that was normal. Mr. Putin and Mr. Trump were so chummy that the Russian president gave Mr. Trump a soccer ball to take home as a gift. Mr. Trump thanked him and bounced the ball to Melania Trump, the first lady, in the front row, saying he would take it home to give it to his son, Barron.

(Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary at the time, later issued a statement saying that the ball — like all gifts — had been examined to make sure it had not been bugged with listening devices.)

In a statement issued as Mr. Biden headed to Europe last week, Mr. Trump once again called his meeting with Mr. Putin “great and very productive” and he defended supporting the Russian president over his intelligence aides.

“As to who do I trust, they asked, Russia or our ‘Intelligence’ from the Obama era,” he said in a statement. “The answer, after all that has been found out and written, should be obvious. Our government has rarely had such lowlifes as these working for it.”

The former president also took a cheap shot at his successor in the statement, warning him not to “fall asleep during the meeting.”

One thing was certain — Mr. Biden did not follow through on Mr. Trump’s request that when Mr. Biden met with Mr. Putin “please give him my warmest regards!”

Health workers waiting for Covid patients on Monday at a hospital complex in Moscow.
Credit…Maxim Shipenkov/EPA, via Shutterstock

In the United States, fireworks lit up the night sky in New York City on Tuesday, a celebration meant to demonstrate the end of coronavirus restrictions. California, the most populous state, has fully opened its economy. And President Biden said there would be a gathering at the White House on July 4, marking what America hopes will be freedom from the pandemic.

Yet this week the country’s death toll passed 600,000 — a staggering loss of life.

In Russia, officials frequently say that the country has handled the coronavirus crisis better than the West and that there have been no large-scale lockdowns since last summer.

But in the week that President Vladimir V. Putin met with Mr. Biden for a one-day summit, Russia has been gripped by a vicious new wave of Covid-19. Hours before the start of the summit on Wednesday, the city of Moscow announced that it would be mandating coronavirus vaccinations for workers in service and other industries.

“We simply must do all we can to carry out mass vaccination in the shortest possible time period and stop this terrible disease,” Sergey S. Sobyanin, the mayor of Moscow, said in a blog post. “We must stop the dying of thousands of people.”

It was a reversal from prior comments from Mr. Putin, who said on May 26 that “mandatory vaccination would be impractical and should not be done.”

Mr. Putin said on Saturday that 18 million people had been inoculated in the country — less than 13 percent of the population, even though Russia’s Sputnik V shots have been widely available for months.

The country’s official death toll is nearly 125,000, according to Our World in Data, and experts have said that such figures probably vastly underestimate the true tally.

While the robust United States vaccination campaign has sped the nation’s recovery, the virus has repeatedly confounded expectations. The inoculation campaign has also slowed in recent weeks.

Unlike many of the issues raised at Wednesday’s summit, and despite the scientific achievement that safe and effective vaccines represent, the virus follows its own logic — mutating and evolving — and continues to pose new and unexpected challenges for both leaders and the world at large.

Displaced Syrian men at a refugee camp in Idlib last year.
Credit…Ivor Prickett for The New York Times

The conflict in Syria — which has now raged for 10 years and counting — was on the meeting agenda for President Biden and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia as they met on Wednesday.

Since the start of the war, Russia has supported President Bashar al-Assad and his forces, and in 2015 it launched a military intervention with ground forces in the country to prop up the then-flailing government. In the years since, government forces have regained control of much of the country, with the support of Russia and Iran, as Mr. al-Assad’s forced tamped down dissent and carried out brutal attacks against Syrian civilians.

The United States also became deeply involved in the conflict, backing Kurdish forces in the country’s north and conducting airstrikes in the fight against the Islamic State. It has maintained a limited military presence there. Both the United States and Russian forces have found themselves on opposite sides of the multifaceted conflict on numerous occasions.

After years of failed attempts at peace in Syria as the humanitarian toll has continued to mount, Lina Khatib, the director of the Middle East and North Africa Program at Chatham House, a British think tank, said the moment could be ripe for the two major powers to chart a path forward.

She said that “despite taking opposing sides in the Syrian conflict, there is potential for a US-Russian compromise,” and that the summit could be the best place to begin that process.

“The Biden administration must not waste the opportunity that the U.S.-Russian summit presents on Syria,” Ms. Khatib wrote in a recent piece before the meeting in Geneva. “While the focus of various U.S. government departments working on Syria is on the delivery of cross-border aid, fighting the Islamic State and planning an eventual exit for U.S. troops, all these problems are products of the ongoing conflict, and solving them requires a comprehensive strategy to end it.”

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Russian and American Media Scuffle Before Diplomacy Meeting

A chaotic scrum between American and Russian reporters erupted on Wednesday before closed-door meetings between President Biden and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

[reporters arguing] “Let me get up there —” “We’re with them, we’re part of the U.S. —” “I’m not in charge of your press.” “I need to get up with that camera, though, guys, I’m in sound. I need to get up —” [reporters arguing] “One, two, three. One, two, three.” “He’s setting the camera. He’s setting the camera.” “OK, so audio doesn’t go in yet?” “Not yet.” “Let’s go. Let’s go.” “Don’t touch me. Don’t touch me. Stop pushing. Don’t push me.” “Guys, there’s a cord here. There’s a cord here.”

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A chaotic scrum between American and Russian reporters erupted on Wednesday before closed-door meetings between President Biden and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

American and Russian reporters engaged in a shoving match on Wednesday outside the villa where President Biden and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia were meeting, stranding much of the press outside when the two leaders began talking.

The chaotic scrum erupted moments after Mr. Biden and Mr. Putin shook hands and waved to reporters before closed-door meetings with a handful of aides.

President Guy Parmelin of Switzerland had just welcomed the leaders “in accordance with its tradition of good offices” to “promote dialogue and mutual understanding.”

But shortly after the two leaders entered the villa, reporters from both countries rushed the side door, where they were stopped by Russian and American security and government officials from both countries. There was screaming and pushing as both sides tried to surge in, with officials yelling for order.

White House officials succeeded in getting nine members of their 13-member press pool into the library where Mr. Biden and Mr. Putin were seated against a backdrop of floor-to-ceiling books, along with each of their top diplomats and translators. The two leaders had already begun to make very brief remarks before reporters were able to get in the room.

Inside, more scuffling erupted — apparently amusing to the two leaders — as Russian officials told photographers that they could not take pictures and one American reporter was shoved to the ground. The two leaders waited, at moments smiling uncomfortably, for several minutes before reporters were pushed back out of the room as the summit meeting began.

“It’s always better to meet face to face,” Mr. Biden said to Mr. Putin as the commotion continued.

Chaotic scenes are not uncommon when reporters from multiple countries angle for the best spot to view a world leader, often in cramped spaces and with government security and handlers pushing them to leave quickly.

But even by those standards the scene outside the villa in this usually bucolic venue was particularly disruptive. Russian journalists quickly accused the Americans for trying to get more people into the room than had been agreed to, but it appeared that the Russians had many more people than the 15 for each side that had been negotiated in advance.

“The Americans didn’t go through their door, caused a stampede,” one Russian reporter posted on Telegram.

In fact, reporters from both countries had been told to try to go through a single door, and officials for both countries at times were stopping all of the reporters from entering, telling them to move back and blocking the door.

When American officials tried to get White House reporters inside, the Russian security blocked several of them.

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia arriving in Geneva on Wednesday.
Credit…Pool photo by Alessandro Della Valle

Wednesday’s Geneva summit got off to an auspicious start: President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia landed on time.

His plane landed at about 12:30 p.m., an hour before he was set to meet President Biden, who had arrived in Geneva the previous evening. Mr. Putin is known for making world leaders wait — sometimes hours — for his arrival, one way to telegraph confidence and leave an adversary on edge.

But this time Mr. Putin did not resort to scheduling brinkmanship.

The summit’s start was laced with delicate choreography: Mr. Putin arrived first, straight from the airport, and was greeted on the red carpet in front of a lakeside villa by President Guy Parmelin of Switzerland. About 15 minutes later, Mr. Biden arrived in his motorcade, shook hands with Mr. Parmelin and waved to reporters.

The Swiss president welcomed the two leaders, wishing them “fruitful dialogue in the interest of your two countries and the whole world.” He then stepped aside, allowing Mr. Biden and Mr. Putin to approach each other, smiling, and shake hands.

Russian officials on Wednesday sought to put a positive last-minute spin on the meeting.

“This is an extremely important day,” a deputy foreign minister, Sergey Ryabkov, told the RIA Novosti state news agency hours before the summit’s start. “The Russian side in preparing for the summit has done the utmost for it to turn out positive and have results that will allow the further deterioration of the bilateral relationship to be halted, and to begin moving upwards.”

Even before Mr. Putin landed, members of his delegation had arrived at the lakeside villa where the meeting is being held. They included Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov, who joined Mr. Putin in a small-group session with Mr. Biden and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken at the start of the summit; and Valery V. Gerasimov, Russia’s most senior military officer.

Police officers from across Switzerland — the words “police,” “Polizei” and “polizia” on their uniforms reflecting the country’s multilingual cantons — cordoned off much of the center of Geneva on Wednesday.

The city’s normally bustling lakefront was off limits, and the park where President Biden and Mr. Putin were meeting was protected by razor wire and at least one armored personnel carrier.

Inside the leafy Parc la Grange, overlooking Lake Geneva, the police directed journalists to two separate press centers — one for those covering Mr. Putin, one for those covering Mr. Biden. As the reporters waited for the leaders to arrive, a Russian radio reporter went on air and intoned that Lake Geneva had become “a lake of hope.”

Villa La Grange in Geneva.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

A storied villa on the shores of Lake Geneva is sometimes described as having “a certain sense of mystery about it,” but there was little mystery this week about why the mansion and the park surrounding it were closed off.

Visitors were coming.

The Villa la Grange, an 18th-century manor house at the center of Parc la Grange, was the site of the meeting on Wednesday between President Biden and President Vladimir V. Putin.

Set in one of Geneva’s largest and most popular parks, the site is known not just for its lush gardens, but also for its role as a setting for important moments in the struggle between war and peace.

In 1825, the villa’s library — home to over 15,000 works and the only room to retain the villa’s original decorative features — hosted dignitaries of a European gathering that aimed to help Greeks fighting for independence.

Designed by the architect Jean-Louis Bovet and completed in 1773, the villa was owned by the Lullin family and primarily used as a summer residence before it was bought by a merchant, François Favre, in 1800.

It cemented its place in history in 1864, when it was the site of a closing gala for officials who signed the original 1864 Geneva Convention, presided over by Henri Dunant, a founder of the International Red Cross. An attempt to ameliorate the ravages of war on both soldiers and civilians, it set minimum protections for people who are victims of armed conflict.

After World War II, a new draft of the conventions was signed in an attempt to address gaps in international humanitarian law that the conflict had exposed.

In 1969, Pope Paul VI, who traveled to the park to celebrate Mass for a congregation of tens of thousands, pointed to the villa’s history as he spoke about the risk of nuclear conflagration.

He spoke about the opposing forces of love and hate and called for “generous peacemakers.”

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Blinken Hopes to Solidify Hamas and Israel’s Cease-Fire

As a candidate, Mr. Biden had said there would be “no more blank checks for Trump’s ‘favorite dictator’” — meaning Mr. el-Sisi, whose increasing authoritarianism has drawn widespread criticism. Though the Egyptian president was the first Arab leader to congratulate Mr. Biden after the election, Mr. Biden waited until last week to return the call.

But after that chilly start to their relationship, Egypt has sought to capitalize on the Gaza crisis to shore up its ties with the new administration. Mr. Blinken will meet Mr. el-Sisi in Cairo, providing the Egyptian leader an opportunity not only to reaffirm his nation’s the relationship with the United States but also to promote Egypt’s status as a regional power broker and leader among Arab countries.

Though that status has been fading for years as Egypt fell into domestic turmoil and wealthier Arab states asserted themselves in the region, Cairo enjoyed mostly smooth relations with Washington in recent years until the arrival of the Biden administration, which has put human rights at the center of its foreign policy strategy.

The administration, however, has not fundamentally changed the terms of the relationship with Cairo, which centers on the $1.3 billion in military aid Egypt receives each year from the United States, a historical byproduct of its agreement to make peace with Israel in 1979. The State Department approved a $197 million arms sale to Egypt in February, around the same time that Egypt arrested the cousins of an Egyptian-American dissident, Mohamed Soltan, in what Mr. Soltan said was a bid to pressure him to stop criticizing it.

The conflict also could serve to continue repairing the relationship between the United States and Jordan that had been largely shelved during the Trump administration. At least two million Palestinian refugees live in Jordan, and its Hashemite monarchy is the custodian of the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, one of the holiest sites in Islam.

Mr. Blinken’s visit comes at a fraught time in Israeli politics, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu heading a caretaker government that could be in its last days, after four inconclusive elections in two years, and with no clear picture of what lies ahead.

Experts in the region said Mr. Blinken would have to maneuver carefully between expressing his administration’s unwavering support for Israel and its security while not handing over any gifts that could be perceived as intervening in Mr. Netanyahu’s domestic predicament.

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The Woman Behind Iconic Beyoncé Looks and ‘Black Owned Everything’

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The costume designer and wardrobe stylist Zerina Akers does not want people to think that her life is picture-perfect, even if she spends her time making sure that her clients are.

“I want to dispel the thought that it is glamorous,” she said of her days, which often include piecing together ensembles for her celebrity clientele, overseeing fittings and tending to her e-tail site. “Yeah, you’re dealing with beautiful things, but you also have to deal with all the luggage, getting all the looks right and running around. It’s a lot of hard work and heavy lifting.”

And, lately, she has been doing all of that on a wounded ankle. She’s mainly worn comfort shoes during the pandemic, but a pair of post-quarantine wedge heels led to her recent mishap. (“Who did I think I was?!” she said, while describing the stumble during a phone interview.)

Ms. Akers, 35, is the go-to stylist for Beyoncé Knowles-Carter — the iconic oversized black hat that the singer modeled in the 2016 “Formation” music video was her handiwork. She also compiled the wardrobe for Ms. Knowles-Carter’s opulent 2020 visual album, “Black Is King,” pulling designs from both established European fashion houses and independent designers from across the African diaspora.

Black Owned Everything, an e-commerce hub featuring a curated selection of apparel, accessories, beauty and décor products.

“Last summer, there was a huge surge in support of Black brands,” she said, describing widespread calls for inclusivity and representation that swelled after the protests against racism and police brutality. That led some people to ask a new question: How long would this last?

“Would it be something that’s going to stick around and really create change, or was it just a trend?” Ms. Akers said. “I felt it was important to not wait around and gauge the reaction of the fashion industry. We were able to create something that we own, and we’re going to keep it going,” she said of the website, which features about three dozen brands.

Ms. Akers, a Maryland native who is based in Van Nuys, Calif., has also been designing clothing recently, a throwback to her teenage years spent creating garments for school fashion shows. Some of her work — a color-blocked dress, a chain-trim bodysuit, a trench jumpsuit — is featured in a capsule collection of separates for Bar III, the private label from Macy’s.

We spoke with her in early May, as she mulled over ideas for revamping the Black Owned Everything site and sorted through wardrobe items intended for the Colombian reggaeton artist Karol G and Chloe Bailey of the R&B duo Chloe x Halle.

Interviews are conducted by email, text and phone, then condensed and edited.

Brandice Daniel, the founder and chief executive of Harlem’s Fashion Row, as part of their annual Designer Retreat. We’re on with the accessories designer Brandon Blackwood, talking about our career paths and giving advice to young people on how to make it in fashion. I talk about the importance of being in good financial standing and doing what you love without prioritizing being “internet famous.”

3:30 p.m. My assistant, Christian Barberena, arrives at my house and we chill in the backyard, going over our next two weeks of work and divvying up tasks. Usually, my team handles internet shopping and sourcing items in stores. Then, I’ll primarily handle things that are being custom-made by designers.

5:45 p.m. I realize I’m about 15 minutes late for a Netflix virtual screening event for “Halston,” and Chris and I tune in to watch. It’s a must-see. Based on what I’ve read about him, it was well-cast — and it’s visually quite stunning.

8 a.m. I awake with a bit of anxiety, because I’ve been trying to figure out how to seamlessly do some construction on the Black Owned Everything site without alarming our followers. I want it to have much more storytelling, engage more Black photographers and graphic designers, and make it more than just a generic e-commerce space. I also have to find an entry-level social media manager to help make the Instagram account more robust while the site is down.

The Rooftop by JG with Liza Vassell, the founder of Brooklyn PR. We’re both late but make it just in time to not lose our table. It’s our first time connecting outside of work and we spent an hour and a half stuffing our faces, discussing our experiences being Black women making our own way, and investing in and supporting each other.

6:30 p.m. Today was one of those weird days — productive, yet somehow I was left feeling like I didn’t quite do enough. I start checking out mentally by watching trash TV.

8:30 a.m. My makeup artist, Leah Darcy Pike, arrives to help me get ready for a portrait for this column. I decided to throw on an aqua blue look from my Macy’s collection.

1:17 p.m. I call my product development consultant and deliver the good news that I love our new Black Owned Everything candle sample. It’s kind of woody and sort of like patchouli, with these other weird notes. We also discuss possible product ideas we could launch for Juneteenth, like a summer travel kit.

2:05 p.m. I open my garage in an attempt to organize it, then close it back. It’s filled with jewelry, clothes from past photo shoots, my personal wardrobe overflow, B.O.E. stuff … it’s gotten a little crazy.

3 p.m. It’s Chris’s birthday, so I run out and grab a cake from Sweet Lady Jane and we indulge for just a moment.

4:15 p.m. I go to a mall in Sherman Oaks to pick up monochromatic sneakers for my weekend shoot with Karol G. I love color-blocking, particularly red shoes and red bags.

Sally Hemings. I’m currently obsessed with the narratives of slaves. The varied experiences never cease to amaze me. I keep them etched in my brain as a reminder of how resilient we really are as a people.

8:33 a.m. I’m cracking open the week’s packages one by one. There are 20 to 30 — a combination of gifts, things from Black-owned businesses that they want us to review, and some celeb stuff. For the most part, I try to have some stuff go to my office, but since we’re blurring lines with the pandemic, I’ve just been having it come straight to one place.

10:45 a.m. Head out to meet Chris so we can set up a rack for Karol G before heading into a fitting. The first thing I usually try to do with fittings is see what makes the client’s face light up, then I’ll start with those things that they’re most excited about. Typically, the trickiest part is the alterations because you want to make sure they hold up and last, but not damage the garment. On this day, everything went smoothly.

5:33 p.m. After grabbing a bowl of fried tofu with veggies and grits at Souley Vegan, I head to my office to work on a new project with Chris. We’re trying to start a virtual reality character for the site. She’ll be dressed in the Black-owned brands and you can follow her day-to-day.

8 p.m. We realize we should probably stop working and head home to pack for a shoot in San Francisco. When I fly, I have to have my travel blanket (right now, it’s Burberry), my memory foam neck pillow and a sleep mask — I can never stay awake on a plane, even if it’s just an hourlong flight.

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He Promised a Dreamy Wedding Proposal. Fans Got a 5-Hour Sale.

Mr. Yin sold millions through a feature on Kuaishou that allows viewers to buy products touted by influencers on the online retailer JD.com without leaving the video app. It was unclear whether he had any ties to the manufacturers of the products he hawked, or whether brand collaborations and paid promotion have to be disclosed on the Kuaishou platform. During the broadcast, he denied promoting the products for profit. He could not be reached for comment.

While many viewers in China have come to expect, or even seek, a degree of product promotion with their entertainment, Mr. Yin’s use of a major life event as bait crossed the line for some. Many complained online that the livestreamed wedding engagement had turned into a home shopping network show.

One user named OrangeVenus wrote: “99% of the broadcast were dull introductions to merchandise. It’s no different from looking at the promotional web pages on Taobao.”

“Yin Shihang should have been banned long ago,” another said.

But some said that the platform’s punishment was excessive and that they would miss the influencer’s shenanigans.

Mr. Yin had never advertised the marriage proposal as a surprise. He and his girlfriend, Tao Lulu, had broken up and reconciled several times in the past, according to local news outlets. But for their engagement, she had dressed in a white lacy gown and appeared in a teaser video with Mr. Yin to announce the date and time of the special event.

After lurching into the room on the pony, Mr. Yin proceeded to hold up and describe in detail items like a scratch-free mirror, necklaces and lipstick he claimed he had custom-ordered for his girlfriend ahead of May 20, an unofficial Valentine’s Day in China, when romantic partners buy gifts for one another. (The date, 520, sounds vaguely like “I love you” in Mandarin.)

After the engagement scandal, Kuaishou, which bans the “malicious creation of gimmicks to get clicks and likes” and various forms of “vulgarity,” said it would crack down on the creation of sensationalist and “vulgar hype” for the purposes of promoting and selling products.

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Mystery Boxes With Mail-Order Pets Set Off a Backlash in China

HONG KONG — The mystery pet boxes are listed on e-commerce platforms in China as a bargain, priced at little more than a few dollars, and they often contain cuddly animals ready to be mailed straight to your doorstep.

The recipients of the pet “blind boxes.” typically don’t know exactly what’s inside — other than the fact that it’s a dog, a cat, a hamster or an unhatched turtle egg. Though the unauthorized transport of live animals across the country is illegal, that hasn’t stopped vendors from openly holding cheap sales and promising fast deliveries. The practice has become increasingly popular.

But many of the animals have ended up dead or suffering from infections or organ damage during the winding journey through China’s postal system after they have been dispatched by breeders.

dead animals among 13 packages at a depot in eastern China, headed to a village in Jiangsu Province, set off a furor. It was the second instance this month, after about 160 crates containing puppies and kittens were found by animal rescuers in a Chengdu shipping facility.

Video footage of the earlier episode posted by the rescuers of the malnourished animals piled into plastic-wrapped crates circulated widely online, casting harsh scrutiny on the industry and prompting internet users to denounce the maltreatment of the animals.

“We could hear them crying in discomfort,” the Chengdu Love Home Animal Rescue Center wrote on Weibo, the Chinese social media platform, last week after its volunteers worked to feed and revive the animals.

Last September, an animal rescue group said that 5,000 dogs, cats and rabbits were found abandoned in perforated cardboard boxes at a shipping warehouse in Henan Province. As volunteers rushed to rescue the surviving animals, they found that about 4,000 had already died.

Blind boxes promise the thrill of the unexpected and the chance to own a coveted collectible or particular breed of dog at a lower-than-market price. In the past few years, vendors on China’s e-commerce platforms have lured consumers with photos of figurines, comic books, clothes or makeup products. One of the largest manufacturers of blind-box figurines, Pop Mart, entered the Hong Kong stock market in 2020.

China banned the live transport of dogs and cats across provincial boundaries in 2011 without a health certificate signed by a government-approved vet at the animal’s place of origin.

Peter Li, a China policy specialist at the Humane Society International and an associate professor of East Asian politics at the University of Houston-Downtown, said that the mystery pet box phenomenon was not only a “gross inhumanity,” but also a public health risk.

“The fact that China’s surveillance system has failed to capture the illegal trade is because it looks like a normal business operation,” Dr. Li said in an email.

“Those involved in the mystery box ‘business’ are encouraging irresponsible pet ownership, irresponsible consumption habit and encouraging disrespectful behaviors toward nonhuman animals,” he said. “Shipping companies and delivery services have the duty not to handle shipment that is ethically questionable, legally liable and socially toxic.”

He added that while animal-protection groups in mainland China have been encouraging the adoption of rescue animals, the mystery-box model is a supply-driven trade, driven by breeders with too many animals who seek to lure younger customers with the promise of expensive breeds of pets at low prices.

Even among people who have bought mystery boxes of other items, but not pets, there was a recoiling at the idea of mailing animals.

Zhang Luyuan, a 33-year-old staff worker at a tourist attraction in the Chinese city of Fuzhou in Fujian Province, once indulged in blind-box purchases. “Those who buy blind boxes have a bit of wishful thinking and want to get what they want with less money,” he said by phone. But after spending $60 on a mystery box for what he thought were high-quality sport jerseys, he found subpar products inside.

“Since buying that blind box, I learned that meat pies won’t fall from the sky, and I have been buying the products the honest way,” he said, using an idiom similar to “there’s no free lunch.”

He said the delivery of living animals in mystery packages was tantamount to abuse, a lucrative way for breeders perhaps to get rid of those that are ill and unlikely to survive.

ZTO Express, the company behind both botched shipments of animals this month, could not be reached for comment. In a statement on May 4, it apologized for failing to enforce safety laws and said that it needed to “uphold correct life values.”

The company added that it would close the Chengdu delivery facility where the 160 crates were found, would cooperate with the police investigation and would enhance safety training. In another statement on Wednesday, ZTO said it had sought to regulate and reverse the delivery of live animals since May 5. The company added that the animals found in Suzhou were already being returned to their place of origin, but had been stranded at a shipment centers.

The police and postal authorities in Chengdu and Suzhou also could not immediately be reached for comment.

The backlash this month has prompted many breeders to remove their listings from popular e-commerce sites such as Pinduoduo and Taobao.

Li Ruoshui, a 19-year-old university student in Shanghai, said he had bought more than a dozen blind boxes of Harry Potter and anime figurines as gifts over the past two years.

“My sister really enjoys the surprise when opening the box, because you don’t know what you’re going to get,” he said in a phone interview. “I think that’s how blind boxes stand out from other products.”

But he said that the concept of blind boxes should never be extended to living animals, and questioned whether the customers who buy pet boxes actually want to take care of the animals inside or are doing it for the novelty.

“I will never buy pet boxes,” he said. “I like small animals, and transporting them in blind boxes is very unsafe and increases the chances of their abandonment.”

Liu Yi contributed research from Beijing.

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