sewn into the linings of clothes.

In May, after Saudi authorities discovered more than five million pills hidden inside hollowed out pomegranates shipped from Beirut, they banned produce from Lebanon, a major blow to local farmers.

According to The Times’ database, the number of pills seized has increased every year since 2017.

The street value of the drugs seized has outstripped the value of Syria’s legal exports, mostly agricultural products, every year since 2019.

Last year, global captagon seizures had a street value of about$2.9 billion, more than triple Syria’s legal exports of $860 million.

Law enforcement agencies have struggled to catch the smugglers, not least because the Syrian authorities offer little if any information about shipments that originated in their country.

The name of shippers listed on manifests are usually fake and searches for the intended recipients often lead to mazes of shell companies.

The Italian seizure of 84 million pills in Salerno last year, the largest captagon bust ever at the time, had come from Latakia. Shipping documents listed the sender as Basil al-Shagri Bin Jamal, but the Italian authorities were unable to find him.

GPS Global Aviation Supplier, a company registered in Lugano, Switzerland, that appears to have no office.

Phone calls, text messages and emails to the company received no response, and the wealth management firm that the company listed as its mailing address, SMC Family Office SA, declined to comment.

Greek investigators have hit similar roadblocks.

In June 2019, workers in Piraeus found five tons of captagon, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, inside sheets of fiberboard on their way to China.

Seehog, a Chinese logistics firm. When reached by phone, she denied knowing anything about the shipment and refused to answer questions.

“You are not the police,” she said, and hung up.

There was one more clue in the documents: The sender was Mohammed Amer al-Dakak, with a Syrian phone number. When entered into WhatsApp, the phone number showed a photo of Maher al-Assad, the commander of Syria’s Fourth Armored Division, suggesting the number belonged to, at least, one of his fans.

A man who answered that number said that he was not Mr. al-Dakak. He said that he had acquired the phone number recently.

Loukas Danabasis, the head of the narcotics unit of Greece’s financial crime squad, said the smugglers’ tactics made solving such cases “difficult and sometimes impossible.”

While officials in Europe struggle to identify smugglers, Jordan, one of the United States’ closest partners in the Middle East, sits on the front lines of a regional drug war.

“Jordan is the gateway to the Gulf,” Brig. Gen. Ahmad al-Sarhan, the commander of an army unit along Jordan’s border with Syria, said during a visit to the area.

Overlooking a deep valley with views of Syria, General al-Sarhan and his men detailed Syrian smugglers’ tricks to bring drugs into Jordan: They launch crossing attempts at multiple spots. They attach drugs to drones and fly them across. They load drugs onto donkeys trained to cross by themselves.

Sometimes the smugglers stop by Syrian army posts before approaching the border.

“There is clear involvement,” General al-Sarhan said.

The drug trade worries Jordanian officials for many reasons.

The quantities are increasing. The number of Captagon pills seized in Jordan this year is nearly double the amount seized in 2020, according to Colonel Alqudah, the head of the narcotics department.

And while Jordan was originally just a pathway to Saudi Arabia, as much as one-fifth of the drugs smuggled in from Syria are now consumed in Jordan, he estimated. The increased supply has lowered the price, making it easy for students to become addicted.

Even more worrying, he said, is the growing quantity of crystal meth entering Jordan from Syria, which poses a greater threat. As of October, Jordan had seized 132 pounds of it this year, up from 44 pounds the year before.

“We are now in a dangerous stage because we can’t go back,” said Dr. Morad al-Ayasrah, a Jordanian psychiatrist who treats drug addicts. “We are going forward and the drugs are increasing.”

Reporting was contributed by Niki Kitsantonis in Athens; Gaia Pianigiani in Rome; Kit Gillet in Bucharest, Romania; Hannah Beech in Bangkok; and employees of The New York Times in Damascus, Syria, and Beirut, Lebanon.

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As World Shuts Borders to Stop Omicron, Japan Offers a Cautionary Tale

TOKYO — With the emergence of the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus late last week, countries across the globe rushed to close their borders to travelers from southern Africa, even in the absence of scientific information about whether such measures were necessary or likely to be effective in stopping the virus’s spread.

Japan has gone further than most other countries so far, announcing on Monday that the world’s third-largest economy would be closed off to travelers from everywhere.

It is a familiar tactic for Japan. The country has barred tourists since early in the pandemic, even as most of the rest of the world started to travel again. And it had only tentatively opened this month to business travelers and students, despite recording the highest vaccination rate among the world’s large wealthy democracies and after seeing its coronavirus caseloads plunge by 99 percent since August.

Now, as the doors slam shut again, Japan provides a sobering case study of the human and economic cost of those closed borders. Over the many months that Japan has been isolated, thousands of life plans have been suspended, leaving couples, students, academic researchers and workers in limbo.

United States, Britain and most of Europe reopened over the summer and autumn to vaccinated travelers, Japan and other countries in the Asia-Pacific region opened their borders only a crack, even after achieving some of the world’s highest vaccination rates. Now, with the emergence of the Omicron variant, Japan, along with Australia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Indonesia and South Korea, are quickly battening down again.

outbreak of the Delta variant.

Japan is recording only about 150 coronavirus cases a day, and before the emergence of the Omicron variant, business leaders had been calling for a more aggressive reopening.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, Japan did what most countries around the world did — we thought we needed proper border controls,” Yoshihisa Masaki, director of communications at Keidanren, Japan’s largest business lobbying group, said in an interview earlier this month.

But as cases diminished, he said, the continuation of firm border restrictions threatened to stymie economic progress. “It will be like Japan being left behind in the Edo Period,” Mr. Masaki said, referring to Japan’s isolationist era between the 17th and mid-19th centuries.

Thailand had recently reopened to tourists from 63 countries, and Cambodia had just started to welcome vaccinated visitors with minimal restrictions. Other countries, like Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia, were allowing tourists from certain countries to arrive in restricted areas.

Wealthier Asian countries like Japan resisted the pressure to reopen. With the exception of its decision to hold the Summer Olympics, Japan has been cautious throughout the pandemic. It was early to shut its borders and close schools. It rolled out its vaccination campaign only after conducting its own clinical trials. And dining and drinking hours remained restricted in many prefectures until September.

Foreign companies could not bring in executives or other employees to replace those who were moving back home or to another international posting, said Michael Mroczek, a lawyer in Tokyo who is president of the European Business Council.

In a statement on Monday, the council said business travelers or new employees should be allowed to enter provided they follow strict testing and quarantine measures.

“Trust should be put in Japan’s success on the vaccination front,” the council said. “And Japan and its people are now firmly in a position to reap the economic rewards.”

Business leaders said they wanted science to guide future decisions. “Those of us who live and work in Japan appreciate that the government’s policies so far have substantially limited the impact of the pandemic here,” said Christopher LaFleur, former American ambassador to Malaysia and special adviser to the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan.

But, he said, “I think we really need to look to the science over the coming days” to see whether a complete border shutdown is justified.

Students, too, have been thrown into uncertainty. An estimated 140,000 or more have been accepted to universities or language schools in Japan and have been waiting months to enter the country to begin their courses of study.

Carla Dittmer, 19, had hoped to move from Hanstedt, a town south of Hamburg, Germany, to Japan over the summer to study Japanese. Instead, she has been waking up every morning at 1 to join an online language class in Tokyo.

“I do feel anxious and, frankly speaking, desperate sometimes, because I have no idea when I would be able to enter Japan and if I will be able to keep up with my studies,” Ms. Dittmer said. “I can understand the need of caution, but I hope that Japan will solve that matter with immigration precautions such as tests and quarantine rather than its walls-up policy.”

The border closures have economically flattened many regions and industries that rely on foreign tourism.

When Japan announced its reopening to business travelers and international students earlier this month, Tatsumasa Sakai, 70, the fifth-generation owner of a shop that sells ukiyo-e, or woodblock prints, in Asakusa, a popular tourist destination in Tokyo, hoped that the move was a first step toward further reopening.

“Since the case numbers were going down, I thought that we could have more tourists and Asakusa could inch toward coming back to life again,” he said. “I guess this time, the government is just taking precautionary measures, but it is still very disappointing.”

Mr. Dery and Ms. Hirose also face a long wait. Mr. Dery, who met Ms. Hirose when they were both working at an automotive parts maker, returned to Indonesia in April 2020 after his Japanese work visa expired. Three months before he departed, he proposed to Ms. Hirose during an outing to the DisneySea amusement park near Tokyo.

Ms. Hirose had booked a flight to Jakarta for that May so that the couple could marry, but by then, the borders were closed in Indonesia.

“Our marriage plan fell apart,” Mr. Dery, 26, said by telephone from Jakarta. “There’s no clarity on how long the pandemic would last.”

Just last week, Mr. Dery secured a passport and was hoping to fly to Japan in February or March.

Upon hearing of Japan’s renewed border closures, he said he was not surprised. “I was hopeful,” he said. “But suddenly the border is about to close again.”

“I don’t know what else to do,” he added. “This pandemic seems endless.”

Reporting was contributed by Hisako Ueno and Makiko Inoue in Tokyo; Dera Menra Sijabat in Jakarta, Indonesia; Richard C. Paddock in Bangkok; John Yoon in Seoul; Raymond Zhong in Taipei, Taiwan; and Yan Zhuang in Sydney, Australia.

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Biden and Xi Pledge More Cooperation, but Offer No Breakthroughs

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Biden Meets Xi at Virtual Summit

President Biden and Xi Jinping opened talks on a friendly note, with the Chinese leader expressing his desire to move China-U.S. relations forward in a positive direction.

“As I’ve said before, it seems to me our responsibility as leaders of China and the United States, is to ensure that the competition between our countries does not veer into conflict, whether intended or unintended. Just simple, straightforward competition. It seems to me we need to establish some common sense guardrails, to be clear and honest where we disagree and work together where our interests intersect, especially on vital global issues like climate change.”

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President Biden and Xi Jinping opened talks on a friendly note, with the Chinese leader expressing his desire to move China-U.S. relations forward in a positive direction.CreditCredit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

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President Biden and China’s leader, Xi Jinping, pledged at a virtual summit to improve cooperation, but offered no breakthroughs after three and a half hours of talks.

In separate statements after the talks ended, each side emphasized the points of contention that mattered most: lists of mutual grievances that underscored the depth of the divisions between them.

Mr. Biden, the White House said, raised concerns about human rights abuses and China’s “unfair trade and economic policies.” Mr. Xi said that American support for Taiwan was “playing with fire,” and warned that dividing the world into alliances or blocs — a pillar of the new administration’s strategy for challenging China by teaming up with its neighbors — would “inevitably bring disaster to the world.”

In advance of the meeting, White House officials had signaled that there would be no concrete agreements or initiatives, or even an effort to put out a joint statement — usually a pre-negotiated statement on areas of agreement or projects to tackle together.

The two leaders nevertheless expressed a willingness to manage their differences in a way that avoided conflict between the world’s two largest powers. That alone could lower temperature of a relationship that has at times this year threatened to overheat.

“It seems to me we need to establish some common-sense guardrails,” Mr. Biden said, using a phrase his administration has often cited as a goal for a challenging relationship. Addressing Mr. Xi directly, he added: “We have a responsibility to the world, as well as to our people.”

Although the two leaders have spoken by telephone twice this year, the conference was intended to replicate the more thorough discussion of issues of previous summits between the United States and China — something that was not possible because health and political concerns have kept Mr. Xi from traveling since January 2020.

Both men were accompanied by a phalanx of senior aides — the Americans in the Roosevelt Room at the White House and the Chinese inside a chamber in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. In brief remarks at the beginning of the meeting, each struck a conciliatory tone, flagging areas of disagreement but also pledging to work together.

Mr. Biden, seated before two large screens, noted that the two have “spent an awful lot of time talking to each other” over the years, dating to when Mr. Biden was vice president and Mr. Xi was a rising power in the Chinese leadership. Mr. Xi said he was prepared to move relations “in a positive direction.”

“Although it’s not as good as a face-to-face meeting, I’m very happy to see my old friend,” Mr. Xi said.

Mr. Biden emphasized the need to keep “communication lines open,” according to a White House statement, as the two countries confront disagreements over issues like the future of Taiwan, the militarization of the South China Sea and China’s exploitation of vulnerabilities to bore deeply into the computer networks of American companies, especially defense contractors.

The call, which was initiated at Mr. Biden’s request, reflected his administration’s deep concern that the chances of keeping conflict at bay may be diminishing. Mr. Biden has repeatedly suggested that it should be possible to avoid active military engagement with China, even as the United States engages in vigorous competition with Beijing and continues to confront the Chinese leadership on several significant issues.

The statements hinted at some discussion of “strategic” issues, a phrase that appeared to encompass the nuclear strategies of both nations, but American officials declined to detail those discussions. Some issues that had been the source of speculation before the summit did not come up, including disputes over visas and an invitation to attend the Winter Olympics in Beijing, which begin in February.

Reporting and research by Steven Lee Myers, David E. Sanger, Claire Fu and Li You.

Credit…Taiwan Ministry Of National Defense

China’s leader, Xi Jinping, urged the United States not to test his country’s resolve on the question of Taiwan, an island democracy Beijing claims is part of its territory.

“We are patient and are willing to strive for the prospect of peaceful reunification with the utmost sincerity,” Mr. Xi told President Biden, according to a readout on the meeting released by Chinese state media. “But China will have to take resolute measures if the ‘Taiwan independence’ separatist forces provoke, compel or even cross the red line.”

In vivid language that has come to define Beijing’s strident rhetoric, Mr. Xi criticized politicians in the United States who he said sought to use the island’s status as leverage over Beijing — a trend he described as dangerous. “It is playing with fire, and if you play with fire, you will get burned,” the Chinese readout cited Mr. Xi as saying.

No issue between the United States and China is more contentious than the fate of Taiwan, which functions as an independent nation in all but official recognition by most of the world.

The People’s Republic of China has claimed Taiwan since the defeated Nationalist forces of Chiang Kai-shek retreated there in 1949, but in recent months Beijing has grown increasingly vocal in criticizing U.S. efforts to strengthen the island’s democracy and its military defenses.

Beijing’s assertive language is often coupled with displays of its growing military prowess. It has menaced Taiwan with military exercises simulating an amphibious assault and air patrols that have swept through the island’s air defense identification zone. Many military analysts, including some in the Pentagon, believe that the maneuvers by an increasingly well-equipped Chinese military could be a prelude to an invasion.

The Biden administration, like the Trump administration before it, has warned China that its military operations and threats are dangerous. The United States, which withdrew its official recognition of Taiwan as a condition of re-establishing relations with China in 1979, has responded by stepping up diplomatic efforts to bolster President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan.

That has included visits by officials and lawmakers, as well as weapon sales.

China says those efforts stoke popular sentiment in Taiwan to formally declare independence, which Beijing has warned would lead to war. Wariness in China intensified when President Biden answered a question at a televised town hall last month by declaring, imprecisely, that the United States was committed to Taiwan’s defense in the case of an attack.

It was unclear whether President Biden and Mr. Xi directly discussed the question of how the United States would respond, militarily, should Beijing attack Taiwan. The White House’s readout about the virtual meeting only described President Biden as affirming the United States’ position on Taiwan. The statement used longstanding language that acknowledges but does not recognize Beijing’s claim on Taiwan while indicating Beijing should do nothing to change the status quo.

Beijing is likely to be skeptical of the Biden administration’s intentions. “China’s view is that the United States plays rhetorical games on the Taiwan issue, saying that there is one China and that it does not support Taiwan independence, while it makes actual deals with Taiwan,” said Wu Xinbo, director of the center for American studies at Fudan University in Shanghai. “I think this is still a major divergence point in bilateral relations.”

Reporting and research by Steven Lee Myers and Li You.

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

From China’s perspective, the virtual meeting itself amounts to a vindication of its strategy to wait out the new administration.

After the tumult of the Trump years, China’s leaders hoped to reset the relationship with the United States when President Biden took office in January. When that didn’t happen, officials seemed surprised, then angry.

Senior officials lashed out as Mr. Biden’s national security team challenged China on a variety of issues — from Taiwan to the western Chinese region of Xinjiang, where the State Department has declared a genocide of Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities is underway. In a speech in Beijing in July celebrating 100 years of the Chinese Communist Party, China’s leader, Xi Jinping, warned: “The Chinese people will never allow foreign forces to bully, oppress or enslave us. Whoever nurses delusions of doing that will crack their heads and spill blood on the Great Wall of steel built from the flesh and blood of 1.4 billion Chinese people.”

What Beijing did not do was compromise on any of its policy and behaviors that have stoked exactly those divisions, including menacing military patrols and exercises around Taiwan. Instead, it squeezed concessions out of the United States.

Those included the release in September of Meng Wanzhou, an executive of the telecommunications giant Huawei who had been detained in Canada in 2018 on an American arrest warrant. Beijing, infuriated by the detention at the time, retaliated by essentially taking two Canadians hostage.

China continues to warn the United States of its red lines, especially over the fate of Taiwan, but the tone of various public statements has mellowed considerably. That is also in China’s interest heading into the Winter Olympics in Beijing in February and the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party in November.

“I think that both countries want to bring down the temperature,” said Ali Wyne, an analyst focused on U.S.-China relations with the Eurasia Group, a consultancy based in Washington. “They both recognize that threshold between intensifying competition and unconstrained rivalry is tenuous.”

Credit…Alex Plavevski/EPA, via Shutterstock

President Biden and Xi Jinping, China’s top leader, made no apparent progress on trade issues at their virtual summit, but they struck a hopeful note about the potential for future deals.

Some of the differences were on display in the accounts the two sides released after the meeting. Mr. Biden repeated U.S. calls for China to live up to its agreement early last year to import more American goods, a senior administration official said. An official Chinese statement did not mention the agreement publicly, but it said Mr. Xi described the bilateral trade relationship as “mutually beneficial” while calling for trade not to be politicized.

There was no announcement of multi-billion-dollar commercial purchases of American products of the sort that Donald J. Trump, the former president, had sought from China. Trade officials from both sides would hold more talks, the senior administration official said.

The softer tone of the rhetoric on both sides in recent weeks and at the virtual summit has nonetheless inspired some optimism, particularly in China, on economic issues.

“I think gradually trade disputes will be resolved,” said Chen Dingding, a professor of international relations at Jinan University in Guangzhou. “We’ll see some concrete measures very soon.”

Wide differences between the two countries remain, including about the commitments the two sides made in striking their trade war truce early last year. That truce, dubbed the Phase 1 trade agreement, called for China to buy $380 billion worth of American goods by the end of 2021. But based on China’s purchases through September of this year, the country is on track to buy only three-fifths of that, according to data compiled by the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.

China has bought large quantities of American corn, pork and other farm goods, but far fewer manufactured goods and far less fossil fuels than were called for by the Phase 1 agreement. That is partly because China has not placed large orders lately for Boeing jets, as air travel slowed during the pandemic. China has also been cautious about signing long-term agreements to buy American natural gas.

China is reportedly close to allowing Boeing 737 Max jets to return to its skies after crashes about three years ago in Ethiopia and Indonesia. The Federal Aviation Administration approved the plane late last year, and it has since been widely used elsewhere without incident.

China’s statement did not mention jetliners, but did say that Mr. Xi had called for closer cooperation on natural gas, although there were no details.

There have also been some hints of compromise on the American side. Katherine Tai, the U.S. trade representative, announced last month that the Biden administration would restart a Trump-era procedure for excluding a few specific products from tariffs. The exemptions are for products that American companies can prove that they genuinely need and cannot readily purchase elsewhere.

China was allowed to retain some tariffs on U.S. goods under the Phase 1 agreement, but has already issued exemptions for most of its tariffs.

Mr. Biden’s economic deputies are traveling elsewhere in Asia this week, strengthening ties to counterbalance the Chinese relationship. Ms. Tai and Commerce Secretary Gina M. Raimondo are touring the region, meeting with economic officials in Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and India.

Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

When President Biden connected with the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, on a video call late Monday, each did so from two of the best-known rooms in their respective country’s statecraft.

Despite the physical distance from which the two talked, the choice of setting underscored the importance of the meeting and the attention to diplomatic protocol, even in an era of Zoom calls and coronavirus.

President Biden called from the Roosevelt Room, a famed meeting area in the White House, which President Nixon in 1969 renamed for Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt. Today, the room is frequently used to announce nominations and as a preparatory room for delegations before meeting the president.

Mr. Xi dialed in from the East Hall in China’s Great Hall of the People, a room featuring a large mural of a mountain landscape with a poem from Mao Zedong, the founder of the People’s Republic of China. That room is perhaps best known as the place where new members of the country’s Politburo Standing Committee are announced. The Great Hall of the People is a cavernous structure of ornate rooms built alongside Tiananmen Square in Beijing; it is where the Chinese Communist Party and China’s government stage their most important meetings.

In a video broadcast before the meeting, Kang Hui, an anchor for China’s state television broadcaster, pointed out that the East Hall has been the site of many high-profile state visits, and more recently has been the staging ground for Mr. Xi to virtually connect in meetings with other leaders and major conferences.

With strict protocols and lengthy quarantines in place to prevent the spread of Covid-19 across China’s borders, Mr. Xi has not left the country in almost two years.

Credit…Thomas Peter/Reuters

During the summit, President Biden was candid about his concerns about the state of human rights in China, administration officials said.

Xi Jinping, China’s most authoritarian leader in decades, has been accused of overseeing a widespread rollback of individual freedoms across the country. According to the official readout from the Chinese government, he defended Beijing’s political model and said that while China was willing to discuss human rights, it would not be lectured by outsiders. “We do not approve of interfering in other countries’ internal affairs through human rights issues,” he told Mr. Biden.

China has drawn scrutiny from Western democracies over its crackdown in Xinjiang, where the authorities have rounded up and detained Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in large numbers, and in Hong Kong, where a harsh national security law has undone many of the city’s democratic traditions.

The Biden administration has stuck by the Trump administration’s accusations of genocide in Xinjiang, and more recently, also raised concerns over the fate of Zhang Zhan, a citizen journalist whose family and friends say is critically ill in prison. Ms. Zhang is being held for documenting the chaos of the early days of the outbreak of the coronavirus in Wuhan.

President Biden has worked quickly to enlist allies to join his campaign to pressure China on issues such as human rights and trade. The U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, said this year that Beijing was routinely undercutting Hong Kong’s autonomy, and that the Biden administration would push back against what he described as coercion from China.

Mr. Xi has previously dismissed what Beijing sees as sanctimonious preaching.

When the United States imposed sanctions on Chinese officials over Hong Kong and Xinjiang, Beijing retaliated with its own penalties. Beijing has also responded to the recriminations with its own criticisms. Chinese diplomats and state media hit out at the United States over the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.

It remains to be seen how firmly Mr. Biden will push Mr. Xi on human rights. In the first face-to-face meeting of American and Chinese officials of Biden’s administration in Alaska, the raising of such issues led to mutual denunciations, setting the tone for a testy relationship.

Credit…Getty Images

Climate policy is the rare area where the United States and China at least appear to be on the same page. At the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow this month, the two countries — the biggest polluting nations — signed a surprise pact to do more to cut emissions this decade.

During the summit on Monday, they reiterated their commitment to the issue, with the United States in its readout saying that the “two leaders discussed the existential nature of the climate crisis to the world.”

But much remains unclear about how the two governments will work together. The Glasgow pact was short on specifics, including any commitment from China on when it will start reducing the amount of carbon dioxide and other gases it generates by burning coal, gas and oil. Beijing has said only that it will do so by 2030.

China’s top leader Xi Jinping said climate policy could become a “new highlight” of cooperation with the United States, according to China’s statement on the summit. But Mr. Xi also reiterated Beijing’s position that China, as the world’s largest developing nation, had different responsibilities to uphold when it came to climate change than the developed countries that pumped out more carbon dioxide over the past century.

China’s mighty manufacturing sector makes it the planet’s No. 1 emitter, responsible for around a quarter of all global emissions. It is also the reason Beijing’s leaders cannot dial back emissions easily or quickly.

Electricity demand is still growing rapidly in China. And the world still depends on Chinese factories to produce electronics, toys, exercise equipment and much else.

Mr. Xi has announced steps to reduce China’s use of coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel. But the country still has extensive plans for building coal-fired power plants and for mining more coal, a need that has been highlighted by recent power shortages caused partly by a lack of coal. China already digs up and burns more of the fuel than the rest of the world.

Although China has been racing to put up wind and solar projects, it has not been able to shift from coal toward natural gas, which emits less carbon dioxide when burned, as quickly as the United States.

Credit…Noel Celis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Lurking beneath the many tensions between Beijing and Washington is the question of whether the two countries are slipping into a Cold War, or something quite different.

One of the few areas of agreement between Xi Jinping, China’s leader, and President Biden is that letting relations devolve into Cold War behavior would be a mistake of historic proportions.During the talks, Mr. Xi implicitly criticized Mr. Biden’s efforts to shore up alliances of democratically minded countries to counter China, saying that “ideological demarcations” would “inevitably bring disaster to the world,” according to an official readout of his comments at the meeting. “The consequences of the Cold War are not far away,” the statement said.

Mr. Biden has insisted that the United States is not seeking a new Cold War. His national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said last week, “we have the choice not to do that.” The summit meeting between the two leaders is part of a White House effort to make sure that the right choices are made — and that accidents and misunderstandings do not propel either country in the wrong direction.

There are many reasons to argue that what is happening today is quite different from the Cold War. The amount of economic interchange, and entanglement, between the United States and China is huge; with the Soviet Union it was minuscule. Both sides would have a huge amount to lose from a Cold War; Mr. Xi and Mr. Biden both know that and have talked about the risks.

Other deep links — the mutual dependencies on technology, information and raw data that leaps the Pacific in milliseconds on American and Chinese-dominated networks — also never existed in the Cold War.

“The size and complexity of the trade relationship is underappreciated,” Mr. Biden’s top Asia adviser, Kurt M. Campbell, said in July as part of his argument of why this moment significantly differs from the Cold War of 40 years ago.

Still, with his repeated references this year to a generational struggle between “autocracy and democracy,” Mr. Biden has conjured the ideological edge of the 1950s and ’60s. And so has Mr. Xi at moments, with his talk about assuring that China is not dependent on the West for critical technologies, while also trying to make sure that the West is dependent on China.

Without question, the past several months have resounded with echoes of Cold War behavior: the Chinese air force running sorties in Taiwan’s air identification zone; Beijing expanding its space program, launching three more astronauts to its space station and accelerating its tests of hypersonic missiles meant to defeat U.S. defenses; and the release of a top Huawei executive for two Canadians and two Americans in what looked like a prisoner swap.

At the same time, the United States announced that it would provide nuclear submarine technology to Australia, with the prospect that its subs could pop up, undetected, along the Chinese coast. It did not escape Chinese commentators that the last time the United States shared that kind of technology was in 1958, when Britain adopted naval reactors as part of the effort to counter Russia’s expanding nuclear arsenal.

Credit…Xie Huanchi/Xinhua, via Associated Press

That the summit was taking place virtually, not in person, was a concession to China’s leader, Xi Jinping.

The White House had hoped that he and President Biden would meet at the Group of 20 gathering in Rome last month, but Mr. Xi did not attend. He has not left China since Mr. Biden took office in January — in fact, not since January 2020, when the coronavirus was beginning to spread from China.

The ostensible reason for remaining home still seems to be Covid-19, but some experts have speculated that Mr. Xi could not afford to be away before an important political gathering that ended last week.

He used that forum to solidify his stature within the Communist Party, bolstering his case for what is widely expected to be a third five-year term as China’s paramount leader, beginning next year. With the coronavirus still a threat, it is conceivable that Mr. Xi might stay home until the party’s national congress next November.

That reflects more than just internal political machinations. It is in keeping with China’s increasing insularity, forged by a growing confidence — hubris, some might say — that the country under Mr. Xi’s leadership is the master of its own destiny, less dependent on the rest of the world for validation as its economic and military might solidifies.

Still, Mr. Xi’s absence has coincided with the withering of China’s international standing, with public sentiment in many countries turning against the country’s behavior at home and abroad. He faced sharp criticism for submitting a letter to the climate talks in Glasgow and for joining India in watering down the final statement to reduce pressure on cutting the use of coal.

Ever since President Nixon stunned the United States in 1971 by announcing that he would travel to China, meetings between American and Chinese leaders have become milestones in a relationship fraught with hope.

In the five decades that have followed, the relationship between the two countries has lurched between cooperation and confrontation. In 1979, Mao Zedong’s successor, Deng Xiaoping, met President Carter in Washington to normalize diplomatic ties and end years of mutual hostility.

That was followed by meetings with Ronald Reagan in 1982 and George H.W. Bush in February 1989 — that one just months before Deng ordered a brutal military crackdown on student protests around Tiananmen Square in Beijing.

Mr. Bush responded to the massacre by suspending all official contacts with the Chinese, but a month later surreptitiously dispatched his national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, to keep open channels with a country then allied with the United States’ efforts to contain its Cold War rival, the Soviet Union.

There was not another official visit until 1997, when President Clinton played host to Jiang Zemin, who emerged as the country’s leader after Deng’s death, which officials hoped would usher in a new era of openness.

After a while, meeting with Chinese leaders and senior officials became a goal in itself of American foreign policy. The idea was that regular meetings would entwine the Chinese economy with the world’s.

In 2006, President George W. Bush and Hu Jintao announced the creation of a strategic economic dialogue, where officials from both sides could meet regularly to resolve proliferating trade disputes.

When President Obama came to office, the strategic economic dialogue in 2009 became the strategic economic and security dialogue, reflecting emerging conflicts over China’s expansionism in the South China Sea.

A criticism of both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations was that the Chinese smothered the Americans with talk, while doing as they pleased — whether cyberattacks, or militarization of artificial islands in the South China Sea.

U.S.-China summitry may have peaked in 2017. President Trump invited Xi Jinping to his Mar-a-Lago resort in April, where he informed him over “the most beautiful chocolate cake you’ve ever seen” that the United States had bombed Syria.

The two leaders met again that November, when Mr. Trump traveled to Beijing, becoming the first foreign leader to dine in the Forbidden City. “You’re a very special man,” he told Mr. Xi, banking on flattery to win over the Chinese leader. It didn’t.

Credit…Alex Plavevski/EPA, via Shutterstock

The long-smoldering clash between China and the United States over the future of technology hit a rare moment of accord in September, when the Justice Department helped broker a deal that led to the release of a senior executive at the Chinese telecom equipment maker, Huawei.

The two countries have been struggling to find any more common ground in that area.

President Biden has done little to roll back measures put in place under the Trump administration aimed at limiting China’s access to American technology. U.S. officials fear China will use American software and equipment to build government-supported rivals and develop tools to strengthen its surveillance state, including advanced computers, artificial intelligence and facial recognition systems.

Huawei itself remains a point of contention. American authorities helped secure the release of Meng Wanzhou, the Chinese executive who was detained in Canada. But they are still restricting Huawei’s access to critical American semiconductors and software, crimping its business.

While parts of the Biden Administration have called for improving economic ties, many American lawmakers are pushing for even tougher measures on Chinese technology firms. Mr. Biden has invoked competition with China to help pass his infrastructure bill, which seeks to bolster American technology competitiveness.

On China’s side, the country’s drive for self-reliance will likely take precedence over taking steps to regain access to American technology. Beijing is unlikely to back away from its tough limits on the flow of data or free expression online. Those positions have effectively locked most major foreign internet firms out of China. One of the last, LinkedIn, said last month it would shut down there.

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Rohingya on Bangladesh Island of Bhashan Char Seek to Leave

DHAKA, Bangladesh — Its name translates into “floating island,” and for up to 100,000 desperate war refugees, the low-slung landmass is supposed to be home.

One refugee, Munazar Islam, initially thought it would be his. He and his family of four fled Myanmar in 2017 after the military there unleashed a campaign of murder and rape that the United Nations has called ethnic cleansing. After years in a refugee camp prone to fires and floods, he accepted an invitation from the government of neighboring Bangladesh to move to the island, Bhasan Char.

Mr. Islam’s relief was short lived. Jobs on the island were nonexistent. Police officers controlled the refugees’ movements and sometimes barred residents from mingling with neighbors, or children from playing together outside. The island was vulnerable to flooding and cyclones and, until relatively recently, would occasionally disappear underwater.

So, in August, Mr. Islam paid human smugglers about $400 to ferry his family somewhere else.

“When I got the chance, I paid and left,” said Mr. Islam, who asked that his location not be revealed because leaving Bhasan Char is illegal. “I died every day on that island, and I didn’t want to be stuck there.”

Myanmar.

worsened storms and sent sea levels rising. Human Rights Watch, in a recent report, said refugees and humanitarian workers alike fear that inadequate storm and flood protection could put those on the island at serious risk.

Nevertheless, the Bangladesh government has moved ahead with resettling Rohingya refugees there. They have built housing for more than 100,000 people, with a series of red-roofed dormitories checkering more than two square miles of the western side of the island.

The number of people trying to escape the island has become a growing problem. About 700 have tried to flee, according to the police, sometimes paying $150 per person to find rides on rickety boats. The police have arrested at least 200 people who attempted to leave.

The police cite safety concerns. In August, a boat carrying 42 people capsized, leaving 14 people dead and 13 missing.

“When we catch them, we send them back to the island,” said Abul Kalam Azad, a police officer in the port city of Chattogram on the southeastern coast of Bangladesh. “They say they are mostly upset for not having any job in Bhasan Char. They are eager to work and earn money.”

Some simply want to see their families again.

Last year, Jannat Ara left her hut in Cox’s Bazar for a dangerous sea journey to take a job in Malaysia that would provide food for eight members of her family. Her boat was intercepted by the Bangladesh navy. She was sent to Bhasan Char, where she lived with three other women.

Alone and desperate to leave, in May she seized the first chance she could get to escape. Her parents paid around $600 for the journey back to Cox’s Bazar, she said. She traveled for hours in pitch dark before arriving back at the camp.

“Only Allah knows how I lived there for a year,” Ms. Ara said. “It is a jail with red roof buildings and surrounded by the sea from all sides. I used to call my parents and cry every day.”

Human rights groups have questioned whether the refugees at Bhasan Char have enough access to food, water, schooling and health care. In an emergency, they say, the island also lacks an ability to evacuate residents.

“The fear is always there,” said Dil Mohammad, a Rohingya refugee who arrived on the island in December. “We are surrounded by the sea.”

But the biggest worry, Mr. Mohammad said, is the education of his children.

“My elder son used to go to the community school when we were in Cox’s Bazar,” he said, “but he is about to forget everything he learned, as there is no option for him to study in Bhasan Char.”

The fear of being stuck on the vulnerable island without any means of getting out has led to protests against Bangladeshi authorities by the refugees. The protests began in May, when U.N. human rights investigators paid a visit. They continued in August after the boat incident, with protesters carrying signs criticizing the Bangladesh government and appealing to the U.N. to get sent back to Cox’s Bazar.

Mr. Islam, the Rohingya refugee who fled in August, was one of the protesters. But he was already thinking about getting out.

He lost three cousins during a killing spree carried out by the Myanmar military in Rakhine state in 2017. Once they arrived in Cox’s Bazar, he and his family built a hillside hut out of sticks and plastic tarpaulins and shared it with another family of three.

During hot summer nights, Mr. Islam said, he and the other man slept outside so that their children and wives could sleep comfortably inside.

The promise of an apartment on Bhasan Char held appeal. In January, while other families were forced to go there, he volunteered. They carried a few blankets and two bags of clothes.

He came to regret the decision. When he arrived back at Cox’s Bazar in August, he saw it with new eyes.

“I felt,” he said, “as if I was walking into my home.”

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Train Collision in Malaysia Injures Over 200 People

More than 200 people were injured in Malaysia’s largest city, Kuala Lumpur, on Monday when a train full of passengers collided head-on in a tunnel with another train on a test run, the authorities said.

The trains were traveling at speeds of 12 to 25 miles an hour when they crashed on Monday evening. The authorities said all 213 passengers were hurt, including 47 who suffered serious injuries. No fatalities were reported.

Hours after the crash, Malaysia’s prime minister, Muhyiddin Yassin, called for a “full investigation” in a post on his Facebook page. “I take this accident seriously,” he said.

Photos and videos of the scene posted on social media showed injured passengers lying on the floor of the train and others lying on stretchers outside as paramedics treated them and put them in ambulances. Many other passengers sat nearby. Several had their heads wrapped in bandages.

told the government media outlet, Bernama.

“We had only moved for a few seconds when the crash happened, and the impact was so strong that I suffered injuries to my head, left leg and chest,” he said.

Mr. Wee, the transportation minister, told Channel News Asia that he would create a task force to investigate the crash and expected a preliminary report in two weeks.

“This is something that is out of the ordinary and it is not supposed to happen,” he said. “Is it signaling, or system, or complications, or human error? A special task force will be formed and its objective is to determine the exact cause of the collision.”

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E.U. and Britain Move to Impede Belarus’s Access to Air Travel

Airlines are often forced to adjust operations in response to major disruptions, geopolitical and otherwise. This month, for example, several U.S. airlines canceled flights to and from Israel as a conflict there escalated. Some carriers also adjusted procedures, including adding fueling stops, after the hacking of a fuel pipeline company that serves airports on the East Coast of the United States.

In 2014, nearly 300 people were killed when Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine, where hostilities were raging, on its way to Kuala Lumpur from Amsterdam. Western governments blamed the Russian government and Russian-backed rebels fighting the Ukrainian government, while Moscow denied involvement. The Netherlands sued Russia in the European Court of Human Rights last year in an effort to secure evidence that would be useful to families of the victims.

From 2017 until this year, Qatar Airways was forced to avoid airspace over Saudi Arabia and several neighboring countries after they imposed an air, land and sea embargo against Qatar. In some cases, that meant flying longer routes around the Arabian Peninsula. The neighbors accused Qatar of supporting terrorism. Qatar has denied those accusations.

The movement to isolate Belarus will have little effect on U.S. passenger airlines, which rarely fly over the country, according to Flightradar24. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken condemned the forced landing of the Ryanair flight, calling it a “shocking act” that “endangered the lives of more than 120 passengers, including U.S. citizens.” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said the safety of U.S. flights over Belarus should be assessed.

But cargo carriers could be affected. On Sunday, for example, more than a dozen flights operated by U.S. airlines flew over Belarus, according to Flightradar24, including five by FedEx, four by UPS and two by Atlas Air.

In a statement, UPS said that its network remained unaffected, but that it was “evaluating other flight route options that will provide for the safety of our crews and aircraft, as well as maintain service for our customers” in case it had to make changes. FedEx said it was “closely monitoring the issue.”

The International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations and the European Cockpit Association said in a statement that aviation authorities should investigate what had happened and “take swift measures” to prevent similar disruptions. They described Sunday’s episode as a “hazard to the safety of passengers and crew.”

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The Latest Coronavirus Comes From Dogs

It also had an unusual genetic mutation, a deletion in what is commonly known as the N gene, which codes for an important structural protein. This deletion has not been documented in other canine coronaviruses, Dr. Vlasova said, but similar mutations have appeared in the viruses that cause Covid and SARS. “So what does this mean?” Dr. Gray asks. “Well, you know, we don’t know exactly.”

Although much more research is needed, one possibility is that the mutation may help animal coronaviruses to adapt to human hosts, the researchers said.

It is too soon to say whether this virus poses a risk to humans. Researchers have not yet proved that this virus is the cause of the pneumonia that sent patients to the hospital. And they have not yet studied whether people who may contract the virus from animals can spread it to other people.

“We have to be careful, because things show up all the time that don’t become outbreaks,” said John Lednicky, a virologist at the University of Florida who was not an author of the study.

Nevertheless, the study is “extremely important,” he said. “The fact that it’s a coronavirus again once again tells us this is a group of viruses that deserves further study.” He added, “We should take this seriously and look for it, because if we start seeing more cases, that’s when the alarm bells should go off.”

Indeed, one possibility is that coronaviruses may be spreading between humans and other species, including dogs, far more frequently than has been known.

“At this moment we do not really have any reason to believe that this virus is going to be causing a pandemic,” Dr. Vlasova said. “What kind of attention we want to draw to this research is that transmission of coronaviruses from animal sources to humans is probably a very, very, very common event. And up until now it was mostly ignored.”

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Irish Hospitals Are Latest to Be Hit by Ransomware Attacks

A cyberattack on Ireland’s health system has paralyzed the country’s health services for a week, cutting off access to patient records, delaying Covid-19 testing, and forcing cancellations of medical appointments.

Using ransomware, which is malware that encrypts a victims’ data until they pay a ransom, the people behind the attack have been holding hostage the data at Ireland’s publicly funded health care system, the Health Service Executive. The attack forced the H.S.E. to shut down its entire information technology system.

In a media briefing on Thursday, Paul Reid, chief executive of the H.S.E., said the attack was “stomach churning.”

Caroline Kohn, a spokeswoman for a group of hospitals in the eastern part of the country, said the hospitals were forced to keep all of their records on paper. “We’re back to the 1970s,” she said.

upended the lives of cancer patients whose chemotherapy treatments had to be delayed or recreated from memory.

The attacks come on top of a similar ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline, the American pipeline operation that supplies nearly half the gas, diesel and jet fuel to the East Coast. That attack prompted Colonial Pipeline to shut down its pipeline operations, triggering panic buying at the pump and gas and jet fuel shortages along the East Coast. Colonial Pipeline agreed to pay its extortionists, a different cybercriminal gang called DarkSide, nearly $5 million to decrypt its data.

The attack in Ireland has caused backlogs inside emergency rooms from Dublin to Galway, and patients have been urged to stay away from hospitals unless they require urgent care.

In many Irish counties, appointments have been canceled for radiation treatments, MRIs, gynecological visits, endoscopies and other health services. Health authorities said the attack was also causing delays in Covid-19 test results, but a vaccine appointment system was still working.

Irish health officials said Thursday that H.S.E. was working to build a new network, separate from the one that has been affected. Hundreds of experts have been recruited to rebuild 2,000 distinct systems. The effort is likely to cost tens of millions of euros, Mr. Reid said.

The H.S.E. said Thursday that it had been provided with a key that could decrypt the data being held for ransom, but it was unclear if it would work.

a separate legal fight by Microsoft — to take down a major botnet, a network of infected computers, called Trickbot, that served as a major conduit for ransomware.

In the weeks that followed those efforts, cybercriminals said they planned to attack more than 400 hospitals. The threat caused the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency to warn health care operators to improve their protection from ransomware.

Ransomware groups continue to operate with relative immunity in Russia, where government officials rarely prosecute cybercriminals and refuse to extradite them. In response to the Colonial Pipeline episode last week, President Biden said Russia bore some responsibility for ransomware attacks because cybercriminals operate within its borders.

Adam Meyers, vice president of intelligence at CrowdStrike, the cybersecurity firm, said members of Wizard Spider, the group responsible for the attack on Ireland’s health systems, spoke Russian and researchers “have high confidence that they are Eastern European, likely Russian.”

Last month, the data of a school district in Florida was held hostage by Wizard Spider. Broward County Public Schools, the sixth largest school district in the United States, was hacked by cybercriminals who demanded $40 million in cryptocurrency. The criminals encrypted data and posted thousands of the schools’ information online after officials declined to pay.

Last December, the chip maker Advantech was also hit by Wizard Spider. Its data was posted to the so-called dark web after it refused to pay.

Some cyber insurance companies have covered the costs of ransom payments, calculating that the ransom payments are still cheaper than the cost of rebuilding systems and data from scratch. Regulators have started to pressure insurance companies out of paying ransom demands, arguing that they are only fueling more ransomware attacks and emboldening cybercriminals to make more lucrative demands.

AXA, the French insurance giant, said last week that it would no longer cover ransom payments. Within days of its announcement, AXA was hit with a ransomware attack that paralyzed information technology operations in Thailand, Malaysia, Hong Kong and the Philippines.

“This is just business as usual,” John Dickson, a cybersecurity expert at the San Antonio-based Denim Group, said in an interview Thursday. “These attacks should come as no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention.”

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