resigned as Seoul mayor in 2011 after his campaign to end free lunches for all schoolchildren failed to win enough support.

Pre-election surveys this month showed that voters who planned to vote for Mr. Oh would do so not because they considered him morally superior to his Democratic Party rival. Instead, it was because they wanted to “pass judgment on the Moon Jae-in government.”

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Covid-19 Live Updates: U.S. Vaccinations Accelerate as Variants Linger

three million doses are being given on average each day, compared with well under one million when Mr. Biden took office in January, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Every state has now given at least one dose to a quarter or more of its population. About 62.4 million people — 19 percent of Americans — have been fully vaccinated.

“Today, we are pleased to announce another acceleration of the vaccine eligibility phases to earlier than anticipated,” Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland said on Monday, announcing that all Maryland residents 16 or older would be eligible from Tuesday for a vaccine at the state’s mass vaccination sites, and from April 19 at any vaccine provider in the state.

Also on Monday, Gov. Philip D. Murphy of New Jersey said residents 16 or older in his state would be eligible on April 19. Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington said later on Monday that city residents 16 or older would also be eligible on April 19.

That leaves two states, Oregon and Hawaii, keeping to Mr. Biden’s original deadline of May 1. Their governors did not immediately respond to requests for comment about whether they would broaden eligibility sooner, but Gov. Kate Brown of Oregon announced on Monday that all frontline workers and their families, as well as those 16 or older with underlying health conditions, would be eligible immediately.

In Hawaii, 34 percent of residents have received at least one dose; in Oregon, the figure is 31 percent. Alabama has vaccinated the lowest proportion of its residents, at 25 percent.

But as Ms. Brown noted in her announcement about eligibility — and as experts have warned for weeks — “we’re in a race between vaccines and variants.”

Along with dangerous coronavirus variants that were identified in Britain, South Africa and Brazil, new mutations have continued to pop up in the United States, from California to New York to Oregon.

The shots will eventually win, scientists say, but because each infection gives the coronavirus a chance to evolve further, vaccinations must proceed as fast as possible.

As that race continues, the optimism sown by the steady pace of vaccinations may be threatening to undermine the progress the nation has made. Scientists also fear Americans could let their guard down too soon as warmer weather draws them outside and case levels drop far below the devastating surge this winter.

Cases are now rising sharply in parts of the country, with some states offering a stark reminder that the pandemic is far from over: New cases in Michigan have increased 112 percent and hospitalizations have increased 108 percent over the past two weeks, according to a New York Times database.

The United States is averaging more than 64,000 new cases each day, an 18 percent increase from two weeks earlier. That’s well below the peak of more than 250,000 new cases daily in January, but on par with last summer’s surge after reopenings in some states, like Arizona, where patrons packed into clubs as hospital beds filled up. The United States is averaging more than 800 Covid-19 deaths each day, the lowest level since November.

Yet again, governors across the country have lifted precautions like mask mandates and capacity limits on businesses. Medical experts have warned that these moves are premature, and Mr. Biden has urged governors to reinstate the restrictions.

Travel is up again, too, with more than one million people passing through airport security each day in the United States since March 11, according to the Transportation Security Administration. On Sunday, more than 1.5 million people passed through T.S.A. checkpoints. The C.D.C. said last week that fully vaccinated Americans could travel domestically with low risk, but should still follow precautions like wearing masks.

Several businesses in China are offering incentives for those getting inoculated, including this Lego stall outside a vaccination center in Beijing.
Credit…Gilles Sabrié for The New York Times

In Beijing, the vaccinated qualify for buy-one-get-one-free ice cream cones. In the northern province of Gansu, a county government published a 20-stanza poem extolling the virtues of the jab. In the southern town of Wancheng, officials warned parents that if they refused to get vaccinated, their children’s schooling and future employment and housing were all at risk.

China is deploying a medley of tactics, some tantalizing and some threatening, to achieve mass vaccination on a staggering scale: a goal of 560 million people, or 40 percent of its population, by the end of June.

China has already proven how effectively it can mobilize against the coronavirus. And other countries have achieved widespread vaccination, albeit in much smaller populations.

But China faces a number of challenges. The country’s near-total control over the coronavirus has left many residents feeling little urgency to get vaccinated. Some are wary of China’s history of vaccine-related scandals, a fear that the lack of transparency around Chinese coronavirus vaccines has done little to assuage. Then there is the sheer size of the population to be inoculated.

To get it done, the government has turned to a familiar tool kit: a sprawling, quickly mobilized bureaucracy and its sometimes heavy-handed approach. This top-down, all-out response helped tame the virus early on, and now the authorities hope to replicate that success with vaccinations.

Already, uptake has skyrocketed. Over the past week, China has administered an average of about 4.8 million doses a day, up from about one million a day for much of last month. Experts have said they hope to reach 10 million a day to meet the June goal.

“They say it’s voluntary, but if you don’t get the vaccine, they’ll just keep calling you,” said Annie Chen, a university student in Beijing who received two such entreaties from a school counselor in about a week.

Millions of people have received the AstraZeneca vaccine without safety problems, but reports of rare blood clots have raised concerns.
Credit…Alessandro Grassani for The New York Times

A top vaccines official at the European Medicines Agency said on Tuesday that AstraZeneca’s vaccine was linked to blood clots in a small number of recipients, the first indication from a leading regulatory body that the clots may be a real, if extremely rare, side effect of the shot.

The agency itself has not formally changed its guidance, issued last week, that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh the risks, but any further ruling from regulators would be a setback for a shot that Europe and much of the world are relying on to save lives amid a global surge in coronavirus cases.

The medicines agency said last week that no causal link between the vaccine and rare blood clots had been proven. Only a few dozen cases of blood clots have been recorded among the many millions of people who have received the vaccine across Europe.

But the vaccines official, Marco Cavaleri, told an Italian newspaper that “it is clear there is an association with the vaccine,” and that the medicines agency would announce “in the next hours” that it had determined there was a link. The medicines agency did not immediately respond to questions about its plans.

Those comments represented the first indication by a leading regulatory body that the blood clots could be a genuine, if extremely rare, side effect of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Previously, health officials in several European countries temporarily restricted the use of the shot in certain age groups, despite the European Medicines Agency’s recommendation to keep administering it.

Regulators in Britain and at the World Health Organization have also said that, while they were investigating any rare side effects, the shot was safe to use and would save many lives.

Mr. Cavaleri told the Italian newspaper Il Messaggero that European regulators had not determined why the vaccine might be causing the rare blood clots, which generated concern because the cases were so unusual. They involved blood clots combined with unusually low levels of platelets, a disorder that can lead to heavy bleeding.

The most worrisome of the conditions, known as cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, involves clots in the veins that drain blood from the brain, a condition that can lead to a rare type of stroke.

The clots are, by all accounts, extremely rare. European regulators were analyzing 44 cases of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, 14 of them fatal, among 9.2 million people who received the AstraZeneca vaccine across the continent. Emer Cooke, the European Medicines Agency’s director, said that the clotting cases in younger people translated to a risk for one in every 100,000 people under 60 given the vaccine. Younger people, and especially younger women, are at higher risk from the brain clots, scientists have said.

In Britain, regulators last week reported 30 cases of the rare blood clots combined with low platelets among 18 million people given the AstraZeneca vaccine, which was developed with the University of Oxford. No such cases were reported in people who had received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in Britain.

Regulators in Britain have said that people should get the vaccine “when invited to do so.” But British news reports indicated Monday night that regulators were considering updating that guidance for certain age groups.

Monika Pronczuk and Emma Bubola contributed reporting.

The North Koreans at the closing ceremony for the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Credit…Edgar Su/Reuters

North Korea said on Tuesday that it had decided not to participate in the Tokyo Olympic Games this summer because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The North’s national Olympic Committee decided at a March 25 meeting that its delegation would skip the Olympics “in order to protect our athletes from the global health crisis caused by the malicious virus infection,” according to Sports in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, a government-run website.

It is the first Summer Olympics that the North has missed since 1988, when they were held in Seoul, the South Korean capital.

North Korea, which has a decrepit public health system, has taken stringent measures against the virus since early last year, including shutting its borders. The country officially maintains that it has no virus cases, but outside health experts are skeptical.

North Korea’s decision deprives South Korea and other nations of a rare opportunity to establish official contact with the isolated country. Officials in the South had hoped that the Olympics — to be held from July 23 to Aug. 8 — might provide a venue for senior delegates from both Koreas to discuss issues beyond sports.

The 2018 Winter Olympics, held in the South Korean city of Pyeongchang, offered similar hope for easing tensions on the Korean Peninsula. Kim Yo-jong, the only sister of North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, grabbed global attention when she attended the opening ceremony, becoming the first member of the Kim family to cross the border into South Korea.

Mr. Kim used the North’s participation in the Pyeongchang Olympics as a signal to start diplomacy after a series of nuclear and long-range missile tests. Inter-Korean dialogue soon followed, leading to three summit meetings between Mr. Kim and President Moon Jae-in of South Korea. Mr. Kim also met three times with President Donald J. Trump.

But since the collapse of Mr. Kim’s diplomacy with Mr. Trump in 2019, North Korea has shunned official contact with South Korea or the United States. The pandemic has deepened the North’s diplomatic isolation and economic difficulties amid concerns over its nuclear ambitions. North Korea launched two ballistic missiles on March 25 in its first such test in a year, in a challenge to President Biden.

Since North Korea’s first Olympic appearance in 1972, it has participated in every Summer Games except for the Los Angeles event in 1984, when it joined a Soviet-led boycott, and in 1988, when South Korea played host. North Korean athletes have won 16 gold medals, mostly in weight lifting, wrestling, gymnastics, boxing and judo, consistently citing the ruling Kim family as inspiration.

The Tokyo Games were originally scheduled for 2020 but were delayed by a year because of the pandemic. The organizing committee has been scrambling to develop safety protocols to protect both participants and local residents. But as a series of health, economic and political challenges have arisen, large majorities in Japan now say in polls that the Games should not be held this summer.

Even though organizers have barred international spectators, epidemiologists warn the Olympics could still become a superspreader event. Thousands of athletes and other participants will descend on Tokyo from more than 200 countries while much of the Japanese public remains unvaccinated.

The Australia-New Zealand travel bubble is expected to deliver a boost to tourism and to families that have been separated by strict border closures.
Credit…Matthew Abbott for The New York Times

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand announced on Tuesday that her nation would establish a travel bubble with Australia, allowing travelers to move between the countries without needing to quarantine for the first time since the pandemic began.

The bubble, which will open just before midnight on April 19, is expected to deliver a boost to tourism and to families that have been separated since both countries enacted strict border closures and lockdown measures that have all but eliminated local transmission of the coronavirus.

The announcement came after months of negotiations and setbacks, as Australia battled small outbreaks and officials in both countries weighed testing requirements and other safety protocols.

“The director general of health considers the risk of transmission of Covid-19 from Australia to New Zealand is low and that quarantine-free travel is safe to commence,” Ms. Ardern said at a news conference.

Since last year, Australia has permitted travelers from New Zealand to bypass its hotel quarantine requirements. New Zealand’s decision to reciprocate makes the two countries among the first places in the world to set up such a bubble, following a similar announcement last week by Taiwan and the Pacific island nation of Palau.

Australians flying to New Zealand will be required to have spent the previous 14 days in Australia, to wear a mask on the plane and, if possible, to use New Zealand’s Covid-19 contact tracing app. In the event of an outbreak in Australia, New Zealand could impose additional restrictions, including shutting down travel to a particular Australian state or imposing quarantine requirements, Ms. Ardern said.

She warned that the new requirements would not necessarily free up many spaces in New Zealand’s overwhelmed hotel quarantine system, which has a weekslong backlog for New Zealanders wishing to book a space to return home. Of the roughly 1,000 slots that would now become available every two weeks, around half would be set aside as a contingency measure, while most of the others would not be appropriate for travelers from higher-risk countries, Ms. Ardern said.

Before New Zealand closed its borders to international visitors in March 2020, its tourism industry employed nearly 230,000 people and contributed 41.9 billion New Zealand dollars ($30.2 billion) to economic output, according to the country’s tourism board. Most of the roughly 3.8 million foreign tourists who visited New Zealand over a 12-month period between 2018 and 2019 came from Australia.

Ms. Ardern encouraged Australians to visit New Zealand’s ski areas, and said she would be conducting interviews with Australian media outlets this week to promote New Zealand as a tourism destination.

The bubble would also make it easier for the more than 500,000 New Zealanders who live in Australia to visit their families.

“It is ultimately a change of scene that so many have been looking for,” Ms. Ardern said, addressing Australians. “You may not have been in long periods of lockdown, but you haven’t had the option. Now you have the option, come and see us.”

Fans filled the seats on Monday for the Texas Rangers opening day game in Arlington, Texas, against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Credit…Tom Pennington/Getty Images

There was no need to pipe in crowd noise at Globe Life Field on Monday, as the Texas Rangers hosted the Toronto Blue Jays in front of the largest crowd at a sporting event in the United States in more than a year.

From the long lines of fans waiting to get into the stadium to the persistent buzz of the spectators during quiet moments, the game in Arlington, Texas, was a throwback to a time before the coronavirus crippled the country.

“It felt like a real game,” Rangers Manager Chris Woodward said. “It felt like back to the old days when we had full capacity.”

The official crowd of 38,238 fans, which was announced as a sellout, represented 94.8 percent of the stadium’s 40,300-seat capacity. It topped the Daytona 500 (which allowed slightly more than 30,000 fans) and the Super Bowl (24,835), both of which were held in February, as the largest crowd at a U.S. sporting event since the pandemic began last year.

The lifting of capacity restrictions in Texas made the enormous crowd possible. And for Major League Baseball, which claims its teams collectively lost billions during a largely fanless 2020 season, it was a hopeful sign that large crowds can return to all of the league’s games before too long. The open question is whether such events can be safe as the pandemic continues.

M.L.B. requires all fans over age 2 to wear masks at games this season, but a large percentage of the fans in Arlington went maskless. That will undoubtedly raise fears of the event resulting in a spike in coronavirus cases.

A garment worker in Cambodia signaled support for a campaign demanding relief for garment workers who have lost jobs and reform of the apparel industry, including a severance guarantee fund.
Credit…Enric Catala/Wsm

Garment workers in factories producing clothes and shoes for companies like Nike, Walmart and Benetton have seen their jobs disappear in the past 12 months, as major brands in the United States and Europe canceled or refused to pay for orders after the pandemic took hold and suppliers resorted to mass layoffs or closures.

Most garment workers earn chronically low wages, and few have any savings. Which means the only thing standing between them and dire poverty are legally mandated severance benefits that are often owed upon termination, wherever the workers are in the world.

According to a new report from the Worker Rights Consortium, however, garment workers are being denied some or all of these wages.

The study identified 31 export garment factories in nine countries where, the authors concluded, a total of 37,637 workers who were laid off did not receive the full severance pay they legally earned, a collective $39.8 million.

According to Scott Nova, the group’s executive director, the report covers only about 10 percent of global garment factory closures with mass layoffs in the last year. The group is investigating an additional 210 factories in 18 countries, leading the authors to estimate that the final data set will detail 213 factories with severance pay violations affecting more than 160,000 workers owed $171.5 million.

“Severance wage theft has been a longstanding problem in the garment industry, but the scope has dramatically increased in the last year,” Mr. Nova said. He added that the figures were likely to rise as economic aftershocks related to the pandemic continued to unfold across the retail industry. He believes the lost earnings could total between $500 million and $850 million.

The report’s authors say the only realistic solution to the crisis would be the creation of a so-called severance guarantee fund. The initiative, devised in conjunction with 220 unions and other labor rights organizations, would be financed by mandatory payments from signatory brands that could then be leveraged in cases of large-scale nonpayment of severance by a factory or supplier.

Several household names implicated in the report made money during the pandemic. Amazon, for example, reported an increase in net profit of 84 percent in 2020, while Inditex, the parent company of Zara, made 11.4 billion euros, about $13.4 billion, in gross profit. Nike, Next and Walmart all also had healthy earnings.

Some industry experts believe the purchasing practices of the industry’s power players are a major contributor to the severance pay crisis. The overwhelming majority of fashion retailers do not own their own production facilities, instead contracting with factories in countries where labor is cheap. The brands dictate prices, often squeezing suppliers to offer more for less, and can shift sourcing locations at will. Factory owners in developing countries say they are forced to operate on minimal margins, with few able to afford better worker wages or investments in safety and severance.

“The onus falls on the supplier,” said Genevieve LeBaron, a professor at the University of Sheffield in England who focuses on international labor standards. “But there is a reason the spotlight keeps falling on larger actors further up the supply chain. Their behavior can impact the ability of factories to deliver on their responsibilities.”

Jon Laster performing on Friday at the Comedy Cellar in Manhattan.
Credit…Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

More than a year after the pandemic brought down the curtain at theaters and concert halls around the world, the performing arts are beginning to return to the stage.

A smattering of theater and comedy shows lit up New York stages over the last few days, but next week will see one of the higher-profile arts returns. The New York Philharmonic is scheduled to give its first live performance in a concert hall since the pandemic began: “a musical musing on Goethe,” at the Shed at the Hudson Yards development on April 14.

The reopenings come at a confusing moment in the pandemic. Vaccinations are rising in the United States — Saturday was the first time the country reported more than four million doses in a single day, according to data compiled by The New York Times — but so are case counts.

While new cases, deaths and hospitalizations are far below their January peak, the average number of new reported cases has risen 19 percent over the past two weeks.

Still, performance spaces are carefully starting to welcome audiences, at a fraction of their capacity. There remains much debate over what regulations to impose on attendees. In Israel, concertgoers are required to have a Green Pass, which certifies that they have been vaccinated, though enforcement can be spotty.

In New York, as at the Daryl Roth Theater, an Off Broadway venue, temperatures were checked as a small audience streamed in for an immersive sound performance based on the José Saramago novel “Blindness” — a dystopian tale from 25 years ago whose resonances eerily align with the present. Mayor Bill de Blasio, masked and sneaker-clad, greeted some theatergoers on the sidewalk outside with wrist and elbow bumps.

But that optimism has been tinged with more halting news that underscores how fragile these reopenings are.

The Park Avenue Armory had to postpone one of the most high-profile experiments to bring indoor live performance back to New York. A sold-out run of “Afterwardsness,” a new piece that addresses the pandemic and violence against Black people, was canceled after several members of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company tested positive for the virus.

At the Comedy Cellar, a Greenwich Village club that has nursed the early careers of many comics, laughter filled the room for its first show, but reminders of reality were impossible to miss: Performers’ microphones were swapped out between each set, every fresh one covered with what looked like a miniature shower cap.

John Touhey, 27, said that his reason for coming was simple. “Just to feel something again,” he said.California officials have announced guidelines for indoor concerts, theater, sports and other events, which will be permitted beginning April 15. Capacity will be linked to a county’s health tier.

Los Angeles County, for example, on Monday moved into the orange tier, which would allow venues that hold up to 1,500 people to operate at 15 percent capacity, or 200 people. The number rises to 35 percent if all attendees are tested or show proof of vaccination.

In Minneapolis, pandemic-weary music fans may have to wait longer, but the results will be louder. First Avenue, a legendary club, last month booked its first new, non-postponed show since the pandemic began, The Star Tribune reported. The band is Dinosaur Jr., led by J. Mascis, one of the most durable indie rockers of the last 30 years. The show is scheduled for Sept. 14.

“Those people have not been catered for,” said Dr. Raja Amjid Riaz, a surgeon who is a leader at the Central Mosque of Brent in North London.
Credit…Andrew Testa for The New York Times

Minority communities in Britain have long felt estranged from the government and medical establishment, but their sense of alienation is suddenly proving more costly than ever amid a coronavirus vaccination campaign that depends heavily on trust.

With Britons enjoying one of the fastest vaccination rollouts in the world, skepticism about the shots remains high in many of the communities where Covid-19 has taken the heaviest toll.

“The government’s response to the Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities has been rather limited,” said Dr. Raja Amjid Riaz, 52, a surgeon who is also a leader at the Central Mosque of Brent, an ethnically diverse area of North London. “Those people have not been catered for.”

As a result, communities like Brent offer fertile ground for the most outlandish of vaccine rumors, from unfounded claims that they affect fertility to the outright fabrication that shots are being used to inject microchips.

With the government seen as still disengaged in Black, Asian and other ethnic minority communities even as they have been hit disproportionately hard both by the virus itself and by the lockdowns imposed to stop its spread, many local leaders like Dr. Riaz have taken it upon themselves to act.

Some are well-known and trusted figures like religious leaders. Others are local health care workers. And still others are ordinary community members like Umit Jani, a 46-year-old Brent resident.

Mr. Jani’s face is one of many featured on 150 posters across the borough encouraging residents to get tested for the virus and vaccinated, part of a local government initiative.

The goal is to reframe the community’s relationship with the power structure, and perhaps establish some trust.

“In Brent, things have been done to communities and not in partnership,” said Mr. Jani, who said he had seen the toll the virus has taken on the area’s Gujarati and Somali communities.

A line for meals at the Bowery Mission in New York last month. Some people who would benefit most from the stimulus are having the hardest time getting it.
Credit…Andrew Seng for The New York Times

For most Americans, the third stimulus payment, like the first two, arrived as if by magic, landing unprompted in the bank or in the mail.

But it’s not as straightforward for people without a bank account or a mailing address. Or a phone. Or identification.

Just about anyone with a Social Security number who is not someone else’s dependent and who earns less than $75,000 is entitled to the stimulus. But some of the people who would benefit most from the money are having the hardest time getting their hands on it.

“There’s this great intention to lift people out of poverty more and give them support, and all of that’s wonderful,” said Beth Hofmeister, a lawyer for the Legal Aid Society’s Homeless Rights Project. “But the way people have to access it doesn’t really fit with how most really low-income people are interacting with the government.”

Interviews with homeless people in New York City over the last couple of weeks found that some mistakenly assumed they were ineligible for the stimulus. Others said that bureaucratic hurdles, complicated by limited phone or internet access, were insurmountable.

Paradoxically, the very poor are the most likely to pump stimulus money right back into devastated local economies, rather than sock it away in the bank or use it to play the stock market.

“I’d find a permanent place to stay, some food, clothing, a nice shower, a nice bed,” said Richard Rodriguez, 43, waiting for lunch outside the Bowery Mission last month. “I haven’t had a nice bed for a year.”

Mr. Rodriguez said he had made several attempts to file taxes — a necessary step for those not yet in the system — but had given up.

“I went to H&R Block and I told them I was homeless,” he said. “They said they couldn’t help me.”

People dining indoors in Northville, Mich., on Sunday. Coronavirus cases are rising even as restrictions are eased, with a more transmissible variant of the virus making up many of the cases in Michigan and elsewhere.
Credit…Emily Elconin/Reuters

U.S. coronavirus cases have increased again after hitting a low late last month, and some of the states driving the upward trend have also been hit hardest by variants, according to an analysis of data from Helix, a lab testing company.

The country’s vaccine rollout has sped up since the first doses were administered in December, recently reaching a rolling average of more than three million doses per day. And new U.S. cases trended steeply downward in the first quarter of the year, falling almost 80 percent from mid-January through the end of March.

But during that period, states also rolled back virus control measures, and now mobility data shows a rise in people socializing and traveling. Amid all this, more contagious variants have been gaining a foothold, and new cases are almost 20 percent higher than they were at the lowest point in March.

“It is a pretty complex situation, because behavior is changing, but you’ve also got this change in the virus itself at the same time,” said Emily Martin, an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

Michigan has seen the sharpest rise in cases in the last few weeks. B.1.1.7 — the more transmissible and more deadly variant of the coronavirus that was first discovered in Britain — may now make up around 70 percent of all of the state’s new cases, according to the Helix data.

Higher vaccination rates among the country’s older adults — those prioritized first in the vaccination rollout — mean that some of those at highest risk of complications are protected as cases rise again.

But almost 70 percent of the U.S. population has still not received a first dose, and only about half of those ages 65 and older are fully vaccinated. And in many states, those with high-risk conditions or in their 50s and 60s had not yet or had only just become eligible for the vaccine when cases began to rise again, leaving them vulnerable.

A gym in Saarbruecken, Germany, reopened on Tuesday to anyone with a negative coronavirus test in the previous 24 hours.
Credit…Oliver Dietze/DPA, via Associated Press

The tiny German state of Saarland, home to around 990,000 people, is making a cautious return to a new kind of normal in a pilot project that state officials hope could show how to keep the local economy open while controlling infections. From Tuesday, residents who test negative for the coronavirus will be able to use outdoor dining areas, gyms and movie theaters and even attend live theater performances.

Even as cases have continued to rise in Germany, prompting calls for a harsher national lockdown to halt a third wave of the pandemic — which has already shut down many of its European neighbors.

“More vaccinating, more testing, more mindfulness, more options: That’s the formula we want to use as Saarland break new ground in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic,” Tobias Hans, the governor of the state in southwestern Germany, said last week as he announced the reopening plans.

Under the guidelines, as many as 10 people can meet outdoors, and anyone with a negative test result within the previous 24 hours can visit stores, gyms, theaters and beer gardens — places that have largely been closed across Germany since the country announced a “lockdown light” in November.

(Many stores have been open since March, when a court overturned the rules.)

The Saarland project begins the same day that new regulations require travelers from the Netherlands to present a negative coronavirus test to cross the border into Germany. Travelers from the Czech Republic, France and Poland face similar measures.

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North Korea Bows Out of Tokyo Olympics, Citing Covid-19

North Korea said on Tuesday that it had decided not to participate in the 32nd Tokyo Summer Olympics because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The decision was made when the North’s national Olympic Committee met on March 25 in Pyongyang, where it decided a delegation would skip the Tokyo Olympics, to be held on July 23 to Aug. 8, “in order to protect our athletes from the global health crisis caused by the malicious virus infection,” the Sports in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, a government-run website, said.

North Korea, which has a decrepit public health system, has taken stringent measures against the virus since early last year, including shutting its borders. The country officially maintains that it has no Covid-19 cases, but outside health experts remain skeptical.

North Korea’s decision deprives South Korea and other nations of a rare opportunity to establish official contact with the isolated country. Officials in the South had hoped that the Olympics might provide a venue for senior delegates from both Koreas to meet to discuss issues beyond sports.

attend the opening ceremony.

Mr. Kim used the North’s participation in the Pyeongchang Olympics as the signal to start diplomacy after a series of nuclear and long-range missile tests. Soon, inter-Korean dialogue followed, leading to three summit meetings between Mr. Kim and President Moon Jae-in of South Korea. Mr. Kim also met with President Donald J. Trump three times.

But since the collapse of Mr. Kim’s diplomacy with Mr. Trump in 2019, North Korea has shunned official contact with South Korea or the United States. The pandemic has deepened its diplomatic isolation and economic difficulties amid concerns over its nuclear ambitions. North Korea launched two ballistic missiles on March 25 in its first such test in a year, in a challenge to President Biden.

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Young South Koreans Erupt in Anger Over Housing Scandal

SEOUL — ​The 10 people bought $8.8 million worth of land in an undeveloped area southwest of Seoul, registering it for farming and planting numerous trees. It’s a common trick used by shady real estate speculators in South Korea: Once the area is taken over for housing development, the developers must pay not only for the land, but the trees, too.

A national outrage erupted this month when South Koreans learned that the 10 people were officials from the Korea Land and Housing Corporation (LH) — the government agency in charge of building new towns and housing — suspected of using privileged information to cash in on government housing development programs.

The incident has thrown President Moon Jae-in’s government into crisis mode just weeks before key mayoral elections that are largely seen as a referendum on him and his party ahead of next year’s presidential race. Young South Koreans are saying they are fed up with corruption and the president’s failed policies on runaway housing prices. The LH scandal is now set to become a critical voter issue in Mr. Moon’s final year in office.

“When my girlfriend and I discuss how we are going to find a house in Seoul for the family we are going to start, we can’t find an answer,” said Park Young-sik, 29, an office worker. “The LH scandal shows how some people in South Korea make a quick fortune through real-estate foul play, while the rest of us can barely buy a house even if we toil and save for a lifetime.”

urban slums.

Seoul and Busan — go to the polls on April 7 to choose their mayors, and many observers said the elections could reflect poorly on Mr. Moon’s performance. Survey results showed that the LH news was dragging down approval ratings for both him and his party, most sharply among South Koreans in their 20s.

“I am sorry for worrying the people greatly, and for deeply disappointing those people who have lived honestly,” Mr. Moon said last week, vowing to eliminate “real estate corruption widespread in our society” as a priority of his last year in power.

Apartment prices in Seoul have soared by 58 percent during Mr. Moon’s tenure, according to data from the government-run Korea Real Estate Board. Some of the units in popular residential districts in Seoul have nearly doubled in price in the same period.

Rising housing costs have been blamed for creating a vicious cycle in which families believe real estate investments are foolproof, despite being warned otherwise by the authorities. Experts believe the soaring housing costs have also contributed to the country’s declining fertility rate, one of the lowest in the world, by discouraging young Koreans from starting a family.

The insidious​ divide among young people in South Korea has become a popular topic in K-dramas and films, including Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite.”​ The “dirt-spoons” struggle to manage an ever-expanding income gap while the “gold-spoons,” the children of the elites, glide through a life of privilege. The problem also featured prominently in the real-life downfall of the former president, Park Geun-hye,​ and the jailing of the Samsung Electronics vice chairman, Lee Jae-yong.

When Mr. Moon took office in 2017, he promised a “fair and just” society. His government has introduced dozens of regulatory steps to curb housing prices, including raising capital-gains taxes on house flipping and property taxes on multiple-home owners.

None of these measures have worked.

Last month, the Moon administration announced plans to supply more than 836,000 new housing units in the next four years, including 70,000 homes to be built in the area southwest of Seoul at the center of the LH scandal. Two civic groups were the first to report that 10 LH officials bought land there months before the highly secretive development plan was announced, accusing the officials of capitalizing on insider information for personal gain, a crime in South Korea.

The government has identified 20 LH officials who are suspected of using privileged information to buy land in various areas before projects were slated to begin there. The investigation has been expanded to target government employees outside of LH, including members of Mr. Moon’s staff. As the dragnet grew larger, two LH officials were found dead this month in apparent suicides. One of them left a note confessing to an “inappropriate deed,” according to the local media.

“LH officials had more access to information on public housing projects than any other, but sadly, we also learned through our investigation that they were ahead of others in real estate speculation,” said Lee Kang-hoon, a lawyer at the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, one of the two civic groups that uncovered the corruption among the LH officials.

Mr. Moon’s political enemies have been quick to fan the flames among angry voters.

“Stealing public data for real estate speculation is a crime that ruins the country,” the former prosecutor-general, Yoon Seok-youl, told the conservative daily Chosun Ilbo this month while criticizing the government’s handling of the situation.

Mr. Yoon has become a darling among the conservative opposition, and recent surveys showed him to be one of the most popular potential candidates in next year’s presidential election. He recently clashed with Mr. Moon over the president’s effort to curtail the power of prosecutors, and resigned early this month.

Lee Jae-myung, the governor of Gyeonggi Province, is another potential candidate in next year’s race. The liberal governor hopes to represent Mr. Moon’s party in the election and has promoted a “basic housing” policy in which the government would provide cheap and long-term rentals for South Koreans.

He recently urged Parliament to enact a comprehensive law banning conflicts of interest among public servants. “If you want to clean the house, you must first clean the mop,” he said. “If you want to make South Korea a fair society, you must first ensure that those who make and implement policies act fairly.”

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Atlanta Spa Shootings Reverberate Across South Korea, Long a U.S. Ally

SEOUL—The killings happened more than 7,000 miles away. But for many South Koreans, the Atlanta-area spa shootings hit close to home. “The Victims Were Korean Mothers,” read a headline Sunday from the country’s largest newspaper.

Of the eight people who died, six were women of Asian descent—including four who have been identified as ethnic Koreans, ranging in age from 51 years old to 74. One was a South Korean citizen.

The rampage in Georgia has reverberated across this nation of 52 million, which in the decades since the Korean War has had a deep and enduring relationship with the U.S. The two are allies and share close cultural ties.

It can often seem like every Korean knows someone with relatives or friends living in the U.S. South Korea sends more of its children to study in America than in any other foreign country.

Lee Myung-kyu, a 55-year-old office worker, said he knows many South Korean families who have dreamed of immigrating to the U.S., hoping for a better life. His own daughter wants to go to school in America. But Mr. Lee said he now has doubts.

“I keep thinking about whether something like this could happen to her,” Mr. Lee said.


Demonstrators Call for End to Anti-Asian Violence in U.S.

Protests and vigils urging an end to violence against Asian-Americans were held around the country on Saturday.

Hundreds gathered Saturday in San Francisco’s Chinatown, calling for an end to violence against Asian-Americans. Eight people, including six women of Asian descent, were killed in a shooting spree in the Atlanta area on Tuesday.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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Local police say the white man from Georgia charged with murder in the case said he was driven by what he called a sex addiction. Authorities say they are investigating whether the killings were racially motivated.

The attack has sparked fear at the same time police and government officials in New York and other U.S. cities have said hate crimes against Asian-Americans have risen since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, which first emerged in China.

Han Ye-rim, 32, said she has long idealized the U.S. as a diverse society. But staring at a victim list that looks much like herself, Ms. Han wonders how she would actually fare leaving Seoul.

“Learning about the Atlanta incident was a wake-up call to me,” Ms. Han said. “I’m realizing that I can be targeted for being different if I leave this country.”

What made the Atlanta rampage especially jarring was how good South Koreans, and Korean-Americans, had been feeling lately about their standing in the U.S.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin visited Korea on their first foreign trip. Barely a year ago, the South Korean film “Parasite” emerged with an unprecedented Best Picture win at the Academy Awards. BTS, the Korean pop band, had recently performed at the Grammys and topped Billboard’s album charts.

People rallied on Saturday in Atlanta.

Photo: shannon stapleton/Reuters

Meanwhile, South Koreans had rushed to the local box office to see the U.S. film “Minari,” which depicts a new Korean immigrant family in rural Arkansas and was itself just nominated for several Oscars.

“It’s really a weird kind of dichotomy,” said Abraham Kim, executive director for the Council of Korean Americans, a Washington-based nonprofit group, with celebrations of pop culture on the one hand and what he described as Asians “being targeted for violence on the other.”

South Korean media has given widespread coverage to the Atlanta shootings. In a Thursday editorial, Kyunghyang Shinmun, a left-leaning newspaper, called American society “defenseless to racist attacks.” Another outlet, the right-leaning Segye Ilbo, urged the U.S. to take “effective measures so that crimes against humanity do not take root.”

On Friday, President Biden, saying that the investigation is still under way, mourned the victims and declared that “hate can have no safe harbor in America.”

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has described the Atlanta killings as shocking.

Photo: Jewon Heon-kyun/Associated Press

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has called the Atlanta killings shocking, while the country’s foreign ministry supported the U.S. government’s efforts to stand against hatred and violence. “Such a crime is unacceptable under any circumstances,” the foreign ministry said in a Saturday statement.

Walking with a friend just blocks from the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, where the American flag continues to fly at half-staff in honor of the shooting victims, Yoon Ji-a recalled living in California during her youth. Her parents had a few brushes with racism, she said. But the events in Atlanta caught her by surprise.

“It’s scary,” said Ms. Yoon, a 20-year-old college student.

There are about 1.8 million Korean-Americans, according to the U.S. figures. The biggest Korean populations are in the metropolitan areas of Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C., according to Pew Research Center figures, analyzing U.S. data. Atlanta ranks seventh-largest.

Jean Lee has two children living in the U.S., though she hadn’t learned of the Atlanta-area shootings until local media began broadcasting coverage of the weekend protests and vigils across nearly two dozen American cities. Now the 48-year-old fears her children could be targeted.

“A lot of hate speech surfaced when people began calling the coronavirus the ‘Wuhan virus’ and it’s unfortunate that this issue came to light because of the shootings,” Ms. Lee said. “It feels late for Asians who have been experiencing discrimination for so long.”

Jenna Lee, a 25-year-old online shopping-mall owner, said she lived in Atlanta for two years as a teenager. In recent days, she said, she watched “Minari,” with its tale of struggling immigrants, and it prompted her to wonder whether Asian-Americans would be forever foreign and forever invisible.

“Asians are more than just people trying to assimilate into American society,” Ms. Lee said. And in her view, she said, “the shootings show how vulnerable we are to discrimination.”

Write to Timothy W. Martin at timothy.martin@wsj.com and Dasl Yoon at dasl.yoon@wsj.com

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North Korean Threat Forces Biden Into Balancing Act With China

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

economic coercion in the Indo-Pacific region.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steven Lee Myers and John Ismay contributed reporting from Seoul.

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Biden Shifts Focus Back to U.S. Alliances in Japan, South Korea

SEOUL—To see the Biden administration’s balancing act with the U.S.’s two most important Asian allies, just look at suit lapels.

During the first leg of a multicity trip, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin sported blue pins while in Tokyo—a show of solidarity with Japanese abducted by North Korea.

But on Wednesday, as the two officials arrived in Seoul, the PINs were gone, a recognition that the matter carries less weight in a South Korea that currently gives priority to engagement with the Kim Jong Un regime.

After four years of relative inattention to U.S. allies, President Biden has pledged to rebuild ties with foreign friends, choosing two partners central to Washington’s challenges with a rising China and an increasingly nuclear North Korea.

“It’s no accident we chose [South Korea] for the first cabinet-level overseas travel of the Biden-Harris administration, along with Japan,” said Mr. Blinken on Wednesday in Seoul.

Japan and South Korea, both of whom rely heavily on the U.S. military for their defense, place an unusually high emphasis on receiving American diplomatic affection—and notice if either side ever receives more of it. For decades, Tokyo and Seoul have been angling to become Washington’s favorite ally in the region.

This has meant fretting over every word uttered by U.S. officials, over which Asian ally is first awarded a presidential phone chat and over which side earns the backing of the U.S. in disputes that have ranged from history to national security.

When the U.S. last week invited Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to the White House, becoming the first world leader to be asked to Washington, South Korean media seethed and urged President Moon Jae-in to push for a trip of his own.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, right, was welcomed by South Korean Minister of Defense Suh Wook on Wednesday in Seoul.

Photo: Pool/Getty Images

“President Moon, too, must visit the U.S. on a not-too-distant date,” read an editorial in the Seoul Shinmun, a partially government-owned daily newspaper more than a century old.

Getting two very different, though interlocked, countries to get along is an important task for the U.S. Both Japan and South Korea host tens of thousands of American troops. The two U.S. allies play central roles, yet must coexist alongside, some of Washington’s vexing foreign-policy challenges that include China, North Korea and Russia.

“We are working to strengthen America’s relationships with our allies as well as the relationships among them,” Sung Kim, acting assistant secretary of state for East Asia, said last week. “And none are more important than Japan and the Republic of Korea.”

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Mr. Biden, while a presidential candidate last year, penned an editorial for South Korea’s semiofficial news agency praising the two countries’ alliance. After taking office in January, Mr. Biden’s administration arranged a three-way meeting with Seoul and Tokyo to discuss North Korea. In recent weeks, the U.S. agreed to military cost-sharing deals with both South Korea and Japan—moves that had been difficult under former President Donald Trump, who often attacked the two allies for not paying enough.

This week, both Tokyo and Seoul have avoided publicly airing their disputes with each other. One Seoul government adviser said South Korea wasn’t offended by the U.S.’s choice of Japan as the trip’s first stop.

“We accept that Japan is a stronger country than us,” the adviser said. “That’s international order, and that’s just the truth.”

But ties between Tokyo and Seoul remain rancorous. The two are fighting a trade dispute that is under review by the World Trade Organization. Tensions erupted after a string of South Korean court decisions pulled World War II-era, forced labor issues into the present day.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, center, met with Messrs. Austin and Blinken in Tokyo on Tuesday.

Photo: eugene hoshiko/pool/Shutterstock

The Japanese have been refusing to even talk with South Korea, say officials and advisers from both countries. Mr. Suga declined to meet with the outgoing South Korean ambassador in Tokyo earlier this year and has yet to meet the new ambassador.

On March 1, Mr. Moon repeated a proposal to Japan, offering to revive talks to sort out their disagreements. The gesture has gone unanswered in Japan so far.

The two countries’ acrimony has created security issues. In 2019, Japan’s unexpected trade sanctions prompted South Korea to threaten withdrawal from an intelligence-sharing pact that had been backed by the Obama administration and could help coordinate a response during a military crisis.

Over the decades, the U.S. has often found itself in the middle, or the cause of, disputes between Japan and South Korea.

When it comes to President Joe Biden’s foreign policy in Asia, Europe and Latin America, he is likely to focus on issues like transatlantic cooperation, U.S.-China relations and immigration. WSJ journalists examine the impact a Biden administration could have on U.S. allies around the world. Photo: Francois Lenoir/Reuters (Video from 11/13/20)

When then-President Barack Obama met with South Korea’s leader during his first term, the two leaders described their alliance as the “linchpin” of Northeast Asia. The U.S. had described its alliance with Japan as the region’s “cornerstone.”

Afterward, a former U.S. official began receiving multiple phone calls from Japanese officials asking if “linchpin” was more important than “cornerstone,” said Brad Glosserman, a senior adviser to the Hawaii-based think tank Pacific Forum, who had talked with the former official.

“That’s proof of how silly that rivalry can be,” Mr. Glosserman said. The U.S. hasn’t since changed the way it refers to each ally.

Last year, when Mr. Trump extended a guest invitation to South Korea for the Group of Seven nations meeting, Japanese officials pushed back. Mr. Suga, at the time Tokyo’s top government spokesman, stressed the importance of keeping the current G7’s framework. An official at South Korea’s presidential office accused Japan of shamelessness.

The one-upmanship has even included the sequencing of Mr. Biden’s phone calls to world leaders after his January inauguration. Keeping with tradition for U.S. leaders, Mr. Suga connected first, while Mr. Moon got a call a week later.

But South Korean officials spun this to a positive: they have privately noted Mr. Moon’s exchange lasted two minutes longer than Mr. Suga’s.

Write to Andrew Jeong at andrew.jeong@wsj.com

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Secretaries of State, Defense Push Back Against China in Tokyo Trip

TOKYO—Secretary of State Antony Blinken, standing in Tokyo, fired rhetorical salvos at Beijing in a symbolic opening act of the Biden administration’s diplomacy abroad.

“China uses coercion and aggression to systematically erode autonomy in Hong Kong, undercut democracy in Taiwan, abuse human rights in Xinjiang and Tibet, and assert maritime claims in the South China Sea that violate international law,” Mr. Blinken said at a news conference. “We will push back if necessary on China’s coercions or aggressions.”

Mr. Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin were in Japan Tuesday on the first foreign trip by members of President Biden’s cabinet. They said the U.S. and Japan would bolster deterrence to meet challenges from China.

Discussion about China took up much of a 90-minute meeting with Mr. Blinken, said Japan’s foreign minister, Toshimitsu Motegi.

Mr. Motegi said both sides shared concerns about a new law that allows the Chinese coast guard to use military force to defend national sovereignty. Tokyo fears Beijing might use force to take islands in the East China Sea that are controlled by Japan but claimed by China.

Mr. Austin said the U.S. military needed to respond to the rapid advances made by Beijing as a fighting force over the last two decades. “Our goal is to make sure that we maintain a competitive edge over China, or anyone else that would want to threaten us or our alliance,” he said.

The U.S. and Japanese officials didn’t detail any new initiatives, but in a joint statement Japan said it would boost its defense and the allies said they would build partnerships with other democracies. On Friday, Mr. Biden spoke by video link with the leaders of India, Australia and Japan, a group known as the Quad that has taken on new significance as a counterweight to China.

From left: Mr. Austin, Mr. Blinken, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Mr. Motegi and Mr. Kishi in Tokyo on Tuesday.

Photo: Kim Kyung-hoon/Associated Press

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, speaking Tuesday before the meetings in Tokyo concluded, said Beijing believed the U.S. officials’ consultations should benefit peace and stability in the region and “shouldn’t be targeted at any third parties or harm a third party’s interests.”

Beijing has rejected U.S. criticism of its policies in Hong Kong, Xinjiang and other areas on its periphery, saying they are internal matters.

Visits by Messrs. Blinken and Austin to Tokyo and Seoul this week reflect Mr. Biden’s goal of building a consensus on China with Asian allies that are sometimes more cautious about confronting Beijing because of close economic ties.

Japan’s trade with China exceeds that with the U.S., and Japanese technology companies, especially those making industrial robots, semiconductors and electronic parts, rely heavily on sales to China. Tokyo was preparing to host Chinese leader Xi Jinping for a state visit last year before the plan was shelved because of the pandemic.

There is also conflict between some senior members of Japan’s ruling party who have ties to China and younger politicians more concerned about Beijing’s rapid military rise, said Mieko Nakabayashi, a professor at Waseda University in Tokyo.

Recently, Japan has stepped up open criticism of China, joining a statement by the Group of Seven nations condemning Beijing’s moves to end democracy in Hong Kong.

Messrs. Blinken and Austin also met Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Tuesday. The U.S. cabinet members will travel to South Korea on Wednesday.

South Korea has been cautious about provoking China, its largest export market and a potential conduit to re-engaging with North Korea. It has distanced itself from speculation that it could become a fifth member of the Quad group of nations.

Seoul’s deputy foreign minister said last week on a radio show that his country wouldn’t participate in forums that shut out a particular country.

“To my knowledge, South Korea has never had, and still doesn’t have, a thought-out China policy, other than trying hard not to anger it,” said Wi Sung-lac, a former senior South Korean diplomat who retired in 2015.

This approach to China has opened up the South Korean economy to Beijing’s coercion and generated hope in Beijing that Seoul could be detached from the U.S. orbit, Mr. Wi said. The administration of President Moon Jae-in has repeatedly said it is committed to Seoul’s military alliance with Washington.

Later this week, Mr. Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan will meet with their Chinese counterparts in Alaska, while Mr. Austin will travel to India.

Write to Alastair Gale at alastair.gale@wsj.com

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North Korea Accuses Washington of Raising ‘a Stink’ in First Comments on Biden

SEOUL — North Korea on Tuesday denounced Washington for raising “a stink” on the Korean Peninsula by going forward with joint military exercises with South Korea, striking a confrontational tone in its first official comment on the Biden administration.

“We take this opportunity to warn the new U.S. administration trying hard to give off a powder smell in our land,” Kim Yo-jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, said in a statement carried by state-run North Korean media on Tuesday. “If it wants to sleep in peace for the coming four years, it had better refrain from causing a stink at its first step.”

Ms. Kim, who serves as her brother’s spokeswoman in North Korea’s relations with Seoul and Washington, dedicated most of her statement to criticizing Seoul for pushing ahead with its annual military drills with the United States this month, despite warnings from her brother.

The statement came as Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III touched down in Japan for their joint visit this week. Mr. Blinken and Mr. Austin were scheduled to fly to South Korea on Wednesday to meet with President Moon Jae-in and other senior South Korean leaders. How to deal with North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile threat sits high on their agenda.

through multiple channels in recent weeks, but Pyongyang has been unresponsive, according to the White House.

In her statement, Mr. Kim accused South Korea of opting for “war in March” and “crisis in March,” instead of “warmth in March,” by starting the joint military drills, which the North has described as rehearsals for invasion.

Under former President Donald J. Trump, Washington and Seoul suspended or scaled down their joint military drills to support diplomacy with Mr. Kim. After three meetings, Mr. Trump’s talks with Mr. Kim collapsed without a deal on how to end North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile capabilities.

a party meeting in January, he declared that North Korea would build new solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missiles and make its nuclear warheads lighter and more precise.

North Korea has also turned cool toward South Korea, ending all official dialogue with Seoul and blowing up an inter-Korean liaison office. In the party meeting in January, Mr. Kim warned that returning inter-Korean relations to a “point of peace and prosperity” depended on South Korea’s behavior.

And while Mr. Kim himself has largely refrained from personal attacks against Mr. Trump and Mr. Moon, his sister has frequently been dispatched to issue blistering statements against both Washington and Seoul.

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South Korea Will Pay More for U.S. Troop Presence

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea said on Wednesday that it had agreed to increase its share in covering the cost of the American military presence by 13.9 percent this year, removing a prolonged dispute in the alliance ahead of a joint visit by Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III.

Differences over how to share the cost of keeping 28,500 American troops in South Korea have kept the allies at odds for years. The issue became particularly contentious under former President Donald J. Trump, who demanded that South Korea drastically increase its payments — by up to five times, according to some reports. Even as he warmed to North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, Mr. Trump often accused South Korea of freeloading on American military power.

Negotiations dragged on for a year and a half, but began making progress after President Biden took office and vowed to restore alliances around the world.

Over the weekend, the United States and South Korea agreed to a five-year deal to increase the military payments, subject to legislative approval in both capitals. Under the agreement, South Korea will pay $1 billion this year, 13.9 percent more than its annual payments in 2019 and 2020, officials said on Wednesday. From next year through 2025, South Korea will increase its portion annually at the same rate it boosts its defense budget — at an average of 6.1 percent per year until 2025.

met North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, three times to try to end the North’s nuclear weapons program, while the allies suspended or scaled down their joint military drills to support the diplomacy. Mr. Trump shocked many in South Korea, especially conservatives, by calling such exercises on the Korean Peninsula “tremendously expensive” and “very provocative.”

ardent champion of diplomacy with North Korea and helped arrange the summit meetings between Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim. He says that a breakthrough in denuclearization talks between Washington and Pyongyang would spawn a political détente on the Korean Peninsula and help realize his dream of increasing economic ties between the two Koreas.

Mr. Moon’s government hopes that the Biden administration will follow up on the diplomacy started by Mr. Trump rather than going back to former President Obama’s policy of “strategic patience,” which focused on squeezing North Korea with sanctions.

After his diplomacy with Mr. Trump failed to lift sanctions against his country, Mr. Kim vowed to further advance his country’s nuclear capabilities, declaring that it would build new solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missiles and make its nuclear warheads lighter and more precise.

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