survey by the Western Growers Center for Innovation and Technology found that about two-thirds of growers of specialty crops like fresh fruits, vegetables and nuts have invested in automation over the last three years. Still, they expect that only about 20 percent of the lettuce, apple and broccoli harvest — and none of the strawberry harvest — will be automated by 2025.

Some crops are unlikely to survive. Acreage devoted to crops like bell peppers, broccoli and fresh tomatoes is declining. And foreign suppliers are picking up much of the slack. Fresh and frozen fruit and vegetable imports almost doubled over the last five years, to $31 billion in 2021.

Consider asparagus, a particularly labor-intensive crop. Only 4,000 acres of it were harvested across the state in 2020, down from 37,000 two decades earlier. The state minimum wage of $15, added to the new requirement to pay overtime after 40 hours a week, is squeezing it further after growers in the Mexican state of Sinaloa — where workers make some $330 a month — increased the asparagus acreage almost threefold over 15 years, to 47,000 acres in 2020.

H-2A workers won’t help fend off the cheaper Mexican asparagus. They are even more expensive than local workers, about half of whom are immigrants from earlier waves that gained legal status; about a third are undocumented. And capital is not rushing in to automate the crop.

“There are no unicorns there,” said Neill Callis, who manages the asparagus packing shed at the Turlock Fruit Company, which grows some 300 acres of asparagus in the San Joaquin Valley east of Salinas. “You can’t seduce a V.C. with the opportunity to solve a $2-per-carton problem for 50 million cartons,” he said.

While Turlock has automated where it can, introducing a German machine to sort, trim and bunch spears in the packing shed, the harvest is still done by hand — hunched workers walk up the rows stabbing at the spears with an 18-inch-long knife.

These days, Mr. Callis said, Turlock is hanging on to the asparagus crop mainly to ensure its labor supply. Providing jobs during the asparagus harvest from February to May helps the farm hang on to its regular workers — 240 in the field and about 180 in the shed it co-owns with another farm — for the critical summer harvest of 3,500 acres of melons.

Losing its source of cheap illegal immigrant workers will change California. Other employers heavily reliant on cheap labor — like builders, landscapers, restaurants and hotels — will have to adjust.

Paradoxically, the changes raking across California’s fields seem to threaten the undocumented local work force farmers once relied on. Ancelmo Zamudio from Chilapa, in Mexico’s state of Guerrero, and José Luis Hernández from Ejutla in Oaxaca crossed into the United States when they were barely in their teens, over 15 years ago. Now they live in Stockton, working mostly on the vineyards in Lodi and Napa.

They were building a life in the United States. They brought their wives with them; had children; hoped that they might be able to legalize their status somehow, perhaps through another shot at immigration reform like the one of 1986.

Things to them look decidedly cloudier. “We used to prune the leaves on the vine with our hands, but they brought in the robots last year,” Mr. Zamudio complained. “They said it was because there were no people.”

Mr. Hernández grumbles about H-2A workers, who earn more even if they have less experience, and don’t have to pay rent or support a family. He worries about rising rents — pushed higher by new arrivals from the Bay Area. The rule compelling farmers to pay overtime after 40 hours of work per week is costing him money, he complains, because farmers slashed overtime and cut his workweek from six days to five.

He worries about the future. “It scares me that they are coming with H-2As and also with robots,” he said. “That’s going to take us down.”

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Ukraine Live Updates: U.S. Says It Wants Russian Military Weakened

Smoke hung over the gray streets that day in Kyiv, where protesters had piled tires, furniture and barbed wire to barricade themselves from security forces. Torn blue and yellow Ukrainian flags whipped in the wind, and candles left on sidewalks marked where people had been gunned down. A drawing of a reviled president depicted as a pig was tacked to a lamp post.

And yet there was a feeling of hope in Kyiv in March 2014, as Secretary of State John F. Kerry met with survivors of a violent crackdown on demonstrations. He commended the Ukrainians for their bravery in confronting a Kremlin-backed leader and promised that the United States would support the new government.

But Russian forces had moved into Crimea, Ukraine’s peninsula on the Black Sea, and Mr. Kerry warned: “It is clear that Russia has been working hard to create a pretext for being able to invade further.”

Eight years later, with Russian troops obliterating Ukrainian cities and towns, Mr. Kerry’s words seem eerily prescient.

Through the administrations of three American presidents, the United States has sent mixed signals about its commitment to Ukraine. All the while, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia watched Washington’s moves, biding his time.

“We’ve been all over the place on Ukraine,” said Fiona Hill, a Russia and Eurasia expert who advised the three administrations before President Biden. “Our own frames have shifted over time, and our own policies have shifted.”

“I think we need to re-articulate why Ukraine matters,” she said.

Credit…Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times

Now, two months into Mr. Putin’s war, the United States is at the center of an extraordinary campaign to foil him, casting the military conflict as a broader battle between democratic values and authoritarian might.

“It’s nothing less than a direct challenge to the rule-based international order established since the end of World War II,” Mr. Biden said in Warsaw last month. “And it threatens to return to decades of war that ravaged Europe before the international rule-based order was put in place. We cannot go back to that.”

The United States has rushed weapons and humanitarian aid to Ukraine and imposed sanctions intended to cut off Russia from global markets. This past weekend, Mr. Biden sent Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III to Ukraine as affirmation of Washington’s support.

After a secret train ride from Poland, the two spoke with President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv on Sunday about military aid. Mr. Austin said the Pentagon would expand training for Ukrainians on weapons systems; Mr. Blinken said Mr. Biden was nominating Bridget Brink, currently the ambassador to Slovakia, as his ambassador to Ukraine, the State Department said in a readout. The department is sending American diplomats back to Ukraine this week.

In many ways, officials said, Mr. Biden is trying to make up for the years of U.S. indecisiveness toward Kyiv. Those who wavered earlier include top Biden aides who had worked in the Obama administration as well as officials in the administration of Donald J. Trump, who undermined U.S. policy on Ukraine for personal political gain, according to current and former officials and a review of records.

The Roots of War

Since the earliest days of Ukraine’s independence, in 1991, American officials have recognized the country’s strategic value as Russia struggled to find its footing after the breakup of the Soviet Union.

“Without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be an empire,” Zbigniew Brzezinski, who had been the national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, wrote in a March 1994 essay. “But with Ukraine suborned and then subordinated, Russia automatically becomes an empire.”

Two months earlier, under pressure from the United States, Ukraine had reached an agreement to destroy its nuclear arsenal. President Bill Clinton heralded the pact as “a hopeful and historic breakthrough” to improve global security. But Ukraine’s leader, President Leonid Kuchma, warned that it would make his fledgling country more vulnerable.

“If tomorrow, Russia goes into Crimea, no one will raise an eyebrow,” he said that year.

At the time, Moscow was already goading a separatist movement in Crimea, even as Mr. Clinton predicted that Ukraine would become a major European power.

Yet over the next decade, experts said, NATO left out Ukraine to avoid angering Russia, which some members saw as an important economic partner and energy supplier and hoped would evolve into a more democratic and less threatening power.

The Baltic States joined NATO in 2004, and four years later, President George W. Bush publicly backed Ukraine’s ambition to follow. But Western European nations were reluctant. Today, Ukraine is neither a NATO member nor a part of the European Union, and officials cautioned as recently as this month that its inclusion in either was far from likely.

Years after Mr. Bush’s show of support, a new Ukrainian president, Viktor F. Yanukovych, tried to move the country closer to Russia, sparking mass protests in November 2013 when he refused to sign a long-planned agreement to strengthen ties with the European Union.

That led to the crackdown in Kyiv’s streets in 2014.

Security forces opened fire on protesters in central Kyiv in February that year, killing dozens. Protesters held their ground, attracting public support in Europe and the United States. Mr. Yanukovych fled to Russia.

“In the hearts of Ukrainians and the eyes of the world, there is nothing strong about what Russia is doing,” Mr. Kerry said during his visit to Kyiv.

Within days, Mr. Putin ordered the invasion of Crimea, and he soon formally recognized it as a “sovereign and independent state.”

A slow-burn war in eastern Ukraine followed, with Kyiv battling a separatist movement supported by Russian weapons and troops. An estimated 13,000 people were killed over the next eight years.

Credit…James Hill for The New York Times

Mr. Putin’s swift actions caught President Barack Obama off guard.

Mr. Obama vowed the United States would never recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea and imposed economic sanctions, but his aides said in later accounts that he was skeptical of Ukraine’s corruption-ridden government.

And Mr. Obama said in a 2016 interview that a showdown with Mr. Putin over Ukraine would have been futile.

His administration gave more than $1.3 billion in assistance to Ukraine between 2014 and 2016, but Mr. Obama said no when his national security team, including Mr. Biden and Mr. Kerry, recommended sending weapons to Kyiv.

Among Mr. Obama’s defenders was Mr. Blinken, then the deputy secretary of state and now America’s top diplomat.

By sending military aid to Ukraine, “you’re playing to Russia’s strength, because Russia is right next door,” Mr. Blinken, then the deputy secretary of state, said in early 2015.

Any aid, he added, “is likely to be matched and then doubled and tripled and quadrupled by Russia.”

Neither the Obama administration nor its key European allies believed Ukraine was ready to join NATO. But tensions in the alliance were growing as Europeans sought to maintain trade ties and energy deals with Russia.

The division was captured in a phone call in which a senior State Department official profanely criticized European leaders’ approach to helping Ukraine. A leaked recording of the call was posted on YouTube in February 2014 in what was widely believed to be an attempt by Russia to stir up discord between the United States and Europe.

Yet as much as anything else, Ukraine was a costly distraction to Mr. Obama’s broader agenda.

“It was hard to reconcile the time and energy required to lead the diplomacy on Ukraine with the demands on the United States elsewhere around the world, especially after ISIS took over much of Iraq and Syria in the summer of 2014,” Derek H. Chollet, a senior Pentagon official at the time, wrote in a book about Mr. Obama’s foreign policy.

Mr. Chollet is now a senior counselor to Mr. Blinken at the State Department.

‘Do Us a Favor’

Volodymyr Zelensky, a former comedian, won a landslide victory in Ukraine’s presidential elections in April 2019 after campaigning on an anti-corruption pledge.

Once in office, he turned to ending the war in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine through negotiations with Mr. Putin.

The new Ukrainian president “knew he needed the backing of the United States and the American president,” said William B. Taylor Jr., who started his second tour as ambassador to Ukraine that June after his predecessor, Marie L. Yovanovitch, was pushed out on Mr. Trump’s orders.

Mr. Zelensky tried to arrange a meeting with Mr. Trump at the White House. But Mr. Trump had negative views of Ukraine even before he took office, influenced partly by his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, who had made more than $60 million consulting for a Ukrainian political party backed by Russia.

Mr. Trump’s opinions were reinforced in meetings with Mr. Putin, whom he publicly admired, and Viktor Orban, the autocratic prime minister of Hungary.

And close associates of Mr. Trump, in particular Rudolph W. Giuliani, then his personal lawyer, were urging the president to get Mr. Zelensky to open two investigations: one into Mr. Biden, Mr. Trump’s main political opponent, for actions in Ukraine related to his son Hunter Biden’s business dealings; the other based in part on a debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, had interfered in the 2016 election, to help Hillary Clinton. Mr. Trump embraced the theory because it undermined the finding of the U.S. intelligence community that Russia had interfered to help him.

But U.S. policy had been on a notably different track. Earlier, in December 2017, under pressure from his national security aides and Congress, Mr. Trump agreed to do what Mr. Obama would not: approve the sale of Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine.

But in mid-2019, the White House froze $391 million in military aid to Ukraine, including the Javelins, to build leverage for Mr. Trump’s demands, congressional investigators later found. The move hobbled Ukraine’s war effort against Russia-backed separatists.

“For it to be held up, they couldn’t understand that,” Mr. Taylor said.

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

That set the stage for a fateful July 25 call between Mr. Trump and Mr. Zelensky. “I would like you to do us a favor,” Mr. Trump said. He requested the two investigations.

Mr. Zelensky and his aides were confused. “The rest of the U.S. government was very supportive of Ukraine,” Mr. Taylor said. “But from the top, the president had a different message and set of conditions.”

Mr. Zelensky scheduled a CNN interview for September to announce one or both of the investigations that Mr. Trump had requested to satisfy the American president. But the interview never happened because journalists had begun reporting on the hold on military aid, and lawmakers sympathetic to Ukraine had persisted in asking the White House about the suspended aid. On Sept. 9, three House committees announced investigations into the pressure campaign after reviewing a whistle-blower complaint citing the July call.

The Trump administration released the aid on Sept. 11.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Mr. Zelensky in Kyiv on Jan. 31, 2020, the first cabinet official to do so since the announcement of an impeachment inquiry into Mr. Trump the previous September. The Senate trial was underway.

Just days earlier, Mr. Pompeo had blown up at an NPR reporter in an interview, asking her to identify Ukraine on an unmarked map and yelling, “Do you think Americans care” about Ukraine? — using an expletive before “Ukraine.”

Yet in Kyiv, Mr. Pompeo stood next to Mr. Zelensky in the presidential palace and said the U.S. commitment to support Ukraine “will not waver.”

But the damage had been done, and Mr. Zelensky was unconvinced that the United States was a trusted ally, Ms. Yovanovitch said in an interview last month.

“Trying to use our national security policy in order to further President Trump’s personal and political agenda was not just wrong, but it was really detrimental to the bilateral relationship,” she said. “It colored how Zelensky handled foreign policy.”

With all the disruption, former U.S. officials said, Mr. Putin no doubt saw weakness in Washington.

Credit…Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times

Biden vs. Putin

Consumed by the pandemic and the economy, Mr. Biden did not prioritize Ukraine at first. But Mr. Blinken visited Kyiv in May 2021 with a message of support.

During a steady rain, Mr. Blinken joined Dmytro Kuleba, the Ukrainian foreign minister, on a walk to the Wall of National Remembrance, where photos of soldiers who had been killed in combat with Russia in the Donbas were displayed outside St. Michael’s monastery.

But he also went to Kyiv with some tough love, determined to press Ukraine to make political and economic changes — a core issue for Mr. Biden when he oversaw relations with the country as vice president.

Just before the visit, Mr. Zelensky’s government had replaced the chief executive of the largest state-owned energy company, whom Western officials had praised for his transparency. The State Department had chastised the move as “just the latest example” of Ukrainian leaders violating practices of good governance. In Kyiv, Mr. Blinken told reporters that he was urging Ukraine to strengthen itself by “building institutions, advancing reforms, combating corruption.”

Such concerns paled in the face of Russia’s growing military threat, which Washington was watching “very, very closely,” Mr. Blinken said. Mr. Putin had begun amassing troops along Ukraine’s borders. By fall, the number approached 100,000.

This past January, Mr. Blinken rushed back to Kyiv for more consultations before a hastily arranged meeting in Geneva with the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, in a last-ditch attempt to avert war.

But Russia would not be deterred, and high-level contacts between Washington and Moscow have been severely limited ever since.

By contrast, Mr. Blinken speaks frequently to Mr. Kuleba to convey American support that, at least in terms of aid, has been greater than at any time in the three decades since Ukraine declared independence.

“The world is with you,” Mr. Blinken told him on March 5, stepping into Ukraine just a few feet beyond Poland’s border.

“We’re in it with Ukraine — one way or another, short run, the medium run, the long run,” he said.

Mr. Kuleba referred to an “unprecedented, swift reaction” to Russia’s invasion and thanked Mr. Blinken for the support.

“But,” he said, “it has to be continued.”

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EXCLUSIVE U.S. boost fines for automakers not meeting fuel economy rules in Tesla win, article with image

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Traffic is seen on a highway in New York, U.S., July 2, 2021. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

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WASHINGTON, March 27 (Reuters) – The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on Sunday reinstated a sharp increase in penalties for automakers whose vehicles do not meet fuel efficiency requirements for model years 2019 and beyond.

The decision was a win for Tesla (TSLA.O) that could cost other automakers hundreds of millions of dollars or more.

Confirming an earlier report by Reuters, NHTSA said the decision “increases the accountability of manufacturers for violating the nation’s fuel economy standards” and the penalty increase “incentivizes manufacturers to make fuel economy improvements.”

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President Donald Trump’s administration in its final days in January 2021 delayed a 2016 regulation that more than doubled penalties for automakers failing to meet Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) requirements starting in the 2019 model year.

NHTSA’s final rule, which takes effect 60 days after it is published, reinstated the higher penalties and boosted them further for the 2022 model year. The agency has not collected penalties for 2019 to 2021 model years while the issue was under review and is the subject of court challenges.

The final rule was signed on Thursday by NHTSA’s top official, Steven Cliff, ahead of its formal publication.

For the 2019 to 2021 model years, the fine is $14, up from $5.50, for every 0.1 mile per gallon new vehicles fall short of required fuel-economy standards, multiplied by the number of noncomplying vehicles sold. For the 2022 model year, this rises to $15.

Automakers protested the penalty hike in 2016, warning it could raise industry costs by at least $1 billion annually. The decision is expected to cost Chrysler parent Stellantis (STLA.MI), for instance, as much as $572 million by the company’s prior estimates, while boosting the value of compliance credits sold by Tesla.

Automakers whose vehicles achieve higher fuel economy than required can sell credits to automakers that do not meet CAFE rules.

Under President Barack Obama, the higher penalties were set to start with the 2019 model year, but the Trump administration set the effective date as the 2022 model year following a court decision.

NHTSA estimated that for the 2019 model year, automakers would owe $294 million at the new rate, up from $115.4 million under the prior rate.

NHTSA added automakers that made plans for 2019 through 2021 “thinking that penalties would not increase did so at their own risk.”

The head of a trade group representing nearly all major automakers except Tesla said Sunday it would be a “better outcome” if the penalties “were invested in electric vehicles, batteries and charging infrastructure instead of disappearing into the general fund of the Treasury.”

In August, NHTSA proposed hiking CAFE requirements by 8% annually for 2024 through 2026, reversing a Trump-era regulation that rolled back higher requirements starting in the 2021 model year. NHTSA is expected to issue its final CAFE rules through 2026 this week.

On Sunday, Stellantis said it would “like to work with the administration and Congress to allow the agencies to use the proceeds from penalties to bolster investments in the technologies and infrastructure required to accelerate a robust U.S. market for EVs.”

Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Congress in 2015 ordered federal agencies to adjust civil penalties to account for inflation. U.S. fuel economy fines lost 75% of their original value, having risen only once since 1975 – from $5 to $5.50 in 1997.

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Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Ukraine Live Updates: Russia Continues Bombardment, but Its Forces Have Shrunk, Pentagon Says

WASHINGTON — When the Cold War ended, governments and companies believed that stronger global economic ties would lead to greater stability. But the Ukraine war and the pandemic are pushing the world in the opposite direction and upending those ideas.

Important parts of the integrated economy are unwinding. American and European officials are now using sanctions to sever major parts of the Russian economy — the 11th largest in the world — from global commerce, and hundreds of Western companies have halted operations in Russia on their own. Amid the pandemic, companies are reorganizing how they obtain their goods because of soaring costs and unpredictable delays in global supply chains.

Western officials and executives are also rethinking how they do business with China, the world’s second-largest economy, as geopolitical tensions and the Chinese Communist Party’s human rights abuses and use of advanced technology to reinforce autocratic control make corporate dealings more fraught.

The moves reverse core tenets of post-Cold War economic and foreign policies forged by the United States and its allies that were even adopted by rivals like Russia and China.

“What we’re headed toward is a more divided world economically that will mirror what is clearly a more divided world politically,” said Edward Alden, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “I don’t think economic integration survives a period of political disintegration.”

“Does globalization and economic interdependence reduce conflict?” he added. “I think the answer is yes, until it doesn’t.”

Opposition to globalization gained momentum with the Trump administration’s trade policies and “America First” drive, and as the progressive left became more powerful. But the pandemic and President Vladimir V. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine have brought into sharp relief the uncertainty of the existing economic order.

President Biden warned President Xi Jinping of China on Friday that there would be “consequences” if Beijing gave material aid to Russia for the war in Ukraine, an implicit threat of sanctions. China has criticized sanctions on Russia, and Le Yucheng, the vice foreign minister, said in a speech on Saturday that “globalization should not be weaponized.” Yet China increasingly has imposed economic punishments — Lithuania, Norway, Australia, Japan and South Korea have been among the targets.

The result of all the disruptions may well be a fracturing of the world into economic blocs, as countries and companies gravitate to ideological corners with distinct markets and pools of labor, as they did in much of the 20th century.

Mr. Biden already frames his foreign policy in ideological terms, as a mission of unifying democracies against autocracies. Mr. Biden also says he is enacting a foreign policy for middle-class Americans, and central to that is getting companies to move critical supply chains and manufacturing out of China.

The goal is given urgency by the hobbling of those global links over two years of the pandemic, which has brought about a realization among the world’s most powerful companies that they need to focus on not just efficiency and cost, but also resiliency. This month, lockdowns China imposed to contain Covid-19 outbreaks have once again threatened to stall global supply chains.

Credit…Kin Cheung/Associated Press

The economic impact of such a change is highly uncertain. The emergence of new economic blocs could accelerate a massive reorganization in financial flows and supply chains, potentially slowing growth, leading to some shortages and raising prices for consumers in the short term. But the longer-term effects on global growth, worker wages and supplies of goods are harder to assess.

The war has set in motion “deglobalization forces that could have profound and unpredictable effects,” said Laurence Boone, the chief economist of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

For decades, executives have pushed for globalization to expand their markets and to exploit cheap labor and lax environmental standards. China especially has benefited from this, while Russia profits from its exports of minerals and energy. They tap into enormous economies: The Group of 7 industrialized nations make up more than 50 percent of the global economy, while China and Russia together account for about 20 percent.

Trade and business ties between the United States and China are still robust, despite steadily worsening relations. But with the new Western sanctions on Russia, many nations that are not staunch partners of America are now more aware of the perils of being economically tied to the United States and its allies.

If Mr. Xi and Mr. Putin organize their own economic coalition, they could bring in other nations seeking to shield themselves from Western sanctions — a tool that all recent U.S. presidents have used.

“Your interdependence can be weaponized against you,” said Dani Rodrik, a professor of international political economy at Harvard Kennedy School. “That’s a lesson that I imagine many countries are beginning to internalize.”

The Ukraine war, he added, has “probably put a nail in the coffin of hyperglobalization.”

China and, increasingly, Russia have taken steps to wall off their societies, including erecting strict censorship mechanisms on their internet networks, which have cut off their citizens from foreign perspectives and some commerce. China is on a drive to make critical industries self-sufficient, including for technologies like semiconductors.

And China has been in talks with Saudi Arabia to pay for some oil purchases in China’s currency, the renminbi, The Wall Street Journal reported; Russia was in similar discussions with India. The efforts show a desire by those governments to move away from dollar-based transactions, a foundation of American global economic power.

For decades, prominent U.S. officials and strategists asserted that a globalized economy was a pillar of what they call the rules-based international order, and that trade and financial ties would prevent major powers from going to war. The United States helped usher China into the World Trade Organization in 2001 in a bid to bring its economic behavior — and, some officials hoped, its political system — more in line with the West. Russia joined the organization in 2012.

But Mr. Putin’s war and China’s recent aggressive actions in Asia have challenged those notions.

“The whole idea of the liberal international order was that economic interdependence would prevent conflict of this kind,” said Alina Polyakova, president of the Center for European Policy Analysis, a research group in Washington. “If you tie yourselves to each other, which was the European model after the Second World War, the disincentives would be so painful if you went to war that no one in their right mind would do it. Well, we’ve seen now that has proven to be false.”

“Putin’s actions have shown us that might have been the world we’ve been living in, but that’s not the world he or China have been living in,” she said.

The United States and its partners have blocked Russia from much of the international financial system by banning transactions with the Russian central bank. They have also cut Russia off from the global bank messaging system called SWIFT, frozen the assets of Russian leaders and oligarchs, and banned the export from the United States and other nations of advanced technology to Russia. Russia has answered with its own export bans on food, cars and timber.

The penalties can lead to odd decouplings: British and European sanctions on Roman Abramovich, the Russian oligarch who owns the Chelsea soccer team in Britain, prevent the club from selling tickets or merchandise.

Credit…Andy Rain/EPA, via Shutterstock

About 400 companies have chosen to suspend or withdraw operations from Russia, including iconic brands of global consumerism such as Apple, Ikea and Rolex.

While many countries remain dependent on Russian energy exports, governments are strategizing how to wean themselves. Washington and London have announced plans to end imports of Russian oil.

The outstanding question is whether any of the U.S.-led penalties would one day be extended to China, which is a far bigger and more integral part of the global economy than Russia.

Even outside the Ukraine war, Mr. Biden has continued many Trump administration policies aimed at delinking parts of the American economy from that of China and punishing Beijing for its commercial practices.

Officials have kept the tariffs imposed by Mr. Trump, which covered about two-thirds of Chinese imports. The Treasury Department has continued to impose investment bans on Chinese companies with ties to the country’s military. And in June, a law will go into effect in the United States barring many goods made in whole or in part in the region of Xinjiang.

Despite all that, demand for Chinese-made goods has surged through the pandemic, as Americans splurge on online purchases. The overall U.S. trade deficit soared to record levels last year, pushed up by a widening deficit with China, and foreign investments into China actually accelerated last year.

Some economists have called for more global integration, not less. Speaking at a virtual conference on Monday, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, director general of the World Trade Organization, urged a move toward “re-globalization,” saying, “Deeper, more diversified international markets remain our best bet for supply resilience.

But those economic ties will be further strained if U.S.-China relations worsen, and especially if China gives substantial aid to Russia.

Besides recent warnings to China from Mr. Biden and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo has said her agency would ban the sale of critical American technology to Chinese companies if China tried to supply forbidden technology to Russia.

In the meantime, the uncertainty has left the U.S.-China relationship in flux. While many major Chinese banks and private companies have suspended their interactions with Russia to comply with sanctions, foreign asset managers appear to have also begun moving their money out of China in recent weeks, possibly in anticipation of sanctions.

Mary Lovely, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, said she did not expect China to “throw all in” with Russia, but that the war could still strain economic ties by worsening U.S.-China relations.

“Right now, there is great uncertainty as to how the U.S. and China will respond to the challenges posed by Russia’s increasingly urgent need for assistance,” she said. “That policy uncertainty is another push to multinationals who were already rethinking supply chains.”

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Ukraine Live Updates: Russia Strikes Kyiv Mall; Mariupol Refuses to Yield

In destructive power, the behemoths of the Cold War dwarfed the American atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. Washington’s biggest test blast was 1,000 times as large. Moscow’s was 3,000 times. On both sides, the idea was to deter strikes with threats of vast retaliation — with mutual assured destruction, or MAD. The psychological bar was so high that nuclear strikes came to be seen as unthinkable.

Today, both Russia and the United States have nuclear arms that are much less destructive — their power just fractions of the Hiroshima bomb’s force, their use perhaps less frightening and more thinkable.

Concern about these smaller arms has soared as Vladimir V. Putin, in the Ukraine war, has warned of his nuclear might, has put his atomic forces on alert and has had his military carry out risky attacks on nuclear power plants. The fear is that if Mr. Putin feels cornered in the conflict, he might choose to detonate one of his lesser nuclear arms — breaking the taboo set 76 years ago after Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Analysts note that Russian troops have long practiced the transition from conventional to nuclear war, especially as a way to gain the upper hand after battlefield losses. And the military, they add, wielding the world’s largest nuclear arsenal, has explored a variety of escalatory options that Mr. Putin might choose from.

“The chances are low but rising,” said Ulrich Kühn, a nuclear expert at the University of Hamburg and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “The war is not going well for the Russians,” he observed, “and the pressure from the West is increasing.”

Mr. Putin might fire a weapon at an uninhabited area instead of at troops, Dr. Kühn said. In a 2018 study, he laid out a crisis scenario in which Moscow detonated a bomb over a remote part of the North Sea as a way to signal deadlier strikes to come.

“It feels horrible to talk about these things,” Dr. Kühn said in an interview. “But we have to consider that this is becoming a possibility.”

Washington expects more atomic moves from Mr. Putin in the days ahead. Moscow is likely to “increasingly rely on its nuclear deterrent to signal the West and project strength” as the war and its consequences weaken Russia, Lt. Gen. Scott D. Berrier, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday.

President Biden is traveling to a NATO summit in Brussels this week to discuss the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The agenda is expected to include how the alliance will respond if Russia employs chemical, biological, cyber or nuclear weapons.

James R. Clapper Jr., a retired Air Force general who served as President Barack Obama’s director of national intelligence, said Moscow had lowered its bar for atomic use after the Cold War when the Russian army fell into disarray. Today, he added, Russia regards nuclear arms as utilitarian rather than unthinkable.

“They didn’t care,” Mr. Clapper said of Russian troops’ risking a radiation release earlier this month when they attacked the Zaporizhzhia nuclear reactor site — the largest not only in Ukraine but in Europe. “They went ahead and fired on it. That’s indicative of the Russian laissez-faire attitude. They don’t make the distinctions that we do on nuclear weapons.”

Mr. Putin announced last month that he was putting Russian nuclear forces into “special combat readiness.” Pavel Podvig, a longtime researcher of Russia’s nuclear forces, said the alert had most likely primed the Russian command and control system for the possibility of receiving a nuclear order.

It’s unclear how Russia exerts control over its arsenal of less destructive arms. But some U.S. politicians and experts have denounced the smaller weapons on both sides as threatening to upend the global balance of nuclear terror.

Credit…Yuri Kochetkov/EPA, via Shutterstock

For Russia, military analysts note, edgy displays of the less destructive arms have let Mr. Putin polish his reputation for deadly brinkmanship and expand the zone of intimidation he needs to fight a bloody conventional war.

“Putin is using nuclear deterrence to have his way in Ukraine,” said Nina Tannenwald, a political scientist at Brown University who recently profiled the less powerful armaments. “His nuclear weapons keep the West from intervening.”

A global race for the smaller arms is intensifying. Though such weapons are less destructive by Cold War standards, modern estimates show that the equivalent of half a Hiroshima bomb, if detonated in Midtown Manhattan, would kill or injure half a million people.

The case against these arms is that they undermine the nuclear taboo and make crisis situations even more dangerous. Their less destructive nature, critics say, can feed the illusion of atomic control when in fact their use can suddenly flare into a full-blown nuclear war. A simulation devised by experts at Princeton University starts with Moscow firing a nuclear warning shot; NATO responds with a small strike, and the ensuing war yields more than 90 million casualties in its first few hours.

No arms control treaties regulate the lesser warheads, known sometimes as tactical or nonstrategic nuclear weapons, so the nuclear superpowers make and deploy as many as they want. Russia has perhaps 2,000, according to Hans M. Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, a private group in Washington. And the United States has roughly 100 in Europe, a number limited by domestic policy disputes and the political complexities of basing them among NATO allies, whose populations often resist and protest the weapons’ presence.

Russia’s atomic war doctrine came to be known as “escalate to de-escalate” — meaning routed troops would fire a nuclear weapon to stun an aggressor into retreat or submission. Moscow repeatedly practiced the tactic in field exercises. In 1999, for instance, a large drill simulated a NATO attack on Kaliningrad, the Russian enclave on the Baltic Sea. The exercise had Russian forces in disarray until Moscow fired nuclear arms at Poland and the United States.

Dr. Kühn of the University of Hamburg said the defensive training drills of the 1990s had turned toward offense in the 2000s as the Russian army regained some of its former strength.

Concurrent with its new offensive strategy, Russia embarked on a modernization of its nuclear forces, including its less destructive arms. As in the West, some of the warheads were given variable explosive yields that could be dialed up or down depending on the military situation.

A centerpiece of the new arsenal was the Iskander-M, first deployed in 2005. The mobile launcher can fire two missiles that travel roughly 300 miles. The missiles can carry conventional as well as nuclear warheads. Russian figures put the smallest nuclear blast from those missiles at roughly a third that of the Hiroshima bomb.

Before the Russian army invaded Ukraine, satellite images showed that Moscow had deployed Iskander missile batteries in Belarus and to its east in Russian territory. There’s no public data on whether Russia has armed any of the Iskanders with nuclear warheads.

Nikolai Sokov, a former Russian diplomat who negotiated arms control treaties in Soviet times, said that nuclear warheads could also be placed on cruise missiles. The low-flying weapons, launched from planes, ships or the ground, hug the local terrain to avoid detection by enemy radar.

From inside Russian territory, he said, “they can reach all of Europe,” including Britain.

Over the years, the United States and its NATO allies have sought to rival Russia’s arsenal of lesser nuclear arms. It started decades ago as the United States began sending bombs for fighter jets to military bases in Belgium, Germany, Italy, Turkey and the Netherlands. Dr. Kühn noted that the alliance, in contrast to Russia, does not conduct field drills practicing a transition from conventional to nuclear war.

In 2010, Mr. Obama, who had long advocated for a “nuclear-free world,” decided to refurbish and improve the NATO weapons, turning them into smart bombs with maneuverable fins that made their targeting highly precise. That, in turn, gave war planners the freedom to lower the weapons’ variable explosive force to as little as 2 percent of that of the Hiroshima bomb.

The reduced blast capability made breaking the nuclear taboo “more thinkable,” Gen. James E. Cartwright, a vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Mr. Obama, warned at the time. He nonetheless backed the program because the high degree of precision lowered the risk of collateral damage and civilian casualties. But after years of funding and manufacturing delays, the refurbished bomb, known as the B61 Model 12, is not expected to be deployed in Europe until next year, Mr. Kristensen said.

Credit…Randy Montoya/Sandia Labs

The steady Russian buildups and the slow American responses prompted the Trump administration to propose a new missile warhead in 2018. Its destructive force was seen as roughly half that of the Hiroshima bomb, according to Mr. Kristensen. It was to be deployed on the nation’s fleet of 14 ballistic missile submarines.

While some experts warned that the bomb, known as the W76 Model 2, could make it more tempting for a president to order a nuclear strike, the Trump administration argued that the weapon would lower the risk of war by ensuring that Russia would face the threat of proportional counterstrikes. It was deployed in late 2019.

“It’s all about psychology — deadly psychology,” said Franklin C. Miller, a nuclear expert who backed the new warhead and, before leaving public office in 2005, held Pentagon and White House posts for three decades. “If your opponent thinks he has a battlefield edge, you try to convince him that he’s wrong.”

When he was a candidate for the presidency, Joseph R. Biden Jr. called the less powerful warhead a “bad idea” that would make presidents “more inclined” to use it. But Mr. Kristensen said the Biden administration seemed unlikely to remove the new warhead from the nation’s submarines.

It’s unclear how Mr. Biden would respond to the use of a nuclear weapon by Mr. Putin. Nuclear war plans are one of Washington’s most deeply held secrets. Experts say that the war-fighting plans in general go from warning shots to single strikes to multiple retaliations and that the hardest question is whether there are reliable ways to prevent a conflict from escalating.

Even Mr. Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, said he was unsure how he would advise Mr. Biden if Mr. Putin unleashed his nuclear arms.

“When do you stop?” he asked of nuclear retaliation. “You can’t just keep turning the other cheek. At some point we’d have to do something.”

A U.S. response to a small Russian blast, experts say, might be to fire one of the new submarine-launched warheads into the wilds of Siberia or at a military base inside Russia. Mr. Miller, the former government nuclear official and a former chairman of NATO’s nuclear policy committee, said such a blast would be a way of signaling to Moscow that “this is serious, that things are getting out of hand.”

Military strategists say a tit-for-tat rejoinder would throw the responsibility for further escalation back at Russia, making Moscow feel its ominous weight and ideally keeping the situation from spinning out of control despite the dangers in war of miscalculation and accident.

In a darker scenario, Mr. Putin might resort to using atomic arms if the war in Ukraine spilled into neighboring NATO states. All NATO members, including the United States, are obliged to defend one another — potentially with salvos of nuclear warheads.

Dr. Tannenwald, the political scientist at Brown University, wondered if the old protections of nuclear deterrence, now rooted in opposing lines of less destructive arms, would succeed in keeping the peace.

“It sure doesn’t feel that way in a crisis,” she said.

David E. Sanger contributed reporting from Washington.

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Peter Thiel, the Right’s Would-Be Kingmaker

Mr. Thiel has attracted the most attention for two $10 million donations to the Senate candidates Blake Masters in Arizona and J.D. Vance in Ohio. Like Mr. Thiel, the men are tech investors with pedigrees from elite universities who cast themselves as antagonists to the establishment. They have also worked for the billionaire and been financially dependent on him. Mr. Masters, the chief operating officer of Thiel Capital, the investor’s family office, has promised to leave that job before Arizona’s August primary.

Mr. Thiel, who declined to comment for this article, announced last week that he would leave the board of Meta, the parent company of Facebook, which conservatives have accused of censorship. One reason for the change: He plans to focus more on politics.

Born in West Germany and raised in South Africa and the San Francisco Bay Area, Mr. Thiel showed his provocative side at Stanford in the late 1980s. Classmates recalled Mr. Thiel, who studied philosophy and law, describing South Africa’s apartheid as a sound economic system. (A spokesman for Mr. Thiel has denied that he supported apartheid.)

Mr. Thiel also helped found The Stanford Review, a conservative campus paper that sought to provide “alternative views” to what he deemed left-wing orthodoxy.

In 1995, he co-wrote a book, “The Diversity Myth,” arguing that “the extreme focus on racism” had caused greater societal tension and acrimony. Rape, he and his co-author, David Sacks, wrote, sometimes included “seductions that are later regretted.” (Mr. Thiel has apologized for the book.)

In 1998, Mr. Thiel helped create what would become the digital payments company PayPal. He became Facebook’s first outside investor in 2004 and established the venture capital firm Founders Fund a year later. Forbes puts his fortune at $2.6 billion.

one 2009 piece, Mr. Thiel, who called himself a libertarian, wrote that he had come to “no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible,” arguing that American politics would always be hostile to free-market ideals, and that politics was about interfering with other people’s lives without their consent. Since then, he has hosted and attended events with white nationalists and alt-right figures.

His political giving evolved with those views. He donated lavishly to Ron Paul’s 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns before turning to candidates who were more extreme than the Republican establishment.

In 2013, Curtis Yarvin, an entrepreneur who has voiced racist beliefs and said democracy was a destructive system of government, emailed Mr. Thiel. Mr. Yarvin wrote that Mr. Cruz, then a newly elected senator, “needs to purge every single traitor” from the Republican Party. In the email, which The Times obtained, Mr. Yarvin argued that it didn’t matter if those candidates lost general elections or cost the party control in Congress.

Mr. Thiel, who had donated to Mr. Cruz’s 2012 campaign, replied, “It’s relatively safe to support Cruz (for me) because he threatens the Republican establishment.”

Mr. Thiel used his money to fund other causes. In 2016, he was revealed as the secret funder of a lawsuit that targeted Gawker Media, which had reported he was gay. Gawker declared bankruptcy, partly from the costs of fighting the lawsuit.

proud to be a gay Republican supporting Mr. Trump. He later donated $1.25 million to the candidate.

After Mr. Trump won, Mr. Thiel was named to the president-elect’s executive transition team. At a meeting with tech leaders at Trump Tower in Manhattan in December 2016, Mr. Trump told Mr. Thiel, “You’re a very special guy.”

A month later, Mr. Thiel, a naturalized American, was revealed to have also obtained citizenship in New Zealand. That prompted a furor, especially after Mr. Trump had urged people to pledge “total allegiance to the United States.”

During Mr. Trump’s presidency, Mr. Thiel became frustrated with the administration. “There are all these ways that things have fallen short,” he told The Times in 2018.

In 2020, he stayed on the sidelines. His only notable federal election donation was to Kris Kobach, a Trump ally and former secretary of state of Kansas known for his hard-line views on immigration. (Mr. Kobach lost his primary bid for the Senate.)

Mr. Thiel’s personal priorities also changed. In 2016, he announced that he was moving from San Francisco to Los Angeles. The next year, he married a longtime boyfriend, Matt Danzeisen; they have two children.

Mr. Thiel reduced his business commitments and started pondering leaving Meta’s board, which he had joined in 2005, two of the people with knowledge of his thinking said. At an October event held by a conservative tech group in Miami, he alluded to his frustration with Facebook, which was increasingly removing certain kinds of speech and had barred Mr. Trump.

a $13 million mansion in Washington from Wilbur Ross, Mr. Trump’s commerce secretary. In October, he spoke at the event for the Federalist Society at Stanford and at the National Conservatism Conference.

He also rebuilt his relationship with Mr. Trump. Since the 2020 election, they have met at least three times in New York and at Mar-a-Lago, sometimes with Mr. Masters or Mr. Vance. And Mr. Thiel invested in Mr. McEntee’s company, which is building a dating app for conservatives called the RightStuff.

Mr. McEntee declined to answer questions about his app and said Mr. Thiel was “a great guy.” Mr. Trump’s representatives did not respond to requests for comment.

Mr. Thiel’s political giving ramped up last spring with his $10 million checks to PACs supporting Mr. Vance and Mr. Masters. The sums were his biggest and the largest ever one-time contributions to a PAC backing a single candidate, according to OpenSecrets.

Like Mr. Trump in 2016, Mr. Vance and Mr. Masters lack experience in politics. Mr. Vance, the venture capitalist who wrote the best-selling memoir “Hillbilly Elegy,” met Mr. Thiel a decade ago when the billionaire delivered a lecture at Yale Law School, where Mr. Vance was a student.

Zero to One.” In 2020, Mr. Masters reported more than $1.1 million in salary from Thiel Capital and book royalties.

Mr. Vance, Mr. Masters and their campaigns did not respond to requests for comment.

Both candidates have repeated the Trumpian lie of election fraud, with Mr. Masters stating in a November campaign ad, “I think Trump won in 2020.” They have also made Mr. Thiel a selling point in their campaigns.

In November, Mr. Vance wrote on Twitter that anyone who donated $10,800 to his campaign could attend a small group dinner with him and Mr. Thiel. Mr. Masters offered the same opportunity for a meal with Mr. Thiel and raised $550,000 by selling nonfungible tokens, or NFTs, of “Zero to One” digital art that would give holders “access to parties with me and Peter.”

a 20-minute speech at the National Conservatism Conference in October, he said nationalism was “a corrective” to the “brain-dead, one-world state” of globalism. He also blasted the Biden administration.

“We have the zombie retreads just busy rearranging the deck chairs,” he said. “We need dissident voices more than ever.”

Cade Metz contributed reporting. Rachel Shorey and Kitty Bennett contributed research.

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Ukraine Commanders Say a Russian Invasion Would Overwhelm Them

KYIV, Ukraine — On the 30th anniversary of the founding of Ukraine’s armed forces this week, the country’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, donned a helmet and flak jacket to tour the trenches and announced with great fanfare the delivery of new tanks, armored vehicles and ships to frontline units engaged in fighting Russian forces and Kremlin-backed separatists.

While the weapons systems may help to maintain parity in the slow-moving war of attrition that has prevailed for years, neither they nor anything else the Ukrainian military can now muster would be sufficient to repel the full-on Russian assault that Ukrainian and Western officials say Moscow appears to be preparing. With nearly 100,000 troops now massed across Ukraine’s eastern, northern and southern borders and more on the way, even the Ukrainian officials responsible for their country’s defense acknowledge that without a significant influx of resources, their forces do not stand much of a chance.

“Unfortunately, Ukraine needs to be objective at this stage,” said Gen. Kyrylo O. Budanov, the head of Ukraine’s military intelligence service. “There are not sufficient military resources for repelling a full-scale attack by Russia if it begins without the support of Western forces.”

General Budanov outlined his nightmare vision of a Russian invasion that would begin with airstrikes and rocket attacks aimed initially at ammunition depots and trench-bound troops. Very quickly, he said, the Ukrainian military would be incapacitated, its leadership unable to coordinate a defense and supply the front. After that, he said, responsibility would fall to frontline commanders to carry on the fight alone.

a video call with President Biden on Tuesday, Mr. Putin dismissed concerns about the troop buildup on Ukraine’s border, shifting blame to the United States and NATO, which he accused of threatening Russia’s security by supporting Ukraine’s military with arms and training.

“The Russian troops are on their own territory,” an adviser to Mr. Putin, Yuri V. Ushakov, said in a briefing with reporters after the presidents had spoken. “They don’t threaten anyone.”

Still, the amassing of troops and heavy weaponry on the border has forced Ukrainian officials to face some hard truths in recent weeks. The U.S. intelligence community has assessed that Russia has devised plans for an offensive involving 175,000 troops.

delivered about 88 tons of ammunition, part of a $60 million military aid package pledged by the Biden administration.

On Wednesday, President Biden ruled out deploying U.S. forces to Ukraine to deter Russia. But there are more than 150 U.S. military advisers in Ukraine, a combination of U.S. Special Forces and National Guard, currently the Florida National Guard’s 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, according to two U.S. Defense Department officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive troop deployments. About a dozen other NATO countries also have military advisers in Ukraine now, the officials said.

delivering a new cache of missiles in October. John F. Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, said Wednesday that there were no conditions or restrictions placed on the Javelins, except that the Ukrainian forces use them “responsibly” and “in self-defense.”

interview with Radio Liberty this month, Gen. Oleksandr Pavlyuk, the commander of the Joint Operation Forces fighting the separatists, said the Javelins had already been deployed to military units in eastern Ukraine. A senior Ukrainian military official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive military issues, confirmed that Javelin missiles had been deployed to frontline military units a month ago, but had not yet been fired in battle.

“The Javelins are there, and if our enemies employ tanks they will be used,” the official said.

The Biden administration has remained vague about how else it might come to Ukraine’s defense in case of invasion.

In his video call with Mr. Putin on Tuesday, President Biden looked his counterpart in the eye and warned the United States would go beyond the economic punishments imposed on Russia after the 2014 seizure of Crimea should Mr. Putin decide to order military action, according to an account by Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser. What those penalties might be were left unclear, though few expect the United States to commit significant military assistance beyond what has already been provided.

The lack of firm commitments from Ukraine’s Western backers are a source of consternation for Ukrainian officials.

“They need to decide, either we’re allies as they declare — and in that case allies help one another — or they need to say that this is not exactly the case,” said General Budanov, the military intelligence chief. “If the civilized world wants to avoid catastrophe — and this will be a catastrophe for everyone — we need military technical support now, not tomorrow, not the day after tomorrow, not in year. Now.”

Those who understand that such a level of support is unlikely have begun to speak darkly of popular armed resistance against any Russian occupation. In an interview, General Pavlyuk noted that Ukraine had up to half a million people with military experience. If the West does not come to Ukraine’s aid, he said, “we’ll start a partisan war.”

“Eight years have passed and there are very many people with military experience who are prepared with weapons in their hands to fight,” he said.

One senior Ukrainian military official who spoke on condition of anonymity said that if all else failed, the military would simply open its weapons depots and allow the Ukrainian people to take whatever they need to defend themselves and their families.

Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington.

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On Syria’s Ruins, a Drug Empire Flourishes

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Built on the ashes of 10 years of war in Syria, an illegal drug industry run by powerful associates and relatives of President Bashar al-Assad has grown into a multi-billion-dollar operation, eclipsing Syria’s legal exports and turning the country into the world’s newest narcostate.

Its flagship product is captagon, an illegal, addictive amphetamine popular in Saudi Arabia and other Arab states. Its operations stretch across Syria, including workshops that manufacture the pills, packing plants where they are concealed for export, and smuggling networks to spirit them to markets abroad.

An investigation by The New York Times found that much of the production and distribution is overseen by the Fourth Armored Division of the Syrian army, an elite unit commanded by Maher al-Assad, the president’s younger brother and one of Syria’s most powerful men.

Major players also include businessmen with close ties to the government, the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, and other members of the president’s extended family, whose last name ensures protection for illegal activities, according to The Times investigation, which is based on information from law enforcement officials in 10 countries and dozens of interviews with international and regional drug experts, Syrians with knowledge of the drug trade and current and former United States officials.

found 84 million pills hidden in huge rolls of paper and metal gears last year. Malaysian officials discovered more than 94 million pills sealed inside rubber trolley wheels in March.

hub of hashish production and a stronghold of Hezbollah, an Iran-backed militant group that is now part of Lebanon’s government.

While the pharmaceutical Captagon contained the amphetamine fenethylline, the illicit version sold today, often referred to as “captagon” with a lowercase c, usually contains a mix of amphetamines, caffeine and various fillers. Cheap versions retail for less than a dollar a pill in Syria, while higher quality pills can sell for $14 or more apiece in Saudi Arabia.

After the Syrian war broke out, smugglers took advantage of the chaos to sell the drug to fighters on all sides, who took it to bolster their courage in battle. Enterprising Syrians, working with local pharmacists and machinery from disused pharmaceutical factories, began making it.

Syria had the needed components: experts to mix drugs, factories to make products to conceal the pills, access to Mediterranean shipping lanes and established smuggling routes to Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq.

As the war dragged on, the country’s economy fell apart and a growing number of Mr. al-Assad’s associates were targeted with international sanctions. Some of them invested in captagon, and a state-linked cartel developed, bringing together military officers, militia leaders, traders whose businesses had boomed during the war and relatives of Mr. al-Assad.

Mr. Khiti and Mr. Taha. It called Mr. Taha an intermediary for the Fourth Division whose businesses “generate revenue for the regime and its supporters.”

Captagon is still produced in and smuggled through Lebanon. Nouh Zaiter, a Lebanese drug lord who now lives mostly in Syria, links the Lebanese and Syrian sides of the business, according to regional security officials and Syrians with knowledge of the drug trade.

A tall, longhaired Bekaa Valley native, Mr. Zaiter was sentenced in absentia to life in prison with hard labor by a Lebanese military court this year for drug crimes.

Reached by phone, Mr. Zaiter said his business was hashish and denied that he had ever been involved with captagon.

“I have not and will never send such poisons to Saudi Arabia or anywhere else,” he said. “Even my worst enemy, I won’t provide him with captagon.”

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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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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In Cuba, Desires for Food and Freedom May Spark a Rare Day of Protest

HAVANA — The line starts during the day and stretches into the night. In the dark before dawn, there are hundreds of people waiting. Four women sleep on cardboard boxes, sharing a thin blanket. Others chat to stay awake. A nurse arrives after a 24-hour shift and takes her place.

They each hold a ticket to enter a Cuban government supermarket, which is the only place to find basics like chicken, ground beef and toiletries. At 5:27 a.m. on Wednesday, a man in a fraying baseball cap hands out ticket number 302.

“If you don’t get in line, you don’t buy anything,” said a 35-year-old cook who arrived at 6 p.m. the previous evening and who did not want her name published for fear of retribution.

Even in a country long accustomed to shortages of everything from food to freedom, it has been a remarkably bleak year in Cuba, with Covid-19 restrictions making life under tough new U.S. sanctions even harder.

Now a young generation of dissidents, many of them artists and intellectuals who rely on the internet to spread their ideas, are calling for a protest on Monday, a bold move with little precedent in Cuba. They hope to reignite the marches that filled the streets last summer to demand food, medicine and liberty — and to take on a government that for the first time is not made up of the veterans of 1959’s communist revolution.

Just days before the “Civic March for Change” was set to begin, the organizers appeared to be toning down the protests for fear of violence. Organizers have encouraged people to hang white sheets outside their homes, applaud at 3 p.m., and find other creative ways to demonstrate if they do not feel comfortable taking to the streets.

Despite Cuba’s one-step-forward-two steps-back dance toward openness, experts agree that Cuba is on the cusp of something important, even if the movement behind the protests is unlikely to bring down a Communist Party that has been in power for more than 60 years.

“We are witnessing an unprecedented counterrevolutionary movement in Cuba,” said Carlos Alzugaray, a former Cuban ambassador to the European Union and an academic who considers himself a “critical” supporter of the government.

It is a crucial moment for the Cuban government. A generation of young people who grew up under Fidel Castro and his brother Raúl are now facing Miguel Díaz-Canel, a longtime party stalwart who became president in 2018. At 61, he represents a younger generation of Cuba’s Communist Party, and the person tasked with seeing it into the future.

Mr. Díaz-Canel blames Cuba’s economic ills on the longstanding U.S. embargo, which has been ramped up in recent years. The Trump administration restricted travel to the island, cut off remittances and further locked the island out of the international financial system, pummeling its foreign exchange inflows.

He has proved himself just as willing as his predecessors to crack down on dissent. When protesters took to the streets on July 11, Mr. Díaz-Canel encouraged party members to rush after them. Government supporters pursued the demonstrators with batons.

Some 1,000 people were arrested and 659 remain jailed, according to a count by the civil rights group, Cubalex.

After Monday’s planned demonstration was announced, the Cuban government launched a massive media campaign against it, insisting that its leaders are pawns of the United States.

Yunior García, a playwright, has emerged as one of the movement’s leaders. He was among the founders of Archipiélago, a Facebook group of about 35,000 members that promotes discussion and debate. The group is the main promoter of rallies scheduled to take place in cities around the country on Monday.

“I believe that the role of art is to awaken,” he said. “We have to shake things up so that people with dignity that make up society decide to change things.”

The Cuban government has publicly criticized Mr. García, saying that workshops he attended abroad, such as one that was about how dissidents could forge alliances with the Cuban military, amounted to planning a popular uprising. Mr. García said he was doing research for a script.

Mr. García acknowledges meeting with American officials in Havana, but said he went to record a podcast and discuss the effects of the trade embargo.

His internet and phone services are routinely cut, he said, and he recently found a decapitated chicken outside his front door, a religious hex, which he saw as a political threat. State security has even visited his mother-in-law three times at work, he added.

“They have used every tool at their disposal to intimidate us,” Mr. García said.

Mr. García said on Thursday that he would march alone, in silence, on Sunday. He also urged others to take whatever peaceful measures they could on Monday to avoid provoking a reaction from the police.

His announcement, posted on Facebook, left unclear whether the rallies would still take place. Raúl Prado, a cinematographer and one of the platform’s coordinators, said demonstrators would protest “to the extent that the circumstances allow.”

If no police car is parked outside his house preventing him from leaving on the 15th, he will march to insist on the liberation of political prisoners and to demand human rights, Mr. Prado said.

“There is no other way to achieve change,” Mr. Prado said. “If it’s not us, then the responsibility will fall on our children.”

At least two coordinators of Archipiélago have been fired from their state jobs because of their involvement with the group, which Mr. Díaz-Canel has denounced as a Trojan horse for U.S.-backed regime change.

“Their embassy in Cuba has been taking an active role in efforts to subvert the internal order of our country,” Mr. Díaz-Canel said in a recent speech.

The U.S. government spends $20 million a year on projects designed to promote democracy in Cuba — money the Cuban government sees as illegal attacks on its sovereignty.

But Archipiélago members interviewed by the Times denied receiving any money from the U.S. government, and emphasized that Cuban problems are for Cubans alone to solve.

“Archipiélago is not a movement, a political party, or an opposition group,” Mr. Prado said. “It does not have a particular political line.”

The young and hip group of Cubans behind the Facebook group contrast with classic dissidents on the island, who were often older, unknown to most Cubans and deeply divided in factions.

The arrival of the internet, which came to Cuban telephones three years ago after diplomatic deals cut with the Obama administration, was a game-changer. With internet now widely available, ordinary citizens are abreast of anti-government activities, and are quick to post their own complaints as well.

Hal Klepak, professor emeritus of history and strategy at the Royal Military College of Canada, said the scale of opposition the government has faced this year is unparalleled in Cuba’s history since the revolution.

“No one had ever imagined tens of thousands of people in the streets,” he said. “It is visible and by Cuban standards it is loud. It’s something we’ve never seen before.”

But the question remains whether ordinary Cubans will attend Monday’s protest, considering the government declared it illegal, and its organizers have toned down their calls.

The protest was scheduled on the very day that quarantine rules are being lifted, tourists are being welcomed back and children are set to return to school. The wave of Covid-19 fatalities that helped fuel the July protest has largely subsided, and 70 percent of the nation is now fully vaccinated.

Abraham Alfonso Moreno, a gym teacher who at 5 a.m. held ticket number 215 outside the government store, said he did not protest in July and would not on Monday either. “In the end, it’s not going to solve anything,” he said.

He was more fixated on finding allergy pills.

Marta María Ramírez, a feminist, pro-democracy and gay rights activist in Havana, said the people who rushed to protest in July were more concerned about food than democracy, but that could be changing.

“The first cries were not for freedom. The first cries were more urgent: food, medicine, electricity,” she said. “Freedom came afterward.”

Frances Robles contributed reporting.

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