Chinese princess.” Ms. Peng accused a retired top Chinese leader of sexual assault in November, and her name remains strictly censored on the Chinese internet.

Because she avoids sensitive issues, Ms. Gu is hailed as the model athlete for the others of Chinese heritage to learn from. She’s also cited as evidence of the superiority of China’s governance model over that of the United States.

“It’s so great that the beautiful, talented Eileen Gu came back to compete for China and won,” wrote Hu Xijin, a former editor in chief of The Global Times who still writes for the Communist Party tabloid, “while the blind, disabled Chen Guangcheng went to the United States to ‘seek brightness.’” Mr. Chen is the blind human rights lawyer who was put under house arrests for years before moving to the United States in 2012.

Mr. Hu wrote that China welcomed more scientists, athletes and businesspeople. “Let China be the place to get things done,” he wrote.

Some social media users criticized Mr. Hu’s post, saying it revealed how the system thought of the disabled and the disadvantaged like Xiaohuamei.

“This is life in China,” the writer Murong Xuecun posted on Twitter. “On one side is a Winter Olympic champion who cannot be criticized. On the other side is the chained woman who is being censored. One has a bright future. The other has come to a dead end.”

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Live Updates: In Phone Call, Biden Warns Putin of ‘Severe’ Costs of Invading Ukraine

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Russia Could Invade Ukraine at Any Time, U.S. Says

Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, warned that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia could launch a major assault on Ukraine before the end of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, but said that Mr. Putin had not reached a final decision yet.

“We are in the window when an invasion could begin at any time should Vladimir Putin decide to order it. I will not comment on the details of our intelligence information, but I do want to be clear: It could begin during the Olympics. We encourage all American citizens who remain in Ukraine to depart immediately. We want to be crystal clear on this point. Any American in Ukraine should leave as soon as possible and in any event, in the next 24 to 48 hours. We obviously cannot predict the future. We don’t know exactly what is going to happen, but the risk is now high enough and the threat is now immediate enough that this is what prudence demands. If you stay, you are assuming risk with no guarantee that there will be any other opportunity to leave, and there — no prospect of a U.S. military evacuation in the event of a Russian invasion.” Reporter: “Does the United States believe that the president — pardon me — that President Putin has made a decision because PBS NewsHour just reported a little bit ago that the United States does believe that Putin has made a decision, and has also communicated that decision to the Russian military. Is that accurate?” “The report that you just referenced, which I have not seen yet, it does not accurately capture what the U.S. government’s view is today. Our view is that we do not believe he has made any kind of final decision or we don’t know that he has made any final decision, and we have not communicated that to anybody.”

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Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, warned that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia could launch a major assault on Ukraine before the end of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, but said that Mr. Putin had not reached a final decision yet.CreditCredit…Photo by Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

President Biden warned Vladimir V. Putin of Russia on Saturday that invading Ukraine would result in “swift and severe” costs to Russia, diminish his country’s standing and cause “widespread human suffering,” as Western officials made another diplomatic push to dissuade Mr. Putin from pressing forward with an attack.

It remained unclear if Mr. Putin would invade, according to senior administration officials. One senior national security official, who briefed reporters shortly after the call took place, said that there was “no fundamental change in the dynamic that has unfolded now for several weeks,” an acknowledgment that Mr. Putin has continued to build up a military presence that has effectively surrounded Ukraine.

After the call, a senior administration official said that the situation remained as urgent as it was on Friday when Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser, warned Americans to leave the country in the coming days.

The official pointed out that the Russians were continuing their military buildup even as Mr. Biden and Mr. Putin prepared to speak, underscoring concern among U.S. officials that Mr. Putin was capable of initiating a major military incursion, even if it remained unclear if he would actually do so.

The officials discussed the call on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

The Russian government was expected to present its assessment of the call soon.

The two leaders spoke just hours after the State Department ordered all but a “core team” of its diplomats and employees to leave the American Embassy in Kyiv over fears that Moscow would soon mount a major assault.

Reflecting the urgent concern in Washington over Russia’s growing military buildup surrounding its smaller neighbor, the Pentagon said it would temporarily pull 160 American military trainers out of the country, where they had been working with Ukrainian troops near the Polish border.

Even as Mr. Biden and Mr. Putin spoke by telephone — and after calls earlier Saturday between the top U.S. and Russian diplomats and between the countries’ defense secretaries — the path to a diplomatic resolution to the standoff appeared to be narrowing, with growing numbers of Russian and Russian-backed forces massing around Ukraine on three sides.

U.S. intelligence officials had thought Mr. Putin was prepared to wait until the end of the Winter Olympics in Beijing before possibly ordering an offensive, to avoid antagonizing President Xi Jinping of China, a critical ally. But in recent days, they say, the timeline began moving up, an acceleration that Biden administration officials began publicly acknowledging on Friday.

“We continue to see signs of Russian escalation, including new forces arriving at the Ukrainian border,” Mr. Sullivan told reporters on Friday, adding that an invasion could begin “during the Olympics,” which are scheduled to end on Feb. 20.

U.S. officials do not know whether Mr. Putin has decided to invade, Mr. Sullivan insisted. “We are ready either way,” he said. “Whatever happens next, the West is more united than it has been in years.”





Border with Russian units

KAZAKHSTAN

Russian units

SEA OF

AZOV

Transnistria, a

Russian-backed

breakaway region

of Moldova.

Russia invaded and

annexed the Crimean

Peninsula from

Ukraine in 2014.

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separating Ukrainian and

Russian-backed forces near

two breakaway provinces.

Border with

Russian units

Russian

units

Russia annexed

the Crimean

Peninsula from

Ukraine in 2014.

Transnistria, a

Russian-backed

breakaway region

of Moldova.

Approximate line

separating Ukrainian

and Russian-backed

forces.

The United States has picked up intelligence that Russia is discussing next Wednesday as the target date for the start of military action, officials said, acknowledging the possibility that mentioning a particular date could be part of a Russian disinformation effort.

The Ukrainian government urged calm, with President Volodymyr Zelensky saying that he had not seen intelligence indicating an imminent Russian attack, and that “too much information” about a possible offensive was sowing unnecessary fear.

The United States has ruled out sending troops to defend Ukraine, but it has increased deployments to NATO member countries in Eastern Europe. The Pentagon on Friday said it had ordered 3,000 more soldiers to Poland.

The White House is eager to avoid a repeat of the chaotic evacuation of the U.S. Embassy staff from Kabul last August as Afghanistan fell to the Taliban. The United States and countries including Britain, Denmark, Germany, Japan, Latvia and the Netherlands have issued increasingly urgent calls for their citizens to leave Ukraine. On Saturday, KLM, the main Dutch airline, announced that it will stop flying to Ukraine, citing the security situation.

A State Department official emphasized on Saturday that the U.S. military would not be evacuating American citizens from Ukraine in the way troops did in Afghanistan.

Russia has accused Western countries of spreading misinformation about its intentions. On Saturday, its Foreign Ministry said it was pulling some of its diplomatic personnel out of Ukraine because it was “drawing the conclusion that our American and British colleagues seem to know about certain military actions.”

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How China’s Xi Jinping Is Staging the Beijing Olympics on His Terms

When the International Olympic Committee met seven years ago to choose a host for the 2022 Winter Games, China’s leader, Xi Jinping, sent a short video message that helped tip the scale in a close, controversial vote.

China had limited experience with winter sports. Little snow falls in the distant hills where outdoor events would take place. Pollution was so dense at times that it was known as the “Airpocalypse.”

Mr. Xi pledged to resolve all of this, putting his personal prestige on what seemed then like an audacious bid. “We will deliver every promise we made,” he told the Olympic delegates meeting in Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur.

host of the Summer Olympics, the Games have become a showcase of the country’s achievements. Only now, it is a very different country.

China no longer needs to prove its standing on the world stage; instead, it wants to proclaim the sweeping vision of a more prosperous, more confident nation under Mr. Xi, the country’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong. Where the government once sought to mollify its critics to make the Games a success, today it defies them.

Beijing 2022 “will not only enhance our confidence in realizing the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” said Mr. Xi, who this year is poised to claim a third term at the top. It will also “show a good image of our country and demonstrate our nation’s commitment to building a community with a shared future for mankind.”

Mr. Xi’s government has brushed off criticism from human rights activists and world leaders as the bias of those — including President Biden — who would keep China down. It has implicitly warned Olympic broadcasters and sponsors not to bend to calls for protests or boycotts over the country’s political crackdown in Hong Kong or its campaign of repression in Xinjiang, the largely Muslim region in the northwest.

combat Covid and imposed stricter safety measures than those during the Summer Olympics in Tokyo last year. It has insisted on sustaining its “zero Covid” strategy, evolved from China’s first lockdown, in Wuhan two years ago, regardless of the cost to its economy and its people.

an accusation of sexual assault by the tennis player Peng Shuai, a three-time Olympian, the I.O.C. did not speak out. Instead, it helped deflect concerns about her whereabouts and safety.

staggering costs of the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, and the white-knuckle chaos of preparations for the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.

blue skies. High-speed railways have slashed the trip from Beijing to the most distant venues from four hours to one.

In an area perennially short of water, China built a network of pipelines to feed a phalanx of snow-making machines to dust barren slopes in white. Officials this week even claimed the entire Games would be “fully carbon neutral.”

Christophe Dubi, executive director of the upcoming Games, said in an interview that China proved to be a partner willing and able to do whatever it took to pull off the event, regardless of the challenges.

“Organizing the Games,” Mr. Dubi said, “was easy.”

The committee has deflected questions about human rights and other controversies overshadowing the Games. While the committee’s own charter calls for “improving the promotion and respect of human rights,” officials have said that it was not for them to judge the host country’s political system.

Instead, what matters most to the committee is pulling off the Games. By selecting Beijing, the committee had alighted on a “safe choice,” said Thomas Bach, the committee’s president.

unseasonably warm weather. Sochi 2014 — intended as a valedictory of Vladimir V. Putin’s rule in Russia — cost a staggering $51 billion.

Growing wariness of organizing the quadrennial event gave China an unexpected advantage. Beijing — no one’s idea of a winter sports capital — could reuse sites from the 2008 Games, including the iconic Bird’s Nest stadium for the opening ceremony. The Water Cube, which held the swimming and diving events 14 years ago, was rebranded as the Ice Cube.

Almaty, the former capital of Kazakhstan, once a republic of the Soviet Union.

The final tally was 44 to 40 for Beijing, with one abstention. Almaty’s supporters were left to fume over a glitch in the electronic voting system that prompted a manual recount to “protect the integrity of the vote.” That Kazakhstan has plunged into political turmoil on the eve of the Games seems now, in hindsight, further validation of the choice to pick Beijing.

Xinhua, compared to 480,000 three years before.

ceremonial scepter popular in the Qing dynasty, complete with a 6,000-seat stadium at the bottom that is supposed to hold soccer matches after the Olympics.

military preparations for the Games, including the installation of 44 antiaircraft batteries around Beijing, even though the likelihood of an aerial attack on the city seemed far-fetched.

“A safe Olympics is the biggest symbol of a successful Beijing Olympic Games, and is the most important symbol of the country’s international image,” he said then.

accusation of sexual harassment rocked the sports world last fall, the committee found itself caught in the furor.

fumed in private. Without the protective cover of the international committee, they feared reprisals if they spoke out individually.

The 2008 Olympics also faced harsh criticism. A campaign led by the actress Mia Farrow called the event the “genocide games” because of China’s support for Sudan despite its brutal crackdown in the Darfur region. The traditional torch relay was hounded by protests in cities on multiple continents, including Paris, London, San Francisco and Seoul.

The accusations against China today are, arguably, even more serious. The United States and other countries have declared that China’s crackdown against the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang amounts to genocide. Ms. Farrow’s biting sobriquet has resurfaced for 2022, with a Twitter hashtag.

only screened spectators of its own choosing. It will mostly be a performance for Chinese and international television audiences, offering a choreographed view of the country, the one Mr. Xi’s government has of itself.

If the coronavirus can be kept under control, Beijing could weather the Olympics with fewer problems than seemed likely when it won the rights to the Games seven years ago. Mr. Xi’s government has already effectively declared it a success. A dozen other Chinese cities are already angling for the 2036 Summer Olympics.

“The world looks forward to China,” Mr. Xi said in an New Year’s address, “and China is ready.”

Chris Buckley contributed reporting. Claire Fu, Liu Yi and Li You contributed research.

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Supply Chain Woes Could Worsen as China Imposes Covid Lockdowns

WASHINGTON — Companies are bracing for another round of potentially debilitating supply chain disruptions as China, home to about a third of global manufacturing, imposes sweeping lockdowns in an attempt to keep the Omicron variant at bay.

The measures have already confined tens of millions of people to their homes in several Chinese cities and contributed to a suspension of connecting flights through Hong Kong from much of the world for the next month. At least 20 million people, or about 1.5 percent of China’s population, are in lockdown, mostly in the city of Xi’an in western China and in Henan Province in north-central China.

The country’s zero-tolerance policy has manufacturers — already on edge from spending the past two years dealing with crippling supply chain woes — worried about another round of shutdowns at Chinese factories and ports. Additional disruptions to the global supply chain would come at a particularly fraught moment for companies, which are struggling with rising prices for raw materials and shipping along with extended delivery times and worker shortages.

China used lockdowns, contact tracing and quarantines to halt the spread of the coronavirus nearly two years ago after its initial emergence in Wuhan. These tactics have been highly effective, but the extreme transmissibility of the Omicron variant poses the biggest test yet of China’s system.

Volkswagen and Toyota announced last week that they would temporarily suspend operations in Tianjin because of lockdowns.

Analysts warn that many industries could face disruptions in the flow of goods as China tries to stamp out any coronavirus infections ahead of the Winter Olympics, which will be held in Beijing next month. On Saturday, Beijing officials reported the city’s first case of the Omicron variant, prompting the authorities to lock down the infected person’s residential compound and workplace.

If extensive lockdowns become more widespread in China, their effects on supply chains could be felt across the United States. Major new disruptions could depress consumer confidence and exacerbate inflation, which is already at a 40-year high, posing challenges for the Biden administration and the Federal Reserve.

“Will the Chinese be able to control it or not I think is a really important question,” said Craig Allen, the president of the U.S.-China Business Council. “If they’re going to have to begin closing down port cities, you’re going to have additional supply chain disruptions.”

thrown the global delivery system out of whack. Transportation costs have skyrocketed, and ports and warehouses have experienced pileups of products waiting to be shipped or driven elsewhere while other parts of the supply chain are stymied by shortages.

For the 2021 holiday season, customers largely circumvented those challenges by ordering early. High shipping prices began to ease after the holiday rush, and some analysts speculated that next month’s Lunar New Year, when many Chinese factories will idle, might be a moment for ports, warehouses and trucking companies to catch up on moving backlogged orders and allow global supply chains to return to normal.

But the spread of the Omicron variant is foiling hopes for a fast recovery, highlighting not only how much America depends on Chinese goods, but also how fragile the supply chain remains within the United States.

American trucking companies and warehouses, already short of workers, are losing more of their employees to sickness and quarantines. Weather disruptions are leading to empty shelves in American supermarkets. Delivery times for products shipped from Chinese factories to the West Coast of the United States are as long as ever — stretching to a record high of 113 days in early January, according to Flexport, a logistics firm. That was up from fewer than 50 days at the beginning of 2019.

The Biden administration has undertaken a series of moves to try to alleviate bottlenecks both in the United States and abroad, including devoting $17 billion to improving American ports as part of the new infrastructure law. Major U.S. ports are handling more cargo than ever before and working through their backlog of containers — in part because ports have threatened additional fees for containers that sit too long in their yards.

Yet those greater efficiencies have been undercut by continuing problems at other stages of the supply chain, including a shortage of truckers and warehouse workers to move the goods to their final destination. A push to make the Port of Los Angeles operate 24/7, which was the centerpiece of the Biden administration’s efforts to address supply chain issues this fall, has still seen few trucks showing up for overnight pickups, according to port officials, and cargo ships are still waiting for weeks outside West Coast ports for their turn for a berth to dock in.

work slowdowns and shipping delays.

“If you have four closed doors to get through and one of them opens up, that doesn’t necessarily mean quick passage,” said Phil Levy, the chief economist at Flexport. “We should not delude ourselves that if our ports become 10 percent more efficient, we’ve solved the whole problem.”

Chris Netram, the managing vice president for tax and domestic economic policy at the National Association of Manufacturers, which represents 14,000 companies, said that American businesses had seen a succession of supply chain problems since the beginning of the pandemic.

“Right now, we are at the tail end of one flavor of those challenges, the port snarls,” he said, adding that Chinese lockdowns could be “the next flavor of this.”

Manufacturers are watching carefully to see whether more factories and ports in China might be forced to shutter if Omicron spreads in the coming weeks.

Neither Xi’an nor Henan Province, the site of China’s most expansive lockdowns, has an economy heavily reliant on exports, although Xi’an does produce some semiconductors, including for Samsung and Micron Technology, as well as commercial aircraft components.

Handel Jones, the chief executive of International Business Strategies, a chip consultancy, said the impact on Samsung and Micron would be limited, but he expressed worries about the potential for broader lockdowns in cities like Tianjin or Shanghai.

stay away from any vehicle collisions involving Olympic participants, to avoid infection.

Last year, terminal shutdowns in and around Ningbo and Shenzhen, respectively the world’s third- and fourth-largest container ports by volume, led to congestion and delays, and caused some ships to reroute to other ports.

But if the coronavirus does manage to enter a big port again, the effects could quickly be felt in the United States. “If one of the big container terminals goes into lockdown,” Mr. Huxley said, “it doesn’t take long for a big backlog to develop.”

Airfreight could also become more expensive and harder to obtain in the coming weeks as China has canceled dozens of flights to clamp down on another potential vector of infection. That could especially affect consumer electronics companies, which tend to ship high-value goods by air.

For American companies, the prospect of further supply chain troubles means there may be another scramble to secure Chinese-made products ahead of potential closures.

Lisa Williams, the chief executive of the World of EPI, a company that makes multicultural dolls, said the supply chain issues were putting pressure on companies like hers to get products on the shelves faster than ever, with retailers asking for goods for the fall to be shipped as early as May.

Dr. Williams, who was an academic specializing in logistics before she started her company, said an increase in the price of petroleum and other raw materials had pushed up the cost of the materials her company uses to make dolls, including plastic accessories, fibers for hair, fabrics for clothing and plastic for the dolls themselves. Her company has turned to far more expensive airfreight to get some shipments to the United States faster, further cutting into the firm’s margins.

“Everything is being moved up because everyone is anticipating the delay with supply chains,” she said. “So that compresses everything. It compresses the creativity, it compresses the amount of time we have to think through innovations we want to do.”

Ana Swanson reported from Washington, and Keith Bradsher from Beijing.

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China talks up ‘green’ Olympics but prepares to fight smog

ZHANGJIAKOU, China, Dec 27 (Reuters) – China is using the Winter Olympic Games to drive its efforts to improve the environment, but smog-prone capital Beijing is still preparing for the worst as the opening ceremony looms.

Beijing has improved its air quality since China won its bid to host the Games, but the Ministry of Ecology and Environment has said winter smog risks remained “severe”.

Ministry spokesman Liu Youbin told reporters on Thursday that contingency plans were in place.

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“When the time comes, Beijing and Hebei will be guided to adopt reasonable environmental protection measures in accordance with the law,” he said.

Rumours that polluting heavy industries in the area would be shuttered from Jan. 1 were “not true”, however, he said.

Critics warned in 2015 – when China won its bid – that the Winter Olympics could be overshadowed by hazardous smog in a region dominated by heavy industry. Chinese President Xi Jinping subsequently vowed to run a “green” Games, and Hebei promised to “transform and upgrade” its industrial economy.

Since then, China has planted thousands of hectares of trees in Beijing and surrounding Hebei province, built sprawling wind and solar farms, and relocated hundreds of enterprises.

In Zhangjiakou city, 200 km (125 miles) northwest of Beijing and host to skiing and snowboarding events, 26-year-old amateur skier Deng Zhongping said he has already felt the difference.

“When I came to Beijing a few years back I would suffer with rhinitis because of pollution, but the air quality in Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei has improved a lot,” he said.

“I think the air quality at Zhangjiakou ski resort is even better than some foreign ski resorts.”

Wind turbines stand behind a snow gun operating at Genting Snow Park during a government-organised media tour to Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics venues in Zhangjiakou, Hebei province, China December 21, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

In 2016, average concentrations of PM2.5 in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region stood at 71 micrograms per cubic metre and soared to more than 500 micrograms over winter. That compares to an average 40 micrograms from January to September this year.

The reading in Beijing was 33 micrograms in the first three quarters, meeting China’s 35-microgram standard, although exceeding the recommended World Health Organization level of 5 micrograms and likely to rise much higher over winter.

“China will win many medals at the Winter Olympics, but the smog … could plunge the Games into difficulties,” the Washington-based International Fund for China’s Environment said earlier this year.

GREENING THE GAMES

Officials said during a government-organised tour this week that all 26 Olympic venues in Beijing and Hebei province would be 100% powered by renewable energy. More than 700 hydrogen-fuelled vehicles will also be deployed, despite the government falling short of a hydrogen production target.

Preparations have included a tree-planting programme that increased forest coverage in Zhangjiakou to 70%-80%, up from 56% previously.

China has also said it would make the Games “carbon neutral” for the first time. Environmental group Greenpeace, though, said without more data it would be hard to evaluate whether the goal was actually met.

Water scarcity is another concern, especially when it comes to creating artificial snow and ice.

Organisers said the Games would not put additional pressure on local water supplies and rely instead on cisterns that collected mountain runoff and rainfall during the summer – in line with China’s wider efforts to create a “circular” economy in which resources are fully utilised and recycled.

“We are all self-sufficient and ecologically circular,” said Wang Jingxian, a member of the 2022 Games planning committee.

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Reporting by Muyu Xu and David Stanway; Editing by Tom Hogue

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Peng Shuai’s Accusation Pierced the Privileged Citadel of Chinese Politics

Before Zhang Gaoli was engulfed in accusations that he had sexually assaulted a tennis champion, he seemed to embody the qualities that the Chinese Communist Party prizes in officials: austere, disciplined, and impeccably loyal to the leader of the day.

He had climbed steadily from running an oil refinery to a succession of leadership posts along China’s fast-growing coast, avoiding the scandals and controversy that felled other, flashily ambitious politicians. He became known, if for anything, for his monotone impersonality. On entering China’s top leadership, he invited people to search for anything amiss in his behavior.

“Stern, low-key, taciturn,” summed up one of the few profiles of him in the Chinese media. His interests, Xinhua news agency said, included books, chess and tennis.

Now the allegation from Peng Shuai, the professional tennis player, has cast Mr. Zhang’s private life under a blaze of international attention, making him a symbol of a political system that prizes secrecy and control over open accountability. The allegation raises questions about how far Chinese officials carry their declared ideals of clean-living integrity into their heavily guarded homes.

entrusted with overseeing China’s initial preparations for the 2022 Winter Olympics, which is now being overshadowed by the furor.

About three years ago, after stepping down, Mr. Zhang called the head of a tennis academy to summon Ms. Peng to play tennis with him at a party-owned hotel in Beijing, called the Kangming, that plays host to retired officials, according to her post.

Later that day, she said, he forced her to have sex in his home. They resumed a relationship, but he insisted it remain furtive. She had to switch cars to be able to enter the government compound where he lives in Beijing, she wrote. He warned her to tell no one, not even her mother.

With rarely a word or hair out of place, Mr. Zhang has seemed an unlikely protagonist for a scandal that has rippled around the world. He belongs to a generation of officials who rose after the upheavals of the Cultural Revolution, taking on the self-effacing ethos of collective leadership under Hu Jintao, who preceded the country’s current leader, Xi Jinping.

faltered under debt and inflated expectations, but Mr. Zhang moved upward into the central leadership in 2012. He became executive vice premier: in effect, China’s deputy prime minister.

“I hope that all the party members, officials and members of the public in this city will continue to exercise strict oversight over me,” Mr. Zhang said in 2012 as he left Tianjin for Beijing.

negotiated oil deals with Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, and promoted Mr. Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative.

met with Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee, as Mr. Bach was visiting the city.

It was Mr. Bach who on Sunday held a video call with Ms. Peng intended to reassure athletes and others worried about her disappearance in the days after her post appeared.

Earlier in Mr. Xi’s term, lurid reports about officials’ sexual misdeeds at times surfaced in state media, disclosures intended to signal that he was serious about purifying the party.

Mr. Xi’s priority now appears to be fending off any odor of scandal tainting the party’s top echelons. References to Ms. Peng’s account were nearly wiped off the internet inside China. A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian, suggested that the attention around Ms. Peng had become “malicious hype.” Official media have not shown or reported on Mr. Zhang since Ms. Peng went public; nor have they directly challenged her account.

“Even to deny her allegations would be to give them a level of credence that you couldn’t then roll back,” said Louisa Lim, a former journalist who long worked in China and the author of “The People’s Republic of Amnesia.”

When Mr. Zhang retired in 2018, he dropped from public view, as is the norm in Chinese politics. Retirement often comes with perks like high quality health care, housing and travel within China, but also some monitoring.

“Once you retire, your movements are reported to the party’s department of organization,” said Minxin Pei, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College in California who studies the party.

In her post, Ms. Peng seemed to indicate that she and Mr. Zhang had recently had a disagreement, and that he had once again “disappeared” as he did before. She wrote, though, that she expected that her account would have little effect on Mr. Zhang’s eminence.

“With your intelligence and wits,” she wrote, “I am sure you will either deny it, or blame it on me, or you could simply play it cool.”

Claire Fu and Liu Yi contributed research.

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Why China Is the World’s Last ‘Zero Covid’ Holdout

The trip began in Shanghai, where the couple, both former professors, joined a tour group of other retirees. They traveled through Gansu Province and Inner Mongolia, staying at a bed-and-breakfast and eating three times at the same lamb chop restaurant. Flying south to Xi’an, they dropped into a 1,300-year-old temple. Their fellow tour group members checked out an art museum, strolled through parks and visited friends.

Then, on Oct. 16, the day they had planned to visit the Terracotta Warriors, the couple tested positive for the coronavirus.

Since then, China has locked down a city of 4 million, as well as several smaller cities and parts of Beijing, to contain a fresh outbreak that has infected more than 240 people in at least 11 provinces and regions. The authorities have shuttered schools and tourist sites. Government websites have detailed every movement of the unlucky couple and their sprawling web of contacts, including what time they checked into hotels and on which floors of restaurants they sat.

The no-holds-barred response is emblematic of China’s “zero Covid” policy, which has served the country remarkably well: China has reported fewer than 5,000 deaths since the pandemic began. The scale of the new outbreak, while tiny compared to many other countries, is large for China.

Lynette Ong, a political scientist at the University of Toronto. “At a huge cost, though.”

at-times strident nationalism.

Other countries that adopted “zero Covid” policies were hailed as models of competent governance that prioritized saving lives over convenience and economic growth.

As the virus has dragged into its second year, and with the onset of the far more contagious Delta variant, countries are again reconsidering their strategies. Australia, which was home to the world’s longest lockdown, is scrapping quarantine requirements for vaccinated residents returning from overseas. New Zealand formally abandoned its quest for zero this month. Singapore is offering quarantine-free travel to vaccinated tourists from Germany, the United States, France and several other countries.

attacked viciously online as a lackey of foreigners. A former Chinese health minister called such a mindset reckless.

Zhang Jun, an urban studies scholar at the City University of Hong Kong.

In addition, though China has achieved a relatively high full inoculation rate, at 75 percent of its population, questions have emerged about the efficacy of its homegrown vaccines.

And, at least for now, the elimination strategy appears to enjoy public support. While residents in locked-down areas have complained about seemingly arbitrary or overly harsh restrictions on social media, travel is relatively unconstrained in areas without cases. Wealthy consumers have poured money into luxury goods and fancy cars since they’re not spending on trips abroad.

reinstated them in September amid a spike in infections. (Still, the government is moving forward with travel lanes.)

But experts agree that the costs of expecting zero cases will hit eventually. China’s economic growth is slowing, and domestic travel during a weeklong holiday earlier this month fell below last year’s levels, as a cluster of new cases spooked tourists. Retail sales have proven fitful, recovering and ebbing with waves of the virus.

The country may also suffer diplomatically. Mr. Xi has not left China or received foreign visitors since early 2020, even as other world leaders prepare to gather in Rome for a Group of 20 summit and Glasgow for climate talks.

China’s hard-nosed approach is also trickling down to Hong Kong, the semi-autonomous territory and global financial hub. In trying to align their own Covid prevention policies with the mainland’s, Hong Kong’s leaders have introduced the world’s longest quarantine, ignoring escalating warnings from business leaders about an exodus of foreign firms.

said in a recent interview with Chinese media that once the country reached an 85 percent vaccination rate, “why shouldn’t we open up?”

Until then, those stranded by the lockdowns have been trying to make the best of their situations. State news outlets have reported that roughly 10,000 tourists are trapped in Ejin Banner, a region of Inner Mongolia, after the emergence of cases led to a lockdown. As consolation, the local tourism association has promised them free entry to three popular tourist attractions, redeemable within the next three years.

Liu Yi and Joy Dong contributed research.

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North Korea Missile Tests Are Part of a Familiar Strategy

SEOUL — The signals are confusing. One day, North Korea is ​​raising hopes for dialogue with South Korea, and the next, it is firing missiles or showing off the latest weaponry in its nuclear arsenal.

In the past week alone, North suggested the possibility of inter-Korean summit talks and said it would reopen communication hotlines with its neighbor. It also fired long-range cruise missiles, trotted out what it called ​its first hypersonic missile and, on Thursday, tested a new antiaircraft missile. Earlier in September, it launched ballistic missile​s​ from ​a ​train​ rolled out of a mountain tunnel, on the same day that it called the South’s president, Moon Jae-in, “stupid.”

Once again, North Korea is turning to a well-honed, two-pronged strategy, designed to let it flex its military muscles without risking retaliation or nixing the chances for dialogue.

In the absence of talks with Washington, the missile tests reminded the world that North Korea is developing increasingly sophisticated weaponry capable of delivering nuclear warheads. But individually, these short-range or still-under-development missiles don’t amount to a direct threat to the United States.

met with then-President Donald J. Trump three times between 2018 and 2019, becoming the first North Korean leader to hold a summit with a​ sitting American ​president. But ​his diplomatic efforts failed to lift crippling sanctions the United Nations imposed on his impoverished country after its nuclear and I.C.B.M. tests​. Soon the pandemic hit, further hamstringing the North’s economy.

​American and South Korean officials had hoped that the North’s deepening economic troubles, caused by the double whammy of sanctions and the pandemic, would make North Korea more amenable to dialogue.

So far, Mr. Kim has proved them wrong.

Since his talks with Mr. Trump collapsed in early 2019, he has vowed to slog through the economic difficulties while expanding his nuclear arsenal​, his country’s single best diplomatic leverage and deterrent against what it considers American threats to topple its government. By demonstrating his country’s growing military capabilities, Mr. Kim has also sought to legitimize his rule at a time when he has been able to deliver little on the economic front to his long-suffering people.​

The antiaircraft missile test on Thursday indicated that ​the North is building a weapon similar to Russia’s S-400, one of the most potent air-defense systems in the world, according to Kim Dong-yub, an expert on North Korean weapons at the University of North Korean Studies.

The Biden administration has repeatedly urged North Korea to​ return to talks without preconditions. But Mr. Kim said he would not restart negotiations until he was convinced that ​Washington was ready to ease sanctions and its “hostile policy,” including the joint annual military exercises it conducts with South Korea.

an arms race in the region.

Mr. Kim can’t really attempt shocking provocations like the ones he conducted in 2017 — three I.C.B.M. tests and a nuclear test — that brought the Trump administration to the table. Such tests would sharply raise tensions, invite more U.N. sanctions and potentially invoke the ire of China by ruining the mood for the Beijing Winter Olympics in February.​

desperate to put his Korean Peninsula peace process, his signature foreign policy, back on track before his single, five-year term ​ends ​in May.

“It’s our government’s destiny” to pursue dialogue with the North, Mr. Moon told reporters last week, referring to his efforts to build peace through his three meetings with Mr. Kim in 2018 and his efforts to help arrange the summit meetings between Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump.

This week, Mr. Kim also offered conciliatory words toward South Korea.

“We have neither aim nor reason to provoke South Korea and no idea to harm it,” he said.

North Korea was wooing South Korea while shunning talks with Washington, said Cheong Seong-chang, director of the Center for North Korean Studies at the Sejong Institute in South Korea. Other analysts said North Korea was leaning on South Korea to help bring Washington to dialogue.

On Thursday, Sung Kim, the U.S. special representative for North Korea, met with his counterparts from Japan and South Korea ​and indicated that ​Washington would support humanitarian aid to North Korea as an incentive for dialogue.

Analysis doubted that it would be enough.

“I am not sure that the old way of providing humanitarian shipments​ as an incentive​ will work this time, given the North’s reluctance to accept outside help ​during the pandemic,” said Professor Yang of the University of North Korean Studies. “North Korea wants the United States to address more fundamental issues ​concerning its well-being​. It wants clearer commitment​s ​from the United States to easing sanctions and guaranteeing its security.”

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South Korean Leader Urges Biden to Negotiate With North Korea

SEOUL — ​President Moon Jae-in of South Korea has a message for the United States: President Biden needs to engage now with North Korea.

In an interview with The New York Times, Mr. Moon pushed the American leader to kick-start negotiations with the government of Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea, after two years in which diplomatic progress stalled, even reversed. Denuclearization, the South Korean president said, was a “matter of survival” for his country.

He also urged the United States to cooperate with China on North Korea and other issues of global concern, including climate change. The deteriorating relations between the superpowers, he said, could undermine any negotiations over denuclearization.

“If tensions between the United States and China intensify, North Korea can take advantage of it and capitalize on it,” Mr. Moon said.

work to achieve denuclearization and ​peace on the Korean Peninsula has since unraveled.

President Donald J. Trump left office without removing a single North Korean nuclear warhead. Mr. Kim has resumed weapons tests. ​

“He beat around the bush and failed to pull it through,” Mr. Moon said of Mr. Trump’s efforts on North Korea. “The most important starting point for both governments is to have the will for dialogue and to sit down face to face at an early date.”

Now in his final year in office, Mr. Moon is determined to start all over again​ — and knows he faces a very different leader in Mr. Biden.

annual threat assessment released last week, the United States’ director of national intelligence said Mr. Kim “believes that over time he will gain international acceptance and respect as a nuclear power.”

But Mr. Moon’s team argues that the phased approach is the most realistic, even if it is imperfect. As his administration sees it, North Korea would never give up its arsenal in one quick deal, lest the regime lose its only bargaining chip with Washington.

The key​​, Mr. Moon said, is for the United States and North Korea to work out a “mutually trusted road map.”

American negotiators under Mr. Trump never made it to that point. Both sides could not even agree on a first step for the North and what reward Washington would provide in return.

real-estate and other scandals. This month, angry voters delivered crushing defeats to his Democratic Party in the mayoral elections in South Korea’s two largest cities.

That is a sharp turn of fortune from the start of his administration, when Mr. Moon parlayed a hair-raising geopolitical crisis into a signature policy initiative.

“When I took office back in 2017, we were really concerned about the possibility of war breaking out once again on the Korean Peninsula,” he said.

Four days into his tenure, North Korea launched its Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile that it said could target Hawaii and Alaska. Then the North tested a hydrogen bomb and three intercontinental ballistic missiles. In response, Mr. Trump threatened “fire and fury,” as American Navy carrier groups steamed toward the peninsula.

there is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.” When Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump met again in 2019 in Hanoi, Vietnam, the negotiations went nowhere, and the men left without an agreement on how to move forward with the Singapore deal.

While Mr. Moon was careful to dole out praise for Mr. Trump, he also seemed frustrated by the former president’s erratic behavior and Twitter diplomacy. Mr. Trump canceled or downsized the annual joint military drills that the United States conducts with the South and demanded what Mr. Moon called an “excessive amount” to keep 28,500 American troops in South Korea.

strike a deal within 46 days of Mr. Biden’s inauguration was a “clear testament to the importance President Biden attaches to” the alliance.

Mr. Moon is hopeful about the progress the new American leader can make on North Korea, although any significant breakthrough may be unrealistic, given the deep mistrust between Washington and Pyongyang.

Mr. Biden said last month that he was “prepared for some form of diplomacy” with North Korea, but that “it has to be conditioned upon the end result of denuclearization.”

North Korea has offered ideas on a phased approach starting with the demolition of its only-known nuclear test site, followed by the dismantling of a rocket engine test facility and the nuclear complex in Yongbyon north of Pyongyang.

Mr. Moon said he believed such steps, if matched with American concessions, could lead to the removal of the North’s more prized assets, like I.C.B.M.s. In that scenario, he said, the move toward complete denuclearization becomes “irreversible.”

“This dialogue and diplomacy can lead to denuclearization,” he said. “If both sides learn from the failure in Hanoi and put their heads together for more realistic ideas, I am confident that they can find a solution.”

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