Your Monday Briefing: A Testy Exchange Between the U.S. and China

Chinese-U.S. relations have fallen to perhaps their lowest point in half a century.Credit…Petr David Josek/Associated Press

U.S. and China trade barbs

Antony Blinken, the secretary of state, said that the U.S. believes that China was considering giving Russia weapons and other lethal aid. He warned China that doing so “would cause a serious problem” for its already-strained relations with the U.S.

The comments came a day after he had a testy exchange with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, at an annual security conference in Munich. It was the first high-level diplomatic exchange between the two sides since a Chinese spy balloon was found flying over the U.S.

Hours before the meeting, Wang called the U.S. decision to shoot the balloon down “absurd and hysterical.” He doubled down on China’s claim that the balloon had been a “civilian” research craft that was blown off course. In the meeting, the U.S. said, Blinken said that the flight of a Chinese surveillance balloon across the U.S. “must never happen again.” After, he said that there had been “no apology” from Wang.

Analysis: Blinken’s comments underscored concerns that Russia was increasingly turning to China, Iran and North Korea for military supplies.

What’s next: After the balloon flight, Blinken canceled a visit to China, which would have been the first in years by a secretary of state. Neither country said anything about a new date for the trip.

The competition for “near space”: The U.S. and China are testing new high-altitude defense systems that sit below orbiting satellites. American officials worry that China is farther along. 

Vladimir Putin’s new ideology of war is on display at the Victory Museum, in Moscow, which is dedicated to the Soviet Union’s defeat of Nazi Germany.Credit…Nanna Heitmann for The New York Times

Putin’s year of spin

Friday will mark the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In the past year, the military has suffered setback after setback. But President Vladimir Putin has used the war to become even more dominant at home.

From the beginning, Putin cast the invasion as an almost holy war for Russia’s identity. He has continually compared it to the fight against the Nazis — one exhibit at a museum in Moscow is titled “NATOzism” — and has repeatedly said Russia is fighting the West’s efforts to force it to accept homosexuality.

The State of the War

  • Western Support: Nearly one year into the war, American and European leaders pledged to remain steadfast in their support for Ukraine amid worries about how long their resolve will last.
  • Harris’s Comments: Vice President Kamala Harris declared that the United States had formally concluded that Russia had committed “crimes against humanity” in its invasion of Ukraine.
  • A Russian Mole in Germany?: A director at Germany’s spy service was arrested on suspicion of passing intelligence to Russia. German officials and allies worry just how deep the problem goes.
  • Rebuilding Ukraine: As Ukraine’s leaders lay postwar plans, businesses around the world are positioning themselves for what could be a multibillion-dollar effort.

The mind-set has seeped into daily life. Schoolchildren learn that Russia has always liberated humanity from “aggressors who seek world domination,” and collect cans to make candles for soldiers. Museums and theaters, once islands of artistic freedom, have lost that status. “Liberalism in Russia is dead forever, thank God,” said Konstantin Malofeyev, an ultraconservative business tycoon whom the Kremlin once kept at arm’s length.  

But life has otherwise carried on for most Russians. The economy has suffered much less under sanctions than analysts predicted. “One of the scariest observations, I think, is that for the most part, nothing has changed for people,” an educator said. “This tragedy gets pushed to the periphery.” 

The West: Leaders pledged to support Ukraine for “as long as necessary.”

One fighter: A teacher left her classroom to defend Ukraine. Follow her year in photographs.

Across Asia, governments are struggling to support retirees.Credit…Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

Asia’s aging societies

Motoko Rich, our Tokyo bureau chief, spoke with The Morning about the demographic crisis looming in South Korea, China and especially Japan, where almost a third of the population is over 65. (For comparison, in the U.S. that number is about 17 percent.)

She spoke about the underlying reasons, the possible solutions and the isolation that older people face when their children move away to cities. Here’s an excerpt from their conversation:

I understand why an aging population poses challenges within a country. What does it mean for people living elsewhere?

It’s coming for you. Population growth in the U.S. is at extremely low levels. Italy’s population is aging at the fastest rate in the West. Other countries will look toward Asia and learn from it. They’ll see what to do or what not to do.

You can compare the issue to how people used to view climate change: It was happening for many years, but we weren’t paying attention. Societies need to plan for aging, and they’re not well set up to do so. It’s not an in-your-face crisis — it’s a slow-rolling crisis.


Asia Pacific

The launch was North Korea’s first test of a long-range missile in three months.Credit…Jeon Heon-Kyun/EPA, via Shutterstock
  • North Korea launched an intercontinental ballistic missile after warning of strong countermeasures against joint military drills by the U.S. and South Korea.

  • The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for a deadly assault on the police headquarters in Karachi on Friday. It is the latest sign that the group is regaining strength.

  • In the past two years, drownings have spiked in Australia. Experts blame canceled swimming lessons during the pandemic and an increase in people swimming in locations without lifeguards.

Around the World

  • Former President Jimmy Carter, 98, has chosen to forgo further medical treatment and receive hospice care at home.

  • A Times investigation shows that Iran may soon get advanced Russian jets. It would be Iran’s most significant upgrade to its aging fleet in decades.

  • Nicaragua’s increasingly authoritarian government has stripped more than 300 people of their citizenship, including political prisoners recently sent to the U.S.

The Earthquake

  • Turkey’s economy was already struggling. Now, the staggering cost of reconstruction and slowed growth add to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s challenges before an election in May.

  • Tents, gymnasiums and a cruise ship are part of the struggle to shelter about one million now-homeless people in Turkey.

Other Big Stories

“Before I knew it, they were picking up the Jeff Koons pieces in a dustpan with a broom,” a witness said.Credit…Bel-Air Fine Art – Contemporary Art Galleries
  • A woman touched a $42,000 Jeff Koons sculpture at an art fair. It fell off its pedestal and shattered.

  • Microsoft will limit conversations with its new Bing chatbot to five questions per session. (Some of its longer chats have been pretty creepy.)

  • Bullet-resistant desks and anti-shooter training: Protecting children from mass murder in the U.S. has become a $3 billion industry.

A Morning Read

The pyramid is being repurposed as a space for classrooms, cafes and tech company offices.Credit…Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

Many countries on Europe’s formerly communist eastern fringe have wrestled with what to do with massive structures left over from a past most people would like to forget.

In Albania’s capital, a “scary” concrete and glass pyramid was built in the 1980s as a shrine to Enver Hoxha, a dead tyrant, and then fell into disrepair. Now, it’s being turned into “a celebration of capitalism, jobs and the future,” the city’s mayor said.


A ‘bellwether’ crop 

A megadrought, made worse by climate change, cut into Texas’s cotton harvest.Credit…Jordan Vonderhaar for The New York Times

Heat and drought forced cotton farmers in Texas to abandon 74 percent of their planted crops last year. The loss, one of the biggest on record, has pushed up the price of everyday items, from tampons (13 percent) to cloth diapers (21 percent). To compare: The overall U.S. inflation rate was 6.5 percent.

Halfway across the world in Pakistan, the world’s sixth-largest producer of upland cotton, severe flooding worsened by climate change destroyed half of its cotton crop.

The crop failures are examples of how global warming is a “secret driver of inflation,” one market researcher said: Climate change exacerbates extreme weather, which can impact production. Shortages can reshape daily costs in ways that consumers may not realize.

Cotton is a good “bellwether crop,” an expert in supply chain logistics said, because it responds immediately to weather. And disruptions will only get worse. By 2040, half of the regions where cotton is grown will face a “high or very high climate risk” from extreme weather, a nonprofit group said.


What to Cook

Credit…Kelly Marshall for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Roscoe Betsill. Prop Stylist: Maeve Sheridan.

Mardi Gras is tomorrow. Here are 12 recipes to celebrate.

What to Watch

In “Return to Seoul,” a Parisian adoptee visits her biological family. The filmmaker and the star, who were not adopted, got help from friends.

What to Listen to

Hear tracks by Lana Del Rey, Pink, Janelle Monáe and others on our weekly playlist.

A Recommendation

Fall asleep to the BBC Shipping Forecast.

The News Quiz

How well did you follow last week’s headlines?

Now Time to Play

Play the Mini Crossword, and a clue: Dampens (four letters).

Here are the Wordle and the Spelling Bee.

You can find all our puzzles here.

That’s it for today’s briefing. See you next time. — Amelia

P.S. Listen to the trailer for Serial Productions’ latest Times podcast, “The Coldest Case in Laramie.”

“The Daily” is on Microsoft’s chatbot. To go deeper on A.I., you can listen to “Hard Fork.”

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