Welcome to The Daily 202! Tell your friends to sign up here. On this day in 1990, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher resigned. Queen Elizabeth II made John Major Thatcher’s successor.
All of that is being tested today, most spectacularly in the form of protests that have drawn thousands into the streets to condemn Xi’s “zero Covid” policies, including stringent lockdowns, mandated testing, lengthy quarantines, as well as censorship of dissent.
But Xi faces challenges on other fronts, too:
- An unprecedented American effort to restrict China’s access to microchips and chip-making equipment. That seems likely to escalate the commercial war over high-tech products and could cripple Xi’s aspirations to build a technological superpower. It will also make it harder for Beijing to upgrade military and surveillance capabilities.
- China’s economy — the world’s second-largest — has slowed, including an unexpected drop in exports. The International Monetary Fund says China’s economy will grow 3.2% in 2022, That’s down from 8% in 2021.
But his immediate headache is the wave of protests in cities and university campuses, arguably the most serious and widespread unrest since the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy demonstrations, which the government brutally repressed with military force.
My colleague Lily Kuo reported over the weekend that the public show of anger included rare calls for Xi to step down.
“The immediate trigger,” she explained, “was a deadly fire in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, in China’s far northwest on Thursday. Ten people, including three children, died after emergency fire services could not get close enough to an apartment building engulfed in flames. Residents blamed lockdown-related measures for hampering rescue efforts.” Authorities have denied that was the case.
But Lily also painted a broader picture of discontent that’s important for understanding the current context, which includes China enduring record numbers of new covid cases.
“Across the country, and not just at universities, citizens appear to be reaching a breaking point. In the name of ‘zero covid,’ they have lived through almost three years of unrelenting controls that have left many sealed in their homes, sent to quarantine centers or barred from traveling. Residents must submit to repeated coronavirus tests and surveillance of their movement and health status.”
“The Urumqi fire followed a bus crash in September that killed 27 people as they were being taken to a quarantine center. In April, a sudden lockdown in Shanghai left residents without enough food and prompted online and offline protests. Deaths related to the restrictions, including a 3-year-old who died after his parents were unable to take him to a hospital, have further added to public anger.”
“Health authorities say this strategy of cutting off covid transmission as soon as possible and quarantining all positive cases is the only way to prevent a surge in severe cases and deaths, which would overwhelm the health-care system. As a result of its low infection rate, China’s population of 1.4 billion has a low level of natural immunity. Those who have been immunized have received domestically made vaccines that have proved less effective against the more infectious omicron variant.”
At the New York Times, Chris Buckley, Vivian Wang, Chang Che and Amy Chang Chien reported Xi “has no easy response to the widespread anger.”
“Censors have moved quickly to scrub photos and video footage of the protests. If Mr. Xi cracks down on demonstrators, he could anger the public further, straining even China’s formidable security apparatus. If he abruptly lifts many restrictions, he risks hurting his image of unassailable authority that he has built in part on his success battling Covid. The ensuing rise in infections, potentially deadly among the vulnerable, may also become another source of discontent,” they wrote.
Protests are rare in China and “often involve workers, farmers or other locals aggrieved by job losses, land disputes, pollution or other issues that usually remain contained,” the Times said.
“But the pervasiveness of China’s Covid restrictions has created a focus for anger that transcends class and geography. Migrant workers struggling with food shortages and joblessness during weekslong lockdowns, university students held on campuses, urban professionals chafing at travel restrictions — the roots of their frustrations are the same.”
This is not to say that Xi’s hold on power is brittle. It’s not. But this will test just what kind of leader he is and wants to be now that he has expanded his power.
There’s an old joke about an American who runs into a friend who recently moved to an authoritarian country. The American asks the friend how things are. The friend looks around in every direction, then replies: “Can’t complain.”
That bit of gallows humor aside, thousands in China are showing they will be heard.
What’s happening now
Lame-duck Congress returning to Washington with full agenda waiting
“The top priority: keeping the government running beyond Dec. 16. It remains unclear whether lawmakers will pass a spending bill that funds the government for the next year or whether they will try to pass a shorter-term resolution,” John Wagner and Mariana Alfaro report.
- “Other pending issues include protecting same-sex marriage and changes to the Electoral Count Act spurred by the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.”
Buffalo supermarket shooting suspect expected to plead guilty to murder
“The man charged with killing 10 people in a racially motivated attack at a Buffalo grocery store in May is expected to plead guilty to state charges on Monday morning,” James Bikales, Justin Sondel and Shayna Jacobs report.
Lunchtime reads from The Post
Murder, fear and racist fliers in Fargo
“The aroma of barbecue ribs used to comfort him, but now Manny Behyee worried it could attract trouble. Walking up to Teta’s garage cookout, he’d scanned the cars lining her suburban street. Should everyone have parked further apart? Was it obvious they were having a party?” Danielle Paquette reports.
“The Liberian immigrants had tried to keep a low profile since someone — a stranger? a neighbor? — distributed hundreds of fliers labeling them a threat to White children. A mile away, people woke up one September morning to small plastic bags on their lawns containing a picture of a Liberian man who had recently been convicted of killing a 14-year-old girl in Fargo. The caption invoked a racist theory that foreigners of color are ‘replacing’ White Americans in the United States: ‘THE GREAT REPLACEMENT AND ITS CONSEQUENCES.’”
Democrats press for assault weapons ban, other gun laws after new mass shootings
“Democrats are renewing their calls for a ban on assault weapons after the latest spate of multiple high-profile mass shootings, warning that their window to enact legislation is closing soon with Republicans set to take a narrow majority in the House in January,” Amy B Wang reports.
But: “On Sunday, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said that he didn’t think that Democrats have 60 votes in the Senate to overcome a filibuster and push through legislation to renew a ban on assault weapons, which the House passed in July.”
… and beyond
McCarthy’s pursuit of speaker’s gavel comes at a high cost
“The overtures McCarthy is making, some symbolic, others substantive, provide a snapshot of the speaker hopeful’s emerging leadership style. While McCarthy is expected to prevail in his quest for the speaker’s gavel, it is destined to come at a political price, setting the tone and tenor of new Congress,” the Associated Press’s Lisa Mascaro reports.
What he’s promised so far (in part):
- to restore committee assignments for far-right Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.);
- oust Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and other high-profile Democrats from their committees;
- remove metal detectors that were installed to prevent firearms in the House chamber;
- end covid-era protocols that allowed lawmakers to vote by proxy;
- and fully reopen the Capitol’s limited visitor access since the Jan. 6, 2021.
The latest on covid
Nearly 9 in 10 covid deaths are in people 65 or older
“More than 300 people are still dying each day on average from covid-19, most of them 65 or older, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While that’s much lower than the 2,000 daily toll at the peak of the delta wave, it is still roughly two to three times the rate at which people die of the flu,” Ariana Eunjung Cha and Dan Keating report.
The Biden agenda
Biden to bolster response to sexual violence in conflict zones
“President Biden plans to sign a memorandum Monday directing U.S. agencies to strengthen their response to sexual violence in conflict zones, including in Ukraine, a senior administration official said. The administration is aiming to ensure that such crimes are given treatment equal to that of other human rights abuses,” Ruby Cramer reports.
Biden helped Democrats avert a ’22 disaster. What about ’24?
“As Mr. Biden mulls a decision over whether to seek a second term, interviews with more than two dozen Democratic elected officials and strategists suggest that, whatever misgivings some Democrats may harbor about another Biden candidacy, his party is more inclined for now to defer to him than to try to force a frontal clash with a sitting president,” the NYT’s Katie Glueck reports.
U.S. effort to arm Taiwan faces new challenge with Ukraine conflict
“U.S. government and congressional officials fear the conflict in Ukraine is exacerbating a nearly $19 billion backlog of weapons bound for Taiwan, further delaying efforts to arm the island as tensions with China escalate,” the Wall Street Journal’s Gordon Lubold, Doug Cameron and Nancy A. Youssef report.
Biden eases Venezuela sanctions as opposition talks resume
“The Biden administration on Saturday eased some oil sanctions on Venezuela in an effort to support newly restarted negotiations between President Nicolás Maduro’s government and its opposition,” the AP’s Zeke Miller reports.
Fitting the World Cup into tiny Qatar, visualized
“Qatar is just over 4,400 square miles — that’s roughly the size of Connecticut. Russia, which hosted the World Cup in 2018, is more than 6.3 million square miles — about 1,500 times the size of Qatar. And Brazil, which hosted in 2014, is more than 3.2 million square miles — 727 times the size of Qatar,” Ruby Mellen, Jason Aldag, Lindsey Sitz, Ross Godwin and Lauren Tierney report.
Hot on the left
Marijuana pardons affect just a sliver of those swept up in the war on drugs
“A majority of marijuana convictions have been state crimes, which Mr. Biden does not have the authority to pardon; he can only hope that governors will follow suit,” the NYT’s Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Michael D. Shear report.
- “More than 55 percent of the 7,800 citizens and legal permanent residents convicted of federal marijuana possession from 1992 to 2021 were Black or Hispanic, according to data released by the U.S. Sentencing Commission.”
- “Nearly 150 people were sentenced in the federal prison system for marijuana possession in the 2021 fiscal year, while more than 1,000 offenders were sentenced for trafficking marijuana, according to the commission.”
Hot on the right
The GOP’s great Trump reckoning begins at the state party level
“For years, Lou Barletta counted himself among Donald Trump’s most diehard allies,” Politico’s Adam Wren, Holly Otterbein, Natalie Allison and Lisa Kashinsky report. But not any more.
“Barletta may have personal reasons for ditching Trump. The former president endorsed his opponent in the GOP primary for governor in May. But his sentiments reflect a broader reckoning happening after Republicans underperformed expectations across the country in November.”
Today in Washington
At 1:30 p.m., Biden will host a congratulatory visit with this year’s Nobel Prize Winners from the United States.
Ruby, the Capitol Christmas Tree, is part of a species in climate peril
Ruby, a.k.a Picea rubens, is a 78-foot-tall red spruce that, after its official lighting Tuesday, will spend the holiday season shimmering on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol. But Ruby isn’t just there to look pretty.
“Advocates are hoping Ruby’s moment in the national spotlight will bring long-overdue attention to the importance of red spruce trees — and to the ways a species once threatened by logging and acid rain now faces the perils of a fast-warming climate. They also hope the choice of a red spruce as the Capitol Christmas Tree will bolster the decades-long effort to restore the trees in their natural habitats throughout the Appalachians,” Brady Dennis reports.
Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.