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The Daily 202

A lunchtime newsletter featuring political analysis on the stories driving the day.

2023 looks increasingly important to fraught U.S.-China relations

The Daily 202

A lunchtime newsletter featuring political analysis on the stories driving the day.

Welcome to The Daily 202! Tell your friends to sign up here. On this day in 1649, King Charles I of England was executed after being convicted of high treason. The story goes that he asked to wear two shirts to keep the cold from making him shiver, thinking some would mistake that for fear.

The big idea

The U.S.-China relationship may be on a new trajectory this year

A general’s warning of war. President Biden’s aggressive diplomatic outreach. Dueling industrial policies. A demographic bombshell. Congress’s special new committee. Disputes over Russia’s expanded war in Ukraine. For fraught U.S.-China relations, 2023 looks increasingly pivotal.

For The World’s Most Important Bilateral Relationship (™), you could, of course, argue that all years are “pivotal.”

But whether you say China is a “revisionist power” out to reshape the U.S.-anchored post-WWII international order, or a “strategic competitor” or hostile rival in a “new Cold War,” recent news — including mounting expressions of bipartisan concern — suggests we’re on a new trajectory in 2023.

A general’s warning of war

One of the obvious flash points in the relationship is the fate of Taiwan, a self-governed island Beijing considers part of its territory, to be taken by force if necessary. Biden has repeatedly said the U.S. military would defend Taiwan if that happens.

So, of course heads turned and eyebrows lifted when Gen. Michael A. Minihan, who as head of Air Mobility Command oversees the Air Force’s fleet of transport and refueling aircraft, warned in a memo that China and America could be at war in two years.

My colleague Dan Lamothe quoted from the document on Friday: “‘I hope I am wrong,’ Minihan wrote. ‘My gut tells me we will fight in 2025. Xi secured his third term and set his war council in October 2022. Taiwan’s presidential elections are in 2024 and will offer Xi a reason. United States’ presidential elections are in 2024 and will offer Xi a distracted America. Xi’s team, reason, and opportunity are all aligned for 2025.’”

Dan quoted an anonymous Defense Department official as saying the warning was “not representative” of the Pentagon’s view. But as Dan notes, other senior U.S. military officials have floated 2027, or even 2023 as possible windows for armed conflict.

Congress’s special committee comes together

The House of Representatives voted by a robust bipartisan margin to create a special new committee whose full-time job will be U.S.-China relations. Its chairman, Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), says the panel’s objective is “to win this new Cold War with Communist China.”

There’s a lot of room for bipartisan action on that front. We got a recent example when Congress banned TikTok from federal government devices. And Gallagher has publicly put a premium on getting legislation backed by both parties and supported by the White House. 

“There were brutal, meaningful differences and disagreements between the parties and within the parties in the first decade of the old Cold War. But by and large, we were able to build out a foundation for containment that served us well over the course of the next four decades,he recently told Politico.

Biden’s stepped-up diplomatic outreach

The Daily 202 wrote 10 days ago about how Biden has paired pretty aggressive industrial policy moves against China — notably trying to starve its economy of certain high-tech inputs — with a blizzard of high-level contacts with Beijing. 

  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken is thought to be heading to China in early February.
  • Biden himself will have the opportunity to see Chinese leader Xi Jinping at least twice this year. They’re both expected to attend the G-20 summit in New Delhi in September. And Biden will play host at the APEC summit in San Francisco in November. There could also be separate bilateral meetings.

China appears to be taking a softer line, too, notably sidelining one of its most prominent practitioners of confrontational “wolf-warrior diplomacy.”

Whether this is a thaw or more about ensuring aggressive competition doesn’t spill over into unintended conflict — a bit like setting up the Cold War’s “hotline” between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. — remains to be seen.

A Biden order, a McCarthy trip

Here are two things to watch in the coming weeks and months.

  • The White House has reportedly been putting together new executive actions meant to restrict U.S. investment in sensitive, high-tech sectors of China’s economy, as he did last year.
  • House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has said he will visit Taiwan, and the Pentagon is reportedly planning for just such a trip

So. Will Biden’s executive actions go far enough for Congress, where there’s a bipartisan appetite for reviewing and restricting U.S. investment in China?

And how will the Biden administration respond if and when McCarthy’s plans firm up? Before House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) visited Taiwan in August 2022, Biden not only confirmed the unannounced trip but publicly declared the Defense Department was against it.

There’s also the little matter of how Beijing responds. There’s zero reason to think angry shows of force from China before the trip will dissuade McCarthy from going any more than they kept Pelosi away.

But what the administration says and does on both fronts could provide a clue to how they see the relationship evolving in 2023.


See an important political story that doesn’t quite fit traditional politics coverage? Flag it for us here.

What’s happening now

Biden heading to Baltimore to highlight major rail tunnel replacement

“Today, President Biden is heading to Baltimore to highlight a 150-year-old rail tunnel that is being replaced with help from the bipartisan infrastructure law that he signed in 2021. The event is the first of two this week focused on benefits of the law, which you can expect to hear plenty more about as Biden gears up for a possible 2024 reelection bid. On Tuesday, he travels to New York to talk about another major investment in a rail tunnel, under the Hudson River,” John Wagner and Mariana Alfaro report.

More: Why Biden is visiting a 150-year-old tunnel Monday in Baltimore

Putin threatened to kill me, Britain’s Boris Johnson says

“Former British prime minister Boris Johnson says Russian President Vladimir Putin personally threatened him with a missile attack in the run-up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” Karla Adam reports.

  • Johnson said Putin made the remarks during a ‘very long’ and ‘extraordinary’ call in early February last year, as Russian troops were massing along the Ukraine border. Johnson, who was prime minister at the time, had recently visited Kyiv to show Western support for Ukraine.”

Lunchtime reads from The Post

Congress pressed to pass police reform after beating death of Tyre Nichols

Ben Crump, the attorney for Tyre Nichols’s family, on Jan. 29 called on Congress to pass the stalled George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post)

“A day after Memphis police moved to disband the unit responsible for fielding the five officers charged with second-degree murder in the beating death of Tyre Nichols, the attorney for Nichols’s family called on Congress to pass stalled legislation aimed at combating police misconduct,” Robert Klemko reports.

  • “The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which passed in the Democratic-controlled House in 2021 but failed in the Senate, would limit qualified-immunity policies that protect officers accused of misconduct; create a national registry of sustained disciplinary actions against officers; and ban chokeholds and limit no-knock warrants, among other measures.”

More: Black Memphis police spark dialogue on systemic racism in the U.S.

66,000 war crimes have been reported in Ukraine. It vows to prosecute them all.

It’s a staggering number of cases, one that would overwhelm any judicial system anywhere, legal experts say. But Ukraine’s prosecutor general, Andriy Kostin, has vowed to investigate all of them and to bring to trial all those in which enough evidence can be gathered,” Liz Sly reports.

  • “President Volodymyr Zelensky has made justice for the victims of war crimes one of his conditions for eventual peace with Russia. The issue is as important for Ukraine as defeating the Russians militarily if Russia is to be deterred forever from attacking Ukraine, Kostin said.”

… and beyond

TikTok’s chief to testify before Congress in March

TikTok’s chief executive has agreed to appear before a congressional committee in March, as House Republican lawmakers step up scrutiny of the Chinese-owned video-sharing app,” the Wall Street Journal’s John D. McKinnon reports.

Shou Zi Chew will appear before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on March 23, a committee spokesman said, in what would be the first appearance of a TikTok CEO before a congressional panel.”

Emails reveal tensions in Colorado River talks

Competing priorities, outsize demands and the federal government’s retreat from a threatened deadline stymied a deal last summer on how to drastically reduce water use from the parched Colorado River, emails obtained by The Associated Press show,” the AP’s Kathleen Ronayne and Felicia Fonseca report

“The documents span the June-to-August window the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation gave states to reach consensus on water cuts for a system that supplies 40 million people annually — or have the federal government force them. They largely include communication among water officials in Arizona and California, the major users in the river’s Lower Basin.”

Sharing Biden, Trump documents could complicate investigations, DOJ says

“[Carlos Uriarte, head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legislative Affairs,] said the [department] is working with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to allow for the sharing of information with the committee in a way that won’t undermine the investigations. Prosecutors involved in the investigations into the Trump and Biden documents are also ‘actively working to enable sharing information’ with lawmakers, Mr. Uriarte wrote,” the WSJ’s Andrew Restuccia reports.

The Biden agenda

Non-White groups have struggled with census. Biden’s plan could help.

For years, the Census Bureau has counted people of Middle Eastern and North African descent (also known as MENA) as White, obscuring their numbers and rendering them largely invisible, advocates say,” Silvia Foster-Frau reports.

  • Last week, the Biden administration submitted a preliminary proposal to better account for the country’s MENA and Latino populations in the census. The Middle Eastern and North African population would be recognized as a distinct ethnic identity for the first time. And Latinos would be able to identify as such without having to also identify as a separate race, such as Black or White.”

How a ‘lesson of 2011’ shaped Biden’s no-negotiation stance on debt limit

“In 2011, after faltering debt limit negotiations with House Republicans brought the U.S. to the brink of economic calamity, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden sat by the fireplace in the Oval Office, with their top aides on the couch. While relieved at having narrowly averted disaster, they were stunned by what had transpired,” NBC News’s Sahil Kapur reports.

“Obama and Biden made a vow: Never again.”

The Western combat vehicles headed for Ukraine, visualized

“The armored combat vehicles will help satisfy a long-standing Ukrainian demand for more advanced weapons systems, experts say. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the aid brought defense cooperation ‘to a new level,’Claire Parker and Shelly Tan report.

Hot on the left

Presidential document scandals should take down America’s secrecy industry

The problem with classified information is that there’s so much of it, so much useless, meritless, groundless classified information. Tens of millions of pieces of paper are so labeled, millions of people can see them, and yet the vast majority of such material would not remotely endanger the nation if it entered the wrong hands. In fact, much of it is just plain embarrassing to the government, or worse, a cover-up of illegal acts,” David Dayen writes for the American Prospect.

“The recent revelations of classified documents tucked into the attics of former leaders should lead to a reckoning about the nature of classification. But now that the subject has meandered into our tribal politics, and into the spotlight of a media bursting with former intelligence community officials, I’m worried that things will only get worse.”

Hot on the right

DeSantis advisers prepare for potential presidential run, explore staff options

“DeSantis’s political team has already identified multiple potential hires in early primary states such as New Hampshire and Iowa, according to one of the Republicans, who said experienced operatives have expressed interest. This Republican also said that Phil Cox and Generra Peck — two key members of DeSantis’s 2022 reelection team — are involved in ongoing talks about 2024,” Hannah Knowles reports.

Today in Washington

At 12:50 p.m., Biden will leave New Castle, Del., for Baltimore.

Biden will discuss the bipartisan infrastructure law at 2:45 p.m. at the Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel’s north portal.

At 3:45 p.m., Biden will leave Baltimore for the White House. He’s scheduled to arrive at 4:05 p.m.

In closing

The Metro x crafting crossover we’ve been waiting for

Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.