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Is Russia now a client state of China, a reporter asked National Security Council spokesman John Kirby at the daily White House briefing. “They certainly are the junior partner,” Kirby replied, a line sure to echo inside the Kremlin and at Chinese Communist Party headquarters.
If that may have been a roundabout effort to pry a little daylight between the two, Secretary of State Antony Blinken bluntly warned Xi risked international reputational harm from his trip to Moscow days after the International Criminal Court issued a war crimes warrant against Putin.
The visit “suggests that China feels no responsibility to hold the Kremlin accountable for the atrocities committed in Ukraine, and instead of even condemning them, it would rather provide diplomatic cover for Russia to continue to commit those very crimes,” Blinken said.
What America doesn’t want from the summit
There appear to be two big items on President Biden’s do-not-want list for the summit.
First, the administration doesn’t want Beijing’s notional peace plan for Ukraine to gain any credibility with the international community. Since it was introduced, top Biden aides have been describing the proposal as a dead letter that would only serve Moscow’s interests.
“Calling for a cease fire that does not include the removal of Russian forces from Ukrainian territory would effectively be supporting the ratification of Russian conquest,” Blinken said Monday. “The world should not be fooled by any tactical move by Russia — supported by China or any other country — to freeze the war on its own terms.”
This isn’t about convincing Ukraine, as you can see from this tweet by a top adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky:
🇨🇳🇷🇺visit. The formula for the successful implementation of China’s “Peace Plan”. The first and major point is the capitulation or withdrawal of the russian occupation troops from 🇺🇦 territory in accordance with the norms of international law and the UN Charter.— Oleksiy Danilov (@OleksiyDanilov) March 20, 2023
But the battleground of public opinion is much broader than repeated U.S. assessments of global “unity” against Russia’s war let on.
As my colleagues Francesca Ebel and Lily Kuo put it, Xi’s visit “represented a display of tacit support for the war by China and a personal triumph for Putin, who is eager to show he is not isolated on the world stage.”
At the Associated Press, Vladimir Isachenkov noted: “In an increasingly multipolar world, the U.S. and its allies have been unable to build a broad front against Putin. While 141 countries condemned Moscow in a United Nations vote marking the first anniversary of Russian troops rolling into Ukraine, several members of the G-20 — including India, China and South Africa — abstained. Many African nations also have refrained from openly criticizing Russia.”
Xi is expected to speak to Zelensky after his trip to Moscow, my colleagues noted.
The second big thing America does not want is for China to provide Russia with arms, an issue that has flared up since Putin expanded his war in Ukraine in late February 2022.
“We continue to believe it's not in China's best interest to do that, to help Mr. Putin slaughter innocent Ukrainians,” said Kirby. “We still don't believe that China has taken it off the table.”
Shortly before the war, Putin and Xi had met and affirmed their alliance “has no limits” and “there are no ‘forbidden’ areas of cooperation.” But Beijing has thus far balked at providing lethal equipment to Moscow, American officials say. The United States wants it to stay that way — and will be watching.
Never mind guns, here’s butter
One of the most important ways China has helped Russia over the past 13 months has been by deepening their economic relationship. And one of the things Washington will surely be tracking is how much more Beijing plans to help Moscow as Putin’s economy staggers under heavy international sanctions.
My colleagues noted: “In 2022, Chinese exports to Russia increased by 12.8 percent, while Russian exports to China of crude oil increased, in dollar terms, by 44 percent and exports of natural gas more than doubled, according to industry data.”
That may not be a counterweight to the weapons the United States and its allies are sending to Ukraine. But it blunts the damage from international sanctions that Biden had hoped, early on in the conflict, would change Putin’s calculus.
Oh. Right. Nukes.
Xi hasn’t criticized Putin’s offensive. But he has warned the former KGB officer to stop threatening to use nuclear weapons.
No one expects China to disavow Russia. But the Xi-Putin summit, which continues Tuesday, provides another opportunity for Beijing to make clear its views on the matter.
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What’s happening now
McCarthy downplays possible hush-money case against Trump
“Today, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) sought to downplay a potential criminal case related to a hush-money payment by former president Donald Trump, saying it involved ‘personal money’ and shouldn’t be prosecuted under the statute of limitations,” John Wagner and Mariana Alfaro report.
Taiwan’s president to visit U.S., raising prospect of friction with China
“Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen will visit the United States at the end of the month, stopping over in New York and California where she will meet a top U.S. lawmaker on her way to and from Central America to shore up ties with the island democracy’s few remaining diplomatic allies,” Meaghan Tobin and Ellen Nakashima report.
Fox News producer alleges sexism, coached testimony, in new lawsuit
“On the eve of a key hearing in a defamation lawsuit against Fox News, an employee who was deposed in the case sued the company, alleging that its lawyers coached her to shift blame for decisions to air Trump allies’ false claims of election fraud,” Sarah Ellison and Jeremy Barr report.
Lunchtime reads from The Post
Stormy, Trump and more: The names to know in historic hush-money case
“The Manhattan district attorney seems close to deciding whether to charge former president Donald Trump in the paying of $130,000 to silence an adult film actress, potentially marking the first time in U.S. history a former president has been indicted,” Derek Hawkins reports.
- “Claiming his arrest is imminent, Trump has sought to rally his base around him, urging supporters in a post on his Truth Social platform to ‘protest, take our nation back!’”
Video shows Va. deputies pile on top of Irvo Otieno before his death
“As many as 10 sheriff’s deputies and medical staff at Virginia’s Central State Hospital can be seen piling on top of a shackled Irvo N. Otieno for approximately 11 minutes until he stops moving, according to new video showing the encounter that led to the 28-year-old Black man’s death,” Salvador Rizzo, Laura Vozzella and Samuel Oakford report.
Is Sean Hannity a journalist? Role of hosts is key in Fox News lawsuit.
“Sean Hannity does not consider himself a journalist. ‘I’m a member of the press,’ he said on his Fox News show last year, ‘but I don’t claim to be a journalist,’” Jeremy Barr reports.
- “His boss, however, feels differently. ‘Ultimately, they’re journalists,’ Fox Corp chief executive Lachlan Murdoch said of Hannity and his fellow prime-time opinion hosts in a deposition in December. ‘They report a strong opinion.’”
… and beyond
DeSantis privately called for Google to be ‘broken up’
“Florida governor Ron DeSantis has frequently railed against ‘Big Tech.’ He has accused Google, Facebook and Twitter of silencing conservative voices. But in private, DeSantis has gone even further,” ProPublica’s Andy Kroll and Documented’s Nick Surgey report.
- “In previously unreported comments made in 2021, DeSantis said technology companies like Google ‘should be broken up’ by the U.S. government.”
TikTok trackers embedded in U.S. state-government websites, review finds
“The presence of that code means that U.S. state governments around the country are inadvertently participating in a data-collection effort for a foreign-owned company, one that senior Biden administration officials and lawmakers of both parties have said could be harmful to U.S. national security and the privacy of Americans,” the Wall Street Journal’s Byron Tau and Dustin Volz report.
Nearly 300,000 women served during the Iraq War. Two decades later, they remain ‘the invisible veterans.’
“In the 20 years since the United States invaded Iraq, over a quarter of a million women have served there, the largest-scale and most visible deployment of women in U.S. history. More than 1,000 women had been injured in combat and 166 killed as of 2017, according to the Service Women’s Action Network,” the 19th’s Mariel Padilla reports.
- “The increase in women soldiers, and the visibility of their service, was integral to the military’s mission and ultimately led to major policy changes like the removal of ground combat restrictions for women. Still, according to experts, many women veterans of the Iraq War remain invisible and unrecognized among the larger American public.”
The Biden agenda
Biden to protect a half-million acres in Texas and Nevada
“President Biden on Tuesday will designate two new national monuments, putting nearly 514,000 acres off-limits to development as part of his pledge to protect 30 percent of America’s lands and waters by 2030,” Maxine Joselow and Timothy Puko report.
Biden signs bill to declassify intelligence about coronavirus origins
“President Biden on Monday signed a bill into law that directs the federal government to declassify certain information about the origin of the coronavirus, three years after the virus caused a global pandemic that has killed millions of people worldwide,” Amy B Wang and Mark Johnson report.
Biden issues first veto, rejecting Republican-led bill on labor rule
“President Biden issued the first veto of his presidency Monday to protect a new Labor Department rule that allowed retirement plans to incorporate risk factors such as climate change and poor corporate governance in their investment decisions. His veto rejected a Republican-led bill that would have struck down the rule,” Mariana Alfaro reports.
What the Biden administration isn’t telling Congress about spy balloons
“Lawmakers have been asking the Biden administration for weeks for details about hundreds of aerial objects floating in U.S. airspace and how many of them may be foreign surveillance tools. They haven’t gotten much of an answer. One reason: The administration is still trying to determine how bad the problem is,” Politico’s Erin Banco reports.
How voters of color are shifting political parties, visualized
“Asian American, Black and Latino voters have shifted to the right over the past decade. That should delight Republican Party officials and worry Democratic ones. At the same time, voters of color have favored Democrats by more than 35 percentage points in every recent election,” columnist Perry Bacon Jr. writes.
Hot on the left
Minnesota advances abortion bill to protect out-of-state patients
“Minnesota has advanced legislation that would shield local providers and their out-of-state patients from action by states that punish those seeking or providing abortions, as Democratic lawmakers move to establish the state as a Midwestern haven for reproductive rights,” Niha Masih reports.
- “The bill passed Monday by 68 to 62 votes in the state’s Democratic-controlled House and will now need to clear the Senate, where Democrats hold a razor-thin majority.”
Hot on the right
Iowa’s sharp right turn: From centrist state to ‘Florida of the North’
“Iowa has veered so far to the right in recent years that its political landscape is virtually unrecognizable from the centrist place that chose Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 and was one of the earliest states in the country to affirm same-sex marriage. A joke among statehouse reporters is that Iowa is becoming the ‘Florida of the North’ — without the beaches,” Annie Gowen reports.
- “Political analysts in the state say that Iowa’s swing has solidified over the past seven years as reliably Democratic working-class voters abandoned the party in favor of Donald Trump’s message, and the state’s large percentage of independent voters also moved toward the Republicans.”
Today in Washington
At 1:15 p.m., Biden will leave the White House for the White House Conservation in Action Summit at the Interior Department.
The Bidens will host an Arts and Humanities Award ceremony at 4:30 p.m. Vice President Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff will attend.
A president has never been indicted. But one was arrested.
“No president or former president has ever been indicted. But a sitting president was arrested once,” Michael S. Rosenwald reports.
“In 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant was arrested at the corner of 13th and M streets NW in Washington. This was not a high crime, but it was — at least theoretically speaking — a misdemeanor. The man who led the North to victory in the Civil War was busted for speeding in his horse-drawn carriage.”
Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.