Analysis & Comment

Your Thursday Briefing

Xi’s plan for China’s post-Covid rise.

By Melina Delkic

Good morning.

We’re covering Xi Jinping’s plans for China’s growth, tightened surveillance of Germany’s far right and using wildlife cameras in your garden.

Xi maps out China’s rise in a post-Covid world

Xi Jinping is sounding confident as he looks to secure China’s prosperity and power, saying that the country is entering a time of opportunity when “the East is rising and the West is declining.”

But behind closed doors, the Communist Party leader has issued a blunt caveat to officials: Do not count out our competitors, above all the United States. Despite its success at home, China faces deep distrust in Washington and other Western capitals.

Mr. Xi will unveil a blueprint for navigating China in the new global environment, during a session starting on Friday of the Communist Party-controlled legislature, the National People’s Congress.

Dynamics: The congress is part of the party’s stagecraft to reinforce the view that Mr. Xi is essential to steering China through momentous changes. This week, he reminded party cadres to rally behind his leadership.

A long list of challenges: Beijing is trying to overhaul an economy that has relied on investment in heavy industry and infrastructure, is grappling with an aging population and is watching the Biden administration’s promises to take a hard-line stance on the country. The Chinese legislature also appears poised to back plans to rewrite election rules for Hong Kong, removing the last vestiges of democracy there.

Brazil’s Covid crisis is a warning, scientists say

Covid-19 has already left a trail of death and despair in Brazil, one of the worst outbreaks in the world. Now the country is battling a more contagious variant that may cause reinfection.

While Brazilians toss away precautionary measures, testing is limited and the vaccine rollout is slow. On Tuesday, more than 1,700 Covid-19 deaths were recorded, Brazil’s highest single-day toll of the pandemic.

Studies suggest that a variant that swept through the city of Manaus appears able to infect some people who have recovered from other versions of the virus. That variant has been found in about two dozen other countries, including the U.S.

Quotable: “You need vaccines to get in the way of these things,” a Harvard epidemiologist said of the variants. “The immunity you get with your cemeteries running out of room, even that will not be enough to protect you.”

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

German leaders are considering extending the country’s 11-week lockdown, set to expire next week. Regional leaders have called for loosening restrictions, but scientists are still worried about the variants.

India’s Bharat Biotech said on Wednesday that its vaccine, Covaxin, had shown 81 percent efficacy in interim trials.

Texas is ending its mask mandate and reopening all businesses. Its governor took the action even after health officials warned against loosening restrictions as the variants spread.

The Tokyo Olympics will decide by the end of March if it will allow international spectators to attend the Games this summer in Japan.

Germany’s far-right party under surveillance

Germany’s domestic intelligence agency has placed the far-right Alternative for Germany under observation as a potential threat to the country’s democracy, officials said on Wednesday. It’s the first time such an action has been taken in the country’s postwar history.

The leaders of the AfD, as the party is known, routinely accuse Muslim immigrants of being criminals, attack the press and question democratic principles. During the coronavirus pandemic, AfD officials have taken part in protests that have at times turned violent.

The AfD, the main opposition in the federal Parliament, has gained popularity and has become entrenched at all levels of politics.

Legal challenge: The decision was reached last week but was not announced, pending an ongoing court case the AfD has brought to stop the measures against it. Members of the party accused the federal government of making a politically motivated move ahead of a national election.

If you have 5 minutes, this is worth it

Australia without its backpacking farmworkers

The pandemic has disrupted labor and migration worldwide. In Australia, it has also exposed the unstable foundation of the agriculture industry, a $54 billion-a-year goliath that relies on young, transient foreigners.

Coronavirus travel restrictions have left the country with a deficit of 26,000 farmworkers, backpackers who work in agriculture to get visa extensions. As a result, crops have gone to waste from coast to coast. Some are calling for an immigration overhaul to bring the workers back. Our reporter looked at the toll in the state of Victoria.

Here’s what else is happening

War crimes investigation: The International Criminal Court said it was opening an investigation into allegations of war crimes in the Israeli-occupied territories since 2014. Actions by Israel in the Gaza war in 2014 and rocket fire by Palestinian militants are likely to come under scrutiny.

Toronto van attack: A man was convicted of murder and attempted murder for killing 10 people and injuring 16 when he drove a van on the curb of a busy sidewalk in the Canadian city in 2018. The event still haunts the city, where mass killings are relatively rare.

Australia rape case: A reckoning on sexual misconduct touched the highest levels of the government when the attorney general, Christian Porter, went before the cameras and categorically denied that he had raped a girl when he was a teenager.

Iraq rocket attack: A barrage of rockets were fired at an Iraqi base in Anbar Province — one of the last remaining Iraqi bases where U.S. forces are stationed. The assault came just under a week after the U.S. attacked Iran-backed militia targets at the Syria-Iraq border.

Snapshot: Above, a bobcat caught on camera at a reserve in Massachusetts. Wildlife cameras are essential scientific tools. In your garden, they might be able to answer simpler questions like: Who’s tunneling under the porch? And what’s going on at the bird feeder when you’re not looking?

What we’re reading: This funny McSweeney’s essay on the short afternoon walks that many of us have become dependent on.

Now, a break from the news

Cook: These cod cakes are terrific with cod, but can be made with any white-fleshed fish.

Listen: Rufus Wainwright, Josh Groban, Andrea Bocelli and others introduce you to opera’s most passionate, golden voices during these five minutes that will make you love tenors.

Do: Exercise can change how portions of our brain communicate as we age, improving aspects of thinking and remembering, according to a fascinating new study.

Spend hours in enjoyment with our At Home collection of ideas on what to read, cook, watch, and do while staying safe at home.

And now for the Back Story on …

Japanese city pop

A 37-year-old song has helped drive a comeback for a genre of music from Japan called city pop.

A YouTube video of the track, “Plastic Love” by Mariya Takeuchi, has garnered more than 56 million views since 2017. For many young fans, it served as an entry point to city pop, as Cat Zhang explains in Pitchfork. The genre is from the ’70s and ’80s and was influenced by R&B and jazz. It often pairs shimmery vocals with funky production, and the result is an effervescent sound.

City pop “promises a romantic escape across the Pacific that’s somewhat detached from reality, feeding the imaginations of young homebodies scrolling online,” Zhang writes.

The YouTube algorithm is partly behind the genre’s online resurgence. Calming, atmospheric music — which can be played in the background on repeat while users work — is popular on the platform. Many of those listeners end up discovering city pop in their video recommendations. As Rolling Stone reported, a Reddit user trying to identify the source of the genre’s sudden popularity wrote, “citypop is also known as youtuberecommendationcore.”

The songs also reach new audiences through TikTok. One trend on the platform, Zhang writes, had users of Japanese descent playing a 1979 city pop song for their mothers, who beamed and sang along in response.

That’s it for this briefing. See you next time.

— Melina

Thank you
Carole Landry helped write this briefing, and Sanam Yar wrote the Back Story. Theodore Kim and Jahaan Singh provided the break from the news. You can reach the team at [email protected]

• We’re listening to “The Daily.” Our latest episode is on Bill Gates’s efforts to ensure the Covid-19 vaccine reaches poorer countries.
• Here’s our Mini Crossword, and a clue: Most-spoken language in Iran (five letters). You can find all our puzzles here.
• Lisa Lerer has been promoted to national political correspondent after a two-and-a-half-year run as lead writer and host of the On Politics newsletter.

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