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The China-Russia Partnership Holds Steadfast
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The China-Russia Partnership Holds Steadfast

American officials say Beijing will face consequences if it supports Russia’s war with lethal aid.

Happy Monday! Today could be just a regular old Monday, or it could be the first step in your journey to break Jeff Reitz’s world record for consecutive daily visits to Disneyland.

If you start today—and take literally no days off—victory will be yours on May 12, 2031!

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend that, according to a classified intelligence report recently provided to the White House and certain congressional leaders, the Energy Department has shifted its assessment of COVID-19’s origins to conclude the virus most likely originated from a laboratory leak, though it reportedly made its judgment with “low confidence.” 
  • The Federal Reserve’s preferred measure of inflation—the personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index—rose 5.4 percent year-over-year in January, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) reported Friday, up from a 5 percent annual increase in December. The core index, which excludes volatile food and energy prices and is considered a better measure of future inflation, was up 4.7 percent annually, a slight increase from December’s 4.4 percent annual rise. Consumer spending, meanwhile, increased 1.8 percent from December to January—the largest month-over-month spike in nearly two years. The BEA report—in conjunction with other data showing a still-hot economy—could lead Federal Reserve governors to hike interest rates higher than previously expected at their meeting next month.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency temporarily halted the further transport of contaminated water and soil out of East Palestine, Ohio, over the weekend to review Norfolk Southern’s disposal plans and ensure the company was authorized to move the hazardous materials through other states. Shipments are set to resume today, but will now be going to two EPA-certified facilities in Ohio. 
  • On the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. Treasury Department announced Friday it was imposing a slate of new sanctions targeting more than 250 individuals, financial institutions, and other entities involved in Russia’s defense, technology, mining, and energy sectors.
  • Tens of thousands of people protested across Mexico on Sunday in opposition to a new law—pushed by leftist President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO)—that will weaken and partially defund Mexico’s National Electoral Institute, an independent agency that oversees the country’s federal elections. AMLO’s proposed reforms—which he claims are necessary to rein in spending—passed Mexico’s Congress last week, but protesters hope the country’s Supreme Court will rule them unconstitutional.
  • At least 59 people—including 12 children—drowned Sunday after a fishing boat carrying more than 150 migrants smashed into reefs in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Italy. The Italian Coast Guard said roughly 80 people have been rescued from the boat, which set sail from Turkey and was carrying migrants from Somalia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran.
  • First Lady Jill Biden indicated in an Associated Press interview on Friday President Joe Biden is likely to announce his 2024 reelection bid soon, telling reporter Darlene Superville “pretty much” all that remains is determining a time and place for the announcement. “He says he’s not done,” she said. “He’s not finished what he started.” 
  • Biden will have at least one fringe primary challenger, with self-help author and spiritual adviser Marianne Williamson confirming over the weekend she will launch a bid for the 2024 Democratic presidential nomination after a failed run in 2020.
  • GOP Rep. John James on Friday filed to run for reelection to his Detroit-area House seat next year, seemingly forgoing a run at the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by the retiring Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan. Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin appears to be gearing up for a run at Stabenow’s seat, while Reps. Bill Huizinga and Lisa McClain—and former Rep. Peter Meijer—have been discussed as possible candidates on the Republican side. 

The China-Russia “No Limits” Bromance

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping pose for a photograph during their meeting in Beijing, on February 4, 2022. (Photo by Alexei Druzhinin / Sputnik / AFP via Getty Images)

For Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s birthday in 2019, Russian President Vladimir Putin gave him ice cream. For Putin’s birthday in 2022, Xi gave him a promise of China’s continued partnership amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And for Putin’s birthday this year—or sooner—U.S. officials say China is considering giving Russia lethal aid to help in the ongoing attack. 

While nearly the entire West has coalesced to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in the last year, China has struck a different tone, continually pushing for peace without punishing Russia as the two countries’ economic ties deepen. On Friday, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a 12-point policy paper calling for—among other things—an end to unilateral sanctions, resumed peace talks, and a ceasefire potentially locking in Russia’s territorial gains in Ukraine. It’s unclear whether China will work to facilitate the diplomatic off-ramp it outlined, but the bulletin is the latest example of Beijing’s ostensibly neutral stance just happening to favor the Kremlin.

Weeks ahead of Russia’s multi-pronged attack last February, Putin and Xi met up at the Winter Olympics and issued a joint statement declaring a “no limits” friendship. While the phrase “no limits” has since faded from China’s official communications, other Russia-friendly rhetoric lingers. Chinese officials have echoed Russia’s claims that NATO expansion caused the war, at one point last year even calling the U.S. the conflict’s “main instigator.” Last week, top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi visited Moscow and, according to Russian state media, declared “Sino-Russian relations are solid as a rock and will withstand any test of the changing international situation.” On Thursday, China abstained from a United Nations General Assembly vote on a non-binding resolution calling for Russia to withdraw its forces from Ukraine. And while top level Russian and Chinese officials have swapped handshakes and friendly statements, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in September Ukraine had no communication channel with China.

And China and Russia’s diplomatic niceties over the last year have been coupled with strengthened economic ties. Beijing’s trade with Moscow hit a record $190 billion in 2022, with Russian rail exports of liquefied petroleum gas to China more than doubling. In June the U.S. added five Chinese companies to a trade blacklist for supplying Russia’s military, and, on Friday, sanctioned several others for violating export controls aimed at starving Russia’s military of supplies. But Secretary of State Antony Blinken also said last June that U.S. officials hadn’t seen the Chinese government making a “systematic effort” to help Russia evade sanctions. Major Chinese banks limited some operations in Russia shortly after the invasion, and in April, Chinese drone manufacturer DJI Technology suspended business in Russia—and Ukraine—to avoid use of its drones in combat. Yet the U.S. in January penalized a Chinese satellite firm for providing imagery of Ukrainian troop locations to Russian mercenaries.

“China’s been trying to have it both ways,” Blinken told ABC News’ Good Morning America on Friday. “It’s on the one hand trying to present itself publicly as neutral and seeking peace, while at the same time it was talking up Russia’s false narrative about the war. It is, as I said, providing nonlethal assistance through its companies and now contemplating lethal assistance.”

Blinken’s last charge—that China is considering offering Russia lethal aid—has been a constant refrain of top U.S. officials in recent days. American leaders have claimed they’ve obtained intelligence suggesting China is weighing such a step, and, although officials haven’t released any evidence to support the assertions, the German outlet Der Spiegel reported last week Russia’s military is negotiating with a Chinese company for parts and instructions for the production of about 100 suicide drones a month. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg echoed these assessments. “We have not seen any actual delivery of lethal aid,” he said Friday. “What we have seen are signs and indications that China may be planning and considering to supply military aid to Russia.” 

U.S. officials have privately and publicly warned China against it. “This is not something that can be done under the carpet while China professes to be neutral,” Victoria Nuland, under secretary of state for political affairs, said last week. “What we’re trying to do here is to ensure that the Chinese understand that this would be a complete step change—not only in how they are viewed globally and their claims of neutrality—but also in our relationship with China.” Lethal aid would also undercut China’s calls for a ceasefire, officials argued. “China has a lot of capability in terms of munitions and weapons,” Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin told CNN on Friday. “And if they provide the substantial support to Russia, it prolongs the conflict.” 

Yet President Joe Biden expressed confidence China wouldn’t go through with the arms transfers. “I don’t anticipate a major initiative on the part of China providing weaponry to Russia,” he told ABC News in an interview that aired Friday evening. Speaking to a throng of reporters earlier in the day, the president said he warned Xi last summer that Chinese support for Russia would accelerate the exodus of Western companies from China. “I said, ‘You told me that the future of China rests on investment from the Western world,’” Biden recalled. “I said, ‘I’d just keep on eye that.’”

Chinese officials, meanwhile, have reacted to these claims with characteristic bluster and indignation. “It is a known fact that NATO countries including the U.S. are the biggest source of weaponry for the battlefield in Ukraine,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said last week. “Yet they keep claiming that China may be supplying weapons to Russia.”

But regardless of whether Beijing goes through with arming Russia, China’s 12-point plan on Friday may signal where its loyalties lie. The bulletin called for respecting countries’ sovereignty—a consistent refrain Beijing uses to chide the U.S. for opposing aggression toward Taiwan—without urging Russia to withdraw from occupied Ukrainian territories. And while Beijing’s outline offered support for humanitarian aid and warned against the use of nuclear weapons, it also demanded the end of unilateral sanctions against Russia and criticized countries “using the world economy as a tool or weapon for political purposes.” 

Western leaders have largely greeted the policy paper with skepticism. “No one wants peace more than the Ukrainians, and any proposal that can advance peace is something that’s worth looking at,” Blinken said Friday. “But there are 12 points in the Chinese plan. If they were serious about the first one—sovereignty—then this war could end tomorrow. … The war could end tomorrow if [Putin] simply pulled his troops out.” Biden also questioned the sincerity of the proposal. “Putin’s applauding [the Chinese plan], so how could it be any good?” he said over the weekend. Still, French President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday said he’ll visit China in April and seek its help negotiating peace. “The fact that China is engaging in peace efforts is a good thing,” Macron said.

Zelensky, too, signaled a willingness to work with China on peace negotiations. He told reporters Ukraine didn’t accept everything China had proposed, but added he’s open to meeting with Xi. “I believe that the fact that China started talking about Ukraine is not bad,” he said Friday. “But the question is what follows the words. The question is in the steps and where they will lead to.”

Worth Your Time

  • Through interviews with dozens of voters in five states from Arizona to Michigan, six reporters at the Washington Post look at why Donald Trump’s grip on the GOP is slipping—even among some of his biggest fans. “The MAGA vs. RINO dichotomy that defined the GOP for much of the last eight years is increasingly obsolete,” they write. “In its place, a new dynamic has emerged. In between Republicans who remain firmly committed or opposed to the former president, there’s now a broad range of Trump supporters who, however much they still like him, aren’t sure they want him as the party’s next nominee. The foremost reason is electability. [Florida Gov. Ron] DeSantis was the potential rival most often volunteered in voter interviews—in fact, it was almost the only other name that ever came up. Some of the voters said they viewed DeSantis as someone who could unite the country in a way Trump couldn’t. In most interviews, fatigue with Trump was not a break with Trumpist politics. While these voters expressed interest in someone less divisive, they showed little appetite for more moderate policies or messaging—a combination many saw possible with DeSantis.”
  • We always think David French is Worth Your Time, but his latest piece for the New York Times—on the Fox/Dominion debacle—is particularly so. “There is now compelling evidence that America’s most-watched cable news network presented information it knew to be false as part of an effort to placate an angry audience,” he writes. “Fox News became a juggernaut not simply by being ‘Republican,’ or ‘conservative,’ but by offering its audience something it craved even more deeply: representation. And journalism centered on representation ultimately isn’t journalism at all. When Fox created this compact, it placed the audience in charge of its content. There is a difference between coming from a community and speaking for a community. In journalism, the former can be valuable, but the latter can be corrupt. It can result in audience capture (writing to please your audience, not challenge it) and in fear and timidity in reporting facts that contradict popular narratives. And in extreme instances—such as what we witnessed from Fox News after the 2020 presidential election—it can result in almost cartoonish villainy.”
  • For Runner’s World, Caleb Daniloff tells the gut-wrenching story of jogging with his daughter Shea’s dog to keep sane while Shea struggled with her opioid addiction. “The sound of my feet scraping across hardened dirt, the clinking of Hank’s tags, and the breath filling my ears, soon grew into a chorus that began, little by little, to drown out the cacophony of guilt, rage, and failure that kept me company,” he writes. “Watching Hank take corners and leap fallen trees was an antidote to all the chaos—the break-ins at my daughter’s apartment, the checks we wrote for missed rent so she wouldn’t be evicted, the money we spent on rehabs and sober homes, the calls with detox counselors I took in the bathroom stall at work, and my conviction that the universe was punishing me for years of s—-y alcoholic behavior. Periodically my foot would get caught on a root or rock, and I’d end up sprawled in the dirt. I scraped my knees, jammed my shoulder, and rolled my ankle repeatedly. I kept going. Hank needed this, I told myself.”*

Presented Without Comment   

Also Presented Without Comment   

Also Also Presented Without Comment   

Toeing the Company Line

  • In the newsletters: Haley takes a look at (🔒) how Tucker Carlson ended up with 44,000 hours of January 6 footage, Nick reflects on (🔒) one year of war in Ukraine, and Chris wonders whether (🔒) Ron DeSantis can go the distance. “Can he be an Obama-like figure who remains an empty vessel into which members of the various dissatisfied camps of the GOP pour their hopes and dreams?” he asks. “Or will policy questions start to fill in the empty spaces?”
  • On the podcasts: David M. Drucker talks with Peter Rough of the Hudson Institute about the specter of world war, and Sarah speaks to Adam Hochschild about his book, American Midnight: The Great War, a Violent Peace, and Democracy’s Forgotten Crisis.
  • On the site over the weekend: Alec reviews Cabin in the Woods, Harvest dives into the Biden administration’s newest immigration plan, and Isaac Willour looks at why Americans might be souring on the death penalty. 
  • On the site today: Harvest previews challenges to Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan before the Supreme Court this week, Chris joins the “national divorce” discourse, and Jonathan Schanzer argues that the time for American global leadership is now.

Let Us Know

If not consecutive daily visits to Disneyland, what world record are you most likely to break?

Correction, February 27, 2023: The publication is called Runner’s World, not Running World.

Declan Garvey is the executive editor at the Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2019, he worked in public affairs at Hamilton Place Strategies and market research at Echelon Insights. When Declan is not assigning and editing pieces, he is probably watching a Cubs game, listening to podcasts on 3x speed, or trying a new recipe with his wife.

Esther Eaton is a former deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch.

Mary Trimble is the editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, she interned at The Dispatch, in the political archives at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), and at Voice of America, where she produced content for their French-language service to Africa. When not helping write The Morning Dispatch, she is probably watching classic movies, going on weekend road trips, or enjoying live music with friends.

Grayson Logue is the deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he worked in political risk consulting, helping advise Fortune 50 companies. He was also an assistant editor at Providence Magazine and is a graduate student at the University of Edinburgh, pursuing a Master’s degree in history. When Grayson is not helping write The Morning Dispatch, he is probably working hard to reduce the number of balls he loses on the golf course.