Listen

John Ruwitch

China has flown 28 warplanes into Taiwan-controlled airspace, the biggest sortie of its kind since the Taiwanese government began publishing information about the frequent incursions last year.

The flights are widely seen as part of an effort by Beijing to dial up pressure on Taiwan, a self-governed democracy of about 24 million people off the Chinese coast that the Chinese government considers a part of China.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A group of wild elephants has wandered into the suburbs of the Chinese city of Kunming after trekking more than 300 miles from their home, perplexing experts and stymying officials who have tried to keep the hulking animals out of populated areas.

The 15 Asian elephants — some mature and others still young — left a nature reserve near China's border with Myanmar and Laos more than a year ago and have been northbound ever since, according to Chinese media.

The Senate is poised to pass a major bill that would pour hundreds of billions of dollars into science and technology in a bid to out-compete China, and it's doing so with something rare these days: strong bipartisan support.

The Innovation and Competition Act of 2021 is part of a wave of recent China-related proposals in Congress.

Republican Sen. Todd Young of Indiana is one of the act's key sponsors, as is Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who has been leading the charge to get it passed.

China soon won't be the world's most populous country.

The government released data Tuesday from a once-a-decade census conducted late last year that shows population growth has slowed to a crawl. Meanwhile, the proportion of senior citizens in China has expanded, the cohort of working-age people is contracting, and births are down.

The data casts a fresh spotlight on one of the ruling Communist Party's biggest long-term socio-economic challenges as it turns 100 this year: How to keep the economy humming and incomes rising while the population shrinks and ages.

Taiwan's semiconductor-makers are racing to end a chip shortage that has forced carmakers to hit the brakes on production.

But the Taiwanese government's economic chief says it is still unclear when the crisis will be over.

Taiwan's Economy Minister Wang Mei-hua told NPR that Taiwanese microchip producers, such as world-leading Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., have boosted production this year and are filling more auto-related orders.

President Biden's climate envoy, John Kerry, and his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, agreed last week that China and the United States, the world's two biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, should cooperate on tackling the climate crisis.

But with bilateral ties at their worst in decades, and few details emerging from their meeting in Shanghai, observers have been left to guess what that cooperation might look like.

Judy Hoarfrost remembers the day she walked into China a half-century ago.

She was 15 and the youngest member of the U.S. pingpong team, which had been in Nagoya, Japan, competing in the World Championships. Two days before the tournament ended, Team China surprised the Americans with an invitation to come to their country and play some games.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Before COVID-19, few scientists would have pegged the city of Wuhan, in temperate central China, as a likely starting point for a global coronavirus pandemic. Its climate and fauna don't fit the bill.

But the city of 11 million straddling the Yangtze River is home to some of China's most advanced biological research laboratories. And one of the secretive, state-run institutions, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, is known to conduct experiments on the kind of virus that has killed nearly 3 million people worldwide so far since late 2019.

President Biden and the leaders of Australia, India and Japan launched a plan on Friday to boost COVID-19 vaccine production and distribution in Asia as the White House seeks to deepen coordination with partners around the world to counterbalance China.

The four countries, collectively known as the Quad, short for the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, also agreed to set up working groups to cooperate on vaccines, climate change and technology, including cybersecurity.

President Biden will step up his efforts to counterbalance China through coordination with like-minded countries on Friday when he takes part in a first-of-its-kind summit with the leaders of Australia, India and Japan.

The four nations have cooperated on and off since the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 in an informal grouping known as the "Quad," short for the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue.

The U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands sent a jubilant tweet on Monday, claiming to have "made some history today." He had welcomed Taiwan's de facto ambassador into the U.S. Embassy for a meeting.

The Trump administration is imposing sharply tighter restrictions on travel to the United States by Chinese Communist Party members and their families, a move Beijing describes as part of a "deep-rooted Cold War mentality."

The restrictions target holders of business (B-1) and tourist (B-2) visas, reducing the travel documents' maximum validity to one month, down from the current maximum of 10 years.

Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a message of congratulations to President-elect Joe Biden on Wednesday, saying he hopes China and the United States can focus on cooperation and keep their differences in check, according to Chinese state media.

The message comes three weeks after the election, making Xi one of the last major world leaders to wish the former U.S. vice president well.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

In his victory speech last night, President-elect Joe Biden noted that U.S. elections are viewed far beyond our borders.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

Two senior U.S. officials have visited Taiwan since August, one to discuss the pandemic and the other to attend a funeral.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Undersecretary of State Keith Krach were the highest-ranking U.S. officials to travel to Taiwan on business since 1979, when Washington cut relations with Taipei and recognized Beijing as the rightful government of China.

China has joined a global effort aimed at fair and equitable distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine once one becomes available — an effort the Trump administration has shunned.

The COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility, known as COVAX, is jointly led by the World Health Organization and Gavi, an alliance promoting access to vaccines.

In recent weeks, U.S.-China relations have unraveled with alarming speed, and some analysts say they are now at their worst since the two countries normalized diplomatic ties in 1979.

On Tuesday, the Trump administration ordered China's consulate in Houston to close, a step that significantly amps up the tension in already fraught relations between the world's top two economies.

Before Justinian Huang left Shanghai for some beach time in Malaysia last winter, he took his dog Swagger to stay with a friend.

"I dropped him off. I kissed him goodbye. I was like, 'I'm going to see you in six days,' " Huang recounts. "That was Jan. 23 of this year."

That week the coronavirus spread with alarming speed in China. So Huang decided to wait it out in Malaysia a few extra days. Then he flew to Taiwan, where he has family, and finally home to the United States.

Updated at 8:29 p.m. ET

The Trump administration on Monday rejected Beijing's maritime claims in the South China Sea, wading into a conflict that has pitted China against several Southeast Asian countries with competing claims at a time of already-strained relations between Washington and Beijing.

In a statement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the move was intended to strengthen U.S. policy "in a vital, contentious" region.

The Trump administration on Thursday put visa and asset sanctions on several Chinese officials — including Politburo member Chen Quanguo — for what it says has been their role in "gross violations of human rights" in China's far western region of Xinjiang.

The move comes at a time when U.S.-China relations are at their worst in decades and is likely to anger Beijing, potentially leading to similar sanctions from China on American officials.

Attempts to dissuade China's ruling Communist Party from asserting more authority over Hong Kong didn't work. Now that China is imposing a new national security law on the territory, world powers are looking to punish Beijing.

The law hands the central government almost unchecked legal power in the former British colony, which was promised a "high degree of autonomy" for 50 years when it was returned to China in 1997. Drafted secretly and enacted swiftly on Tuesday, it is considered by many analysts to be even harsher than expected.

The Trump administration on Monday labeled four more Chinese news organizations as "foreign missions," expanding its restrictions on what it calls Chinese propaganda outlets in a move that's likely to anger Beijing.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met China's top diplomat Yang Jiechi in Hawaii on Wednesday, in what Chinese state media said was a constructive exchange of views.

The meeting comes at a time of fast-deteriorating relations between Washington and Beijing over a range of issues, including human rights, Hong Kong and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Neither the U.S. nor China publicly announced the meeting in advance and it was not immediately clear which side had proposed it, highlighting the tension and mistrust that now permeate ties between the world's no. 1 and no. 2 economies.

Protests across the United States in the wake of George Floyd's death have created an unlikely opportunity for China.

State TV has aired images of chaotic protest scenes during its widely watched evening news program, and offered searing commentary that has also highlighted the U.S. government's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. "American politicians must ask themselves," one announcer said, "on what grounds do they spew their sanctimonious nonsense? Shouldn't they ask the American people for forgiveness?"

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared this week that Hong Kong is no longer sufficiently autonomous from China "to warrant treatment under United States laws in the same manner as U.S. laws were applied to Hong Kong before July 1997." The decision followed Beijing's announcement that it would draft sweeping national security legislation for the former British colony, sidestepping the city's own legislature to outlaw secession, subversion and terrorism.

The race for a coronavirus vaccine is on.

This week, Massachusetts-based Moderna Inc. reported promising preliminary results for the vaccine it is developing. It's one of eight vaccines under development that have been approved for clinical trials, according to the World Health Organization.

Updated at 9:41 p.m. ET

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday blasted the head of the World Health Organization for bowing to Chinese pressure and not inviting Taiwan to attend the body's annual meeting, damaging its credibility at a crucial time.

The World Health Assembly started on Monday amid the worst pandemic in modern history.

Pages