A Chinese surveillance balloon after it was shot down Saturday.Credit…Randall Hill/Reuters
What the Chinese spy balloon tells us
A Chinese surveillance balloon last week became the subject of public fascination as it floated across the U.S., then met a cinematic end when a Sidewinder missile took it down off the coast of South Carolina. The craft will be coveted by military and intelligence officials who desperately want to reverse-engineer whatever remains the U.S. can recover.
The incident also speaks volumes about how little Washington and Beijing communicate, David Sanger, a White House and national security correspondent for The Times, writes in an analysis. In the days before the giant balloon met its end, the Pentagon noted a long history of Chinese balloons flying over the U.S., and said that one balloon was currently in the air over South America.
The former admission raises the question of whether the U.S. failed to set a red line years ago about balloon surveillance, essentially encouraging China to grow bolder and bolder, experts say. Separately, the balloon incident came at a moment in U.S. domestic politics when Democrats and Republicans are competing to demonstrate who can be stronger on China.
Analysis: “We don’t know what the intelligence yield was for the Chinese,” said Evan Medeiros, a Georgetown professor and security expert. “But there is no doubt it was a gross violation of sovereignty,” a topic the Chinese raise when the U.S. flies over and sails through the islands China has built from sandbars in the South China Sea.
Latest news: U.S.Navy divers were searching last night for debris from the balloon. Beijing has declared its “strong discontent and protest” about the craft’s being shot down and doubled down on its position that the balloon was a civilian research airship blown way off course by fierce winds.
Timeline: Retrace the last seven days of a balloon that captivated the world.
Ukraine shakes up its military leadership
President Volodymyr Zelensky’s governing Servant of the People party in Ukraine will replace the country’s defense minister, Oleksii Reznikov, amid a growing scandal over financial impropriety within the ministry and an accompanying investigation into corruption. Maj. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, the current military intelligence chief, will take over as defense minister, officials said.
The news comes amid what Ukrainian officials say is the beginning of a new Russian offensive. Fighting remains particularly fierce in the east around the city of Bakhmut as Moscow pushes for its first significant battlefield success in months. U.S. officials believe that hundreds of soldiers on each side are being killed or injured every day.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner private military company, whose forces have helped lead Russia’s brutal campaign in Bakhmut, said that Ukrainian troops were “fighting to the last,” denying reports on social media that Kyiv’s forces were withdrawing from the key city in the eastern Donetsk region.
Reinforcements: Western allies are rushing battle tanks, armored vehicles and other advanced weapons to help Ukraine, although many are not expected to arrive for months. Ukrainian soldiers are today expected to begin training outside the country on German-made Leopard tanks, dozens of which were pledged by allies last month.
Ukraine Dispatch: Ukrainians have flocked to ski resorts nestled in the Carpathian Mountains for a respite, our correspondent reports. “They come here to forget,” one ski shop owner said.
China begins to spend once again
Two months after China abruptly abandoned its “zero Covid” policies and let the virus sweep through its population, the country’s economy has begun to recover and consumers are spending again. Factories and ports are also running smoothly, as an end to lockdowns has resolved three years of disruptions to global supply chains.
To counter remaining weaknesses, the Chinese government has promised continued economic stimulus, including large infrastructure projects and tax breaks for small businesses. A hoped-for binge of post-pandemic “revenge spending” has not yet materialized, even as spending on tourism and some domestic travel is up sharply year-over-year.
Investors have already bet heavily on a recovery. Many economists expect China’s growth to exceed last year’s rate of 3 percent, and the International Monetary Fund has predicted that the Chinese economy will expand 5.2 percent this year. But practically no one expects a rebound like the country’s 8.1 percent growth in 2021.
Risks: Chinese exports to the U.S. and the E.U. plunged last year as the buying power of businesses and individuals was pinched by high inflation. Real estate remains one of the biggest worries in China. The construction sector — including steel, cement and the fitting out of new homes — represents a quarter to a third of the entire country’s economic output.
Covid: After the virus began to rip uncontrolled through China, the government announced that 80,000 people had died. But that is likely a vast undercount. Reporters for The Times scoured obituaries of the nation’s top academics for clues about the true toll of the outbreak.
THE LATEST NEWS
Around the World
President Biden plans to use his State of the Union address this week to call for bipartisan cooperation. Neither he nor many others expect that to happen.
A magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck Turkey early this morning near the city of Nurdagi. It was followed by a powerful aftershock that was felt across the region, including in Syria and Lebanon. Scores of people have been reported dead.
After a surge in violence, there are fears of escalation in the occupied West Bank. Israeli settlers see an opportunity to expand, and Palestinians fear an explosion of attacks.
Wildfires in Chile, which is in the middle of a scorching heat wave, have killed at least 13 people.
Other Big Stories
Pervez Musharraf, the former military ruler of Pakistan and a U.S. ally after the Sept. 11 attacks, died at 79.
Iran said it would offer limited pardons to some Iranian prisoners, including protesters. Rights advocates suggested the move was a sham.
E.U. leaders vowed more support for Ukraine but will, for now, withhold accelerated membership to the bloc.
Returning from a trip to Africa, Pope Francis again stressed that homosexuality should not be criminalized. “To condemn a person like this is a sin,” he said.
Latino to Latinx, women to people with uteruses, homeless to houseless: Revising terminology to promote inclusivity is sometimes counterproductive, says Nicholas Kristof.
Online culture encourages young people to put themselves on display even as they’re discovering who they are, Elle Mills writes.
Julia Belluz asks: What do new weight loss drugs teach us about fat and free will?
An avian flu pandemic would be even more devastating than Covid. The world needs to act now, Zeynep Tufekci writes.
A Morning Read
A Kenyan nonprofit is restoring iconic public libraries, turning them into inclusive “palaces for the people” and leaving behind a segregated past.
“Our public libraries can be glamorous spaces of storytelling,” said Angela Wachuka, a Kenyan publisher. “We are here to also reclaim history.”
SPORTS NEWS FROM THE ATHLETIC
The striker who didn’t know she was six months pregnant: Leydi Urbina was her league’s top scorer but was overlooked by one scout for being “chunky.” There was more to the story.
The evolution of Tottenham’s record-setter: Harry Kane is now Tottenham’s all-time leading scorer after a goal in a win over Manchester City on Sunday. The Premier League record is in sight.
Los Angeles Galaxy defender misses out on Barcelona transfer: Julian Araujo was unable to move to Barcelona because the relevant paperwork was not submitted in time.
ARTS AND IDEAS
Recapping the Grammys
After two years of Covid-related disruptions, the annual Grammy ceremony returned last night in full swing to its home court in Los Angeles. As the host, Trevor Noah, put it: “We made it! We’re back!” Catch up with the best of the red carpet.
Beyoncé made history as she won four prizes, including best R&B song for “Cuff It,” giving her a record 32 Grammys in her career. Bonnie Raitt took home song of the year, and Lizzo was visibly shocked to win record of the year for “About Damn Time.”
Other awards given out live included best pop vocal album, which went to Harry Styles for “Harry’s House,” and best pop duo/group performance for “Unholy” by Sam Smith and Kim Petras. Accepting the award, Petras, a transgender woman, said: “I just want to thank all the incredible transgender legends before me who kicked these doors open so I could be here tonight.”
The actress Viola Davis won best audiobook, narration and storytelling recording for her memoir “Finding Me,” making her the newest EGOT — the coveted acronym for the winner of an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony. See the full list of winners.
PLAY, WATCH, EAT
What to Cook
Shallots add flavor to creamy chickpea pasta.
See the clothes inside and outside the Paris couture shows.
What to Read
Natalie Haynes’s new novel, “Stone Blind,” tells Medusa’s side of the story.
Now Time to Play
Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Pickle juice (five letters).
And here are today’s Wordle and the Spelling Bee.
You can find all our puzzles here.
That’s it for today’s briefing. Thanks for joining me. — Natasha
P.S. In an interview, our outgoing Europe editor, Jim Yardley, addressed our reporting from Ukraine, the London newsroom and accusations of anti-British bias.
On the Book Review podcast, we preview the next big books. Friday’s episode of “The Daily” is on the end of the pandemic.
You can reach Natasha and the team at firstname.lastname@example.org.