Your Wednesday Briefing: China, Japan Divided on Ukraine

The Asian split over Ukraine

Separate visits by the leaders of the two largest economies in Asia — China and Japan — are highlighting the geopolitical fault lines created by Russia’s invasion.

In Moscow: Xi Jinping, China’s president, made wide-ranging pledges to expand China’s economic partnership with Russia on the second day of his state visit. Xi and President Vladimir Putin outlined an economic order that could help insulate their nations from Western sanctions and other consequences of the war in Ukraine.

They signed 14 agreements of wide-ranging collaboration, including media enterprises and scientific research. The leaders promised to bring more Russian oil to China and more Chinese companies to Russia.

In Kyiv: Fumio Kishida, Japan’s prime minister, made a surprise visit. The trip underscored Kishida’s alignment with much of the West. Russia’s invasion has stoked concerns that the country would be unprepared to handle a crisis in its backyard and has led it to push for closer relationships with its allies.

China’s Foreign Ministry responded to Kishida’s visit by saying that Japan should “help de-escalate the situation instead of the opposite.”

Takeaway: The two visits show how the tensions stirred up by Russia’s invasion have extended into Asia, alongside rising concerns about China’s dominance and North Korean aggression.

Little hope for peace talks: Xi used a joint appearance with Putin to call again for peace talks to resolve the war, repeating a position that Kyiv’s allies in the West have rejected as unworkable until Russia withdraws its troops.

Drones: China has shipped more than $12 million in drones and drone parts to Russia since the invasion, my colleagues report, another indication that the countries are growing closer than ever.

Sri Lanka’s economic lifeline

The International Monetary Fund approved a $3 billion loan for Sri Lanka. The country hopes that the emergency funds will help it get through a financial and political crisis that has gripped the nation for more than a year.

The State of the War

The I.M.F. had agreed in principle to extend the loan last September, but required Sri Lanka to tighten its finances and renegotiate the terms of repaying the debt it owed to the biggest economies in Asia.

Many in the country hope that the loan will set off a recovery, and there are already some positive signs. Tourists are returning faster than expected and Sri Lanka’s currency has stopped sliding against the dollar. Power outages have also ended and cooking gas is available again.

Looking ahead: The economy is still precarious. Last month, inflation ran at 50.6 percent, barely a point lower than it was in January.

A Chinese spy balloon’s path

In early February, a giant white balloon was seen floating over U.S. skies, prompting speculation about its provenance and purpose. Using satellite imagery, a Times visual investigation tracked the balloon’s journey from its launch in China to the U.S. One major revelation: The balloon was remotely maneuvered at times.

The investigation was the first to track the balloon itself, not just its expected path based on weather projections. At points, the balloon ascends and descends by thousands of feet. A retired NASA engineer and U.S. officials said the changes in altitude were made by adding or releasing compressed gas in an internal compartment.

How we did it: The Times worked with an artificial intelligence company, Synthetaic, to analyze satellite images and find the balloon.

Because of a phenomenon called the parallax effect, Synthetaic’s founder knew that the balloon would appear as several blobs of different colors in the satellite photos. He drew a sketch of what the blobs might look like and uploaded it to his image analysis platform. It found the first image of the balloon within two minutes.


Asia Pacific

In a first for Australia, a former soldier was charged with a war crime under the country’s law after an investigation into a murder in Afghanistan, the BBC reports.

Nepal wants a sacred necklace returned from the Art Institute of Chicago, but the museum is keeping it on display, ProPublica reports.

Around the World

A report found London’s police to be institutionally racist and sexist.

Israeli lawmakers approved a first step toward resettling four Jewish settlements, which were evacuated in 2005, in the occupied West Bank.

Saudi Arabia released a Saudi-American dual citizen from prison who had been detained over tweets critical of the kingdom’s government. But he still can’t leave the country, his son said.

Other Big Stories

Los Angeles school employees began a three-day strike, shutting down the second-largest U.S. school district as they called for higher pay.

Google released its own chatbot: Bard. It will be available to a limited number of users in the U.S. and Britain.

Venezuela, where a socialist revolution once promised equality, has increasingly become a country of haves and have-nots.

A Morning Read

Strawberries have become a winter staple in Japan. The most immaculate ones sell for hundreds of dollars apiece to be given as special gifts.

But recreating an artificial spring to grow the berries in winter has an environmental toll: Farmers grow the delicacies in huge greenhouses with giant heaters that burn kerosene.


Japan vs. U.S.

Today, Japan will face the U.S. in the World Baseball Classic final. The game begins at 7 p.m. eastern in Miami (which is 8 a.m. in Tokyo).

Japan won the first two tournaments in 2006 and 2009, and clinched a win in the dramatic semifinal against Mexico yesterday. Japan surged ahead in the bottom of the final inning, on a two-run double by Munetaka Murakami that capped a 6-5 thriller. The U.S. holds the 2017 title — the last year that the tournament took place — and toppled Cuba on Sunday, 14-2.

Although Americans are more familiar with the optimistically named “World Series,” this tournament matters a lot more in countries like Japan, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, where ratings have reached new peaks.

This game may also draw a record number of viewers. Front Office Sports reports that the WBC first round has broken records for television viewership. This year’s South Korea vs. Japan game drew more viewers in Japan alone than any World Series game: Nearly half of all of Japan’s households tuned in. 


What to Cook

Ramadan begins tonight. Here’s a selection of main dishes. Or use store-bought wraps for these hilib sambuus, a Somali relative of samosas.

What to Read

“Flux,” Jinwoo Chong’s time-warping debut novel, follows three Asian American men coping with traumas.

What to Listen to

Depeche Mode is embracing the darkness with the group’s 15th album.

Where to Go

George Town, a port city on the Malaysian island of Penang, is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is full of color and spice.

Now Time to Play

Play the Mini Crossword, and a clue: Ricochet (five letters).

Here are the Wordle and the Spelling Bee.

You can find all our puzzles here.

That’s it for today’s briefing. See you next time. — Amelia

P.S. In our new music newsletter, “The Amplifier,” Lindsay Zoladz, a pop critic, recommends about a dozen pop songs — tracks she hopes will surprise and delight listeners.

“The Daily” is on Xi Jinping’s visit to Russia.

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