Your Thursday Briefing: Jiang Zemin dies

Plus China’s censors struggle to keep up with protests.
Author Headshot

By Amelia Nierenberg

Writer, Briefings

Good morning. We’re covering the death of Jiang Zemin and NATO’s muscular stance on China.

Jiang Zemin in Hong Kong in 1998. Robyn Beck/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

China mourns Jiang Zemin

Jiang Zemin led China after the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and presided over a decade of meteoric economic growth. He died yesterday at 96.

Now, China must figure out how to honor Jiang during a wave of public defiance on a scale unseen since he came to power. The demonstrations have, at times, boldly called for China to return to the path of liberalization that seemed at least thinkable, even openly discussable, under Jiang’s rule.

Xi Jinping, the sternly autocratic leader, must preside over the mourning — the deaths of Chinese Communist leaders are always fraught moments of political theater — while preventing Jiang from becoming a symbolic cudgel against Xi’s politics. Almost immediately, online tributes to Jiang made thinly veiled, often sardonic comparisons between him and Xi.

History: Jiang oversaw a period of giddy, sometimes reckless and polluting growth. The party controlled political life, but allowed more debate and freer discourse than exists now. Jiang himself was a garrulous, disarming exception to the mold of stiff, unsmiling Chinese leaders.

Censorship: Videos circulating online show the risks that protesters face in openly challenging China’s leadership. The clips have stretched China’s censors to their limit.

Analysis: The protests may lead to the lifting of some Covid restrictions, but they are unlikely to spur sweeping political change.

“The challenges we face are global,” said Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s secretary general.Robert Ghement/EPA, via Shutterstock

NATO nations bristle at China

The U.S. has long urged its NATO allies to confront China and take the threat posed by the Communist Party more seriously. Now, as the pain of the energy crisis mounts and the war in Ukraine grinds on, European countries are warming to the idea.

At their meeting in Romania, NATO’s foreign ministers engaged in their most concerted effort yet to face China: Antony Blinken, the U.S. secretary of state, said yesterday that the alliance would try to coordinate export controls on technology and security reviews of Chinese investments.

Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s secretary general, said the discussions were focused on reducing their strategic vulnerabilities to China and other authoritarian governments. Areas of concern included investment screening to protect key industries, infrastructure, technology and intellectual property.

Context: NATO was founded as a Cold War-era military alliance designed to contain Russian aggression. China is Russia’s most powerful strategic partner and has aligned with it on the war in Ukraine. The nations emphasized that there was no intention of seeing China as an adversary or of NATO getting involved militarily in the Indo-Pacific.

Concerns: Key member states with major trade ties with China, like Germany and France, are especially concerned that NATO does not stray from its main focus on trans-Atlantic security. Some have disagreed with the U.S.’s aggressive approach to commerce.

“It’s hard to describe how bad the situation is,” Natalie Kitroeff, my colleague who reported from Haiti, said.Adriana Zehbrauskas for The New York Times

U.S. pushes intervention in Haiti

Haiti has descended into chaos since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse last year, and armed gangs run much of the country. The violence has been compared to a civil war.

The crisis could spur a mass migration to the U.S. and elsewhere: Already, the number of Haitian migrants intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard has increased more than fourfold since last year, with many setting sail in overcrowded boats known to capsize in rough waters.

Haiti’s government has appealed for an intervention, and the U.S. is pushing for a multinational force. But the Biden administration hasn’t made much progress with its allies — and does not plan to send in its own troops, fearing a costly mission and arguing that U.S. occupation has scarred Haiti.

Context: Men are killed, women are raped, and warring gangs set fire to entire neighborhoods. Last month, kidnappings reached an average of four abductions per day. Hunger and cholera are spreading.

Quotable: “That has always been the U.S. government’s biggest Haitian nightmare, a mass migration event,” said Daniel Foote, who served as the U.S. special envoy to Haiti for part of last year. “It’s already upon us; the next step becomes biblical, with people falling off anything that can float. We aren’t that far away from that.”

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A Morning Read
Jagtar Kaur, 92, praying at home.Atul Loke for The New York Times

A village in northern India has found a way to address a growing global issue: a deep sense of isolation among older people.

A historic Sikh temple has become a sort of senior center: Residents ensured that the traditional langar, or free community meal, was always sumptuous, with enough food for second or third helpings.

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ARTS AND IDEAS

He’s not going to dust himself.Chiara Negrello for The New York Times

Dusting the David

How do you clean a 17-foot-tall, 518-year-old statue? Very carefully. Six times a year, Eleonora Pucci, the in-house restorer of the Galleria dell’Accademia, takes on the daunting task of tidying Michelangelo’s David.

It begins with a photographic close-up to track how the statue is faring, and to verify how much dust and microscopic debris has accumulated. Then, standing atop scaffolding, Pucci dusts the statue with a synthetic brush and sucks up any particles with a specially designed vacuum strapped to her back.

“To be able to contribute, even in a small way, to the conservation of David’s beauty,” Pucci said, makes hers “the best job in the world.”

PLAY, WATCH, EAT

What to Cook
Chris Simpson for The New York Times

Ligaya Mishan writes an ode to chiffon cake, an American delight adapted for Singapore. Here’s a recipe.

What to Read

My colleagues at The Book Review picked the 10 best books of 2022.

What to Listen to

Check out the best albums of 2022.

Global Shopping

In Hong Kong, artisans work on traditional crafts in tenement buildings and austere malls.

Friendship

Adult men struggle to make connections. These tips can help.

Now Time to Play

Play the Mini Crossword, and a clue: Boggy area (four letters).

Here are the Wordle and the Spelling Bee.

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

P.S. Amanda Choy and Mantai Chow are joining Times Cooking to produce documentary-style videos.

The Daily” is on China’s protests.

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