A show of partnership between Xi and Putin
Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, and China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, began talks in Moscow yesterday with boasts of their close ties and only understated mention of the conflict in Ukraine. The leaders went to great lengths to flatter each other and project unity in a series of meticulously choreographed events.
Xi is the highest-profile world leader to visit Russia since its invasion of Ukraine over a year ago. He arrived for the three-day visit as bloody battles continued in eastern Ukraine and only three days after Putin was cited for war crimes by the International Criminal Court. Though the war and its effects hung over the meeting, the two leaders made few public comments about it.
Their imagery of alliance has stoked anxiety in the West, which fears that China might go beyond just diplomacy or economics in supporting Russia and offer it weapons to use in Ukraine. There also are concerns the two countries may entrench a powerful bloc to counter NATO and the U.S.
Analysis: Behind the display of friendship was a backdrop of hardheaded geopolitics. China and Russia both oppose a global order dominated by the U.S. and its allies, and that appears to outweigh any objections that Xi may have about Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
U.S. reaction: Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that Xi’s visit amounted to Beijing’s providing “diplomatic cover for Russia to continue to commit” war crimes.
Macron survives two no-confidence votes
The French National Assembly rejected a no-confidence motion against the government of President Emmanuel Macron, ensuring that a fiercely contested bill raising the retirement age to 64 from 62 becomes law. It was a close result, with 278 votes cast in favor, nine short of the 287 needed to pass. A second vote received 94 votes.
The pension overhaul, which Macron has sought since the beginning of his first term in 2017, has provoked two months of demonstrations, intermittent strikes and occasional violence. It has split France, with polls consistently showing two-thirds of the population opposing the change. The measure was rammed through Parliament last week without a full vote on it.
After the no-confidence votes yesterday, there was no indication that the protests would abate or that the restive mood would fade anytime soon. A period of deep uncertainty lies before France, and it is unclear how Macron, whose silence has been perceived by some as aloofness, will be able to reassert his authority.
Aftermath: Sporadic clashes erupted between crowds of protesters and the police in cities across the country, including Strasbourg, Rennes and Lyon. Labor unions have called for a day of strikes and demonstrations on Thursday, and Marine Le Pen, the leader of the National Rally party, declared, “I believe it is difficult to govern in these circumstances.”
Warming approaches a daunting threshold
Global average temperatures are estimated to rise 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels within the next decade as humans continue to burn fossil fuels. Nations must make immediate and significant changes to prevent heating beyond that level, according to a new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
That number holds a special significance in global climate politics: Under the Paris climate agreement, most nations agreed to “pursue efforts” to hold warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Beyond that point, scientists say, the impacts of catastrophic heat waves, flooding, drought, crop failures and species extinction become significantly harder for humanity to handle.
There is still one last chance to shift course, the report says. But it would require industrialized nations to join together to halve greenhouse gases by 2030 and then stop adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere by the early 2050s. If those two steps were taken, the world would have about a 50 percent chance of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Quotable: “The pace and scale of what has been done so far and current plans are insufficient to tackle climate change,” said Hoesung Lee, the chair of the climate panel. “We are walking when we should be sprinting.”
Details: The world’s two biggest polluters, China and the U.S., continue to approve new fossil fuel projects. Last year, China issued permits for 168 coal-fired power plants, and last week the Biden administration approved an enormous oil drilling project in Alaska.
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The writer Caity Weaver traveled to Morocco with a group-travel company that promised to build “meaningful friendships” among its youngish clientele. “It was the most exhausting vacation of my life,” she writes.
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ARTS AND IDEAS
We asked readers of this newsletter how you mark the arrival of spring, which starts today, in your community. Here are some of your responses, lightly edited for length.
In Aabenraa, Denmark, children walk through the town carrying birch tree branches and Danish flags to herald spring, writes Alisa Liskin Clausen. “Seeing the young children with their branches of budding iridescent green leaves is especially uplifting against the often gray skies. A lightness, the feeling of renewal, another year ahead and the coming of spring we have waited for since long, dark November’s start.”
On St. Joseph’s Day in Italy, Giuseppe Lotito says, “we celebrate this day by eating a cherry-topped, custard-filled pastry called zeppola, which symbolizes the buds on trees and the rebirth of spring.”
In Zurich, a large bonfire is lit for the festival of Sechseläuten, which takes place in April, says Marianna Varallo. “At the center of the fire is the Böögg, an artificial snowman filled with firecrackers, which symbolizes winter. If the head of the Böögg takes too much time to explode, the legend says it will be a cold summer.”
At the Primavera spring harvest festival in Berlin, people stock up on white asparagus and slurp asparagus soup, writes Sascha Gleckler. “After a long Berlin winter, we are as pale as the spears themselves. But our cheeks are soon pink with spring fever.”