Your Thursday Briefing: Jiang Zemin Dies

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.

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.

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.”

Around the World

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.

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.”

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