Your Wednesday Briefing

We’re covering the takeaways from the Biden-Xi meeting and how Pfizer’s Covid pill could help poor nations.

President Biden met virtually with China’s leader, Xi Jinping, on Monday.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Polite words, not much more

A virtual meeting between President Biden and China’s leader, Xi Jinping, produced no breakthroughs. The two leaders sought to keep the many disputes between their countries from escalating into a broader conflict.

At the end of three and a half hours of talks, the two sides did not even cobble together a joint statement. Instead, they issued their own statements, each emphasizing the points of longstanding contention.

Biden raised concerns about human rights abuses in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong, and about China’s “unfair trade and economic policies” harming American workers, the White House statement said.

Xi, according to China’s own readout, said that American support for Taiwan was “playing with fire,” and explicitly warned that the world risked slipping back into the superpower confrontations of a half-century ago.

Lingering issues: The trade war that former President Trump started remains unresolved, and China is not buying as many American products. U.S. officials declined to discuss what was said about China’s growing nuclear arsenal.

More talks: The two sides did agree to talks among lower-level officials, raising hopes that tensions could ease at least a bit.

Xi’s power: Hours after the meeting, the Chinese Communist Party finalized a resolution that anoints Xi one of its revered leaders.

A hospital in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, last year.Credit…Samantha Reinders for The New York Times

Pfizer’s Covid pill will be sold in poor countries

The pharmaceutical giant announced a deal on Tuesday to allow its promising Covid-19 treatment to be made and sold inexpensively in 95 developing countries, mostly in Africa and Asia.

The agreement follows a similar one by Merck, and together the deals have the potential to vastly expand global production of two simple antiviral pills that help prevent severe illness from the coronavirus.

The pill is urgently needed in places where few people have had the opportunity to be vaccinated. Advocates for health equity said that the Pfizer deal did too little to address the crisis that has been created by the huge disparity in vaccine access.

The U.S. is planning to pay more than $5 billion for a stockpile of Pfizer’s new pill, enough for about 10 million courses of treatment, after the company gears up production next year, according to people familiar with the agreement.

Challenges: The impact of the pills from Pfizer and Merck will depend on whether patients have easy access to Covid testing. The treatments must be given within a few days after symptoms start. Experts predict that will be more difficult in countries where people have less reliable access to health care providers.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

  • New York City will welcome crowds back to Times Square this New Year’s Eve for the traditional ball drop as long as they provide proof that they are fully vaccinated.

  • Hong Kong has granted Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, an exemption from its quarantine, one of the toughest in the world.

Migrants on the Belarus-Polish border camped on Tuesday. Credit…James Hill for The New York Times

Poland uses water cannons and tear gas on border

Polish border guards said they were repelling an attempt by migrants on Tuesday to breach the heavily guarded border with Belarus, where tensions have been building for weeks.

The authorities in Poland said that the guards at the border crossing had been assaulted by people throwing “stones, bottles and logs” and firing “stun grenades.” (With journalists barred from the area, it was impossible to confirm the Polish authorities’ claims.)

Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, called the actions of Polish forces “absolutely unacceptable.” Moscow has stood by Belarus amid accusations that it is using migrants as a political weapon against Poland, an E.U. country.

On the other side of the border, Belarusian guards began moving hundreds of migrants from the fetid and frozen camp to the shelter of a nearby warehouse. It was unclear what plans the Belarusian authorities had for the migrants they were moving.

Humanitarian crisis: At least 11 people have died at the border in recent weeks. As freezing temperatures begin to grip the region, there are fears of further tragedy for thousands of men, women and children stranded at the border.


News From Asia Pacific

Health workers in Houki, Japan, collecting used adult diapers to be recycled into pellets. Credit…James Whitlow Delano for The New York Times
  • In a rapidly aging Japan, older adults now use more diapers than babies do. One town is recycling used diapers into fuel pellets.

  • Google announced that it would invest $740 million in Australia over the next five years to build a research hub and team up with scientists to address challenges like expanding the use of green energy.

  • Zalmay Khalilzad, the former U.S. envoy for Afghanistan, is defending his reputation against accusations that he bears special blame for the chaotic fall of Kabul to the Taliban in August.

  • Five Afghan students have found an unlikely refuge in Iraq’s Kurdistan region.

Around the World

Cars burned after a bomb exploded near the Parliament building in Kampala, Uganda, on Tuesday.Credit…Ivan Kabuye/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
  • Two explosions rocked Uganda’s capital, Kampala, killing at least three civilians in what the police described as an attack by extremists. Three suicide bombers also died.

  • Scorpions stung at least 503 people in Egypt after rainstorms drove the arachnids from their desert burrows into villages.

  • Germany suspended approval of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline intended to transport natural gas directly to Germany from Russia. The decision sent Europe’s gas prices soaring.

  • The British police said a blast in a taxi outside a Liverpool hospital was a terrorist act.

A Morning Read

“For Papuans, land is identity,” said Marthen Abrauw, the chief of the Abrauw. Credit…Ulet Ifansasti for The New York Times

Fifteen generations of the Indigenous Abrauw group in Indonesia have lived on Biak Island. Now, the group’s members fear they will be forced off their land as Indonesia pursues plans to build a spaceport there and lure the SpaceX founder Elon Musk.


Taylor Swift performed her full 10-minute “All Too Well” on “Saturday Night Live.”Credit…Will Heath/NBC

A breakup song, revisited

Last week, Taylor Swift unveiled “Red (Taylor’s Version),” her latest rerecorded album. First released nearly a decade ago, “Red” signified the beginning of Swift’s transition from country to pop. And among true Swifties, the favorite track was “All Too Well,” an “achingly rendered portrait of a breakup,” Lindsay Zoladz writes in The Times. (There is much speculation about the actor rumored to have inspired the song.)

So when Swift debuted the music video for a new 10-minute version of “All Too Well” — and performed the entire song on “Saturday Night Live” — fans went wild. While the shorter version of the song featured “taut, streamlined storytelling,” Zoladz writes, the new version is “gloriously unruly and viciously seething.”

Swift began the rerecording project to keep control over her songs, after her first six albums were sold to investors. It is a shrewd business move: The rerecorded songs are outperforming the originals on streaming services, The Wall Street Journal reports.

But the extended cut of “All Too Well” shows how the rerecordings can also enhance the original works. The most striking lyric in the new track highlights the age gap between an older man and a younger woman, and the video emphasizes the point with actors who are more than a decade apart. The result, Zoladz writes, is a young woman’s attempt to retroactively correct a power imbalance.


What to Cook

Credit…Johnny Miller for The New York Times. Food Stylist:Barrett Washburne.

Turn humble mushrooms into rich, savory morsels.

What to Listen To

Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak pay tribute to 1970s R&B in their new album “An Evening With Silk Sonic.”

What to Read

“Taste Makers,” by Mayukh Sen, is about seven immigrant women who introduced Americans to the dishes of their native cultures, often while confronting sexism and racism.

Now Time to Play

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: “___ Always Love You” (ballad) (five letters).

And here is today’s Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.

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

P.S. Anthony Tommasini is stepping down as The Times’s chief classical music critic.

The latest episode of “The Daily” is about how school boards in the U.S. are emerging as a new battleground.

Sanam Yar wrote the Arts and Ideas. You can reach Melina and the team at [email protected].

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