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Analysis: A dangerous new era of superpower confrontation was signaled this weekend

The swift release of two Canadians after a diplomatic deal ended a standoff over Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, who faced extradition from Canada to the US, is a troubling sign of a new era of superpower confrontation.
The Canadians were arrested on espionage charges in China shortly after Meng was detained in Vancouver in December 2018. She was hit with fraud charges on an American warrant in a case over alleged violations of US sanctions against Iran.
As part of a complex deal with US authorities to defer prosecution — in which Meng pleaded not guilty but confirmed that she misrepresented Huawei’s relationship with an Iranian subsidiary — Meng was released from house arrest and returned to China to a hero’s welcome.
As she flew across the ocean, the two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, sped in the opposite direction. The apparent reciprocation ends the saga that strained relations between Canada and China, and Washington and Beijing.
The denouement of the crisis did nothing to dispel the notion that the Canadians were arrested so they could be used as bargaining chips by China, despite Beijing’s repeated denials that the cases were related. (Chinese state media reports that they were both released on bail for medical reasons after admitting to crimes in “handwritten confessions” — but there has been no indication from the Canadian government that the men pleaded guilty.)
And Meng’s welcome home — cloaked in nationalism and used as a propaganda tool to glorify President Xi Jinping — underscored how his nationalistic government portrays disputes with other countries as an attempt by rivals to check China’s rightful rise to global power.
To be fair, then-President Donald Trump didn’t help the situation while he was in office. Several times, he played into China’s claims that Meng’s arrest was a political move by implying he could use her as leverage as he sought a trade deal with Beijing.
But Beijing’s message is clear. If Chinese firms fall foul of the Western legal system there will be consequences. That means governments must now balance the distasteful possibility of offering impunity to China’s vast business interests against the risk of exposing their own nationals to reprisals in China.
It is a scenario that could chill business, cultural, media and personal exchanges between the US and China and deepen a dangerous Cold War mindset.

‘Stalemate’

The biggest roadblock to US President Joe Biden’s ambitious plan to remake the American economy and the welfare state is not the Republican party. It’s his own.
Democratic moderates and progressives have hit a “stalemate” over the cost, the scope and even the timing of the two priorities that will define his domestic legacy, Biden admitted on Friday. They encompass a $1 trillion infrastructure deal with Republicans and a $3.5 trillion plan to fight global warming, overhaul health care, education and home care for sick and elderly Americans.
To put it simply, progressive Democrats in the House say they won’t vote for the infrastructure bill unless party leaders sign off on the spending plan. But moderates in the House and Senate fear the country will rebel against such largesse and want cuts in the price and the ambition of the package. Progressives respond that $3.5 trillion is already a compromise since they wanted $6 trillion, though they have not amassed the congressional majorities that would show most Americans want that kind of huge spending.
It seems unbelievable that Democrats could effectively throttle Biden’s presidency. But while both sides are playing hardball as critical legislative deadlines loom, it’s a possibility. The dispute shows that the spirit of compromise, on which the entire US political system rests, is not just nearly extinct between Republicans and Democrats, but is also dwindling on the left.
Progressives believe that they must make the most of what might be a short window on Democratic power to go big on reform. Many moderates fear that splashing out so much money will cost them their seats. Biden skillfully kept a foot in both camps when building the coalition that took him to the White House. But now, as he tries to bring the two sides together in a deal, his claim to be the ultimate congressional fixer is on the line.
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