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Your Wednesday Briefing: Xi Accuses the U.S. of ‘Suppression’

China’s leader, Xi Jinping, used unusually blunt language this week to criticize the U.S. and its allies for what he described as a campaign to block China’s rise. The comments reflected how Xi is bracing for more confrontation and competition with the U.S. as he prepares for an expected third term as president.

“Western countries led by the United States have implemented all-around containment, encirclement and suppression of China, which has brought unprecedented severe challenges to our country’s development,” Xi said in a speech he delivered on Monday.

China’s new foreign minister reinforced Xi’s comments. “The United States actually wants China not to fight back when hit or cursed, but this is impossible,” Qin Gang, said yesterday.

Qin also called for the U.S. to take a less confrontational stance toward his country. “If the U.S. doesn’t step on the brakes but continues to speed up, no guardrail can stop the derailment,” he said.

Context: Tensions have recently escalated over U.S. support of Taiwan and U.S. accusations that China operates a fleet of spy balloons. China’s close alignment with Russia, which the West is seeking to isolate over its war in Ukraine, has intensified concerns about a new type of cold war.

Related: The Times Magazine reports on the downfall of a Chinese intelligence agent that reveals the astonishing depth of Chinese industrial espionage.

The American economy seems to be on stable footing — hiring remains strong, the country has its lowest unemployment rate since 1969 and consumer spending picked up at the start of the year.

But for the Federal Reserve, there are risks: Higher pay means higher consumer spending, which can drive up inflation. And despite the Fed’s repeated rate raises last year, reports have suggested that inflation did not weaken as much as expected, and remained faster than expected in January.

To slow its pace, Jerome Powell, the Fed chair, said the central bank was likely to raise interest rates higher than expected, and that the Fed’s fight was “very likely” to come at some cost to the labor market. He even opened the door to a faster pace of rate increases if Friday’s jobs report and other incoming data remained hot.

Explanation: The Fed raises interest rates to slow consumer spending and dissuade businesses from expanding using borrowed money. As demand for products and workers cools, wage growth eases and unemployment may rise. That can further slow consumption and moderate the economy.

Debt ceiling: The U.S. also faces a looming risk this summer. A top economist warned lawmakers yesterday that if House Republicans refused to join Democrats in raising the borrowing limit, seven million people could be out of work and the economy could fall into a 2008-style financial crisis.

From Biden: In an essay for The Times, President Biden committed to fully funding Medicare beyond 2050 without cutting benefits, and outlined his plan.

For the sixth time in the past two months, unions across France went on strike, disrupting trains and flights and closing classrooms. They are trying to sway public opinion in their favor and against President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to raise the legal retirement age to 64 from 62.

The unions vowed yesterday to bring France “to a standstill.” Public opinion polls have repeatedly shown that a majority of  French people oppose Macron’s proposal. He says it is necessary to balance the pension system’s finances as more baby boomers retire and live longer.

Neither side has shown any sign of backing down. The unions want to start continuous, disruptive strikes, while Macron hopes to get the bill — a cornerstone of his re-election campaign — passed by the end of this month. “There is no room for negotiation anymore,” a professor said.

Data: France has one of the lowest rates in Europe of pensioners at risk of poverty.

Two years ago, the Indian journalist Meena Kotwal started a news outlet focused on Dalits, once deemed untouchable by India’s caste system, and other marginalized groups. The Mooknayak, or “the leader of the voiceless,” has a growing audience and influence, but her rising public profile has brought rape and death threats.

Lives lived: Duong Tuong translated a wide range of Western literature into Vietnamese. He died at 90

South Africa has declared a “state of disaster” over an electricity crisis that has caused nationwide power outages of up to 10 hours a day, and millions are turning to a smartphone app to help them navigate the blackouts.

The app, known as EskomSePush, plays on the name of South Africa’s state power utility, Eskom, and some vulgar Afrikaans slang that definitely can’t be written here. Recently rebranded as just ESP, it sends out alerts 55 minutes before the power is scheduled to go off. Two South African software developers, Dan Southwood-Wells and Herman Maritz, created ESP in 2014 when scheduled power outages were beginning to be more widespread and disruptive.

But over the past year, the app has taken off. Since September, there have been nearly two million downloads for a total of seven million users. Southwood-Wells and Maritz know they’re tapping into national frustration, and so they try to inject some humor into the app’s outage notices, like including an image of a braai, the South African equivalent of a barbecue, to let users know they won’t be using their stoves for several hours.

“We try to make light of a dark situation,” Maritz said. — Lynsey Chutel, Briefing writer, Johannesburg.

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