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Morning news brief

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in China and just met with China's president, Xi Jinping.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Blinken's trip is the first such visit in five years and comes at a low point in the relationship, the lowest in decades, actually. The U.S. says he's in China to open lines of communication between the two global powers. Is that happening?

FADEL: Joining us to discuss is NPR international correspondent Emily Feng. who's covering these talks. Hi, Emily.

EMILY FENG, BYLINE: Hey, Leila.

FADEL: So what do we know about Blinken's meeting with China's leader, Xi Jinping, right now?

FENG: Yeah. Among the issues the U.S. said Blinken wants to raise in a meeting like this include restarting high-level military communications between the two countries. The U.S. also wants China to control the export of fentanyl-related related from China. And also, the two countries want to maintain peace in Taiwan, this island China claims as its own but which does have close ties to the U.S. And China has an interest in improving relations, as well, because Xi Jinping is expected to go to San Francisco in November for an Asia-Pacific leaders meeting. And he wants to make sure he's good with the U.S. by then. He wants the US side to be ready to welcome him when he gets to California.

FADEL: So is this a sign that the acrimony we've seen in the U.S.-China relationship will decrease?

FENG: It's a potential start. The U.S. State Department has been really careful to set low expectations for this trip. And there's still a lot of substantive issues the U.S. and China disagree on, many of which came up today in Blinken's meetings with China's top diplomat, Wang Yi, for example. But at least the fact that these two people and these two countries are meeting is a sign that they can talk about their differences. And I spoke to Ryan Hass, a former National Security Council staffer on China during the Obama administration, about this.

RYAN HASS: The trip is the initial stage of an exploratory process to try to determine if there is, you know, mutual intent to moderate the relationship. But it's going to be hard because neither leader wants to be seen as caving to the other side or accommodating the other side's demands or wishes.

FENG: So this week is a start to high-level exchanges on the diplomatic level, and both countries are hoping this paves the way for more meetings. The U.S. and China have agreed to schedule more flights between the two countries already. And China's foreign minister, Qin Gang, said yesterday when he was meeting Blinken that he plans to visit the U.S. sometime.

FADEL: What about all the issues the U.S. and China disagree on? There are so many. There's still tariffs on U.S. and Chinese goods, export controls to China, human rights concerns. And those are just a few.

FENG: Yep. And those are not going to go away. I spoke to Zhu Feng, an international relations professor at Nanjing University in China, about this. And he says despite the talks this weekend, he's pessimistic about overall relations.

ZHU FENG: (Non-English language spoken).

FENG: He's saying right now, the most important thing is that the U.S. has locked onto China as its biggest strategic rival. And this is the consensus of the entire American strategic policy establishment. And so professor Zhu says there cannot be any substantial movement on the current suppression of China. Those are the words he used. Remember, Blinken was actually supposed to go to China in February, but that visit got canceled after a Chinese spy balloon was discovered flying over Montana. And it was canceled in part because public opinion in the U.S. is increasingly negative about China. So both U.S. and China are constrained by that. U.S. Congress is particularly hawkish on China on both sides of the aisle. And the things that China wants, the things that they mentioned today, the lifting of trade tariffs, access to U.S. semiconductor technology - those are just things the majority of U.S. policymakers are going to push back hard against.

FADEL: NPR international correspondent Emily Feng. Thank you, Emily.

FENG: Thanks, Leila.

FADEL: There are big issues between Washington and Beijing on trade.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. When he was president, Donald Trump launched a trade war with China, eventually slapping tariffs on more than $300 billion worth of imports. And 2 1/2 years into the Biden presidency, those tariffs are under review but have not yet changed.

FADEL: NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid talked to both Trump and Biden's top trade officials about this, and she joins us now. Good morning.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So, Asma, let's go back in time first. Why were these tariffs put on China to begin with?

KHALID: Well, for years, businesses had been complaining that China was not playing fairly, that they subsidized their companies. They didn't respect intellectual property rights and even forced American companies, in some cases, to turn over their tech secrets. And so Donald Trump came in and basically turned the traditional free trade norm on its head. His top trade person during this time period was a man named Bob Lighthizer. And we spoke on the phone the other day. He told me that the U.S. relationship with China, he believed, had to fundamentally change.

ROBERT LIGHTHIZER: We can't keep transferring hundreds of billions of dollars every year to somebody who's trying to harm us and take our jobs and steal our technology and threaten our military and the like.

KHALID: So the Trump administration turned to tariffs, which, I will say, at the time was extremely controversial - a 25% tariff on Chinese imports. Lots of everyday items that Americans rely on from China were taxed. I mean, you think underwear, coats, utensils. There were also tariffs on a bunch of obscure parts that are used by American manufacturers. And again, I will say, you know, to be clear, many critics will say these are taxes. And these are taxes that are paid by American businesses and American consumers, not the Chinese.

FADEL: Now, I remember all the warnings about how this would affect prices and competition. And when Biden took over, what did he do with them?

KHALID: Yeah, I mean, to your point, there was a lot of criticism. I will say Democrats piled on Trump. They said that he was haphazard in the way that he launched this fight with China. I will say one of the things that intrigues me, really, about Joe Biden is that he talks a lot about making things in America. I'm sure you've heard him highlight the subsidies that his government is offering to lure factories back from overseas.

FADEL: Right.

KHALID: But he's not out there talking about these tariffs. And yet he has kept them in place. His team is currently reviewing them. And I asked Biden's top trade official, Katherine Tai, what is going on with this review? You know, are you going to lift any of the tariffs? And she said something that I thought was rather telling.

KATHERINE TAI: One key question that's really important for us to consider is, what has China done in these last few years that would merit our changing this tariff structure?

KHALID: She told me there are real issues with the way that China trades, and those issues have not gone away. She also said that overall, she's looking at how the U.S. can break what she called an addiction to just chasing the lowest price for everything, no matter the cost. I should add that tariff review I mentioned is expected to wrap up later this year. But, of course, then we head into a presidential election year. And these tariffs were Donald Trump's signature policy. And he is the current Republican frontrunner.

FADEL: Asma, what about the businesses that pay these tariffs? What are they saying about the review?

KHALID: Well, there are definitely U.S. companies that appreciate these tariffs. And I interviewed some. But there are also business owners who are really frustrated with the climate. They had hoped that Joe Biden and his team would have changed some aspects of the tariff policy by now. I went out to Minnesota to a company called MISCO. They make sound speakers, and a lot of their parts come from China. The company's CEO, Dan Digre, told me he feels like a pawn in this big geopolitical game. And he thinks any conversation about rescinding these tariffs will be seen as being weak on China. And so as the presidential election cycle heats up, he is not optimistic that things will change.

FADEL: NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid. Thanks.

KHALID: My pleasure.

FADEL: For more on all of this reporting that Asma just brought to us on how U.S. tariffs affect American consumers and the relationship between the United States and China, you can listen to today's NPR Politics Podcast.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: Americans are celebrating Juneteenth today.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, it's the newest federal holiday on the calendar and is also known as this country's second Independence Day. But outside the Black community, many Americans are still learning about its meanings and origins.

FADEL: NPR's Alana Wise joins us now to discuss this. Good morning.

ALANA WISE, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: OK, give us a bit of background for people who don't know about Juneteenth.

WISE: Of course. So basically, Juneteenth is the day that celebrates some of the final days of slavery in the U.S. So two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, a lot of people, particularly west of the Mississippi, were still being held in enslavement. So on June 19 in 1865, Union troops rode into Galveston, Texas, to inform slaveholders and enslaved people that the institution of slavery was ending. They were also there to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation, basically to make sure that these slaveholders actually were paying their newfound labor. These informally enslaved people were told to stay on their plantations and instead work for wages rather than be used as free labor. I spoke to Leslie Wilson, who's a history professor at Montclair State in New Jersey. He put it this way.

LESLIE WILSON: We are not celebrating the history of Juneteenth. We are celebrating the symbolism of Juneteenth. And so I would say that the symbolism of Juneteenth is the transition from slavery to freedom or the transition from enslavement to freedom.

FADEL: Now, this was a hard-won battle, really, hundreds of years of people sort of wanting it to be recognized federally. What can you tell us more about the public's awareness of this holiday outside the communities that were pushing for its recognition?

WISE: Awareness of the holiday really took off outside of Black communities in 2021. That year, Biden signed a bill making it into an official federal holiday. So it's the newest federal holiday and the first to be added to the calendar since MLK Day in the '80s. Last year, a Gallup poll said that about 60% of Americans know at least a little something about Juneteenth. But a year before, that number was at just 37% who said they were familiar with Juneteenth. So you really see how awareness and focus on the day has gone up in recent years.

FADEL: OK, let's get to the fun part. What are some ways people celebrate this holiday?

WISE: So Black Americans often come together for food, music, retelling stories of the past. And since the holiday's in the summer, it often coincides with a lot of family reunions. So it's a good time for people to spend time together, hanging out and just reminiscing about the past. Many people also use the day as a day of service, figuring out ways to give back to the community, uplift Black people and Black businesses. And it's also a time where people learn about Black history - right? - which is American history.

FADEL: Right.

WISE: But it's often overlooked in classrooms. That leaves it up to families and individuals to learn about Black history for themselves. This weekend on the National Mall, I spoke to Precious Williams (ph). She's Black and a Dallas native. And she always knew about Juneteenth, but it was something she learned about at home, never in school.

PATIENCE WILLIAMS: As a Black person, it means a lot to me, you know, to celebrate everybody who was free because it's like so many people don't know. Everybody should know about Juneteenth 'cause it's a part of our history.

FADEL: NPR's Alana Wise on the symbolism and the history of Juneteenth, American history and symbolism. Thank you.

WISE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
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