Thursday, October 21, 2021
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Your Friday Briefing

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We’re covering tensions over a U.S.-Australia military deal and confusion over booster shot plans.

Beijing and Paris responded with anger after Australia announced a military partnership with the U.S. and Britain that allows it to send submarines to monitor China’s actions in the South China Sea.

French officials accused President Biden of acting like his predecessor, saying they were not consulted about the deal and describing the decision as a “knife in the back.” France also canceled a gala that was meant to celebrate its relations with the U.S.

Australia bet the house on U.S. power in Asia, our correspondents write in a news analysis. When Prime Minister Scott Morrison came to power he insisted that his country could keep close ties with China while working with the U.S. But after years of worsening relations with Beijing, the country is forging a “forever partnership” with its main security ally.

Quotable: “It really is a watershed moment — a defining moment for Australia and the way it thinks about its future in the Indo-Pacific region,” said Richard Maude, a former Australian security official who is now a senior fellow at the Asia Society Policy Institute.

Recap: Australia, the U.S. and the U.K. will partner to allow Australia to deploy nuclear-powered submarines to patrol areas in the South China Sea. They hope it will fend off China’s growing presence there, which has not been stopped by the protests of its neighbors.

Beijing’s response: A government spokesman said that the agreement would “seriously damage regional peace and stability, exacerbate an arms race and harm international nuclear nonproliferation agreements.”


Next week, the U.S. is supposed to roll out Covid-19 booster shots to most adults. But with new studies driving a fierce debate, the plan’s contours are up in the air.

The White House has already been forced to delay offering Moderna boosters. U.S. drug regulators will meet in the coming days to discuss Pfizer-BioNTech’s application to offer booster shots to those 16 and older, but the path is far from certain.

Conflicting reviews this week illustrate why. In a review made public on Wednesday, U.S. drug regulators raised caveats about third doses. In The Lancet this week, an article argued that there was no credible evidence that the vaccines’ potency declined substantially over time.

Evidence in favor of boosters came from a study in The New England Journal of Medicine, also released on Wednesday, which indicated that recipients of a third Pfizer shot in Israel were far less likely to develop severe Covid than those who had received two shots. But experts cautioned that the study had limited data and covered a short time frame.

What’s next: Even if the agency approves the application, the Centers for Disease Control might recommend boosters only for those 65 and older or others who are particularly at risk, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:


Weeks after their dramatic escape from Kabul, tens of thousands of Afghans hoping to be resettled in the U.S. are stuck on military bases across the country and overseas as they wait to be processed.

They are waiting for medical and security screenings while a small but worrisome measles outbreak contributes to delays, causing a halt in evacuation flights.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken defended the Biden administration’s evacuation efforts during hours of congressional testimony this week. “We completed one of the biggest airlifts in history, with 124,000 people evacuated to safety,” he said.

Details: As of Sept. 14, about 64,000 evacuees from Afghanistan had arrived in the country. Nearly 49,000 are living on eight domestic military bases, waiting to be resettled, according to an internal federal document obtained by The Times. Roughly 18,000 are on bases overseas, largely in Germany. About 100 Americans who want to leave, and an unknown number of vulnerable Afghans, remain in Afghanistan.

Related: A leading figure in the Afghan resistance has retained a Washington lobbyist to seek military and financial support in the U.S. for a fight against the Taliban.

News From Asia

After the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last year, and the widespread protests demanding racial justice across the U.S., readers rushed to buy books about race and racism. “So You Want to Talk About Race,” by Ijeoma Oluo, sold 10 times as many copies as it had the year before — over 340,000.

Publishers took notice. They signed deals for books about the experiences of Black Americans, many of which are coming out now, Elizabeth Harris writes in The Times. At least half a dozen new imprints prioritize books by and about people of color, including Roxane Gay Books, which the author and social commentator will edit; and Black Privilege Publishing, led by the radio host Charlamagne tha God.

Many in publishing bristle at the suggestion that the market can only absorb so many books on the topic. “What we’re talking about is not the category of ‘books about Black people’ or ‘racism,’” said Chris Jackson, editor in chief at Random House’s One World. “We’re talking about the category of ‘books about the American experience.’”

Books that assess race through a conservative lens are taking off, too — thanks in part, Harris writes, to “aggressive coverage of critical race theory by outlets like Fox News.”

What to Cook

These cold noodles with tomatoes are at once savory like gazpacho and refreshingly satiating like naengmyeon, the chilled Korean noodle soup.

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