Monday Briefing: China and the U.S. Vie for Secrets

The spy game between the U.S. and China is even more expansive than the one that played out between the Americans and the Soviets during the Cold War, said Christopher A. Wray, the F.B.I. director. China’s large population and economy enable it to build intelligence services that are bigger than those of the U.S.

When a Chinese spy balloon drifted across the continental U.S. in February, it threw a spotlight on an expanding and highly secretive spy-versus-spy contest. American intelligence agencies learned that the People’s Liberation Army had kept President Xi Jinping himself in the dark about the errant balloon’s trajectory until it was over the U.S.

For the U.S., espionage efforts are a critical part of President Biden’s strategy to constrain the military and technological rise of China, in line with his thinking that the country poses the greatest long-term challenge to American power. For Beijing, the new tolerance for bold action among Chinese spy agencies is driven by Xi, who has led his military to engage in aggressive moves along the nation’s borders and pushed his foreign intelligence agency to become more active in farther-flung locales.

Effective espionage can halt a slide into war or smooth the path of delicate negotiations. It can also speed nations toward diplomatic rifts or armed conflict. The espionage struggle could also be a substitute for armed clashes — as it often was during the Cold War.

Technology: U.S. officials have honed their ability to intercept electronic communications, including using spy planes off China’s coast. Chinese agents use social media sites — LinkedIn, in particular — to lure potential recruits, and China even has artificial intelligence software that can detect the gait of an American spy.

Diplomacy: A White House official said yesterday that the U.S. national security adviser met over the weekend with China’s top diplomat in Malta.

Ukraine’s military said yesterday that it had retaken the small village of Klishchiivka, the second settlement to come back under Kyiv’s control in three days and the most significant recent advance in its hard-fought counteroffensive to drive Russian forces from the country’s east.

Klishchiivka had been occupied by Russian forces since January, when Wagner mercenaries captured it after weeks of combat as part of the nearly yearlong battle for the nearby city of Bakhmut. The retaking of Klishchiivka may help Ukraine apply pressure to the Russian forces holding Bakhmut.

The claim of advance came as two cargo vessels reached Chornomorsk yesterday, the first such vessels to arrive at a Ukrainian port since Russia terminated the Black Sea grain deal in mid-July, offering an early sign that Ukraine could open an alternative route for its grain exports.

In diplomatic news, the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, toured key elements of Russia’s nuclear force as President Vladimir Putin worked to cast himself as the champion of an anti-U.S. alliance.

Those warmer ties could cause problems for President Xi Jinping. A closer bond between Russia and North Korea could weaken Xi’s leverage over both countries and set back Beijing’s efforts to stabilize its ties with the West.

After dams broke in Libya’s northeast last week, thousands of people were killed and more than 40,000 were displaced, creating a dire humanitarian crisis, according to the International Organization of Migration.

As hopes for finding survivors dim, relief efforts are shifting focus to a shortage of medical supplies and contaminated drinking water. Nearly 300,000 children face “increased risk of diarrhea and cholera, dehydration and malnutrition,” a U.N. report said.

South Korean adoptees have been returning to their birth country — known as the world’s largest “baby exporter” — to hold the government accountable for what they call a corrupt adoption system that went largely unchanged until recent decades.

They have partnered with a new generation of researchers and politicians who are willing to shed light on a painful legacy once seen as too shameful to openly discuss.

Coco Gauff’s three-set win over Aryna Sabalenka last week sealed the U.S. Open and her first Grand Slam title. It was an apex moment that overshadowed an anticlimactic men’s final in which Novak Djokovic won again, our columnist Kurt Streeter writes.

As Kurt moves to a new assignment, he reflects on watershed moments in the rise of female athletes during his tenure: The W.N.B.A.’s leading role in the civil rights protests of 2020. The U.S. women’s national soccer team’s win for equal pay, and how female soccer players across the globe stood up against harassing, abusive coaches. The packed stadiums at the Women’s World Cup, with 75,000 on hand for the final in Australia.

“Yep,” Streeter writes, “it’s a new era.”

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